Tuesday 10 November 2009

OECD Review of Environmental progress in Ireland

A new Th!nk2 article on the OECD's recent report into Ireland progress on environmental commitments since 2000. You can read the original article on Th!nk About It here. It's also cross-posted below:

Last week in Dublin, the Secretary-General of the OECD, Angel Gurría, launched the Conclusions and Recommendations of an Environmental Performance Review on Ireland. The report was to review the progress Ireland has made on meeting its environmental commitments (both internally and internationally) since 2000, the year of the last review. The report, and the speech launching it, was couched in safe, inoffensive language, and stuck to very general recommendations (all the while scattering italics around the report in an annoyingly liberal and unnecessary way).

So, what are the good points? Ireland has made good progress on expanding the staffing and capabilities of environmental agencies and in strengthening domestic legislation on environmental protection. Ireland also has one of the lowest energy intensities of the OECD countries. However, it should be noted that the majority of environmental legislation originated in the EU institutions, and, despite a higher level of transposition into domestic law, in 2006 Ireland was the country with the highest number of court actions taken against it (at the European Court of Justice) by the European Commission for "infringing EU environmental directives".

The main areas where the report identified a need for change were: waste management, conservation and resource management.

Taxing water consumption was one of the few specific recommendations that the report made - apparently Ireland is the only EU country not to charge for water use (though, as of yet, the same is true of Northern Ireland). The OECD argue that bringing in water charges would discourage domestic water wastage and encourage the improvement of the water infastructure. Introducing water charges could be politically problematic in Ireland, however, since the "water culture" in Ireland is the assumption that water should be free since Ireland's a wet country and because there's so much of it about. Water charges are on the agenda in Northern Ireland, and have proven to be a very unpopular policy. Still, given the economic crisis and the sharp budget deficit of the Irish government, now might be the easiest time, politically, to introduce such a tax (a budget crisis may be looming in NI too, where the Executive [regional government] is still operating on a budget that was drawn up before the economic crisis).

The OECD has also urged Ireland to go further than the EU's ETS and introduce environmental taxes in areas not covered by the scheme - with the Greens in government and the need to raise more tax, along with the relative political acceptability of green taxes, will we see some experimentation with tax in Ireland?

When it come to waste, there's a serious problem in Ireland: it's not a binding duty of local government to provide for waste disposal or recycling. So, though the report notes: "voluntary approaches by business and industry, especially regarding air and waste, have led to increased recycling, reduced air pollution and the promotion of eco-innovation and energy efficiency", it does point out that the "lack of enforcementcapacity in smaller municipalities" has been an obsticle to good waste management. Since there's no obligation for local government to manage waste, it's easy for them to shirk their responsibility and instead lower rates (local tax). Though private companies step in in areas, their services can be more expensive than if they were administered by a public body, with the result that - in border areas - there's been a habit of dumping waste over the border in Northern Ireland, where local government does provide this service (this puts the resources of councils on the border under strain when it comes to dealing with waste). Action needs to be taken here quickly.

Another firm proposal that the report makes, is that Ireland finally sign up to the Aarhus Convention, which opens up progress on environmental protection to more transparency and scrutiny. The report also urges a closer relationship between economic planning and environmental policy.

In 2007, before the crisis hit Ireland, Ireland had a +25% increase in emissions, well above the +12.5% commitment in Kyoto. Could the economic crisis help Ireland and other states meet their Kyoto commitments?

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