An Taisce
The National Trust for Ireland

An Taisce Newsletter

Volume 6 Issue 1
January 2014

Welcome to An Taisce's January 2014 ezine

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In this issue:

Full articles


Dublin City Association talk by Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald will be giving a talk to the Dublin City Association of An Taisce and the students of DCU on Thursday 20th February at 7.30p.m.  His talk is entitled "Ireland After the Boom and Bust: Picking Up the Pieces".  It will look at planning and development issues in Ireland during times of affluence and recession, and how the people have dealt with their effects.

Frank is Environment Editor of The Irish Times and author of several books, including Chaos at the Crossroads (with James Nix), documenting the environmental destruction of Ireland during the boom years, and The Builders (with Kathy Sheridan), profiling the developers who won and then lost nearly everything.


Tree Week 2nd-9th March

Tree week is from 2nd - 9th March when everyone is encouraged to plant and enjoy trees.

This is the 30th Tree Week and the theme this year is the Sound of Trees. It will be launched with a family day in Powerscourt on the Sunday and many tree planting events will be taking place over the week. There will be full details on the website

The closing event is a concert in Sandford Church in Ranelagh on Saturday 8th March at 7.30 entitled "The Sound of Trees"

Trees can be planted to commemorate an anniversaary and 2014 is the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf (did Brian Boru march through your village on his way to Clontarf from Kincora in Clare? It is also the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. Did some of the 49,000 Irish men who died in that war come from your town. Planting a tree would be a fitting memorial.


Tree Growth and Carbon

A recent study published in Nature has observed that the growth of trees accelerates as they age. This overturns a popular assumption upon which short cycle biofuel crops are based. In the forests studied, trees exceeding 100cm in diameter comprised just 6% of the total volume of the forests, yet they contributed 33% to the new mass of the forest in a given year. This places old growth trees as key elements in terms of a forests ability to sequester carbon. Although we must also consider that old trees die, and with that death comes a release of carbon, yet their importance in the ecology, biodiversity, and reseeding are becoming more and more apparent.

The release of the results of this study is extremely timely and calls into question the short-cycle, forest based bioenergy scheme supported by the Government’s Food harvest 2020 plan. There has been an increase in the focus on the lifecycle of forest biofuel crops. When you cut down and burn a tree you release carbon. The equivalent carbon is not sequestered until another tree grows and takes the place. The timescale in which this happens is significant. Indeed, the latest IPCC report underlined the fact that it can take decades, or even centuries to compensate for the carbon released through the felling and burning of trees.

What should we take from these developments? Perhaps when we look at the douglas fir Coillte plantations that punctuate the Irish landscape, and the distinct lines of clear felling that have taken place we should be asking ourselves how much carbon was released and how long will it take to compensate? Indeed, the old growth forests that have long since ceased to feature in the Irish landscape could have been our most valuable amenity. The assumption that biofuels are carbon neutral needs to be overturned and it may be time to think about carbon, forests, and energy in a much longer time-scale than represented in government biofuels policy.

See also The Guardian - Trees accelerate growth as they get older and bigger, study finds Findings contradict assumption that old trees are less productive and could have important implications for carbon absorption


An Taisce,  Kerry Association

Those of you who read our local newspapers will have seen two interesting items advertised as open for submissions from the general public, namely the Kerry County Development Plan 2015-2021 and the Lough Leane Loop Trail Project.

The County Development Plan is a very important document, which is reviewed every six years, so, if you think the present Plan is too strict/too loose/inaccurate/should include extra information etc., now is your chance to have your say.  A draft plan has been prepared which is on public display from 24 th January to 7 th April.   It can be downloaded from the Council’s website, or hard copies can be viewed in County Council offices, including public libraries. 

Submissions or observations may be made either on-line via or in written form to Noell O’Connor, Planning Policy Unit, Kerry County Council, Rathass, Tralee, clearly marked Submission – Draft County Development Plan’  They must be received before 5pm on Monday 7 th April 2014.

The second item open for comment, the Lough Lein Loop Trail Project, is a proposal to develop a walking/cycling route around Lough Lein.  Various route options are being considered at present and general submissions from the public are invited up to 28 th February.  Your comments should be submitted in writing to Administrative Officer, Roads and Transportation, Kerry County Council, Rathass, Tralee or by e-mail to and should include the title ‘Lough Lein Loop Trail Project’.  It is very important that the final route chosen does not have any adverse impact on Killarney National Park.

We will be discussing both these document at our monthly meetings, which are held in Maeve O’Donnell’s house, 16 Denny St., Tralee on the first Thursday of the month at 8.00 p.m.  All members are welcome to attend.

Those of you who read our local newspapers will have seen two interesting items advertised as open for submissions from the general public, namely the Kerry County Development Plan 2015-2021 and the Lough Leane Loop Trail Project.

The County Development Plan is a very important document, which is reviewed every six years, so, if you think the present Plan is too strict/too loose/inaccurate/should include extra information etc., now is your chance to have your say.  A draft plan has been prepared which is on public display from 24 th January to 7 th April.   It can be downloaded from the Council’s website, or hard copies can be viewed in County Council offices, including public libraries. 

Submissions or observations may be made either on-line via or in written form to Noell O’Connor, Planning Policy Unit, Kerry County Council, Rathass, Tralee, clearly marked Submission – Draft County Development Plan’  They must be received before 5pm on Monday 7 th April 2014.

The second item open for comment, the Lough Lein Loop Trail Project, is a proposal to develop a walking/cycling route around Lough Lein.  Various route options are being considered at present and general submissions from the public are invited up to 28 th February.  Your comments should be submitted in writing to Administrative Officer, Roads and Transportation, Kerry County Council, Rathass, Tralee or by e-mail to and should include the title ‘Lough Lein Loop Trail Project’.  It is very important that the final route chosen does not have any adverse impact on Killarney National Park.

We will be discussing both these document at our monthly meetings, which are held in Maeve O’Donnell’s house, 16 Denny St., Tralee on the first Thursday of the month at 8.00 p.m.  All members are welcome to attend.


Appeal Against Drive-Through Restaurant in Navan

An Taisce has appealed a grant of planning permission by Navan Town Council for a “drive-thru” style restaurant to An Bord Pleanála. Located at Brews Hill, close to the town centre, the development is to provide associated elevated signage as well as parking spaces and ancillary works.

The three key grounds of the appeal are that the development goes against established Local Plan Guidelines, it is against best practice in urban design, and its location is contrary to sustainable transport standards.

Local Area Plan Guidelines

The primary concern in this respect is the effect of the restaurant’s location on public health. For example, the Irish Heart foundation links location of fast food outlets with an increase in childhood obesity.

Against Urban Best Practice

Resulting air and noise pollution will have a detrimental effect on nearly residential areas. An assessment is needed as to the capacity for Navan to absorb an increase in these style developments without impacting the character of the town.

Contrary to Sustainable Transport

Locating a drive-thru restaurant in this area will significantly increase traffic.

An Taisce has asked that the case be considered from the beginning with regard to proper planning and sustainable development. There is precedence. On 22 nd Jan, 2014 an appeal lodged to An Bord Pleanála regarding the location of a fast-food restaurant beside three schools in Greystones, Co. Wicklow was upheld. 

Thanks to Eoin Heaney


Heritage at Risk

Aldborough House

Years of neglect, vandalism and arson has left the ‘last great Georgian mansion to be built in Dublin’ close to a ruin.

Architect: Richard Johnston

The foundation was laid down in 1792.

Built by Edward Augustus Stratford (1736-1801), 2nd Earl of Aldborough, as Dublin’s last great house of the eighteenth century. When the Earl died in 1801, possession of the house passed onto his wife. Since then, it has accommodated various uses ranging from a school, barracks, and a post office depot.

It fronts onto Portland Row and stands at the junction of that street with the North Strand, Amiens Street, Gloucester Street and Seville Place. The house and grounds form a complete and extensive block or square, fronting Portland Row, Gloucester Street, Buckingham Street, and Meredyth Place.


Practical Implications of the Aarhus Convention for Lawyers

Joint workshop of the Environmental Pillar and the Irish Maritime Law Association (IMLA) to inform lawyers about the Aarhus Convention and its implementation in Ireland with a particular focus on marine matters.

Contacts: Helen Noble President and Edmund Sweetman Secretary of the IMLA; Karin Dubsky Coordinator of Coastwatch and member of the Environment Pillar Steering Committee.  


Date and Time: Tuesday Feb 4 th 2014 from 4 – 7 pm followed by light refreshments

Venue: St Michan’s Church, Church Street



4.00 pm Welcome

Chair: Helen Noble President IMLA and Donna Mullan Convener of the Environ. Pillar Law group

4.15 pm The Aarhus Convention and national law on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters - the key points and potential impact. Dr. Aina Ryall Faculty of Law, University College Cork.

4.50 Environmental Litigation and the significance of the Aarhus Convention. Glen Gibbons B.L.

5.10 Present practice on access to information and public participation in key marine areas and implications for commercial and public interest. 

Presented by Environment Pillar members. Short presentations outlining present practice and recommendations for better compliance with the Aarhus Convention in the marine sector:

Aarhus principles in Irish aquaculture planning, licenses and appeals Karin Dubsky Coastwatch

  • Wild Fisheries, access to information on fishing activity and law enforcement

-     The practical effects of the Aarhus Convention. - John Wilde Crosbie B.L.

6.00   ‘Foreshore Reform and the Aarhus Convention – Lorraine O ' Donoghue , Foreshore Section Dept of Environment , Community and Local  Government

Discussion to bring proposals for best practice solutions

6.30 The Aarhus Compliance Mechanism and ELIG – Michael Ewing Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar.

6.55 Closing Remarks – Edmund Sweetman B.L.

7.00 Reception

All papers will be available from the IMLA website after the presentation.

There is no charge for attendance but prior registration is required by emailing 3 rd February, 2014

This event is being organised with sponsorship by the Department of the Environment and Local Government Environment Fund.


Ireland’s natural heritage – a new 100 year study

The Rothschild Reserves in Ireland: 1914-2014

A new study examining the history of iconic places in Ireland, identified as potential nature reserves by conservationist Charles Rothschild 100 years ago, illustrates the considerable pressures that have been endured by Irish wildlife and landscapes.

The Rothschild Reserves in Ireland 1914-2014, published today, was compiled by researchers from University College Cork’s Centre for Planning Education and Research.  Field visits to 17 sites identified throughout the country by the Society for the Protection of Nature Reserves (SPNR) in 1914 were combined with analysis of archive documents to assess the changes to the sites over the past century. 

The study identifies the present condition of the bogs, islands, mountains and lakes and makes recommendations for safeguarding them and their wildlife into the future. 

Of the 17 sites identified as potential reserves in 1914, all except one remain today and thirteen are now protected for wildlife by a form of natural heritage designation. These include some of Ireland’s most iconic natural heritage sites such as Mount Brandon, Ben Bulben, the Burren, Killarney Lakes, the Saltee Islands and Bull Island in Dublin Bay. The sites also included lesser known areas such as the Wicklow sand dunes. While the majority of the sites survived, those which have been most adversely affected are peatlands, one of which has been entirely lost whilst three others have been partly lost or damaged.

Looking ahead, the report notes that the future of the Rothschild Reserves cannot be considered in isolation of the wider countryside that surrounds them.  It notes that management of the adjoining land and landscapes, as well as of the sites themselves will be needed if the sites are to survive another 100 years.  

The SPNR was an early nature protection group based in London, and which later became The Wildlife Trusts (UK).  It was led by the naturalist and banker Charles Rothschild who, co-ordinated a survey of potential nature reserves in Ireland which began in 1914 and concluded the following year.

The survey fed into a final report to the British government’s Board of Agriculture which recommended that 284 wildlife sites in Ireland and Britain – the so-called ‘Rothschild Reserves’ - should be protected as nature reserves.

The Rothschild Reserves in Ireland 1914-2014 was funded by the Carnegie UK Trust.  A reference group helped to advise on the report consisting of representatives from An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife Trusts (UK) and University College Cork. 

