Sunday 22 September 2019

We need to do more to protect the environment


RIO+20 TOOK place last week. The original 'Rio', or Earth Summit, happened twenty years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hence the title of last week's gathering. The official title of the 1992 event was the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. An unprecedented 108 heads of state, heads of government and other national representatives gathered with the aim of trying to come to grips with stopping unsustainable living, alleviating world poverty, protecting the environment and halting the loss of biodiversity; a tall order, indeed.

Twenty years on, the problems that face humanity continue to grow. Expert groups warned last week that we are "on the edge of a threshold of a future with unprecedented environmental risks" and called for a new political urgency to address the big issues that are both immediate and significant.

On the nature front, Ireland became a contracting party to the Convention of Biological Diversity on 13 June 1992 at the original Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The government ratified the convention four years later on 22 March 1996 and the convention came into force on 22 June of that year. The first National Sustainability Development Strategy was published in April 1997 quickly followed in July of that year by a public announcement that a National Biodiversity Plan was being prepared.

Five years later, in April 2002, the long-delayed National Biodiversity Plan was published and was followed over the last ten years by several Local Biodiversity Action Plans. The National Parks and Wildlife Service also drew up several Species Action Plans. The long-awaited and now excellent National Biodiversity Data Centre was established in May 2006 on the campus of the Waterford Institute of Technology and was officially opened on 18 January 2007.

On 9 November last year the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht launched Actions for Biodiversity, Ireland's second National Biodiversity Plan, setting out an agenda for the five-year period 20112016. And, two weeks ago, on the eve of Rio+20, Dáil Éireann ratified the Aarhus Convention bringing Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration into force after a 14-year delay by successive governments.

Progress is being made but considering the scale of the problems the pace needs to be ratcheted up several notches. The stated aim of last week's Rio+20 was to strengthen commitments already made. On a personal level we all need to do that to live more sustainably, protect our environment and try to halt the loss of biodiversity.

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