The first question for IBEC’s Neil Walker is whether the environment is still high on the business agenda in the midst of the current economic crisis. He replies that energy and environment issues continue to have a major potential impact on industrial competitiveness.
He cites a recent IBEC quarterly survey of business sentiment which suggested that two-thirds of members regard energy as one of their most important non-pay costs.
“In future, it is also likely that the costs associated with environmental services, such as waste, water and greenhouse gas emissions abatement, will increase on foot of impending Government policy initiatives,” Walker says.
“From a policy perspective, we need to ensure a good environmental outcome and to promote enterprise opportunities but we must also remain vigilant about the business cost of policy measures, in order to ensure that our members remain competitive with their EU counterparts,” he adds.
Looking to the impending Climate Change Bill, Walker explained that IBEC has expressed doubts about various aspects of the framework document, particularly regarding the annual trajectory of greenhouse gas abatement targets over the period to 2050.
Waste policy: principles, process and pragmatism
IBEC, along with other interested parties, made submissions to the 2009 International Review of Waste Policy and has also provided feedback to the department’s subsequent consultation on its draft statement of waste policy. “While we welcome the policy document, we do have a number of concerns. Firstly, despite a gap of nine months between these two documents, there is a very close correspondence between measures proposed in them. This suggests that, to date, the feedback from interested parties has not been incorporated.”
He continues: “There is also an issue around how the policy document interprets the principles underpinning the classification of technologies under the waste hierarchy. Thirdly, we believe that the policymakers need to be more cognisant of whether some of the proposals will be impossible to enforce without incurring prohibitively high transaction costs.”
On incineration, Walker says: “We have members who are involved in providing all types of waste treatment. Whatever process technologies are eventually put in place, the end-user charges should be cost reflective and those costs should be efficiently incurred by providers. To identify the optimal level and type of policy intervention, Government should seek to compare the marginal cost of policy measures against their net benefit to society.”
On water infrastructure Walker considers that one of biggest projects over the coming decade will the provision of a reliable supply of water to the Dublin area.
“There is an urgent need to reduce leakage, currently running at 40 per cent, but it does seem that there will also be a requirement to source water from outside the local river basin, which will involve major capital expenditure, most likely through some form of PPP. One of the concerns we have with the upcoming budget is that the Government may decide to postpone vital capital expenditure,” he adds.
Walker recently attended the opening of the Wicklow waste water treatment scheme, where the lead contractor and operator is an active IBEC member. He says: “the scheme, which involves a €30 million investment, not only improves the quality of the effluent released into waters but through the landspreading of dried sludge, it reduces the use of oil-based fertilisers in agriculture. It is a very good example of a well executed project.” He notes that the water infrastructure issue is related to the funding of local government, and expects that the upcoming budget will address the issue of domestic water charging.
Walker is enthusiastic about the potential for developing green enterprise. “We are broadly supportive of the Government’s green agenda, recognising its potential for employment creation. We hope to see continued growth in emerging ‘clean-tech’ sectors of the Irish economy. Although it can be difficult to define boundaries of these sectors, we see enormous potential for existing and new members in such areas as renewable energy, and the provision of environmental and energy efficiency services.”
He concludes: “To this end, we are currently working very closely with a range of Government agencies. We have also recently recruited a dedicated Green Business Executive who will provide a free service to our members, linking into the EPA’s National Waste Reduction Programme. The objective will be to help our members to benefit from a proactive approach to reducing waste.”