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“Environmental Challenges in Ireland: 2018 and Beyond” Minister Denis Naughtens speech at Environment Ireland Conference 2018

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Croke Park 09:00


Can I first of all thank the conference organisers for inviting me here today and say that  if Eoin and his introduction and I see him down the back there -  talks about the busy portfolio that Brian Carroll has – this is the fourth topic within my Department that I am addressing here this morning just after 9 o'clock so it is quite a busy, broad Department; and while it is very challenging it also provides huge opportunities where one aspect of the Department can dovetail in with policy development in the other part of it and that coordination provides challenges but is also very  exciting.

I suppose the Department that I lead the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment is gravely/greatly about being a Department of efficiency and driving efficiency. It is about using the natural resources that we have in a sustainable manner, to support employment, to transform rural Ireland, to protect our people and the planet for future generations.

Looking back over the past 28 months since my appointment as Minister for the Environment, I think many of the comments that have been made particular in relation to the challenges that we have in terms of climate change have been far to futuristic and far too fatalistic at times.

I think we need to keep the focus that our primary objective is to bring the public with us along this journey and to fast track that journey. And yes, we have a huge task ahead of us and that is compounded by the particularly unique circumstances that we have here in Ireland. And we don't get it right now, then the next generation is the generation that will suffer as a result of that. The thing about climate change, it is not just about the next generation, it is happening here and now.

 In the last 12 months Minister Boxer Moran has received 147 applications from families that have wanted to move out of their homes. Some of those families have lived in that home for generation after generation but because the impacts of flooding, they now want to leave their home, so we actually have climate migrants here in Ireland.

 And on global terms 9 people every minute are being displaced as a result of climate change. As I say we need to bring these issues back down to the level of the public; it's about the very basic things, it's about air, it's about sea, it's about land, and it's about our earth.

Air quality is not just a pollution or environmental problem, it threatens our natural resources, our health our well-being, our people as a whole. It brings into our homes the very real and practical challenge that we have in relation to climate, that's why the Clean Air Strategy which I will be launching  later this year is so important –not just meeting our short term goals in relation to air quality but our long term goals in relation to climate.

Clean air is vital for good public health and quality of life and comprehensive data is also essential in improving air quality. The EPAs Ambient Air Quality monitoring programme aims to double the number of air quality monitoring stations across the country by 2022, from the 31 stations in 2007 and I am sure Laura will talk about that issue later. But the objective is to enhance our understanding of air quality issues in Ireland and greatly improve the flow of real time information on air quality to the public. My Department is spending €5million on this particular programme. 8 new monitoring stations have opened in Roscommon, Enniscorthy, St. Anne's Park here in Dublin, UCC, Dundalk, Carlow Town, Carnsore  Point and Malin Head, a further 9 of the existing stations have also been upgraded, and one of the big advantages of this upgrade is that that data is now available online. Through Laura and her team in the EPA, they are now engaging directly with the schools in the vicinity of those particular monitoring stations to explain to the children the data output from that, how that can be used to actually tell a story and bring children and the local community along that road with us.

But monitoring is all fine, what we actually need is action.  We ran within the Department a pilot on warmth and well-being. It was piloted here in the city of Dublin. We specifically targeted people over the age of 55, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and young families with children with asthma. One in thirteen people in Ireland suffer from COPD , about one in five children in Ireland suffer from asthma and what we have done by carrying out a deep retrofit of their homes, is we have made their homes far more comfortable to live in but the feedback that we have got so far and we are empirically measuring that at the moment and should expect to have the output early next year. But when the feedback we have got at the moment is those people are presenting to their GP less. When they are presenting to their GP they are being prescribed antibiotics less and they are being admitted to hospital less and they are being discharged far quicker back into their own local community so there has been not just making their home more comfortable but their health outcomes have been improved significantly and it has a direct impact in relation to the hospitalisation and the terms of hospitalisation.

What we have done from the learning from that is to expand the Deep Retrofit Scheme out to the Warmer Homes scheme out to across the country. So if you are in receipt of the fuel allowance, the domiciliary care allowance, the careers allowance where you are living with the career or youre long term unemployed with young children you can now have a free retrofit carried out on your home. Approximately €15,000 - €20,000 of a retro fit carried out on your home. The objective is that we are going to continue on with that momentum through grant aid incentives and supports, to get dirty fossil fuels out of our domestic heating systems within the next 200 months.

