In 2020 CTC carried out a research project for the EPA in order to meet a recommendation of the Ireland’s Environment 2020 – An Assessment , the need for an overarching environmental policy for the country was identified, as follows:
A key message from our assessment is that Ireland needs an overall integrated national environmental policy position, or it risks existing environmental protection measures failing or competing with each other. Such a policy position could set out an ambition for protecting Ireland’s environment in the short, medium and long-term with the aim of having a clean, healthy environment, that is valued and protected by all. It should be a national vision to which all government departments, agencies, businesses, communities and individuals can sign up to play their part in protecting our environment.
In order to recommend such and overarching policy CTC examine national environmental policies across a number of countries, as well as a review of other related policies at an EU and international level.
Policies from the following countries and international levels were reviewed in detail and reported upon:
- The UK
- The EU
- The United Nations
In summary, the approaches taken in the overarching environmental policies from countries that have been reviewed include the following:
- All have set out a long-term vision, some in very simple terms, others more specific and detailed.
- Some countries have focused on the environment only, while others include all three sustainable development pillars. Denmark has focused only on energy. Slovenia has a very broad scope for its vision across society.
- Some countries are very advanced in their work (Sweden, Scotland), while others are at an earlier stage (Slovenia, Malta).
- Some countries have specific quantifiable targets, while others do not.
- Some countries have performance being measured annually, while others do not.
- Some countries include co-production and the involvement of stakeholder groups and social groups in the development of the vision and in its assessment.
- While focusing on in-country goals, many of the countries also aim to not increase adverse environmental effects elsewhere on the globe, acknowledging that the effects of every country’s actions reach far beyond its national borders.
- Reference is also made by many of the countries in relation to international and regional cooperation, solving shared global problems, and global responsibility.
Approaches that have been well developed and are well underway by countries with a long and successful history of environmental protection are of special interest and may be of specific value to Ireland in terms of replicability, such as those in Sweden, Scotland, Belgium and Finland. The approach of the United Kingdom is also notable, in the way that the vision is specifically focused on environmental and well-being issues and there is no confusion as to how it is interlinked with the SDGs.
CTC recommendations for consideration for Ireland in drawing up a national environmental
policy are as follows:
- Set out a concise, overall vision for Ireland’s environment, to be aimed for in the long-term, such as by 2050.
- It is recommended that the focus of the vision should be environmental, rather than including the social and economic pillars of sustainable development. While there will be some overlap and connection, this vision should be considered at a remove and independent from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An environmental policy gives the opportunity to be more specific in relation to a nations needs and hopes beyond the generalised aims of the SDGs.
- Set up an overarching, representative steering group or expert panel to implement the vision. This could be led, for example, by the Department of the Taoiseach. Belgium, for example, set up an interdepartmental, ad hoc working group, made up of experts from different federal public administrations.
- Fully involve stakeholder groups and social groups in the development of the vision and in its assessment. Consider the use of a citizens’ assembly (in the way that the Citizens’ Assembly 2016 – 2018 considered ‘how the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change’.) There is a societal role in articulating this policy, as we are all stakeholders in it.
- Based on a set of clear principles, lay out the objectives to be addressed. Some objectives might be given priority. Responsibility for achieving the objectives will need to be assigned, and this will likely be across various government departments and agencies and local/regional authorities.
- Set out a series of long-term, medium-term, and short-term actions or policy instruments under each of these objectives. Incorporate existing actions and instruments (such as, for example, the Climate Action Plan, the Biodiversity Action Plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth – The Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland, and the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy). Identify and devise additional actions and instruments, where needed. Highlight responsibility for their implementation.
- Produce a series of indicators and quantifiable targets associated with these actions/ instruments.
- Set out to measure, either annually, or at stated periodic intervals, indicators which will illustrate Ireland’s performance against these targets.
- Allow a mechanism for changes to be made to the vision, objectives, principles, policy instruments and actions, if necessary, over time, to reflect upon policy development or environmental changes.