National targets drive massive investment in environmental and waste infrastructure
Major spending to modernise water and waste facilities, funded partly by the EU and responding to the need to meet a range of national and international targets for water and air quality and attain waste minimisation and recycling goals, has seen a dynamic expansion of environmental sector in Ireland over recent years. In a Special Supplement on Ireland Environmental, Local Authority Waste & Environment focuses on Government policy and current legislation, reports on high-tech environmental technology being developed by leading Irish company Bord na M—na, includes a call from the business sector for a new approach to waste management and highlights the variety of services on offer from the recycling sector.
Ireland is advancing on several fronts to raise environmental standards and improve waste management performance, from massive investment in water, sewerage services and environmental infrastructure, to implementing a national climate change strategy and monitoring air quality.
The £2.1 billion investment package announced by the Minister provided for the construction of a massive 529 schemes, made up of: ongoing construction of 79 major water and sewerage schemes; 113 further schemes to commence construction in the years 2000-2002,; 131 new schemes to begin planning in preparation for construction during the NDP period; and 206 schemes under Serviced Land and Rural Towns and Villages Initiatives. According to the Minister the key objectives of his investment plans are “designed to facilitate the achievement of high environmental standards – while meeting national infrastructural needs.”
Only last month, on 27 March Mr Dempsey announced record investment in water conservation. He was reacting to the recommendations of the National Water Study by pledging the Government to further significant investment in water conservation projects. Almost £300 million will now be provided for water conservation needs, this funding to be in addition to the Water Services Investment Programme 2001 to 2003.
In January the Environment Minister welcomed the decision of the European Commission to approve the Economic and Social Infrastructure Operational Programme and to provide grant assistance from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), totalling 855 million euro (£673 million) over the period 2000 to 2006.
Of the ERDF aid some 71 million euros will be focussed on environmental infrastructure – the construction of waste-water treatment facilities implementation of the Water Framework Directive. This will support sustainable economic development by alleviating existing or potential pollution and forming part of a catchment based approach to water quality protection.
Sustainable energy will account for 43 million euro, for the promotion of energy conservation and efficiency and the greater use of renewable energies.
Climate change strategy
Another major initiative under development is a National Climate Change Strategy launched by Noel Dempsey in November 2000. “Business as usual is no longer an option for Ireland”, the Minister said, adding; “the Government’s intent is crystal clear. We have set out a radical blueprint for decoupling economic growth from growth in greenhouse gas emissions. We are placing a real premium on sustainable development, with maximum eco-efficiency, at home.”
He said that the real challenge facing Ireland was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 20% in the next ten years.
Key initiatives set out in the strategy document include: a commitment to put in place an appropriate framework of greenhouse gas taxation, prioritising CO2 emissions, from 2002 on a phased, incremental basis, the detailed modalities will be assessed by the Tax Strategy Group; a commitment to a participate in international emissions’ trading; and a substantial reduction in methane emissions from agriculture to be achieved over the period to 2010, equivalent to a reduction of 10% in livestock numbers.
Role of EPA
The Environmental Protection Agency, the independent body set up under legislation in 1992, and which exercises strong regulatory and enforcement powers relating to all activities with potential for major poll1ution, recently published its annual report on air quality in Ireland in 1999.
The EPA says that the 1999 Report again shows that there is good compliance in Ireland with existing Irish and EU quality standards for air pollutants.
The report indicates that it may be difficult to achieve compliance in major urban areas with the more stringent air quality standards currently being introduced through EU legislation. The problem pollutants are likely to be fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, both of which emanate in large measure from road traffic.
The report gives the first results of mobile measurement surveys undertaken in key areas not already subject to ongoing monitoring in the current national programme. Measurements were made at a number of locations in Dublin, as well as at sites in Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
The EPA has three custom-designed mobile laboratories fitted with a range of modern pollutant measurement equipment used to monitor air quality at sites around the country. Detailed investigations are being carried out to provide more data for completing a preliminary assessment of air quality as required by the new EU legislation. The results of this assessment set the scene as regards the level of monitoring and assessment of air quality from the current year. The mobile surveys are also intended to show where new fixed monitoring stations should be established in line with the proposed national air quality monitoring programme, recently published by the EPA.
Action on litter
Also on the domestic front Ireland has recently set out a national strategy to eradicate litter pollution. The Litter Action Plan was launched by Mr Dempsey and Dan Wallace, TD, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, in response to the report of the National Anti-Litter Forum.
“Litter presents the wrong image of Ireland and the Irish nation,” said Noel Dempsey.
As regards the future it is acknowledged that the litter problem is far from solved and that, in many ways, the country’s economic success or recent years has exacerbated the problem. The Environment Minister described the anti-litter plan as “marking a significant intensification of anti-litter measures aimed at eliminating this affront to the kind of environment people want to see and live in.” Mr Dempsey called “on all sectors and individual citizens to play their part in realising its ambitions.” With a partnership approach, concluded the Minister, the Litter Action Plan will be “the cornerstone of a successful collective national effort to eradicate litter pollution.”
Mr Wallace highlighted the changes in legislation, the enhanced role of local authorities and the increase in anti-litter resources that would emerge through implementation of the plan. On legislation, the Minister of State pointed to increased financial penalties for litter offences as one of the key measures in the plan.
Other legislative changes are also proposed, including a new power for local authorities to make general anti-litter bye-laws for their areas.
In addition to the legislative changes, the plan calls for local authorities to intensify their anti-litter operations, including the area of enforcement. Local authorities will also be able, under the plan, to learn from best practice to combat litter, especially in the important areas of education and awareness and guidance on litter management planning.
As an aid to the anti-litter campaign Dan Wallace on 28 March officially launched the web site of TES Consulting Engineers, which is the Litter Monitoring Body under the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System. The web site – www.tesltd.ie – includes a dedicated section on the system and also contains information updates which are disseminated to all local authorities on a quarterly basis.
Waste management planning
In a recent move Mr Dempsey has introduced a Waste Management (Amendment) Bill,2001, in an attempt to resolve a long-standing problems over the waste management planning process in Ireland, where, the Government says, “recent decisions taken by a small number of authorities to opt out of the regional planning approach, effectively means that the other authorities involved were obstructed from achieving any progress.”
The Minister states that three out of 15 local authorities in three regional groups have opted out of the regional approach and have obstructed the planning process. Mr Dempsey says: “I could not allow the current ‘drift’ to continue. We have already lost too much time – we must act now in order to begin the process of developing a modern and efficient waste management infrastructure and an improved waste service. The current situation where over 90% of our waste is landfilled quite simply cannot continue.”
He said that, without the development of such infrastructure Ireland would not meet national and EU targets for waste recovery and the diversion of waste from landfill.
The Bill also provides for the introduction of a landfill levy and a levy on plastic shopping bags, together with the establishment of an “Environment Fund.”