Biodiversity Loss; Citizen’s Assembly Highlights the Need for Drastic Action
Category : Ellen Brophy
The world is facing an unprecedented biodiversity loss that is threatening the very existence of countless species, including humans. In recognition of this urgent challenge, Ireland took a ground-breaking step by convening the world’s first national Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss. The Assembly brought together ordinary citizens from all walks of life to deliberate on the critical issue of biodiversity loss and explore potential solutions. The Assembly facilitated citizens to make their voices heard and to play an active role in shaping the future of our planet.
Over the course of several months, the Assembly engaged in a series of meetings and discussions to identify the root causes of biodiversity loss and potential solutions to address the issue. The citizens’ deliberations were informed by a diverse range of experts from the fields of science, policy, and civil society, who shared their knowledge and insights with the Assembly members.
The Assembly provided a unique opportunity for citizens to participate in the democratic process and contribute to the development of policy solutions. The report contains over 150 recommendations that if implemented would transform Ireland’s relationship with its natural environment.
Biodiversity Loss Policies and Legislation
The report of the Citizens Assembly expresses the disappointment of the Assembly at the State’s failure to adequately fund, implement, and enforce existing laws and policies related to biodiversity. The report explicitly states that there is an urgent need for change and sufficient funding, and increased expenditure should be provided for the enforcement and implementation of national legislation and EU biodiversity-related laws and directives related to biodiversity. The members of the Assembly heard that although the government has declared a Biodiversity Crisis, there is little evidence to suggest that this is being taken seriously or that action is being taken to address the drivers of biodiversity loss.
It went on to propose a series of changes to the Constitution aimed at ensuring every citizen’s right to a clean, healthy, and safe environment. The Assembly recommends that nature be provided with protections within the constitution to enable it to continue to provide the necessities of life, including food, clean freshwater and air, as well as a clean and healthy environment for the well-being of present and future generations. These recommendations follow a growing international trend emphasising the need to protect nature to safeguard human existence.
The reassuring greens of our landscape mask the loss we are experiencing of so many key elements of our natural environment.Dr Ní Shúilleabháin
We fully support all the recommendations that were put forward. Taking into consideration that we specialise in the delivery of biodiversity training programmes there were a few that jumped out.
Breakdown of Recommendations
‘6. Local leadership, local communities and the activities of the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) sector must be actively developed and resourced to assist the State in addressing the biodiversity crisis.’
Climate change and the impacts of biodiversity loss are global problems, but they can and should be addressed locally if change is to happen. Research tells us that healthy biodiversity is a prime indicator of healthy ecosystems and healthy communities. After all, we are part of biodiversity!
The Irish Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications states that:
“It is critical that all of us try our best as community members to make sure that biodiversity thrives within and around our towns and cities. After all, we must be stewards of the land we occupy and deserve to feel empowered by it. Thankfully, there are many ways in which we can do this.”
“Policy measures, training and dialogue will be essential to bring communities along on the decarbonisation journey; you can also be a positive influence for a better future within your own community.”
Biodiversity is our greatest ally in our fight against climate change and we must address the rate of biodiversity loss. It is clear that the development and resourcing of local action will benefit the environment and people both locally and globally.
A great way to empower communities for climate action is through the development of a community Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). A Biodiversity Action Plan is a valuable document for a community to produce and take ownership of. It focusses action on achievable short and long term goals, and can be used in funding applications to procure the money required to make these goals a reality. Biodiversity Action Plans highlight the unique flora, fauna and habitats surrounding a community and pinpoints the best measures to safeguard biodiversity.
We here at Veri Connect work with communities across Ireland to help them develop Biodiversity Action Plans for the benefit of their community and consequently, the world at large.
Through our work with members of the ILDN it’s been clear to us for some time now that people are passionate about taking action against biodiversity loss. Every course offered is oversubscribed with volunteers who continue to take action long after the course is over.
‘11. An all-island approach and wider transboundary approach should be taken into consideration with regard to biodiversity conservation and restoration.’
