Environmental co-operation

Ministers from North and South spoke of enhanced co-operation at this year’s Environment Ireland conference. Stephen Dineen summarises the main themes.

There was a strong theme of North/South co-operation to Environment Minister Alex Attwood’s address at this year’s Environment Ireland conference. The conference, in its seventh year, saw the environment ministers from the two jurisdictions attend for the first time.

One of the themes taken up by the new Environment Minister in his speech was the potential for Northern Ireland to tap into funding for environmental research, and he stated this was an area in which both administrations could cooperate. €50.1 billion had been made available for scientific research from the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) project 2007-2013, with €1.9 billion earmarked for environmental research (there is also €2.3 billion allocated for energy research). In February 2009 Northern Ireland had drawn down less than £25 million from FP7 funding, whilst the Republic had secured €600 million. €80 billion in funding for research between 2014-2020 has been proposed by the European Commission, and the Minister said this was also an opportunity Northern Ireland would have to grasp.

“In the rundown of FP7 and the birth of FP8,” said Attwood, “not least because an Irish Commissioner is responsible for all of that, we need to integrate much more what we are doing on the island of Ireland.” Attwood said he would like to see officials from the Republic seconded to Northern Ireland to collaborate on ascertaining project funding from FP7 and the subsequent research programme (Horizon 2020).

Phil Hogan, the Republic’s Environment Minister, referred to environmental research being “essential in Ireland’s journey towards a sustainable environmental future.” He said the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s research programme “has made considerable progress in the development of environmental research capacity in Ireland and has provided essential support for policy and decision-making at national, regional and local level.”

The green economy was another theme both ministers highlighted in their speeches. Minister Attwood said he had been struck by the growth in the green economy’s growth and the scale of the green opportunity on the island. “In doing that business of recycling, recyclates, renewables, we need to harmonise what we are doing, North and South,” he said.

Minister Hogan, speaking about the economic potential from environmentally sustainable agriculture said that “thinking ‘green’ involves creating a very strong link for the consumer between Irish food, high environmental standards and sustainable production.” The Irish Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s blueprint, Food Harvest 2020, contained a message that “by acting smart and thinking ‘green’, growth will be achieved.”

An initiative of mutual economic benefit, Attwood suggested, could be the creation of a “cross-border national park” encompassing the Mourne mountains, Cooley mountains and Slieve Gullion, “in a way that creates opportunities, jobs, protects the environment and defines the future.” He said that he would be bringing forward proposals for legislation regarding national parks, drawing on best practice in other jurisdictions. “You have a model and we need to learn from that model,” he told the conference in Dublin.

Waste policy was highlighted by both ministers as an area of co-operation. Minister Attwood said that there was a need to work on an all-island basis on waste management options, and with both administrations currently reviewing waste policy this created new opportunities. Citing the All Island Plastics Waste Arising Study, which the ministers jointly launched that morning, Hogan said that due to the size of the island and the structure of the plastic recycling market “the opportunities to pool our resources and to achieve economies of scale can help to overcome these challenges.”

Both ministers referred to repatriation of illegally dumped waste from Northern Ireland back to the Republic. The Irish Government is paying all disposal costs and 80 per cent of recovery costs for the repatriation. In August the process of repatriating 10,500 tonnes of such waste from Ballymartin in County Down to the Republic commenced.

Minister Attwood also said the direction of waste recycling movements on the island has convinced him of the need to revise the household waste recycling rate beyond the 60 per cent target that he and his department had been considering. Currently the target is 50 per cent.

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