Fintan Kelly, Irish Wildlife Trust Research Officer, said: “The Irish Wildlife Trust is delighted to have been involved in the development of this very timely report. Much has changed on these two Islands in the one hundred years since Charles Rothschild’s survey of wildlife sites. In both Ireland and the UK the continued existence of our wild places is under threat from shared pressures such as agricultural intensification and climate change. In many ways the history of the Rothschild sites is a reflection of Ireland’s landscape at large. While much of Ireland’s rich and diverse natural heritage has persisted the general poor conservation status of the vast majority of our protected sites cannot be ignored. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of our vanishing peatlands. We call on the Irish Government to take heed of the findings of this report and the short comings that are highlighted in it. Moving forward we hope that the cooperation and spirit of fraternity that this report embodies will continue to grow in the future.”

Welcoming the publication of the report, An Taisce's Natural Environment office said: “One of the key messages here is that we need to think broadly in seeking to conserve our wildlife, countryside and landscapes for the benefit of future generations.  Protected areas are a very important tool for nature conservation, but the vast majority of our country remains outside these areas.  The new Rural Development Programme - part of the Common Agricultural Policy - has enormous potential to help conserve the wider countryside in Ireland, and we would encourage everyone with an interest to participate in the Department of Agriculture's ongoing consultation exercise which ends on 19 February.”

Brendan O’Sullivan, Director of the Programme in Planning and Sustainable Development at University College Cork said:  “We are proud to have been commissioned to carry out research into these important aspects of Ireland’s natural heritage. We were encouraged to see how, despite the environmental pressures of the last 100 years the sites, which include a remarkable range of landscapes and habitat, have shown remarkable resilience. Whilst most are now formally protected, if they are to survive and prosper in the coming 100 years more attention will have to be paid to their management and that of the surrounding areas.”

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust said: “Charles Rothschild showed great foresight in 1914 when he compiled his list of sites ‘worthy of permanent preservation’. In 2014 we hope that this report encourages a new generation to consider again the value of Ireland’s outstanding natural heritage and how this can best be safeguarded for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of future generations.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:  “The compilation of this study has provided a great opportunity for our organisations to work together for the future benefit of wildlife.   We hope the findings within the report will stimulate interest in the history of these places - some of the most characteristic types of wild country in Ireland.”

The full report and an executive summary can be viewed and downloaded at:


Notes :

The Rothschild Reserves in Ireland

The 17 Irish sites are Bogs about Ahascragh, County Galway; Ben Bulben, County Sligo/Leitrim; Mount Brandon, County Kerry; Cloonee Valley, County Kerry; Errisberg and Nagraiguebeg, County Galway; Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry;  Area South of the Kenmare River, Lake of Killarney and surroundings, County Kerry; Bogs near Killucan, County Westmeath; Bogs near Mohill, County Leitrim; North Bull in Dublin Bay; Raven’s Point,  County Wexford; Rostontown Burrow (Lady’s Island Lake), County Wexford; Saltee Islands County Wexford; Bogs bordering the Shannon at Shannon Harbour; The Burren near Ballyvaughan, County Clare and Wicklow Sand Dunes (Magherabeg), County Wicklow.


Charles Rothschild

In May 1912 Charles Rothschild held a meeting to discuss his radical idea about saving places for nature. This meeting led to the formation of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, which would become the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (known as The Wildlife Trusts), and signalled the beginning of UK nature conservation as we know it.  The Society worked hard to secure Government protection for sites across the UK that they considered ‘worthy of preservation’, but it was not until the 1940s that nature conservation made it onto the statute books in the UK with the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act in 1949.  Find out more about Charles Rothschild. The Wildlife Trusts hold historic documents relating to Rothschild’s extraordinary work undertaking the UK’s first habitat audit.  Originally held at the Natural History Museum, these maps, letters and survey forms are a publicly-available interactive online archive. It includes fascinating correspondence discussing potential nature reserve sites between Rothschild, his team of botanists and surveyors, eminent figures of the time, and landowners.   Talking about her father Charles on Desert Island Discs in 1989, Miriam Rothschild said: “Before his time people thought you had to conserve rare species and he realised that it was the habitat you had to conserve not the species. You had to preserve the wood in which the animals lived or the meadows in which they lived.”


An Taisce

An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland was founded as a charity in 1948. It is one of Ireland’s oldest environmental and non-Government Organisations. An Taisce’s fundamental objectives are the protection of Ireland’s built and natural environment. An Taisce in an independent voice for the environment and cultural heritage.  It is a membership based organisation with a network of local associations across Ireland.


Irish Wildlife Trust

The Irish Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity committed to raising awareness of Ireland’s rich natural heritage and protecting it for future generations. The Trust aims to conserve wildlife and the habitats they depend on throughout Ireland, while encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the need to protect it. The IWT runs education and training programs, carries out habitat and species, campaigns and lobbies around biodiversity issues and restores natural habitats.


Carnegie UK Trust

The Carnegie UK Trust works to improve the lives of people throughout the UK and Ireland, by changing

minds through influencing policy, and by changing lives through innovative practice and partnership work.

The Carnegie UK Trust was established by Scots-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1913.


University College Cork

The Centre for Planning Education and Research at UCC runs a fully accredited two year Masters Programme in Planning and Sustainable Development and has recently begun a complementary one- year Masters in Landscape Built Heritage and Design. The Centre is building a range of research interests across planning and environmental issues.

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)

There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK.  All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone.  We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife.  Every year we work with thousands of schools and our places receive millions of visitors. 


Galway city’s Terryland Forest Park

Untapped Tourism, Health & Environmental Benefits of

From Brendan Smith, An Taisce Galway Association

The solution to some of the most serious problems impacting on global society today from man-made climate change to rising levels of mental illness and obesity in children lies within our city’s boundaries.  But Galway City Council’s recent failure to fully exploit the wonderful natural resources that they manage or to engage meaningfully with communities on the issue is not what one expects from a taxpayer-funded public service institution and is only contributing negatively to the environment and the health of the population-at-large.

The Terryland Forest Park (aka the “People’s Park”) was recognised in its heyday internationally as a flagship for community environmental engagement as well as ‘best practice’ in developing natural habitats/ecological corridors and protecting indigenous biodiversity within a modern city setting. Its potential as an urban green resource for tourism and as a unique Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Laboratory for schools and colleges is enormous. But years of indifference by the higher echelons of City Hall has alienated the general public from something that they themselves created. A once proud citizen-planted urban forest is being forgotten and, as with other green spaces across the city, has become a magnet for anti-social behaviour, bush drinking and waste dumping. The controversy last autumn over the spread of the dangerous invasive species known as Japanese Knotweed as a result of drainage works along the Terryland River would never have happened if the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee, with a membership that included the OPW, An Taisce, NUIG, HSE, schools, ecologists and local residents, had not been abandoned in 2012 by City Hall.

Yet it is not to late to save this vital green landscape that can, with a new proactive partnership approach, live up to its motto as the ‘Lungs of the City’.

Without trees humanity will cease to exist. They along with other plants produce the oxygen that gives us life. Based on scientific calculations the approximate 100,000 native Irish trees in Terryland, planted by citizens, school children, visitors and council staff in great Plantathon gatherings since 2000, absorb over a decade 3,800 metric tons of the carbon dioxide gas that is contributing to global warming; offset the climate impact of 800 cars for one year; supply the oxygen needs of up to 400,000 people each day and provide over 4.64 billion Euros worth of air pollution control every 50 years. 

Forests are central to biodiversity, supporting more species than any other habitat. For instance, a single oak tree can be home to over four hundred different types of insects, fungi, plants, birds and mammals.

Until recently the sights, sounds and smells of the wild were an integral part of our lives. The majority of Irish people over fifty years of age have happy childhood memories of playing conkers, climbing trees, identifying different bird songs, dipping into rock pools, collecting leaves for art classes, making daisy flower chains and picking blackberries to bring home to their mothers to make jam.

Modern research clearly demonstrates that contact with the natural environment is highly beneficial to children’s physical health, emotional well being and education. US, UK and European studies show that patients recover better after surgery if they have a view of nature through hospital windows; that planting trees in housing estates reduces aggression and fear amongst residents helping to change ‘concrete jungles’ into ‘leafy suburbs’; that children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature and that getting one’s hands covered in clay makes us happier due to the presence of  ‘mycobacterium vaccae’ in organic soils that triggers the release of the hormone Serotonim in the human body which elevates mood and decreases anxiety.

But too many parents today are unknowingly causing harm to their offspring by isolating them from the ‘Great Outdoors’. Computer screens, concerns about the dangers lurking on the street or in the park as well as fears about vehicle traffic means that we are confining children more and more indoors. A Natural England report shows that only 10% of children now experience woodland play as opposed to 40% of their parent’s generation.  The UK National Trust recently promoted the use of ‘forest schools’ because of the positive effect that they have on children with emotional or behavioural difficulties.

Forests and associated wildlife feature prominently in our Celtic spiritual and cultural heritage.

With its diverse network of woodlands, beaches, rivers and farmlands, Galway city has opportunities to integrate hands-on nature studies and outdoor activities into the everyday lives of our youth. Galway City Council in 1999 appointed its first Superintendent of Parks (Stephen Walsh) and became an enthusiastic advocate of the social and learning benefits of nature by establishing a multi-sectoral steering committee - whose membership were drawn from educational, artistic, residents, environmental, health interests as well as from different internal council departments -  to transform a new green space as proposed by local communities into an urban riverine woodland that was named the Terryland Forest Park. Regular community tree and wild flower planting festivals gave citizens of all ages a sense of ownership, civic pride and loyalty towards a man-made natural habitat that, in spite of an existing intrusive road network, had the potential to become a ‘wildlife corridor’ linking the River Corrib to the farmlands of east Galway.

But things later started to stagnate especially when council officials in 2007 tried to build a major road through the park, which was stopped in its tracks by widespread public opposition.  City Hall then arbitrarily abolished the steering committee.

Only slowly were the people once again allowed to participate in shaping the future direction of Terryland commencing with the creation of a vibrant neighbourhood garden in the Ballinfoile section of the Park. In 2012, the re-establishment of the steering committee supported by conservation volunteers and park staff led quickly and all too briefly to a series of guided nature walks, family picnics, a Latino dance fest, eco-art projects, mass tree plantings and ongoing weekly park cleanups in Terryland.  Other initiatives included the allocation of HSE funds towards the installation of outdoor exercise equipment; the digital mapping of a series of woodland walk trails; restoration of a fleet of High Nelly bikes for touring the park and a major biodiversity survey carried out by ecologist Tom Cuffe. The park was one of the main themes of the Tulca Visual Arts Festival 2013 with a photographic exhibition by Robert Ellis. Terryland Castle has became a focal point for Slí na gCaisleán, a leisurely 25km looped ‘Off the Beaten Track’ heritage cycle trail connecting seven castles in Galway city and county, that could if further developed jointly by the two local authorities, become a national green route with significant benefits to tourism and local communities alike. Over the last few weeks, NUI Galway scientists, schools, , community groups and environmentalists are discussing  ways of finally transforming the woodland into the much anticipated Outdoor Classroom with features such as rustic wooden benches and tables, autumn time wild fruit collection forays and springtime animal forensic detective challenges. Scientific research is being done for a series of attractive Irish/English information signs that would be placed in the now empty graffiti-covered display stands that are dotted throughout the park, thus creating a network of educational trails. The signs would identify the wonderful range of flora and fauna that live within the meadows, woodlands, wetlands, farmlands and rock outcrops of this important wildlife reserve.  

The National Roads Authority (NRA) is now considering following the example of other countries in building ‘green bridges’ to overcome habitat fragmentation caused by road construction. Surely now is the time to ask the organisation to consider such with regard to the roads which dissect the park?  Artists have pointed out that the park should once again be used as a regular outdoor theatre and artist venue thereby providing an added dimension to the local authority’s bid to secure the title of ‘City of Culture’.

But the council-led steering committee has not been allowed to meet since its brief resurrection in 2012, which has stifled many of the aforementioned proposals.  Pressure is now mounting on the council to reactive the committee and allow all sectors of local society the opportunity to make Terryland once again the People’s Park.