“The climate and biodiversity crises transcend national, disciplinary and sectoral boundaries. We all live on the same planet and urgently need to fulfil our international commitments to reducing greenhouse gases, while protecting and restoring the ecosystems that sustain our lives, livelihoods and wellbeing.”Prof Yvonne Buckley, vice president for Biodiversity and Climate Action at Trinity College Dublin
Biodiversity goes beyond human boundaries. Ireland, and indeed the world, as a whole must come together. The greatest success for safeguarding our planet will come from working together.
We can take inspiration from the success of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, which proved the momentous success that can be achieved from working together to save biodiversity. The Plan brought together organizations from different sectors across all of Ireland to create landscapes where not only pollinators can thrive, but biodiversity at large. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan continues to foster projects where biodiversity, and people are impacted in a beneficial way.
Having a keen interest in cross border relations through PEACE PLUS we agree that this is vital.
‘14. All biodiversity incentives and grants should be results-based, supported by monitoring and evaluation.’
As the old saying goes “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”.
Therefore there should be incentives for the measured amount of biodiversity that is conserved or restored. Landowners should not have to lose money for trying to save biodiversity, they should be awarded.
Yet this goes beyond measuring just flora and fauna. We must monitor and evaluate the resourcing of biodiversity initiatives in order to reach the most amount of people in the most sustainable and efficient way.
Data is a vital component in the battle against biodiversity loss. We track our training and actions through our software Veri allowing full overview of the progress and distance travelled for all our clients.
‘17. The Irish business community needs to engage with biodiversity and show leadership in the same way that they have begun to engage with the issue of the climate crisis.’
Climate Action 101 is our accredited course targeted at employers to upskill their teams with the most up to date information on how to contribute positively to the climate crisis.
Businesses across Ireland are recognising the importance of sustainable practices. Sustainability is a key component of successful business in this day and age. Luckily, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability can go hand in hand when addressed properly.
Biodiversity is a key pillar in sustainability and one of the best ways to address the climate crisis. That is why businesses are starting to apply biodiversity measures in order to improve their sustainability.
The first step is raising awareness within the business to get a deeper understanding of biodiversity issues in Ireland. This way, the business can apply best practices to help with biodiversity, climate change and improve their communities.
Businesses can use an array of toolkits and information to learn about biodiversity. Sometimes this might be overwhelming and confusing. If that is the case, there are certain courses available that can help a company with their sustainability.
‘30. All relevant departments, bodies and agencies that deal with biodiversity should have in-house ecological expertise to advise on all biodiversity related policies and activities.
The concepts of sustainability, climate change, biodiversity and carbon footprints might appear daunting to a lot of people. But just as you would use an accountant to help with your accounting, you should use an ecologist to help with your ecological practices.
Ecologists are able to provide organisations with expertise on specialised solutions to the growing environmental issues that companies are not having to face in order to play their part in the changing world.
Dr Amanda Greer leads our team of ecologists. We are very proud that all our training is delivered by experts in the subject matter. We know environmental issues can attract a lot of green washing and people paying lip service. Our trainers are passionate about climate action both as part of their careers but also in their home lives.
‘42. Local authorities are uniquely placed to deliver biodiversity projects. Biodiversity funding and staff resources in local authorities must be significantly increased. Local authorities must be accountable and report on their biodiversity activities. Current resources must be enhanced, and biodiversity given greater priority in the councils’ activities.’
The inherent value of biodiversity is priceless. It makes the world and creates the only livable planet in the observable universe.
Biodiversity doesn’t just make the world livable, it creates a landscape where humans and nature can flourish! Its capacity to combat climate change is equal to its capacity to enhance human well-being.
The social benefits of healthy biodiversity not only include mental and physical well-being, but also save taxpayer money. Biodiversity in Ireland is estimated to be worth 2.6billion each year. With biodiversity being such a key measure in community well-being, it is vital that significant funding and resources are allocated towards the conservation and restoration of biodiversity!
We are currently delivering training nationally as an approved training company for LASNTG. It’s a fantastic opportunity to upskill the workers that care for our public spaces.
‘47. The State must provide a streamlined and easily accessible system of small grants, information and support for the public to undertake biodiversity action on residential properties.’
