Environment Minister Phil Hogan spoke to Stephen Dineen after his speech at this year’s Environment Ireland conference.
Better management of river basin districts and water provision are essential, according to Environment Minister Phil Hogan, who addressed the annual Environment Ireland conference. At the Croke Park event in September the Minister said the 2003 arrangements for managing river basin districts are not best suited to the second cycle of river basin planning.
The Minister believes there are three basic problems regarding water management in Ireland. “First of all we’ve a lot of water escaping from the pipe network, secondly we have a lot of work to do on water quality and thirdly we have a challenge in the future in relation to water volumes, particularly in the east coast,” he tells eolas.
In parallel with new governance structures Ireland needs to “get better value for the money that we’re putting into the schemes,” and to “ensure that we have better quality and less leakage.” A new water utility will take over responsibility for water service provision from the local authorities.
In his speech the Minister said: “If we get the governance arrangements right, we will lay the foundations for effective implementation of the [Water Framework] Directive and a sustainable use of our water resources in the years ahead.”
The Minister used his conference speech to elaborate on the proposed septic tank registration and inspection scheme, which he announced on 14 September. The system will require owners of septic tanks and other on-site systems to register their system’s details with local authorities. He said that “contrary to some of the misinformation being spread on this matter, households will only be required to pay a modest registration fee,” which he did not envisage exceeding €50. Householders will not be required to re-register their system for “a number of years.” Hogan personally believes a five year interval is appropriate.
Inspection would happen in all areas of the country and where a problem with a system is identified repair or remediation will be required. In an effort to avoid hardship for households requiring system upgrades Hogan said he was “examining options to provide financial support in such cases.”
The new Minister is also actively reforming waste policy. Hogan told Environment Ireland that after “much speculation, analysis and review of waste policy in the past number of years” he intended making decisions and providing policy certainty. The Waste Framework Directive was now transposed; the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 increased the landfill levy; and public consultation has occurred about national waste policy, a proposed packaging levy and alteration of the household collection market.
Whilst Ireland has performed well through various producer responsibility initiatives, Hogan said that with the emphasis on re-use rather than recovery and the need for improvement to waste streams “it is both necessary and timely to review all aspects” of these initiatives.
With the EU viewing resource efficiency as central to job creation and sustainable growth (as outlined in the Europe 2020 strategy) Hogan says the use of plastic waste has a significant role to play. “Producers in the farming community came together and formed a group for the purpose of dealing with farm plastic,” he says. He said the model used by the Irish Farm Films Producers’ Group could be extended to other areas.
Another area of economic and environmental potential for Ireland is increased generation of renewable energy. Hogan says he is sure “all investors in the renewable energy area are quite frustrated with the planning process” and that he is carrying out a review to see how foreshore licence consents and renewable energy projects can be integrated, as well as “all of those barriers to entry to the national grid that are hampering investment in that area.”
He states: “We will have great difficulty in meeting our 2020 renewable energy targets unless we actually review the planning system and see how we can speed up the process and remove barriers towards investment in that area.”
The Environment Minister is keen to enhance State procurement of environmentally sustainable goods and services. €15.05 billion worth of goods and services were procured by the Irish Government in 2010 and the Minister states: “I want to publish a plan to see how much of that can be developed through green technology and green enterprise.”
He says technologies have advanced considerably and that “we can do a lot more in terms of greening the type of products we purchase in order to ensure that we get better value from the Irish economy domestically and achieve our national climate change objectives,” particularly from energy efficiency and resource management.
Hogan told the conference that he intends to release a review of climate change policy soon, set in the context of the post-Kyoto era, which will commence in 2013, and the European Commission communication on a roadmap for a low-carbon economy by 2050 (which foresees national roadmaps).
The Minister says he has had a number of meetings with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who are responsible for what are “likely to be the challenging departments in relation to meeting the sectoral targets we have to achieve by 2020.” Among the related topics he plans to discuss with EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard is the balance between food security and the mitigation measures which are needed to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets.
An example of sustainable development, Hogan told the conference, was food production and how “by acting smart and thinking ‘green’, growth will be achieved.” The Minister said that “one of the most interesting ‘green’ initiatives” mentioned in the first progress report of Food Harvest 2020 (the Department of Agriculture’s roadmap) is the internationally accredited Irish carbon footprint model. It is a collaborative venture between Bord Bia, Teagasc and the UK Carbon Trust, and the model has been integrated into Ireland’s beef and lamb quality assurance scheme, which has 32,000 members.
The partners and industry are now planning to extend the model to dairy products. The Minister said that it will be “a key competitive advantage for us [Ireland] if we can prove to our international customers that we really are more sustainable than other potential suppliers.”
Hogan concluded his speech by reminding delegates that a clean environment is essential for encouraging economic investment and development.