Green Campus Matters

Climate Change Expert tells Ireland’s Third Levels why Green-Campus Matters

Croke Park January 23 rd 2014

“In the absence of leadership and enlightened views of the urgent need to address impacts of climate change in Ireland, a ‘bottom-up’ approach is essential. Only by education can we ensure that the mistakes of the present generation are not repeated by the next. This is why Green Campus matters” This was the concluding  statement from Ireland’s Leading Climate Expert Prof. John Sweeney, NUI Maynooth in the keynote presentation at the Annual An Taisce Green Campus Network Meeting at Croke Park today, Thursday 23 rd January. The Green-Campus programme, which is broadly based on the success, methodology and structures of the Green-Schools Programme, continues to grow and develop and is at the front line of dealing with the complex issues of climate change and sustainability. Direct savings to participants through improved management of waste, energy and water are estimated in the millions of euros per annum. These savings are accompanied by large reductions in CO 2. However, the real output of the programme is adaptive partnership between students, staff and the wider community which develops a can do, action based problem solving ability that is more than the sum of its parts.


24 third level institutions are registered and actively participating in the Green Campus programme. Six campuses (University College Cork, GMIT Mayo Campus, Dundalk IT, Colaiste Dhulaigh, Coolock, Ballsbridge College of Further Education and  Trinity College Dublin) have already been awarded the internationally recognised Green Flag for their efforts.

Network Meeting

The audience of Third Level Colleges and Campuses from all over Ireland gathered at Croke Park today for the 3 rd Annual An Taisce Green Campus Network Meeting. The event was a chance for Third Level Colleges and Campuses participating in An Taisce’s Green Campus programme to meet, assess their progress and exchange best practice and ideas with other participating sites.

The Green Campus programme in Ireland is well established as a pioneer and international best practice. Speaking at the meeting Bríd Conneely, Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) International Eco-Schools Programme Director said “I am so impressed with the way in which Irish third levels are engaging with the Green Campus programme. I am particularly impressed with the way the programme has grown in Ireland over the last number of years and how it provides an international best practice template”

Speakers from University College Cork, Ballsbridge College of Further Education and Galway-Mayo IT outlined various aspects to their programmes to the audience. These aspects included maintaining and managing Green Campus committees, developing biodiversity and habitat maps on campus and developing Green ICT.

Green ICT

The event also saw the launch of the Green ICT theme within the Green Campus programme. This theme will be operated in partnership with HEAnet Ltd. HEAnet provide the internet, associated ICT and e-Infrastructure services for Educational and Research organisations throughout Ireland. Speaking at the meeting Andrew Mackarel of HEAnet said “Both the Green Campus programme and the Green ICT theme offer HEAnet a great opportunity to collaborate on the integration, provision and application of cutting edge ICT to promote environmental sustainability. We would strongly encourage third level ICT managers to review the impact of their onsite ICT”

Further workshops for participants on issues such as how to develop various elements of the seven steps of the Green-Campus programme also took place. Patricia Oliver, Director of the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce said, ”We are delighted that the Green Campus programme is continuing to grow, adapt and evolve with the needs and demands of the third levels participating. The programme performance for smart and innovative ways for preventing and reducing waste, decreasing energy and water consumption and increasing levels sustainable travel and biodiversity are very impressive. Economically, the savings for some sites are in the €100,000’s per annum. However, it is the mentored partnership approach between students, staff and the other applicable parties that allows Green Campus to be more than just a once off project.” ENDS


About Green Campus

The Green-Campus programme is an International Environmental Education and Management programme. It is broadly based on the successful methodology and structures of the Green-Schools Programme. The programme in Ireland is operated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce since 2007. 24 third level institutions are registered and actively participating in the Green Campus programme. Six campuses (University College Cork, GMIT Mayo Campus, Dundalk IT, Colaiste Dhulaigh, Coolock, Ballsbridge College of Further Education and  Trinity College Dublin) have already been awarded the internationally recognised Green Flag for their efforts. University College Cork was the first university to achieve the Green Flag in 2010. (

About the Environmental Education Unit (EEU) An Taisce

An Taisce's Environmental Education Unit operates various national and international environmental and sustainability programmes throughout Ireland. The unit is the National Operator for all international environmental education programmes of FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education). These programmes and campaigns include the Blue Flag Award for Beaches and Marinas, Green-Schools, Young Reporters for the Environment and LEAF (Learning about Forests).

The unit also operates a number of national campaigns including the Clean Coast programme, National Spring Clean (Ireland’s largest anti-litter campaign) and the Green Home programme. In addition, it is the national assessor for IBAL (Irish Business against Litter) ‘All-Ireland Anti-Litter League’ and operates the Green-Communities INTERREG programme.

As well as a Director, the Unit has over 40 full-time staff members and 10 part-time and temporary staff. The Environmental Education Unit is based off Francis St, in Dublin 8, with staff located nationwide.

About HEAnet

 HEAnet is Ireland’s National Education and Research Network, providing cutting edge Internet, associated ICT and e-Infrastructure services to educational and research organisations throughout Ireland.

Established in 1983 by the Irish Universities with the support of the Higher Education Authority, HEAnet now provides essential e-Infrastructure services across all levels of the Irish education system. Our high quality resilient network connects all Irish Universities, Institutes of Technology and other higher education institutions (HEIs), along with research organisations, and all primary and post-primary schools across Ireland.

HEAnet’s funding comes from Universities, Institutes of Technology, The Higher Education Authority, The Department of Education and Skills, The Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources, other education and research organisations in the Republic of Ireland, the National Development Plan (NDP), the European Commission, and through successful tenders and proposals.

For more information, please visit our website:


Clean Coast Awards

Una Reddington accepting the Clean Coasts Newcomer of the Year Award on behalf of Conservation Volunteer Galway.

An Taisce’s Clean Coasts Symposium and Coastcare Merit Awards 2013 took place on the 28th of November in the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin. Following a morning of very informative presentations by Prof. John Sweeney the President of An Taisce, Richard Cronin of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Ian Humphries of Tidy Northern Ireland and several Coastcare Groups, the prestigious Coastcare Merit Award winners were announced. We were delighted to have Mr. Dinny McGinley, TD Minister of State for the Gaeltacht present on the day to present the Coastcare Merit Awards.

This year’s awards ceremony was the biggest yet recognising the substantial growth of An Taisce’s Clean Coasts programme over the past number of years. These prestigious Coastcare Awards recognise the invaluable work done by committed volunteers across the country on a daily basis protecting and restoring Ireland’s beautiful coastline.

  1. Clean Coasts Business: Green Star, Bray
  2. Clean Coasts Newcomer of the Year: Conservation Volunteer Galway
  3. Clean Coasts Initiative: The Beachcombers, Co. Waterford
  4. Clean Coasts School: Meanscoil Mhuire, Newtownsmith Galway City
  5. Clean Coasts Individual of the Year: Liam Tuffy – Enniscrone
  6. Coca-Cola Coastcare Group of the Year: Friends of the Raven, Co. Wexford
  7. Clean Coasts Event: Inchydoney Island Marram Grass Planting
  8. Clean Coasts Individual - Long Term Contribution Award: Maura Allen, Carrigaline, Cork
  9. Clean Coasts Group - Long Term Contribution Award: Bull Island Action Group, Dublin

Congratulations to all the Coastcare Merit Award Winners 2013!


Landscape Charaterisation

The Irish Planning Institute published the nineteenth issue of their professional journal Pleanáil in December 2013. The journal includes several topical issues including:

  • Access to the Countryside;
  • Urban Regeneration;
  • Urban Modelling;
  • Marine Spatial Planning;
  • Democracy and Local Government;
  • Landscape Characterisation.

The journal features an article on Landscape Characterisation from Tomás Bradley of the Advocacy Unit.

The full journal can be downloaded by clicking the following link:


Reflections on Nepal

A report from Judy Osborne on her travels

It's Sunday so it must be Kathmandu. This is the dilemma of travelling.  Each new experience clouds the previous, so although I will be putting some thoughts together on heritage and planning in Thailand for the magazine, I thought I should write a few words on my experiences in Nepal where I have be staying for a couple of weeks over Christmas.

First of all let me say - This is not my idea of nirvana though many travellers, particularly Americans, hugely value the a sense of freedoms from government intrusion, media inspired fear, the competitive and individualistic nature of western society.  This is true, yet the sense of poverty, pollution, congestion, dilapidation, breakdown and dysfunction is over whelming.  Nothing seems to work properly yet the sense of fatality imbued through religion and custom makes the people here very accepting; creating little effort for change or improvement. (See note 1 below) We all get by happily enough - locals and tourists alike, despite unheated rooms when the temperature falls to 5 degrees or less and 12 hour power cuts EVERY day.  

Fatalistic yes, and prior to the 1950s, when the country began to open up to the outside world the rural people were self sufficient and didn't realise that they were poor.  In was only when they began to compare themselves with other countries or moved into the cities did there begin to develop a huge interest amongst Nepalese in the UK and Europe generally.  I sense many frequently nurse a dream of travelling to a better life of work and prosperity and it is clear that they do not understand if we try to explain that we are very concerned about the development path we have taken in the west which is now emerging as unsustainable and not destined to invoke happiness and well being.

Of course one thing they have here in yards is heritage and there are several UNESCO heritage sites in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. If walking the streets is like stepping back to the 19th century then entering the complexes of temples, palaces, stupas and monasteries is like stepping back several centuries earlier.  

Although it's the birthplace of Buddha, Nepal has many Hindus and they are all very accommodating of other religions and their sacred sites often sit side by side.  They are very much involved in their religion with a huge concern to gain favour with the gods and to gain merit for the after life.  Most people give frequent gifts to the gods of lotus flowers, rice and daubs of red colour for luck.  They spin the mantra wheels and pay homage at frequent intervals during the day.  They are very superstitious and I was curious to see the statue covered with small coins nailed in as both protection and cure of toothache.  Many of the coins are new despite the fact that the street now has numerous dentists along its length.

Most of the sites were allowed to deteriorate for years after many were built in the 19th century but an awareness of their significance began in the past 50 years and more recently as a focus for tourism.  Entry for locals is free, for other Asian people the fee is around a €1 and for westerners it is €5. - Fair enough really as our money goes quite far here.  To get good quality western style food and accommodation is not particularly cheap but you can eat a filling meal of steamed vegetable dumplings off the street for 25 cent and I haven't been ill yet.  (Talking of quality, I must recommend one hotel in case you ever travel here.  Dwarika  observed some workmen using beautifully carved window frames for firewood one day.  He quickly supplied them with other wood and collected this architectural heritage material and eventually built a hotel complex almost entirely of hand made bricks and recovered material.  it is of course stunning - and expensive - and mainly used by Chinese and Japanese tourists who  come here in droves.

The conflict between heritage and tourism so far isn't the same problem  here that it is in Thailand ( more to come on this later).  So far the restorations have not discommoded local communities who still trade and live cheek by jowl along side the gods. In fact it is good business for many who will eagerly approach you to be your guide.  Mostly uneducated they still know their culture well and can impart endless stories of the gods, learned by listening to their elders. There would be good money from tourists as other work is meagre.  One guy who would fix shoes in the rainy season said he would earn maybe €1.50 a day though his rent for his plastic hut In a privately owned shanty town was €4.50 a month.

But what about planning?  does it exist here?  well yes there are 5 year plans for the Kathmandu valley area which has been attracting rural people for the past few decades.  This is the capital and although most industry is further south it is the administrative centre with the high status government jobs and many more schools and colleges.  Of course education is highly prized as is speaking English which is practised by even the youngest children.  There are plans, yet they are rarely enforced of course ( does this sound familiar). Despite the risk of earthquakes, buildings are still erected without proper steel supports.  There is little differentiation or zoning with residential, retail and commercial all in the same place, which should reduce the commuting yet the traffic has to be seen to be believed.  Neither roads nor paths are properly made up which may be why people don't like to walk much - it's quite a health risk with diesels fumes and dust.

So, two weeks wasn't long enough for me to make contact with government officials or planners to understand more but I have occasionally read the Kathmandu Post English language newspaper and a couple of books on the history and development of Nepal (including one on the background to the recent episode when the prince shot the king and queen and 8 members of the Royal family, apparently because they wouldn't let him marry his girlfriend ).  Following some years of insurgency fighting against the corruption of the royalist feudal system the Maoists are now part of government and the king is gone.  They are no longer the largest party but there is a real attempt for the parties to work together.  Energy and water are BIG problems here, as in most parts of the world today but there is an awakening to the issue of resource depletion with occasional posters promoting recycling.  And climate change?  Forget it.  Not mentioned once since I was here despite unusual weather patterns.

