Over the course of this government, we have undertaken a substantial programme of reforms to get our economy back on track and to get people working again. While no-one welcomes a crisis, it does force action; it can be an opportunity to reassess and reform. The programme of reforms put in place by this government is delivering results and will put Ireland back on a path of prosperity. Future growth must, of course, be sustainable – both economically and environmentally.
My own department is undertaking substantial reform of our water services sector. We have established a new national water utility, to take on the water services and infrastructure functions previously carried out by individual local authorities. Through a single national utility we will benefit from more cost-effective and efficient water services, as well as a more coordinated national approach to the planning and delivery of infrastructure.
A new sustainable funding model, independently regulated, and including usage-based domestic water charges, will help to ensure security and quality of water supply.
Not only will there be significant cost savings and benefits to public health, but there will also be environmental benefits; a reformed water services sector will result in reduced water usage and less energy consumption, as well as better protection for our rivers and lakes through increased investment in infrastructure. Enhancement of the security and quality of our water supply will also ensure that Ireland will continue to be attractive for water-intensive industries such as ICT, pharma-chem and agri-food.
Economic and environment considerations also go hand-in-hand in the Government’s waste policy: ‘A Resource Opportunity’. Our entire approach to waste management is undergoing a fundamental shift to provide for a greater focus on the resource potential available within our various waste streams as well as to promote more sustainable production and consumption. Where there are resources, there are entrepreneurial opportunities, investment opportunities, and job creation opportunities.
We are now into the second full year of implementation of the waste policy. A number of important commitments under the policy have been delivered already, including, for example, new household food waste regulations, the roll-out of customer charters, and the establishment of the three new waste management regions.
These are significant reforms and I recently announced a further series of important steps on the road to full implementation including revisions to our existing enforcement structures and streamlining of existing enforcement measures, a new regulatory regime for the collection of household waste, and strengthened structures for the producer responsibility initiatives.
The threat of climate change for humanity and the challenges for society in transitioning to a low carbon future are addressed in the Government’s recently published National Climate Policy Position. The Government has unequivocally re-affirmed its commitment to comply with existing and future climate obligations under EU and international law. Publication of the policy position brings clarity and certainty to the national low carbon transition objective for 2050, which is crucially important to planning and investment decisions by business. Looking ahead, to 2020 and beyond, our economy must be low carbon and climate resilient, but it must also focus on being competitive in the emerging global green economy. Low carbon, climate resilience and economic competitiveness are not mutually exclusive objectives – we can be, and we will be, successful in a low-carbon future if we get our policy right.
Achieving a sustainable low carbon economy at a global level is no doubt a massive challenge but as with other challenges, it should also bring about opportunity. The transition to a more sustainable and greener economy will involve new technologies, new products, new energy systems, new transport systems, and new ways of working. This will, no doubt, give rise to new business opportunities. The green economy will be integral to future growth and Ireland must be to the forefront in availing of opportunities in this area.
Ireland has made substantial progress in recent years with regard to our international and EU obligations on environmental policy. We have significantly reduced the number of outstanding EU infringement proceedings in relation to environmental issues. This has been achieved through an increased focus on compliance, through improved information sharing and policy coordination and by working closely with the Commission and other stakeholders.
Ireland has also shown leadership at an international level. Indeed, during our Presidency of the EU in the first half of last year we secured agreement on the 7th Environmental Action Programme, paving the way for a better environment for all of the citizens of Europe in the years ahead.
As we continue to strive towards economic recovery we must not forget that our environment is a key natural resource and something which we must cherish and protect. This government has taken some important steps that should put us on the road to a better economy and an enhanced environment.