It is also about engaging with the public on the ground. We have the National Dialogue on Climate Action where we kicked off our first regional meeting in Athlone earlier this year, where we actually went into the I  suppose the focal point of the flooding over the last decade. We are going to Killarney in the next number of weeks; it is about raising awareness and engaging with people; people at the cold face in relation to the impacts of climate change and motivating the changes in relation to behaviour at local, regional and at national level. To tie in with that the National Development Plan has committed significant funds over the next decade in this whole area and this is a clear step change by Government in relation to investment in this area. We are spending €22,000m illion in addressing the transition to a low carbon economy. €22bn is going to be invested over the next decade  in climate related  investment,  on top of that €8.6bn is going to be invested in sustainable transport, that's over one in every four euro of capital investment that is invested by this state over the next decade is going to be related to climate and climate efficient measures.

There is a commitment by Government ​to ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars in the Irish market, so the chances are the next car that you buy, will most likely be the last full fossil fuel car that you buy.

In the National Development Plan as well we have set out a very innovative climate action fund we have ring-fenced a minimum of €500million for that fund to support climate action projects. The closing date for the first call was earlier this week. 100 applications have been submitted from both the public and private sector and the types of projects this could fund include electric vehicle charging, the development of district heating projects, public lighting and low emission public transport as well as energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and I look forward to the finalisation of that over the coming weeks.

While we can't actually see air pollution, we are all now very conscious of the impacts of sea pollution and I think it really has caught the imagination of the public in recent times. Specifically the issue of marine plastics and micro plastics, marine litter is also a challenge that needs to be addressed urgently and that litter is primarily coming from land. We are introducing primary legislation to ban the sale of products with plastic micro beads, but we must go much further than that, not just protecting our seas but this could be coming to our own doorsteps without action.

Let's be clear about this – we have zero spare capacity in our landfills today, we are now in an emergency situation with nowhere for that extra waste to go.

In the last two years I have been working to turn this around and it hasn't been easy. I have legislated for the ban on flat rate fees for domestic collection, after 19 years of the can being kicked down the road. So householders are incentivised to recycle and compost and send less waste to landfill.

We have invested €3million in education and awareness in relation to what goes into your recycling bin and how to use your brown bin effectively.

We have recruited the major retailers under the food waste charter and as a result Ireland is among the first countries in the world to capture comparable useful food waste data from retailers at this level.

I have also developed with the Department a new producer responsibility initiative for tyres  in fact last Saturday in Cootehill, in County Cavan we had to call on An Garda Siochána to assist us in traffic management where 450 farmers turned up with the equivalent of 102,000 car tyres for a bring centre collection there. I have invested €1.7million in supporting the clean-up of legacy stock piles of tyres in sites and farms across this country.

For two years running we have funded clean ups and enforcement actions in relation to dumping hot spots, clean up 400 locations across the country and we are now looking at fighting the proliferation of single use plastics and must have a much broader suite of measures to keep single use products out of consumers hands in the first place or where they are necessary that they are disposed of in a responsible way.

But it is also about 'leading by doing' , that's why I am bringing a Memorandum to Government in the coming weeks, to ban the use of certain single use plastics and items in all Government Departments and seeking to extend that to the Office of Government  Procurement and Public Authorities later on.

Finally, and we all know that we have challenges in relation to land and land use. We are currently decommissioning our bogs and doing that on a phased basis over the next number of years. We are re- wetting many of those bogs and that has been specifically outlined in the National Development Plan that's a climate adaptation measure, it is a bio diversity measure, it's a carbon emissions reduction measure and it is also a tourism measure.  We have carried out the biggest genotyping project in the world, where we have genotyped one million animals within our beef herd and this gives us a huge opportunity to develop new breeding regimes that can have a significant impact on emissions.

I am working with Laura Burke and her team in the EPA and the IFA to develop the new smart farming initiative which has seen in participating farms a reduction of 10% in emissions, increasing profitability on those farms and interestingly the research has shown that 45% of  the efficiency has been as a result of better soil management.

On foot of that last week Minister Seán Kyne, my colleague and the Geological Survey of Ireland which operate under my Department have announced now a new National Soil Survey, single biggest survey of its type ever carried out in the world, where we will be able to provide a very detailed analysis for farmers to actually make their farming operation far more efficient and in turn reduce the overall emissions they are producing.  

So air, sea and land is my focus as Minister for the Environment. It's our earth and we need to protect it now.

Job of turning the tables on climate change or reducing waste does not come with a silver bullet – I wish it did, there aren't any simple answers.

But I am determined to take innovative steps forward with your help to address this challenge to make our communities better communities to live in, our country a better country to live in and make Ireland a global leader in this area.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh. 

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