(1) The minority Hindu upper caste society predominate in government and establishment circles.  At the core of the Hindu religion is the belief that the development of the Universe is cyclical and spontaneous.  They believe in the four ages of Satya, Treta, Dwapar and Kalli: the golden, silver, copper and iron ages respectively. The Hindu theory of creation tells up that at the end of the four yugars, which are called kelps, the Satya yoga comes back automatically.  People do not have to do anything about this.  That age will have an abundance of everything and people will be happy. The present age of Kali (iron) is bad as it is part of the grand design.  In this world view attempts at change are looked upon as arrogance and  presumption because the deity it self takes care to bring about necessary chants in the world if he thinks fit. 


IEN Seeking Communications and Development Officer

The Irish Environmental Network is seeking a full-time Communications and Development Officer.

Details at:

Closing date: 5th February at 5pm


INTO - The International National Trusts Organisation

The INTO MEMBERS' eNews January 2014 is here...


RDP: sustainability or another Dairy subsidy?

An Taisce – The National Trust for Ireland – expressed concern in some of the details of Ireland’s new Rural Development Programme (RDP) for the 2014-2020 period.

An Taisce Press Release 21 st. January 2014

There were several positive developments. These include the relatively high level of co-financing for Pillar II of 46.3%, continued support for disadvantaged areas, the provision of incentives for the collective management of commonage, and a separate organic farming scheme.

However, An Taisce expresses concern at the capping of the agri-environment payment that a farmer can receive at €5,000 and the indirect subsidies that are being provided for dairy expansion.  

“GLAS seems to be well-designed at a conceptual level.  Although the €5,000 cap is an increase on the most recent AEOS, it does not provide adequate compensation for the actions needed to restore the poor ecological status of many of Ireland’s protected areas.”, stated Jack McCarthy, agri-environment policy officer with An Taisce.  “We don’t have all the details yet, but we are concerned that much of the RDP will act as a subsidy for post-quota dairy expansion through on-farm capital investments”, he stated.

Indeed, the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme II (TAMS) seems to be largely aimed at providing capital for the development of farm-level dairy infrastructure in the form of equipment, animal housing, slurry storage and dairy buildings.  While it is important that the best equipment is available to Irish dairy farmers, so they can minimise environmental impacts, there is a large degree of uncertainty about what will happen when milk quotas are removed in 2015.  An Taisce questions the environmental sustainability of dairy expansion and whether it is wise to place all of Ireland’s eggs in one figurative dairy basket.

The Government's focus is unclear in terms of Ireland's lack of food security.  Given the shortage of home-grown fruit and vegetables, shouldn't horticultural producers be entitled to similar grants for polytunnels and allied facilities?  An Taisce is advocating that a broader range of undertakings qualify for the proposed capital investment programme, namely: polytunnels, constructed wetlands and agro-forestry systems.

Moreover, the provision of RDP funding for this dairy expansion contrasts sharply with the fact that more than half of Ireland’s habitats are in bad or unfavourable condition. “A simple way to secure more funding for such habitats would have been a 15% transfer of funds from Pillar I to Pillar II”, continued McCarthy, “England, Wales and Scotland all made significant transfers of funds. Minister Coveney, however, opted not to use this option.”  

An Taisce once more question the government’s commitment to supporting short term production regardless of the environmental cost. 


  • Disadvantaged areas are now referred to as Areas of Natural Constraints
  • Transfer of funds from Pillar I to Pillar II
    • England 12%
    • Wales 15%
    • Scotland 9.5%
  • An Taisce's Submission is here...


Edenderry Power Station Judicial Review

An Taisce was today granted leave to challenge the permission given to Edenderry power station to continue burning peat until 2023

An Taisce Press Release 17 th. January 2014

An Taisce has today been granted leave by the High Court to bring a judicial review regarding the peat-and-biomass power station at Edenderry, Co Offaly.

The plant burns up to 1.2 million tonnes of peat a year.

An Taisce’s case is that, contrary to EU law, the environmental effects of extracting the peat fuel to be burned at Edenderry were not assessed before granting planning permission to allow the plant burn peat from 2015 to 2023, or at any point previously.

Commenting on the grant of leave, James Nix, Policy Director for An Taisce, said: “This is a clear case where the environmental impact must be assessed before a green light can validly be given. Today is the first step in the legal process and we look forward to the issues being examined by the High Court”.


Draft Peatlands Strategy

Draft Peatland strategy treats science as something to be bargained away or traded against

An Taisce Press Release - 15 th January 2014

Responding today to the release of the Draft Peatlands Strategy, An Taisce has said that the Draft National Peatlands Strategy does not reflect scientific advice and is not evidence-based.

The draft treats science - and the scientific consensus on the future prospects for humanity without action on climate change – as capable of being bargained away, traded against, or ‘balanced’ against other factors.  Such a view is the stuff of fantasy.

Bogs are a vital store of carbon and burning turf releases far more climate-altering gases than coal.  Of all fuels, turf is the worst in terms of negatively affecting the climate.

The 2011 Bogland report by the EPA noted that the 10 million tonnes of annual emissions from peatland degradation and burning - equivalent to Ireland’s annual car emissions.

The EPA set out ten leading recommendations advising government that “the continued carbon emissions from peat burning are contrary to the national interest”.

Recommendations included the restoration of protected peatlands to stop carbon loss, and the management of non-designated peatlands (also to stop carbon loss), a review of the peat industry, and the creation of a National Peatland Park.  Its recommendations also cover peatland management as well as reviewing the horticultural peat sector.

The EPA found Government policies “ at odds with international and national government policies and conventions, specifically those addressing climate change, biodiversity protection and environmental sustainability”.

Published in Oct 2013, the summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report stresses how we must decarbonise energy, and protect, enhance and restore carbon stores.

In other words, in trying to accommodate vested interests, the Draft Strategy is inconsistent with both international and domestic scientific advice on carbon management.

The Draft Strategy continues the wholesale policy failures of the past by not addressing the carbon emission impact of continuing peat extraction for electricity generation, domestic fuel and horticulture.

Mary Robinson, having reviewed the science, has noted how we need to massively reduce carbon emissions and take urgent steps to avert further carbon loss.  Protecting bogs plays an important part in protecting the climate.  Speaking in advance of the release of the IPPC’s recent summary Report, Mrs Robinson said:  

There is a global limit on safe level of emissions. That means that major fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. That has huge implications for economic and social development.

The issue now is the timing and sequencing of planned exit strategies for peat, coal, oil and gas, and the relevant amounts to be left in the ground.

“The Draft is so removed from scientific realities it is a counter-productive document. And putting electoral considerations ahead of the needs of Ireland’s young generations is similarly counter-productive over the longer term”, concluded An Taisce policy director James Nix. 


  1. In 2012 the Grantham Institute for Climate Change (based in Imperial College London) and the Carbon Tracker Initiative (an international NGO monitoring carbon emissions) published ‘Unburnable Carbon 2013: Wasted Capital and Stranded Assets’. The document reveals that up to 80% of known fossil fuels are unburnable if the world is to have any chance of not exceeding global warming of 2 oc – the level beyond which it becomes impossible to arrest runaway climate disruption.

    The report estimated the amount of existing fossil fuel reserves which needed to be left in the ground based on the level of emissions control needed to maintain climate stability.

    A precautionary approach means only 20% of total fossil fuel reserves can be burnt to 2050. As a result the global economy already faces the prospect of assets becoming stranded, with the problem only likely to get worse if current investment trends continue - in effect, a carbon bubble.

    The issue is now how to achieve an effective global climate agreement and carbon charging regime which will secure this.
  2. See further Bill McKibben’s “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”?:
  3. The Draft Peatlands Strategy is here...


Grid - Overground vs Underground

Pat Rabitte has announced an expert group to produce terms of reference to compare undergrounding and overgrounding various Grid projects.  We note that "The two studies will take account of environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors".

In our Gridlink submission we called on the Government to produce a national energy policy that clearly outlines how the energy requirements of future generations can be met in the face of climate change. Further, the lack of national legislation, policy or guidelines for the European Landscape Convention means there is no basis on which to assess the impact of the project on the landscape.  (See next item in this eZine)

We find it difficult for any body to assess cost factors without a national energy policy and to assess visual amenity without a working Landscape Convention.

We expect that ' environmental (including visual amenity) impacts' will be just that. But there are many environmental considerations to digging a large trench in which to put the cables.

We note from the press release below that  our AC electricity system can be under-grounded for a few kms but any more needs conversion to DC. (See table for % of 400KV undergrounded in other countries) and that would require converter stations at both ends of undergrounded DC line, each “larger than Croke Park’s pitch and nine storeys tall.”  If branch needed from main line, “another converter station must be installed, at a cost [5x] more than branching from an AC line.”

Press Release from Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Rabbitte to request Chairperson to convene Expert Panel at an early date

Dublin, 29 January 2014

Yesterday, in response to EirGrid’s recent public consultation process, I announced that I have appointed an independent panel of experts, to be chaired by Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, to decide terms of reference for comprehensive, route-specific studies of fully underground options for both Grid Link and Grid West.

Studies of the overhead and underground options will then be published side-by-side, in objective and comparable terms, before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation on those two projects.

The two studies will take account of environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors.

The independent panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.

Three matters have subsequently arisen which I believe need some clarification.

First, I would stress that the expert panel will not be asked to express a preference or to make any recommendations in relation to overhead or underground options. Rather, they will be asked to ensure that the underground studies are complete and objective, and are comparable to similar studies of overhead options for the two projects. In effect, the panel will certify the integrity of the process, with the commissioned material being put out for public debate and, ultimately, for consideration and decision by the planning authorities.

Second, I would emphasise that the electro-magnetic fields (EMF) issue will not fall under the remit of the expert panel. Responsibility for this rests with the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Minister Phil Hogan agreed yesterday that he will engage expert assistance to review and report on international developments in the scientific literature on potential health effects of EMF emanating from transmission grid infrastructure. It is anticipated that this study will provide the best available information on:

  • published, peer reviewed scientific literature relating to non-ionising radiation and associated epidemiological matters,
  • work carried out under, and findings of, relevant international bodies, as well as
  • relevant international and national standards and guidelines covering the period 2007 to date.

The study will serve as an update on a report, “Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields”, which was produced by my Department in 2007.

In that regard, I want to emphasise that the best advice available to EirGrid and to me is that there have been no developments since 2007 which would give cause for concern regarding the health effects of EMF.

Therefore the issue of placing an expert in this area on the McGuinness panel does not arise.

Third, as I’ve said, my response yesterday was to the Grid Link and Grid West projects. The arrangements relating to the North South transmission line are different for several reasons. The reality is that planning for this project has been underway for the last 10 years. A planning application has already been submitted for the part of the project in Northern Ireland and that planning process is in train.

Detailed studies have already been conducted for the project, most recently by the Independent International Commission of Experts appointed in July 2011, arising from a commitment in the Programme for Government. And a route-specific underground analysis was conducted by PB Power, which found that the cost of undergrounding would significantly exceed the cost of the more usual overhead cables. The PB Power analysis was considered and confirmed by Independent Commission, who estimated that the cost of undergrounding would be at least three times that of overhead cables.

The North-South transmission line is a critical and strategically urgent transmission reinforcement and is of critical importance in the broader North-South context. This is because, as well as reinforcing the grid in the North East region of the State, the transmission line will be a vital link in maintaining the security of electricity supply for Northern Ireland into the future.

I recognise, however, that the public would be reassured if they knew that the overhead and underground options for North South have both been investigated and that the already published studies are sufficient to enable a similar comparison be made by Bord Pleanála when they come to decide on the merits of this planning application.

I am meeting the chair of the independent panel, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, this coming Friday to discuss the work programme for the panel. Before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting the Taoiseach asked me and I agreed that I would ask Judge McGuinness to consider what work if any her panel might usefully undertake to establish that there has been parity of treatment between the North South project, in terms of the work undertaken to date, and Grid link and Grid West, in terms of the studies that are now proposed. This is of course a matter for decision by Judge McGuinness and her colleagues.

I am attaching to this statement a summary of significant factors relating to the North South project.



The North South Transmission Line

Strategic importance

The North South transmission line is a high capacity line linking the existing substation in Woodland, Co. Meath with a planned substation in Turleenan, Co.Tyrone. It is a critical and strategically urgent transmission reinforcement. The Ireland and Northern Ireland electricity markets are merged and form the all-island “Single Electricity Market” (SEM). While established and operating outside the context of the Good Friday Agreement and its attendant institutions, the SEM is perhaps the single most significant example of smooth and seamless North-South cooperation, at legislative, governmental and regulatory level, in the joint management of a key sector of our economic and industrial infrastructure.

