30/05/19

Minister Josepha Madigan, Statement on the Intergovernmental Science- Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Global Assessment Report

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A Cheann Comhairle,

Nature, and the services that natural systems provide people, are essential for human life and the quality of life.

IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, provides governments and society around the world, including Ireland, with scientific assessments on the state of the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems, and the contributions they make to people and society. We are probably all familiar with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which provides strong science based assessments of climate change; IPBES does similar scientific assessments on biodiversity and the services it provides.

It also provides information on tools and methods to protect and sustainably use biodiversity and natural resources – our natural capital.

Ireland is a member of IPBES, along with more than 130 other countries. At its recent meeting in Paris, members received disturbing news – stark scientific evidence on the health of the natural environment highlights an alarming decline in nature, a critical risk for humanity in the 21st century.

The evidence is presented in IPBES’ Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report is the most comprehensive assessment of its kind yet produced.

The message from this assessment is clear – Nature, biodiversity, the life that we share on this planet and the contributions it makes to human existence- is in trouble. The scientific evidence is clear and unequivocal that the primary causes are human-driven. Current patterns of production and consumption globally are unsustainable. And climate change resilience depends greatly on biodiversity and looking after our natural capital. Most of nature’s contributions to people are not fully replaceable, and some are irreplaceable. Existing policies are not halting the global declines across biodiversity.

The IPBES report tells us that, globally, we are losing biodiversity at a rate unprecedented in human history. The number of plants, insects, mammals and birds that are threatened or endangered is growing year on year.

The report assesses changes over the past fifty years and presents a clear picture of the relationship between economic development and how it affects biodiversity. The land, ocean, atmosphere and biosphere are being altered to an unparalleled degree.

Land and sea-use changes; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive species are the main drivers of biodiversity loss globally on the land.

In marine ecosystems, direct exploitation (mainly fishing) has had the largest relative impact, followed by land/sea-use change.

The report makes it clear that the current response from the international community to biodiversity loss is insufficient and that transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature and the benefits and essential services that are derived from it.

It advises us that only if transformative change is taken globally to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss, will these trends be halted. If this does not occur, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The IPBES report also highlights that a biodiversity crisis has knock-on effects on all of society’s life-support system and our wellbeing. For instance, it finds that “current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystem services will undermine progress towards 80% of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land. Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well”.

The IPBES Report also highlights indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, which include increased population and per capita consumption, technological innovation (which may reduce or increase damage to nature) and governance and accountability issues.

Ireland is part of the global system. We consume food and raw materials from many other parts of the world, from countries far from us that are suffering huge losses of biodiversity.

These global messages on the state of biodiversity are mirrored in my Department’s reports on the status of Ireland’s biodiversity. Similar to the declines being experienced at a global level, biodiversity in Ireland is also demonstrating worrying and ongoing declines.

Draft results from the 2019 Habitats Directive report tell us that the conservation status of over 50% of protected habitats show a declining trend. Of particular note are declines in peatlands, grasslands, and some of the marine habitats.

A few months ago, the Irish National Biodiversity Data Centre published results from its butterfly and bumble bee recording schemes.

These surveys have revealed rates of decline in these important insects that must concern us. Recorders detected average declines of common bumble bees of 3.7% per annum over the past six years, across 100 sites. This is markedly above the 1.0% global average.

The situation is urgent but solutions are possible.

Biodiversity decline and loss of habitats does not happen in isolation: other societal and economic issues are also relevant. Sustainable measures to protect biodiversity can also have a positive impact on other societal challenges. So for example sustainable agricultural practices to protect biodiversity can at the same time meet food production needs.

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry are key parts of the Irish economy. But we need to look hard at how to increase their environmental sustainability. Relatively simple changes to policy and incentives for these sectors can yield significant benefits for Nature and provide trade-offs are needed if we are to safeguard the wellbeing of future generations.

If Ireland is going to contribute to the reversal of these trends we must look again at some of our policies to promote more sustainable production of food, timber and the use of natural resources of fish, water and air.

Unless transformative change occurs, at the global and national levels, regional, and local, to address the damage to biodiversity, and actions to conserve biodiversity are intensified, these figures will continue to worsen, and further extinctions and declines will occur, with subsequent effects on our wellbeing and economy. This is all the more pressing in the face of climate change. A healthy, resilient environment is necessary to help us mitigate, and adapt to, its effects.

There are however many positives and the national efforts in response to the biodiversity crisis, that this Government has led, to conserve biodiversity are bearing fruit.

One such initiative is the National Pollinator Plan, relating to our 100 species of wild and managed bees. This was developed by a wide range of organisations, led by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Trinity College. It has engaged people all around the country and stimulated a large number of locally based conservation projects.

As I said in this House yesterday, the National Biodiversity Action Plan is the key national overarching policy for our work. Ireland’s 3rd National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) runs from 2017 to 2021. It sets out actions that a range of government, civil and private sectors will undertake to achieve Ireland’s Vision for Biodiversity; that is, that “biodiversity and ecosystems in Ireland are conserved and restored, delivering benefits essential for all sectors of society and that Ireland contributes to efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems in the EU and globally”.

My Department has also just launched a round of consultations with all relevant Government Departments, agencies and state owned companies, as well as farmers, landowners, other sectors and NGOs, to set out our priorities for action in 2021-2027, focusing more specifically on the habitats and species protected under EU Directives, and in the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under those Directives.

