The government has received a C+ grade in an assessment of its delivery of the Programme for Government commitments on climate and environment action.

A ‘report card’ published today (Monday, September 13) of an independent expert assessment of progress, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, was carried out by a three-person academic panel who marked the government out of 10 in nine subject areas.

The government received the lowest mark in the agriculture and forestry category – scoring only four out of 10. Waste received the highest mark of 8.5, while climate got 7.5, air quality seven, transport 6.5, energy and buildings both got six, water and marine 5.5 and nature and biodiversity 4.5.

The panel’s overall verdict was: “While significant groundwork has been achieved in a number of areas within the first year, the pace of progress is currently too slow to achieve the government’s targets relating to their environmental and climate commitments.”

Agriculture sustainability progress ‘disappointing’

In agriculture, where policy is “frequently controversial and contested”, the panel found:

“Progress on the sustainability of Irish agriculture and forestry has been disappointing. While Food Vision 2030 and AgClimatise were published, they are incompatible with climate goals and emission reduction targets.

“The current agri-food strategy perpetuates an agricultural model which is directly responsible for escalating nutrient pollution and locks Ireland into damaging water quality for the remainder of this government.

“The proposal for a national land use review has not progressed, and many of the commitments on forestry have not been actioned despite being critical to addressing climate targets.

“Thus far, the government has failed to effectively address the stalled forestry appeals process and other roadblocks to afforestation.”

Meanwhile, on biodiversity, the panel said: “Commitments to review the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] mandate and convene a Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity are progressing too slowly, and the government has thus far failed to address their commitments on hedgerows, invasive species and implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan.”

Patchy progress

Chair of the assessment panel Dr. Cara Augustenborg, environmental policy fellow at University College Dublin (UCD) said that while many of the government’s commitments “are not yet visible in our everyday lives”, environmental issues “have clearly moved up the political agenda in the past year”.

“Serious concerns remain regarding the government’s progress in addressing the biodiversity crisis, declining water quality, and the role of agriculture and forestry in these areas,” Dr. Augustenborg added.

Dr. Diarmuid Torney, associate professor at the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University (DCU), said:

“Grading is a core part of the job of an academic and I have spent countless hours grading students’ work, but this was my first time grading the work of a government.

“Overall we found there was some good progress in some areas but patchy progress elsewhere, particularly in terms of detailed sectoral implementation of climate and environmental commitments.”

Dr. Paul Deane, senior research fellow with MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, University College Cork (UCC), said he was “impressed by the breadth of policy and successes in key areas such as the climate action bill, but disappointed with the pace of development that often seemed at odds with the urgency described in the plan for government”.

People power

Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth said that for him, the report “highlights how essential it is that people and communities stay engaged in climate campaigning”.

“Civil society pressure helped to secure the progressive commitments in the Programme for Government and only sustained engagement with our elected representatives will ensure they are delivered,” Coghlan said.

“As the government moves from the planning to the implementation phase of climate action, there will be ever more desperate calls from vocal lobby groups for special treatment, delays or exemptions.

“Only people power can counterbalance that and ensure Ireland does its fair share of climate action, that every sector pulls its weight and that the affected workers and communities get the support they need for the transition to a safer, cleaner, healthier future.”

Friends of the Earth said it plans to publish an updated report card on an annual basis.