The transmission line is vital in giving an infrastructural underpinning to the SEM. While there is an all-island market in place, lack of interconnection curtails the full benefits of that market being realised.

Currently there is only one high capacity transmission line between the electricity transmission networks of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The benefits of this arrangement are restricted by the significant risk of separation and consequent destabilisation of the two systems; by the physical capacity of the existing line; by planned and unplanned outages; and by the need to allow for unexpected changes in generation and demand. These risks will be significantly reduced by construction of the second North South transmission line, which will provide a separate power flow independent of the existing transmission line.

Further, the reality is that the SEM is not delivering full benefits to consumers and cannot do so unless the North South transmission line is delivered. This is because, without the line, the least cost generators cannot run and more expensive generators have to be scheduled. The cost of less expensive plants not running, called constraint cost, is shared equally across all consumers on the island. The associated constraint costs are adding €20m to €30m to all-island consumers’ bills for every year of delay to the project. Neither Grid Link nor Grid West is as critical to the proper functioning of the SEM or to the security of the all-island electricity system.

AC/DC technology

The Irish electricity system is an alternating current (AC) system. That is to say, power is generated, transmitted, distributed and, ultimately, consumed on an AC basis. It is possible to underground an AC cable for a short distance (a few kilometres), to cope with areas of high amenity, for example. But, if a power cable is to be undergrounded for any greater length, then the only option is to convert the power to direct current (DC).

This requires, at a minimum, the installation of converter stations at both ends of the undergrounded line, each of them larger than Croke Park’s pitch and nine storeys tall. It also means that, if it is decided now or in the future to make a branch from the DC line, to meet energy needs along the route of the line, then another converter station must be installed, at a cost five times more than branching from an AC line.

In addition to these considerations, installation of DC power gives rise to operational difficulties. In other words, it is one thing to ship power from one grid to another grid via a high voltage DC cable. It is, however, quite another matter to install a DC transmission line as the North-South ‘spine’ that is intended to lead to a single, integrated, all-island AC transmission and distribution system.

A power system is like a living creature with the AC lines and cables acting as its nervous system. Any problem or disturbance, like a lightning strike or generator trip, is instantly felt throughout the AC system and it naturally responds to keep the system stable. This natural behaviour of AC systems is how it is possible to provide electricity, with millions of constant changes, reliably to customers. The larger the AC system, the more stable it is and the less reserve, (which costs money) is needed. DC connections are operated by computer based control systems and are very effective at moving power but they do not have the natural response to problems that AC systems do.

Between Northern Ireland and Ireland there is already one AC connection and engineers must keep enough reserve available to protect consumers if this line has a fault: a second AC line would remove this need and allow the two systems to act as one, delivering important potential efficiencies and savings for customers. While a new DC connection would allow extra trade, it would not allow the two systems to act as one and so the major benefits of lower reserves and increased security would not be fully delivered.

Northern Ireland’s supply needs

The construction of the North South transmission line is also of critical importance in the broader North-South context. As well as reinforcing the grid in the North-East region of the State, with the attendant benefits for industry and consumers, the transmission line is a vital link in maintaining the security of electricity supply for Northern Ireland into the future. Northern Ireland is facing an increased risk to security of supply from 2016 onwards if the North South project is not delivered. Thus, further delays to its construction are a security of supply issue for Northern Ireland as well as an issue of increased costs.

It needs also to be borne in mind that the North South transmission line will cover 100km of line south of the border and 40km north of the border. The project requires a common engineering approach and, therefore, any decision to elect for an underground option south of the border would impose a similar solution north of the border, and the attendant additional costs on Northern Ireland consumers.

Previous Studies

Planning for the North South transmission line has been underway for the last 10 years. A planning application has already been submitted for the part of the project in Northern Ireland and that planning process is currently in train.

Detailed studies have already been conducted for the project, most recently by the Independent International Commission of Experts appointed in July 2011 which reported in February 2012. EirGrid has taken full account of the contents of those studies in finalising the planning application which is expected to be lodged shortly with An Bord Pleanála. The project is an entirely alternating current (AC) overhead design.

The report of the Independent Commission arose from the commitment contained in the Programme for Government to review the case for, and cost of, undergrounding all or part of the proposed Meath-Tyrone transmission line. An earlier route-specific underground analysis was conducted by PB Power, which found that the cost of undergrounding would significantly exceed the cost of the more usual overhead cables. The PB Power analysis was considered and confirmed by Independent Commission, which estimated that the cost of undergrounding would be at least three times that of overhead cables.

While numerous other studies had already been completed internationally with regard to undergrounding generally, in 2009 the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources commissioned an independent study on Comparative Merits of Overhead Electricity Transmission Lines versus Underground Cables. That study was conducted by international consultants Ecofys, and it concluded that underground cables do not compare favourably to overhead lines in terms of adequacy of the electricity transmission system.

The study also noted that internationally, overhead lines are the standard choice for high voltage transmission connections. This remains the case today in that high voltage lines which are an integral part of transmission systems, such as the line planned for Meath-Tyrone, are almost always overhead as indicated in the table below.



400kV Overhead Line (km)

400kV Underground Cable (km)

% Cable

















Great Britain
























Source: ENTSO-E


Note: Since the figures above were compiled a small section of 400kV network has been implemented in Ireland related to the East West Interconnector in Woodland.


The Independent Commission reviewed the various reports relating to the Meath-Tyrone project, as well as international projects which the members considered were pertinent, and also reviewed previously published studies on the underground versus overhead issue.

The report noted that new high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology was a feasible technical solution, implemented as underground cable, for the Meath-Tyrone project but estimated that the cost of implementing the project as an underground cable option would be three times the cost of the classical overhead line option. In addition, inserting a DC line into a single, meshed AC system would have system operation implications. The Commission did not recommend any particular technical option but provided its own assessment of the feasible technology options available for consideration for the project in the context of changes in technology, suppliers and costs in recent years. The Commission noted that there is no single ‘right’ solution and that technical solutions must be project specific.

Finally, it is worth noting that, as an interconnecting transmission line between two EU Member States, the project has been designated by the European Commission as a Project of Common Interest (PCI) and therefore deemed subject to EU Regulation No. 347/2013. Article 7 of the Regulation states that “projects of common interest shall be considered as being of public interest from an energy policy perspective, and may be considered as being of overriding public interest”. It places an obligation on the Member States involved, in this case Ireland and the UK, to consider the project to be of the “highest national significance possible and be treated as such in permit granting processes”. It further requires that “all authorities concerned shall ensure that the most rapid treatment legally possible is given” to the any applications for consent.


Eirgrid's Preliminary Results of Consultation on Gridlink

Eirgrid's Overview of Submissions

The team is working to process and analyse the large volume of submissions received. This analysis will take a number of months to complete.

A substantial number of detailed submissions contain specific local information regarding particular constraints that people believe should be avoided or considered in the route evaluation process. Many also make broader points about the project and there are a number of broad themes emerging from the feedback being provided.

In response to a request from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to advise on the initial assessment of the submissions, these broader themes have been identified and are included below (in no particular order):

3.1 Underground versus Overhead

There is a widely held view that the objectives of the Grid Link Project could be met by an underground or offshore cable solution instead of an overhead line and the option of overhead versus underground should have formed part of the public consultation. There is a belief that undergrounding would be less  expensive than has been suggested, would reduce the visual and other impacts and could be integrated into the existing transmission system.

3.2 Visual Impact

The proposed overhead line is likely to require approximately 750 pylons, which will generally range in height from 27 to 43 metres, over a distance of approximately 250km. There is concern about the visual impact of these pylons on the countryside, particularly in areas of natural beauty or where tourism is a key part of the local economy or has that potential.

3.3 Consultation & Engagement

Feedback was provided on how EirGrid has engaged with members of the public to date. Many submissions suggest that insufficient time and information was provided and that more could have been done to generate awareness of the project. Feedback also outlines a need for clarity on the overall consultation process and the rights of property owners in respect of their land. The impact of consultation feedback in the context of the corridor evaluation process was also raised.

3.4 Tourism

Associated with the visual impact of pylons, feedback was provided on the implications for tourism from impacts to heritage sites, protected structures or monuments and other areas of tourist amenity and scenic beauty.

3.5 Health

Concerns were expressed that the electro-magnetic fields generated by high voltage overhead power lines could have the potential to cause health problems for people living in proximity to the line route. There were also worries about the possible health effect of corona noise from high voltage power lines. Feedback indicates a lack of trust in the scientific evidence provided and heightened concerns were expressed in relation to potential impact to children and in particular proximity to schools.

3.6 Agribusiness, Animal Welfare & Equine Industry

Concern was expressed over how power line infrastructure could impact on Ireland’s agribusiness sector, particularly by making the operation of machinery or the general running of farms more difficult. There were concerns about the possible impact of electro-magnetic fields (EMF) on animals, particularly for animals that may be susceptible to EMF or are reliant on magnetic fields for navigation. Some submissions outline that horses, especially thoroughbreds, may be especially sensitive to the corona noise generated by high-voltage power lines.

3.7 Biodiversity

Concerns were expressed about the impact that the project could have on biodiversity generally, including sites and species protected by EU designations.

3.8 Property Devaluation

Feedback from property owners indicated a view that the location of pylons could affect the value of their property and land, particularly if they are located close to, or within sight of, their homes, land or enterprise. Many of these submissions raised the issue of the distance of the lines from dwellings and questioned the level of compensation that might be available for any property owner affected by pylons. Concern over the restriction on future property development was raised along with the need for the project to have cognisance of existing infrastructure.

3.9 Justification for the Project

The need for the Grid Link Project was questioned. Some stakeholders questioned whether it is necessary to develop the transmission network to this degree, especially during a suggested decline in demand for electricity. Some suggested that the primary purpose of the plan is to facilitate private wind farm developers to export power from Ireland. Feedback also questioned the national energy policy, in particular the renewable energy policy and its role as a driver for the Grid Link project. Funding and economic justification for the project was questioned in respect to a suggested negative economic impact on tourism, land, property, enterprise, as well as cost to consumers. There is a call for a cost comparison (including issues above) of an overhead solution with an underground option along with an independent assessment of the need for the project and of the two options.

Download Eirgrid's Report on Gridlink Consultation here

Rabbitte responds to Grid Link public consultation

Justice Catherine McGuinness to chair expert panel overseeing quality of route options

Dublin, 28 January 2014

The Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte T.D. today (28 January 2014) announced that he is establishing an expert panel chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness to oversee the preparation of reports on the best underground route options to compare with the Grid Link and Grid West high voltage power lines currently being designed.

Minister Rabbitte informed the Government this morning that he will ask the expert panel to decide terms of reference for comprehensive, route-specific studies of fully undergrounded options for both Grid Link and Grid West. The panel will be required to ensure that the studies are complete, objective, and comparable to similar studies of overhead options for the two projects, and will report to the Minister in that regard. Both the overhead and underground options will be published side-by-side, in objective and comparable terms, before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation.

“On the 3rd December last I told the Dáil that I recognised legitimate concerns about the impact of new transmission lines and other infrastructure on the landscape, the environment and on local communities. I also said that I expected EirGrid to fully engage with potentially affected communities, to examine impartially the case for all achievable engineering solutions and to undertake and communicate a well-informed, objective and authoritative analysis, impact assessment and pre-planning consultation. And I confirmed that, at the end of the then current phase of public consultation, I would respond on behalf of the Government to the issues raised.”

“Developing the electricity grid for our future economic prosperity is important but we cannot ignore the demands highlighted by community groups during the public consultation. Many respondents to the consultation process, while acknowledging the need for an electricity grid fit for purpose, are dissatisfied that there has not been a complete analysis of undergrounding as compared to overhead power lines. I agree that such a comparable analysis should be carried out at the direction of the independent expert panel”.