Other concrete actions that we have taken in recent years include:

  • Approximately 17% of the terrestrial area of Ireland now lies within the Protected Area network. We have accelerated the designation process.
  • We have invested a significant €50m since 2011 on a major restoration effort on our raised bogs.
  • The National Parks and Wildlife Service’s Farm Plan Scheme has already contributed to the conservation of protected species on agricultural land e.g. for Chough, Corncrake, Hen Harrier, breeding/wintering geese and waders, and the Natterjack Toad.
  • We established the National Curlew Task Force and an NPWS Curlew Conservation Programme.
  • We are again recruiting specialist ecology staff and rangers for our parks and reserves.
  • The EU LIFE Programme has been a major source of support that Ireland has accessed for the conservation, management and restoration of habitats. These habitats in turn support threatened and protected species. There are too many such projects to list them all here but I will mention a few:
    • KerryLIFE is conserving the critically endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel through catchment-scale measures.
    • AranLIFE, which has just concluded, working closely with the farming community of the Aran Islands to improve the conservation status of over 1,000 hectares of farmland, comprising limestone pavement, orchid rich grasslands and machair.
    • The Raptor LIFE project is working to connect and restore habitats for Hen Harrier, Merlin, Atlantic Salmon and Brook Lamprey. The great benefit of these LIFE projects are that they provide some space in which to develop and strengthen working relationships with the key stakeholders, the farmers, the local communities, as well as academic or research institutions and other governmental bodies.
  • We are currently developing our Biodiversity Sectoral Climate Change Adaptation Plan, placing biodiversity at the heart of climate change solutions.

In the lead-up to the Conference, I encouraged sectors to contribute towards the “Seeds for Nature” campaign in an effort to step up and accelerate progress towards achieving the objectives of the National Biodiversity Action Plan. Over forty Notable advancements that were achieved through this campaign included:

  • Coillte and Bord na Móna both made substantial commitments on restoring biodiversity in their land holdings. This will achieve the rehabilitation of 20,000 hectares of cutaway bog and 1,000 hectares of raised bog by 2025 and the restoration of Hazelwood Forest, a 130 ha woodland in a Special Area of Conservation on the banks of Lough Gill.
  • I am doubling the funding provided to Local Authorities so that, with local communities, they can take local Biodiversity Action, including clearing invasive species;
  • We are establishing a Business and Biodiversity Platform with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and a range of Irish businesses including Gas Networks Ireland, Eirgrid, Kepak, Dawn Meats, Coillte and Bord na Mona;
  • The Government is creating a legal onus, or a “biodiversity duty,” on public bodies to have regard to policies, guidelines, and objectives to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the National Biodiversity Action Plan.
  • We are funding research into the impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity.
  • We are undertaking a Financial Needs Assessment for Biodiversity. This will determine what is needed financially to achieve our biodiversity targets, and to move towards a resource mobilisation strategy for the National Biodiversity Plan.

The Government is taking a co-ordinated approach and working across departments to protect our biodiversity. My colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has achieved much through work in his department:

  • Improving habitat management and water quality on lands of conservation value on 50,000 Irish farms through the GLAS scheme.
  • Restoring, preserving and enhancing biodiversity through 22 European Innovation Partnerships.
  • Restoring native woodland and converting conifers into native woodland through the Native Woodland Scheme.
  • Helping the recovery of commercial fish and shellfish stocks in the Celtic Sea. By-catch is being minimised by new landing obligations for some stocks to ensure that all fish caught are counted against quota.
  • And helping sealife nursery grounds through a ban on inshore trawling by large boats.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, is working through the Observe Programme with my department to improve our knowledge of protected species especially whales, dolphins and seabirds and sensitive habitats.

I will continue to work closely with Minister Bruton as we prepare to implement the All-of-Government Climate Action Plan.

Many of the initiatives that we take around climate change will be of clear long-term benefit to biodiversity and we must take great care to ensure that there are no unintended negative effects on nature in the process.

Future initiatives

However, even with all this good work, we will need to raise our game. We need to ensure that we don’t erode our natural capital stock on which both our wellbeing and economy rely.

Some of the actions that need to be considered and resourced includes:

  • Management Plans for all protected sites and their habitats and species,
  • A conservation programme particularly for grasslands, meadows, and in the uplands, building on the success of the Burren and Aran Programmes,
  • New farming models allowing the diversification of agriculture to enable farmers to provide ecosystem services from their lands,
  • Restructuring of non-productive, badly-sited conifer plantations, especially on peatlands,
  • Expansion of the area of native woodland to ensure functioning natural woodland across the landscape. This will also contribute to our climate mitigation and adaptation targets, as will other conservation and restoration work on peatlands,
  • A re-booted programme to remove invasive species, in particular Rhododendron and Laurel to improve the quality of woodland,
  • A national native wildflower initiative particularly along transport corridors and in public spaces,
  • Finally, a transformational change is required to ensure our consumption patterns are truly sustainable.

Finally, as called for in the IPBES report, a transformational change is required to ensure our consumption patterns are truly sustainable. The report calls for such change as the only viable way in which the direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss will be alleviated- this means a “fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values”. It can be expected that there will be opposition to such change from vested interests, but this must be resisted for the public good. This might include new frameworks for private sector investment and innovation, inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements, multi-sectoral planning and strategic policy mixes, integrated management that take into account food, energy, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management and biodiversity conservation, in order to achieve sustainability at all levels across society.

We are still in a position to reverse the threats that biodiversity loss poses to human society and the planet. We must do it now.

Deputies, this Government acknowledges and understands the importance of Ireland’s biodiversity and nature. That is why we have invested significant resources in its protection. That is why we have taken and will continue to take co-ordinated action across departments to care for our habitats and species.

We have made meaningful progress and this needs to be recognised.

I will continue to work hard with my colleagues across government to ensure that the conservation of biodiversity is integral to decision-making across all relevant sectors and to ensure progress is made on the measures referred to in this Statement.

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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