Waste policies receive 8.5 out of 10 but agriculture and forestry given just four
Their overall finding was that the Government scored a C+ or moderate progress in the first year of the Coalition. Photograph: iStock
Environmental organisation Friends of the Earth commissioned three academic experts to assess progress on the 300 commitments on climate change and the environment in the programme for government and to give them marks out of 10 under nine categories.
Dr Cara Augustenborg of UCD, Dr Paul Deane of DCU and Prof Diarmuid Torney of DCU spent some months assessing what progress had been made and compiling them into a report card. It is the first time that climate and environmental policy has been assessed in this way.
Their overall finding was that the Government scored a C+ or moderate progress in the first year of the Coalition.
It noted that significant progress had been achieved in some areas but “the pace of progress was too slow to achieve their own targets”.
The best category was waste (8.5 out of 10) where the experts noted the progress made in the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy as well as policies to address single-use plastic.
In contrast, unsurprisingly, agriculture and forestry performed worst with four out of 10. The scorecard is scathing of this sector and notes that progress has been disappointing. It describes the two major strategies for agriculture, “Agclimate” and “Food Vision 2030”, as “incompatible with climate goals and emission reduction targets”.
It adds: “The current agri-food strategy perpetuates an agricultural model which is directly responsible for escalating nutrient pollution and locks Ireland into damaging water quality.
“. . . Many of the commitments on forestry have not been actioned despite being critical to addressing climate change.”
There is also a poor mark for nature and biodiversity, which scored 4.5 out of 10. It has welcomed new funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service but said much more was needed. It has said progress had been too slow on forming a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity, and criticised slowness in action on hedgerows, invasive species and implementation of the National Diversity Action Plan.
Two categories achieved “good” marks, of between 7 and 7.5 out of 10. They are climate, which has benefitted from new strong legislation and better governance, and air quality because of new solid fuel regulations and an extension of the smoky coal ban.
The scorecard could set the tone for the autumn session of the Oireachtas which will see two major climate change initiatives getting off the ground: the Climate Action Plan and the five-year carbon budget, which will set limits on emissions from each sector of the economy and society.
The remaining four categories achieved moderate ratings, scoring between 5.5 and 6.5. All of them present mixed bags in terms of progress. For example, transport has benefitted from investment in greenways and safe cycling school routes but there is a lack of progress on public transport commitments. The “buildings” category (also 6.5 marks) has benefitted from funding that improves efficiency on new builds but the three experts also point to the absence of a national retrofitting plan as well as poor progress developing retrofit pay-back mechanisms.
Dr Augustenborg said it was clear that environmental issues had moved up the political agenda in the past year. She praised “significant groundwork” in some areas but said she had serious concerns on biodiversity, water quality and agriculture.
Dr Deane said conducting such an exercise was very insightful and gave something more than “piecemeal individual assessments”. He said he actually changed his mind on a number of areas. He said he was impressed with the breadth of the policy but disappointed with the pace of implementation.
Prof Torney said it was the first time he had graded the work of Government, rather than students’ work. “Overall we found there was some good progress in some areas but patchy progress elsewhere.”
Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth, said the scorecard highlighted how important it was that people continued to engage in climate campaigning.
“I would sum up this assessment as: ‘Some done, a lot more to do.’
“The Government has laid the foundations but the pace of change is still too slow.”