The Minister also announced additional steps to be taken so as to address issues that arose in the consultation:

  • EirGrid will be required to undertake the two studies, as determined by the independent panel of experts, which will take account of, inter alia, environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The independent panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.
  • The chairman of EirGrid will be asked to undertake a comprehensive assessment with a view to improving EirGrid’s community engagement processes and procedures, having regard to the significant public concerns raised on this issue.
  • A range of community gain measures for overhead options are being developed to address issues of visual impact and property devaluation.
  • The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will engage expert assistance to review and report on international developments on the potential health effects of electro-magnetic fields (EMF) emanating from transmission grid infrastructure.
  • In future the Minister will take questions in the Dáil on policy issues that arise in connection with Grid25, while technical and operational questions from public representatives will be responded to within 7 days by EirGrid.

Expert advice, national and international, available to EirGrid has consistently asserted that there is no impact on health arising from high voltage overhead lines. However, since potential health risks were raised by many respondents during the consultation, the Minister has agreed with his colleague the Minister for the Environment that an update to a 2007 review of the scientific literature will be commissioned from appropriately qualified experts, with a report to be provided as soon as possible.

“All over the world the development of electricity infrastructure is highly controversial. Ireland is no exception. People need to be assured that the options they are being asked to consider are the right ones and that they are being given all the facts. That’s why I have asked Catherine McGuinness to chair a group of experts who will oversee the preparation of reports on both underground and overhead alternatives.”

The other members of the group appointed by the Minister are: economists John FitzGerald and Colm McCarthy  Engineering Professor Keith Bell, University of Strathclyde and  Dr. Karen Foley, Head of School of Landscape Architecture, UCD;

The Minister’s announcement followed a Government meeting this morning where he briefed Cabinet colleagues on the initial report he had received from EirGrid on issues arising after the consultation on the Grid Link project closed earlier this month.  “The Board of EirGrid shares my view that detailed work needs to be done on an underground option before we ask potentially affected communities to re-engage with this process in the coming years.”


Notes to Editors:

Details of members of the expert panel


  • The Honourable Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness

Judge Catherine McGuinness was called to the Bar in 1977 and to the Inner Bar in 1989. She was a member of Seanad Éireann from 1979-82.  She was appointed to the current Council of State in January 2012.

She served as a Judge of the Circuit Court from 1994-1996, of the High Court from 1996-2000 and of the Supreme Court from 2000-2006. From 2005-2011, she was President of the Law Reform Commission. She is currently the Adjunct Professor of Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Judge McGuinness was appointed as Chair of NUI Galway’s Údarás na hOllscoile (Governing Authority) in May 2013.


  • Mr. John FitzGerald, Research Professor, Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland

John FitzGerald is Research Professor in the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland (ESRI). He is President of the Association d’Instituts Européens de Conjuncture Économique and former president of the Irish Economic Association. Currently a member of the Commission of the Central Bank of Ireland. Past member of the National Economic and Social Council, of the board of the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulatiom. Former member of the Irish Energy Research Council, of the Independent Water review Panel, Northern Ireland and of the High Level Group on Green Enterprise. Chaired the Renewable Energy Strategy Group for the former Department of Public Enterprise. Former  member of the EU "Group for Economic Analysis" from 2002-2004 advising the President of the EU Commission on matters of Economic Policy. Admitted in 2011 as a member of the Royal Irish Academy. He has published in a number of different fields and helped develop the ESRI's macro-economic modelling programme.

  • Professor Keith Bell, Professor of Smart Grid, Institute for Energy and Environment, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Strathclyde.

Keith Bell is the Scottish Power Professor of Smart Grids in the Institute for Energy and Environment within the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow which he joined in August 2005 after some years working in the electricity supply industry in the UK and, before that, time as a researcher in academia.

Keith is an invited expert member of CIGRE Working Group C1.24 on "Tools for developing Optimum Transmission Development Plans". He is also a member of the Scottish Government's "Energy, Economics and Grid Group".

  • Dr. Karen Foley, Head of School of Landscape Architecture, UCD

Dr Karen Foley is head of landscape architecture in UCD School of Architecture, teaching on the landscape architecture, architecture and planning programmes. Her research includes landscape assessment methodologies and rural landscape change.  She is one of the instigators of an EU funded research project bringing together urban communities and businesses together with local authorities and researchers to collaborate on practical new solutions for more sustainable and resilient European cities”.

  • Mr. Colm McCarthy, Economist.

Colm McCarthy is a graduate in Economics of University College Dublin and of the University of Essex. He has worked at the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Central Bank of Ireland, with the economic consulting firm DKM and at the Economics Department of University College Dublin.

He has served on the boards of the Electricity Supply Board and of the Irish Gas Board, is currently a member of the Dublin Airport Authority and has undertaken consulting assignments for the EU Commission and for the World Bank. He has published over 40 technical articles on issues in applied economics in Irish and international journals, including the Economic Journal, the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, and the European Economic Review.

He writes regular columns for the Farmers Journal and for the Sunday Independent.


A National Energy Policy is required with an Energy Savings Scheme to reduce demand and thus pylons.

An Taisce’s submission to Eirgrid’s Gridlink - Consultation on the Stage 1 Report

An Taisce Press Release 8 th. January 2014

An Taisce today calls on the Government to produce a national energy policy that clearly outlines how the energy requirements of future generations can be met in the face of climate change. Further, the lack of national legislation, policy or guidelines for the European Landscape Convention means there is no basis on which to assess the impact of the project on the landscape.

Lack of National Energy Policy

It is only possible to assess the requirements for projects such as Eirgrid’s Gridlink against a national energy policy that outlines how the energy requirements of the future generations can be met in the face of climate change.  In order to meet climate change commitments, Ireland must reduce energy demand through increased efficiency and must decarbonise its power production.  A National Energy Savings Scheme to reduce demand and move away from coal and peat use will alter the parameters of the Grid Link Project and could reduce the requirement for pylons.

An Taisce calls for a number of key elements to be included in the national energy policy:

  • Reducing Primary Energy Demand - retrofitting the national building stock for energy efficiency with an annual target of 100,000 homes to be upgraded to best achievable international standards;
  • Eliminating the most carbon intensive energy sources – ending the use of coal and peat for electricity generation and domestic heating; and
  • Reducing Fossil Fuel Import Dependence - progressively reducing the current level of Irish fossil and biofuel import bill of 6.5 billion euro per annum, and integrating any future wind renewable energy export with this objective.

European Landscape Convention

Under the European Landscape Convention, it not enough to consider landscapes which are simply outstanding or beautiful as, the ELC does not stick to the traditional methods of protectionism; rather, it sets a requirement to survey, record and understand the everyday landscape.

No national legislation, policy or guidelines have been produced by the State to respond to the ELC. Whereas local authorities have placed certain designations on landscapes as a result of Section 204 of the Planning & Development Act 2000, as amended, this is discretionary and largely fragmented across councils, often with the subjective influences of vested interests instead of the public interest, and in the interest of complying with the ELC.

The State has failed to set a clear methodology for how landscape should be assessed, protected and managed. With no more than vague policies, and lacking legislative tools, it is difficult to guide the process. With the failure to comply with the ELC, there is no basis to assess the impact of the proposal on the landscape.


  1. An Tasice’s response to Eirgrid’s Gridlink - Consultation on the Stage 1 Report 2014-1-7_EIRGRID-GRIDLINK.pdf
  2. The full response by An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, to the recent Government consultation on the development of a Low Carbon Roadmap for the Energy Sector in Ireland is available here DCENR-LCR-post-final-20131230.pdf


2050 Low Carbon Roadmap: An Taisce's Submission

Moneypoint (Image from ESB)

Use of “Roadmap” Rather than Legally Binding Annual Emission Reductions

The Scoping Report lacks the scientific, legal and policy basis to address climate emissions from Electricity Generation. It is based upon advice to Government from the Secretariat of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) which is scientifically deficient. It does not address the conflict between the climate emission mitigation requirements to limit warming to 2ºC on the one hand, and current economic growth policies on the other, nor the social and economic consequences of deferring action by giving only a vaguely defined 2050 target date for a low carbon future.

It is not enough to state an aim for a “transition to low-carbon future by 2050”. To be effective, the objective must be based on scientific evidence. The science data, in turn, must inform clear sectoral targets, legal measures, and policy integration across all government departments. Given the urgency of the issue, government-wide progressive actions, including fiscal measures, are required to lock-in a low-carbon future beginning immediately.


The Scoping Report contains no scientific references or evaluation of the level of progressive emissions reductions required to meet Ireland’s commitments under the Copenhagen Accord.  The NESC-Sec Report entirely failed to acknowledge the scale of the economic and social challenge involved in meeting the 2°C target nor did it detail the extreme external climate damage risks to Ireland’s economy and security if serious action is not taken by all countries, including Ireland, as detailed in the recent extensive review paper by Hansen et al.

The Scoping Report fails even to define the tonnage of annual emissions reductions needed by 2050, namely, the level compatible with the scientific consensus on the cumulative global emissions required by that date: to retain a greater than 66% chance of staying below 2ºC the remaining global carbon budget is only 986 Gt CO2 ( Stockholm Environment Institute, 2013).  For Annex 1 nations like Ireland to meet the Copenhagen Accord target year-on-year emission reductions of about 10% starting immediately would be required, a scale of challenge not acknowledged by the NESC-Sec report despite the available science. A serious commitment to climate action requires an urgent and radical commitment to energy demand reduction measures, investing in both energy saving and energy efficiency, to cut emissions quickly, combined with immediate investment in large scale low-carbon electricity supply.

In fact no scientifically-based targets are defined by the Scoping Report. All that appears to be envisaged at this juncture is a modelling of “sectoral road maps” with a vague objective of a “decarbonisation pathway through 2020 and out towards 2030“. However, no 2030 target is identified and no “decarbonisation pathway” showing annual targets for electricity generation emissions is produced. No 2050 target is proposed; instead there is a modelling of two significantly divergent scenarios (80% and 95% reduction in emissions) compared to an unspecified “reference scenario” (p. 10).

With global warming linearly related directly to cumulative emissions, the intended national and sectoral cumulative emissions for the roadmaps and reference scenario need to be given; otherwise the reference scenario and percent-by-date targets are scientifically meaningless ( Anderson and Bows, 2012, p 639), and the entire exercise would end up being an unproductive use of time – unless amended at the follow-up stage.

The report contains no reference to the scientific data showing that at least 80% of existing global fossil fuel reserves need to be kept in the ground to give a high probability of stabilising atmospheric temperatures at a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial levels ( Hansen et al, 2013, p 20), in line with Ireland’s Copenhagen Accord commitment.

Neither the impact of this cap on fossil fuel combustion (restricting Ireland’s carbon burning capacity) nor the continued role of DCENR in both facilitating and licensing oil and gas exploration are addressed by the Report.

The Scoping Report acknowledges the “27% increase in coal usage in electricity generation in 2012, prompting an overall increase of some 5.9% in emissions from the energy sector”. Such an increase in coal usage is unacceptable given the scientific evidence showing that coal and peat should be phased out of electricity generation as soon as possible. Wealthy countries need to show leadership by phasing high-emission fossil fuels out of use quickly; not to do so will incur “significant increases in mitigation costs, increased risk that low stabilization targets become unattainable, and reduced chances of staying below the proposed temperature change target of 2°C in case of overshoot” ( Riahi et al, 2013).

Put simply, were Ireland to fail to adopt a plan to phase out peat and coal use it would point to a country with little real interest in acting to reduce emissions and playing its part to help arrest climate change.

Legal Implementation

The “Introduction” of the Scoping Report shows that legal implementation relies on the provisions of the planned Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill heads of which were published in February 2013. The planned Bill mandates the development of a “National Low Carbon Roadmap”, which is due to incorporate several sectoral roadmaps, eschews the adoption of immediate and progressive annual targets or even a 2050 target, and has no independent monitoring or implementation structure, with the publication of reports of an Expert Advisory Body subject to Government approval.

These omissions are reinforced by the provision in the proposed climate Bill that ministers and public bodies need only to ‘have regard’ to the Roadmap in policies and actions, though in the case of Ministers a reporting requirement is made.

In a 2001 High Court judgement ( Smith and McEvoy v. Meath County Council) the provision “have regard to” was found to have little practical legal effect. For this reason the wording of subsequent planning legislation tends to use “must be consistent with” in order to ensure effectiveness. The question must be asked: is the proposed use of a weak-willed and ineffective formula a deliberate attempt to create weak-willed and ineffective climate legislation?

The Scoping Report acknowledges the planned Climate bill “does not define a specific carbon reduction target for the economy or any individual sectors" (p 9).