People all across Ireland are dedicated to enhancing biodiversity on residential properties. We are seeing the shift from managing land solely for human purposes to managing it in a way that allows nature to thrive as well. This shift is proven to benefit whole communities. After all, studies have shown that planting tree in a neighbourhood can:
- Improve mental health
- Save household energy
- Fight climate change
- Improve water quality and prevent flooding
- Minimise noise pollution
- Improved air quality
- Even reduces crime rates!
- And more!
Just imagine the impacts trees can have in conjunction with other biodiversity actions!
Check out DLR’s infosheet on community trees to learn more:
VeriConnect has worked first hand with DLR and we know the amazing benefits their community biodiversity initiatives are creating.
There is an appetite for citizen participation and this energy should be organised and facilitated to take action. Through our work with the ILDN members we have had feedback where people have continued actions at their own expense for the better of the land and to provide solutions to biodiversity loss.
‘94. The management of water catchment areas must be greatly improved, with assessments of water quality to be updated regularly to guide action on restoring water quality.’
Rivers are often referred to as The Lifeblood of Nature, veining biodiversity throughout the land. Humans have always been drawn to rivers and civilisation has always been centred around freshwater. With the looming crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, freshwater is more important than ever.
It might always be easy to be grateful for all the water in Ireland, but we are very lucky to have plenty of freshwater. Ireland is very fortunate to have around 100,000 kilometres river channels and over 12,00 lakes. However, we are in desperate need of action to make our water bodies cleaner.
Close to half of Irish rivers (47%), lakes (50%) and estuaries (62%) are currently in an unhealthy state. With the trend not improving for years and river pollution on the rise, clearly something needs to be done, and done fast. Thankfully, there are government organizatins, NGO’s and community groups that are committed to this task. But they need more support, both on the ground level and from the top down.
During Covid we implemented a biodiversity initiative called NoreVision. This programme went on to establish a trust to manage the river ensuring its health for generations to come. If people are empowered and funded, it’s clear that great things can happen and can have big impacts on biodiversity loss.
‘137. The State must provide funding, education and infrastructural supports to engage local community groups in appropriately managing invasive species, which negatively impact native habitats and species.‘
After habitat loss, invasive species are the second biggest threat to biodiversity globally. These select few species are able to outcompete native flora and fauna and devastate whole ecosystems. Our forests are being destroyed by rhododendron and cherry laurel, rivers are being plagued with asian clam, roadways are being decimated by Japanese knotweed and our endangered ground nesting birds are being annihilated by the American mink. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are over 60 high-impact invasive species in Ireland and many more medium-impact species.
Invasive species don’t just harm nature, they also decimate taxpayer dollars. The estimated annual cost of invasive species to the economies of Ireland and NI is over €261 million.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of the Republic of Ireland and the Environment and Heritage Service of The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland are working together to address the worsening impacts of invasive species.
However, tackling invasive species is everyone’s responsibility. We are all stewards of the areas in which we live and enjoy and therefore we must take care of them.
Raising awareness is often the first and most important step. That is why community groups have taken the initiative to learn about invasive species in their local areas. We have worked with many community groups across all of Ireland in order to tackle invasive species and have witnessed the huge efforts being done to solve this problem.
But invasive species are relentless, and we must also be relentless in our fight to control them or else everybody loses. The costs of having invasive species continue to spread is too great, for ecological and social reasons. There is no room for taking a step back away from invasive species control or else all the progress will be lost. The issue is only increasing, but it is far from hopeless. With the right support from the State, community groups can have a lasting positive impact on biodiversity. And along with other organisations working together, we can truly see a brighter future.
Our invasive species management courses are one the most action driven programmes we have to offer. The real life application of educating interested individuals who want to go and manage outdoor spaces means these targeted areas improve dramatically for natural flora and fauna.
Ireland’s pioneering move of establishing the world’s first national Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss is a remarkable feat in tackling the ongoing global threat to biodiversity. The Assembly’s recommendations call for an all-island approach to conservation, the engagement of local communities and businesses, and the provision of funding, education, and infrastructural support for biodiversity initiatives. The Assembly is an inspiring example of the positive impact of citizen participation in democracy and the vital role of active engagement in protecting our planet’s natural resources.
If you want to read the report in full you can do so here.