The justification of the non-target based approach underlying proposed legislation was formulated in the 2012 report by the NESC Secretariat, “Ireland and the Climate Change Challenge; Connecting ”How Much” with ”How To”, that emphasised that ‘how to’ decarbonise should have more focus than ‘how much’ emissions are reduced.

This is a wholesale contradiction because Chapter 1 of the NESC Secretariat’s own report endorses the Copenhagen Accord (as follows):

In the international Copenhagen Accord of 2009 it was agreed that deep cuts in global emissions are required to hold the increase in global temperature below 2°C. The adoption of this goal reflects a judgement of the scientific evidence that the 2°C limit would avoid dangerous climate change, although significant risks also exist with lower levels of global warming.

And the further statement:

The science is unambiguously pointing towards a challenge of enormous proportions. It is also pointing to the need for immediate and sustained action. Stabilising the level of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere requires that annual emissions peak and then decline. The later the peak in emissions occurs, the higher the rate of decline in emissions after the peak or the lower (or even negative) are the emissions required in the long run in order to achieve any given temperature target with the same probability. Recent analysis, commissioned by the EU’s Climate Change Science Experts, suggests that to reach the 2 degree target emissions need to peak by 2015.

However, despite this, and for reasons unknown, the NESC Secretariat report fails to adopt the principle of sectoral targets. (In outlining the notion that “a loop is not a line”, it argues that the focus should “not be on targets”).

In this, the NESC Secretariat disregarded the specific advice from the EPA which recommended sectoral targets, and that these targets be disaggregated within sectors to direct strategic planning ( EPA, 2012, p 1).

However, when it comes to seeking out higher levels of economic activity neither Government nor the NESC Secretariat appear to have any inhibitions about using targets. Growth targets are adopted for specific sectors, including objectives for agriculture set out under Food Harvest 2020, and this policy has already resulted in agricultural emissions increasing by 3% in 2012 over 2011 levels.

It would be one thing if the NESC Secretariat gave consideration to how general Government objectives of promoting economic growth, attracting foreign inward investment, and raising exports could be secured in ways which lowered aggregate emissions (and resource consumption). But it didn’t. In short, the report by the NESC Secretariat is so removed from the scientific evidence and the consequent implications for societal well-being that reliance upon it is very much misplaced.

Indeed, the NESC Secretariat’s report does not even set out an effective strategy for Ireland meeting the EU 2020 targets which, under current projections by the EPA, will be significantly exceeded by 7-24 MtCO2e ( EPA, 2013).

All of this goes to highlight the grave dereliction of duty here – with policy officials arguably more to blame than politicians – in not having a national roadmap already in place for 2020.

It may very well be a legitimate approach, and consistent with the national interest, to allow some expansion in dairy farming but to counterbalance such increases by equivalent reductions elsewhere, for example, by closing peat-fired power stations and cutting coal imports. The key point is, however, there is as yet no National Roadmap to guide such strategic decision-making, leaving every sector essentially making a pitch to do as little as possible at the outset.

The NESC-Sec report provided no substantive input as to how the much greater level of reductions progressively needed after 2020 is going to be achieved. A significant critique of the NESC Sec report is provided by Prof Peadar Kirby ( Kirby , 2013).

This rejection of targets is contrary to the scientific basis of achieving the carbon reduction progressively required to stabilise temperatures and stem ocean acidification. The advice from climate scientists globally stresses the need to adopt clearly defined progressive targets with immediate effect. As Prof Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Institute has noted, 2050 targets conveniently give:

the illusion that we can carry on with what we are doing and pass the problem on to future generations. A 2050 goal is convenient for policy-makers, companies and the public alike – it does not interfere with decision-making, immediate business issues or how we live our lives. Indeed, the lure of long-term targets is considerable. Unfortunately, there is no basis in science for banking on the problem being solved through technology, by someone else, in the future; disturbingly, many scientists have used this inappropriate shorthand and continue to do so.” ( Anderson, 2012).

The abandonment of targets also directly contravenes the basis UN and EU climate negotiations. The COP UNFCCC negotiations are based on the objectives of securing a legally binding instrument by the end of 2015 to come into force by 2020.

Current EU policy and Directives, including Ireland’s commitment to EU effort sharing, set out a 20% reduction by 2020. Effective post 2020 action will require much more ambitious targets.

Policy and Fiscal Measures

The Scoping report again references the NESC Sec report (Ireland and the Climate Change Challenge; Connecting ‘How Much’ with ‘How To’) as “moving beyond a sole compliance approach, and re-focusing on a whole of government and societal agenda”.

The Scoping Report is permeated with the conflict between lowering emissions and “how we will go about delivering a low carbon future while maintaining economic competitiveness” (p 2).  It thus fails to reconcile how or to what extent the current model of economic growth and resource consumption could be compatible, or made compatible, with climate stabilisation.

The report is produced in the absence of any effective national climate and energy policy, including addressing the transboundary environmental and economic impact of the €6.5 billion in fossil fuel and biofuel imported into Ireland. The 2007 Government White Paper on Energy was inadequate at the time of publication and is now even more so.

If, as stated (Scoping Report, p. 10), "the electricity generation roadmap will be developed within the wider low-carbon framework being established by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, which will produce sectoral roadmaps across the transport, agriculture and built environment sectors", then presumably all sectoral roadmaps must add up within the national roadmap, which will describe a national emissions descent pathway to cut emissions 20% by 2020, and ensure that by 2050 emissions are no more than 20% of 1990 levels, and preferably 5% of 1990 levels.

All the foregoing is implied on p. 2 of the Scoping Report but we should not have policy development by implication; it should be clearly spelled out.

In reality, the relationship of the electricity generation roadmap to the other proposed roadmaps affecting energy is unclear, as is its interaction with the DCENR proposal for a new Green Paper for energy policy in 2014.

It is also unclear how a “sectoral road map for the energy sector” can be achieved if there are parallel separate “roadmaps” for buildings and transport, initiated in isolation and in advance of the national roadmap proposed in the heads of the proposed Bill. The scoping document seeks to “define the boundaries of the energy sector roadmap and identifies those areas of energy policy that will be assessed under other sectoral roadmaps for the Transport, Built Environment and Agriculture sectors”.

This segmentation raises the spectre of a plethora of overlapping, jumbled, or even contradictory policy roadmaps and targets from different government Departments and agencies.

Fiscal Measures

The Scoping Report follows the failure of the NESC Secretariat to address the conclusions of what would now be regarded as the very conservative 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the main message of which was that investment in decarbonisation needs to be immediate and progressive since the cost will be much greater in the future ( Stern, 2006).

In the evaluation of the electricity roadmap against criteria for the proposed Climate Bill, there is no mention of carbon budgets or of a sectoral emissions descent pathway as part of a national emissions descent plan to reduce emissions to between 5% and 20% of 1990 levels by 2050, as implied on p. 2. Nor is there any mention of sustaining climate stability for future generations, the very point of climate policy, as the Scoping Report itself highlights (p. 9).

In the Evaluation of measures on pages 10 and 11, the provision for a carbon budget and climate stability for future generations is entirely missing.

It is stated that "energy prices are a critical component of the overall competitiveness of the Irish economy", (p. 11), but as energy security in a low carbon world depends on a combination of significantly more efficient energy use and renewables, then the investment in funding efficiency / demand reduction and rapid decarbonisation of the energy supply must be provided.

The document fails to consider the fact that offsets are often ineffective in reducing emissions ( Carbon Market Watch 2013). Offsets are essentially get-out clauses that allow nations to look like they are meeting targets when they are not, and the idea of Ireland using them this far out from 2020 is a charter for failure. Without positioning Ireland to at least come close to meeting its 2020 target, the price of compliance post-2020 may pose an exorbitant burden on taxpayers. Put another way, the closer Ireland can get to the 2020 target, the less exposure placed on taxpayers post 2020, a time when the price of offsets – frequently bogus though they may be – is likely to be far higher.

To re-iterate, given the urgency required to address climate change and the slowness of delivering new low carbon electricity supply, very large investments in electricity demand reduction are now required, for both energy saving and energy efficiency.

Consideration of Irish Electricity Generating Sectors

The emission breakdowns for 2012 were published by the EPA in October 2013 and are referenced on page 5 of the scoping report in an overview of the current elements of the electricity generating sectors.

Fossil Fuels

There is no evidence that any viable carbon capture and storage is achievable within any reasonable timeframe.


The cheaper cost of coal on the international market is primarily a result of a switch in the US from coal to gas power generation from fracking, which disregards the full carbon equivalent impact of the fracking extraction process including fugitive emissions. The 5.9% increase in energy sector emissions in 2012 over 2011 is largely due to a 27% increase in using cheaper coal at Moneypoint. The ESB has no exit strategy for the phasing out of Moneypoint. The argument for continued coal use is to reduce dependence on the gas market. However, this argument is weak now given higher levels of interconnection, the greater penetration of renewables, and the increased prospect of sourcing gas from non-Russian sources should that requirement arise.


Peat produces 9% of the electricity but emits 20% of the electricity emissions.  Bord na Mona has no exit strategy for ceasing peat extraction and burning and for stabilisation of carbon and restoration of carbon sink function on its landholding. The argument for continuing peat extraction is to maintain an element of national self-sufficiency in base load power generation and moderate coal and gas import dependence.

Again, this argument is much weakened by the massive annual cost of peat subsidies (up to €80m annually), the fact that generating electricity from peat is even more climate damaging that coal (Ireland’s emissions from peat rival those of its total annual emissions from cars), taken together with the wider global availability of gas.


60% of electricity generating demand remains with gas. Gas has a lower emission impact per energy unit generated that peat or coal. Put simply, gas is not as bad as peat / coal in the immediate timeframe. However, the large scale use of gas becomes progressively unviable in an annualised energy decarbonisation into the 2020 and 2030s.

Given the post-2020 scenario Ireland would be making a big mistake to develop fracking, noting also that it would have to count the emissions consequent in such extraction. A November 2013 report published by the US National Academy of Sciences has stated that fugitive emissions including methane from the operation of fracking wells in the US have been seriously underestimated ( Miller et al, 2013). Also, long term, investment in fracking diverts funds from energy reduction, energy conservation and renewables, thereby delaying the essential development of a low carbon Ireland.


Page 14 states that “in the post 2020 period we may see an increase in the use of biomass”. Biomass, as with biofuels, is not carbon neutral and different biomass feed sources – whether nationally produced or  imported – have significantly different carbon emission impacts. The use of biomass in the Bord na Mona Edenderry Power station is not a suitable model since it uses imported kernels from the highly-destructive palm oil industry in South East Asia, among other import sources.  Cultivation of land-based crops for mass burning to generate electricity has no scientific or economic defence ( Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011).


Continuing investment in current wastewater and agricultural effluent management systems undermines potential of bio gas extraction, and there is no evidence of any policy change. Arguments that the German agricultural sector presents a sustainable model are not tenable. While Europe imports grain and animal feed, perverse subsidies promote the use of good agricultural land for biogas crops.

Wind Energy

Wind is the only renewable technology currently available to achieve large scale capacity, given that wave and tidal generation remain at the level of small scale prototypes with uncertainty as yet over large scale application and environmental impact on marine life.

If, as stated (p. 9), "the funding required for renewable energy deployment will have to be supplied by the private sector", then there is a strong argument for increased carbon taxes and ring-fencing the funds from electricity-generation revenues to support renewable, as well as efficiency and demand reduction.

Ireland’s national 40% wind energy generation target by 2020 is based on a regional distribution of turbines, increased interconnection with the UK and grid reinforcement. The pylons proposed to enhance interconnectivity and grid distribution are now a source of major conflict in the areas affected.

However, even with enhanced interconnection, there is a limit by which any national grid can depend on wind and there is no evidence that the viable technology for storage capacity is achievable within a foreseeable timeframe. This may limit the role of wind in the post 2020 period with any additional wind capacity being exported rather than capable of contributing to national emission reductions – subject to changes in technology.

Energy Efficiency and Demand Reduction

Given the limited capacity of wind to replace fossil fuel plants and the lack of any large scale renewable alternative or storage capacity in the foreseeable future, a major new emphasis on demand reduction, energy conservation and efficiency is required. This is an objective in which the deregulated power generation sector has no interest and indeed there are major vested interests (including from renewables) in pushing maintenance of and indeed increases in primary energy demand.

It is critical that strong revenue streams are directed at demand reduction and reduction of fuel poverty, the obvious economically efficient source being ring-fenced carbon revenues from levies on fossil fuels. Ring-fencing emission and investment savings to fund further savingss is a proven way to reward success with success, often creating local employment, as strongly evidenced by Dublin Fire Brigade’s world leading, radical emissions reduction success due its Green Plan ( McCabe, 2013) and Thailand’s “Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund” ( APEC, 2005).

An Taisce has already made a submission on the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) in the November 2013 consultation. A major national priority is the residential housing stock. The DECNR proposal for a major national Pay as You Save Scheme for households from 2014 is not in place. Also, there is inadequate recognition that Irish per capita heating emissions are significantly higher than the OECD average due to poorly insulated building stock and inefficient combustion sources.  Rebound effects from reducing fuel poverty should be accounted for by raising carbon levies to fund building upgrades.

There is no evidence that the current National Energy Efficiency Action Plan ( NEEAP ) will achieve its limited goals for energy efficiency. The focus must not just lie on the residential or general building use sector. It’s necessary to consider demand reduction across all areas of energy use, particularly for major industrial users including mining, cement, IT, pharmaceuticals and food processing.


Despite the rhetoric portraying a low carbon future, Ireland’s Electricity Generation Roadmap is ill-defined, scientifically deficient, ignores the commitments Ireland made at Copenhagen, and plots a course that continues to lock in high-carbon, fossil-fuel-based electricity generation.

An Taisce strongly advises that DCENR and the Government amend the ‘roadmap’, and the approach governing it, to ensure there are legally-binding national targets together with sectoral sub-targets that are consistent with the science in addressing the serious future climate risks to Ireland’s economy and society.

A target to urgently decarbonise electricity generation by 2030 is required both for economic resilience and to give hope to all young people today, who face a very precarious future if decisions made by us now lock in a high level of climate instability.


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McCabe N (2013) Case Study of Kilbarrack Fire Station. Video presentation at Royal Society London, Radical Emissions Reduction Conference Dec 2013

Miller SM, Wofsy SC, Michalak AM, et al.(2013) Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States. PNAS November 25, 2013

Riahi K, Kriegler E, Johnson N, et al (2013) Locked into Copenhagen pledges — Implications of short-term emission targets for the cost and feasibility of long-term climate goals. Technological Forecasting and Social Change Nov 2013 Corrected proof, In Press.

Stern N (2006) Stern Review on the economics of climate change.

Stockholm Environment Institute (2013) The Three Salient Global Mitigation Pathways Assessed in Light of the IPCC Carbon Budgets.

Union of Concerned Scientists (2011) International Scientists and Economists Statement on Biofuels and Land Use. A letter to the European Commission.


An Taisce gratefully acknowledges the following, who contributed to the preparation of this submission: James Nix, Ian Lumley, Paul Price, Phil Kearney.


An Taisce criticises Government’s low carbon roadmap. (Press Release)

Urgent energy demand reduction and legally binding greenhouse gas (GHG) limits are essential for humanity's long-term survival.

An Taisce Press Release 7 th. January 2014

An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland, has today called on Government to amend its ‘roadmap’ for electricity generation.  An Taisce’s submission to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources calls for energy demand reductions and legally-binding greenhouse gas limits to slow climate change and provide hope for future generations.

Energy Demand Reductions:

An Taisce stresses that attention must shift to energy savings and energy efficiency.  These have not received enough attention to date.

“Given the urgency required to address climate change and the slowness of delivering new low carbon electricity supply, very large investments in electricity demand reduction are now required to provide both energy saving and energy efficiency”, according to An Taisce’s submission to Government.

Describing the Government’s low carbon roadmap, James Nix, An Taisce’s Policy Director stated:

“Despite using rhetoric portraying a low carbon future, Ireland’s draft Electricity Generation Roadmap is unclear, scientifically deficient and ignores the commitments Ireland made at Copenhagen. The ‘roadmap’ plots a course that continues to lock in electricity generation based on high-carbon fossil fuels".

Legally Binding Limits:

A legally-binding cap to carbon emissions, a national greenhouse gas (GHG) budget, is required for the period from now up to 2050.  This would assign annual targets to 2050, and define the path of emissions reductions so that temperatures do not rise any more than 2ºC on average across the world.  Emissions from all sectors - including electricity generation - must share the national budget without exceeding it.  Only this approach respects scientific realities and global equity.  It is also commensurate with the clear and present risks to Ireland’s society and economy posed by climate change.

The only practical mechanism to impede climate change and limit future impacts is to place an absolute cap on total cumulative GHG emissions.  Climate pollution must cease before this cap is breached.  Due to the lack of effective action to date, only a small amount of the remaining fossil fuel – shared across all humanity - can still be burned.  Ireland must play its part in limiting the global amount of fossil fuels burnt, to ensure that less that a further 1000 Gt (Giga tonnes) of CO 2 is released world-wide into the atmosphere.

In practical terms this means that at least 80% of currently known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.  This can be achieved only if current high-emitting countries, such as Ireland, commence radical emissions reduction.

We can still act with hope for ourselves and our children by immediately making the urgent transition to a low-carbon society and economy.


  1. The full response by An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, to the recent Government consultation on the development of a Low Carbon Roadmap for the Energy Sector in Ireland is available here DCENR-LCR-post-final-20131230.pdf
  2. DCENR Consultation call is here
  3. DCENR Scoping Report here


An Taisce asks that Kilkenny house be declared a National Monument (Press Release)

Nos.20-22 Vicar street taken from west (July 2013)

Expert report says that house warrants National Monument designation.

An Taisce Press Release 6 th. January 2014

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland has written to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan, asking him to declare a house with renaissance / late medieval features at Vicar Street in Kilkenny City as a national monument.

“Heritage tourism is hugely significant to Kilkenny’s economy” according to Declan Murphy, Chair of An Taisce’s local association in Kilkenny, “and a further high-profile historical and archaeological site can only add to that”.

“Surely it is time for the County Council to respect the wishes of the thousands of citizens who have petitioned for preservation? And what better way to boost income for the city than creating another visitor attraction here along Kilkenny’s highly successful visitor trail?”

The letter sent by An Taisce to Minister Deenihan asks him to declare the Kilkenny manse house a National Monument. The house was home to senior clergy in the 1600s and 1700s.  Such houses are extremely rare in Ireland and of national importance.

An expert report compiled by leading archaeologists, including John Bradley, Senior Lecturer in NUI Maynooth - the foremost authority on urban archaeology in Ireland – concludes that features of the gable of the house (e.g. cut stone window and a projecting stone chimney flue) firmly establish it as forming part the Medieval Cathedral complex of St. Canice's and thereby warranting protection under the National Monuments Act.

Drawing a parallel with the hugely successful Rothe House in Kilkenny, An Taisce concludes: too often in the past we overlooked the fact that conservation can create economic as well as cultural benefits. “But there is a realisation in Kilkenny that telling the story of the past unlocks future opportunities - and as we have embraced that the more we have gained both culturally and commercially”, said Declan Murphy.

  1. An Taisce's letter to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht re National Monument Designation: AT6.NMS.20.12.13.pdf
  2. Experts' report on Nos 21 & 22 Vicar Street, Kilkenny: AT6.archaeologyreport22Vicar.pdf (3MB)

Reconstruction map of the late medieval Cathedral Close - with 20/22 Vicar Street in Green


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Global warming is being caused by humans, not the sun, and is highly sensitive to carbon, new research shows

New research reinforces human-caused global warming and a climate that's highly sensitive to an increased greenhouse effect

From the Guardian, see here for full story

To summarize, the evidence that humans are the dominant cause of the current global warming is overwhelming (which is the reason behind the 97 percent expert consensus), and continues to grow.  And while the media has lately tended to focus on the few papers that suggest climate sensitivity is relatively low, there is a growing body of evidence based on cloud observations that it's actually on the high end, above 3°C warming in response to doubled CO2, which under business as usual would lead to more than 4°C warming by 2100 – a potentially catastrophic scenario.

In short – it's us, it's bad, and if we don't change course, it's a potential catastrophe.


Ireland submits its first Aarhus Convention National Implementation Report 2014

Department of Environment, Community & Local Government

7 th. January 2014

Ireland submitted its first National Implementation Report under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (known as the Aarhus Convention) to the secretariat of the Aarhus Convention on 31st December 2013.   Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government thanked those who participated in the public consultation process, remarking “I am very pleased to be in a position to submit Ireland’s first national implementation report to the secretariat of the Aarhus Convention.  This document will prove a useful resource to those seeking information on the implementation of the Convention in Ireland.  Public participation is central to the Aarhus Convention and I wish to thank those who participated in the public participation process which was integral in developing the report.” 

The Aarhus Convention lays down a set of basic rules to promote citizen’s involvement in environmental matters and improve enforcement of environmental law.  Its provisions are broken down into three Pillars: Access to Information, Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making, and Access to Justice.  Ireland ratified the Aarhus Convention on 20 June 2012.

Public Participation

The Minister said “The level of public engagement in the development of the report illustrates the growing interest in this area in Ireland.  The consultation process sought to provide the UNECE, the Aarhus Convention secretariat and the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee with the widest possible range of views and opinions on issues related to the implementation and practical arrangements for the promotion of the Aarhus Convention in Ireland”.

The Minister launched the first phase of the public consultation on June 7th 2013.  Twenty-one submissions were received during this phase and these have been examined and, where appropriate, reflected in the second draft of the report.  The Minister launched the second phase on 30th September 2013.  Twelve submissions were received during this latter phase.  The final report reflects comments received during the consultation process. 

A copy of the report as submitted is available at

This webpage also contains information on how the submissions were considered and where comments made have not been reflected in the second draft, a rationale for why they have not been reflected.

All submissions received have been made available on the Department’s website in the spirit of transparency which is integral to the Aarhus Convention. 

For more information, please see


Environmental democracy is still a long way off

Environmental Pillar Press Release

8 th. January 2014

"The Irish public are unlikely to accept that their rights to access information, to participate in decision-making and of access to justice regarding the environment are being delivered.  However that is what they are being told in the Irish Government's Implementation Report to the Aarhus Convention under which it is supposed to vindicate those rights," said David Healy, speaking on behalf of the Environmental Pillar, an advocacy coalition of 27 national environmental NGOs.

"A great deal of effort by the Department of Environment was put into trying to bring legislation and practice into line with the Convention prior to its ratification by Ireland in 2012, however there are still huge gaps in its implementation," he continued.

"While some public authorities have worked hard to involve the public in the decisions that they are making regarding the environment, others are still ignoring the public's right to be involved at the earliest possible stage and before any decision has been made," Mr Healy said.

"In many cases, public authorities are still not proactively providing environmental information, and are not living up to their responsibilities to provide information on request. When this happens, the appeals process through the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information often takes over a year to deliver a decision. Some Government Departments still operate on a "need to know" basis when it comes to environmental information. This adds to the difficulties for the public in participating in decision-making," he continued.

Particular difficulties with information and participation are evident in important and controversial areas such as aquaculture and energy policies.

"We welcome the fact that efforts have been made to provide better access to justice in a limited number of areas of environmental law.  Nevertheless, in many areas, access to justice still operates like the Ritz hotel: anyone can enter the lobby, but only the wealthy can afford to stay there," Mr Healy concluded.

Notes for Editor:

The full name for the Aarhus Convention is the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

Ireland ratified the Aarhus Convention in June 2012. On 18 September 2013, Ireland became subject to the Aarhus Convention Compliance mechanism.

About the Environmental Pillar

The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 27 national environmental organisations.  It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society, without compromising the viability of the planet on which we live for current and future generations of all species and ecosystems. For more information, please see our website.

Member Organisations of the Environmental Pillar:

An Taisce, Bat Conservation Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland, Centre for Environmental Living and Training, CoastWatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Crann, ECO-UNESCO, FEASTA, Forest Friends, Friends of the Earth, Global Action Plan, Gluaiseacht, Irish Doctors' Environmental Association, Irish Wildlife Trust, Hedge Laying Association of Ireland, Irish Natural Forestry Foundation, Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Irish Seal Sanctuary, Irish Seed Savers Association, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Native Woodland Trust, Sonairte, Sustainable Ireland Cooperative (Cultivate), The Organic Centre, VOICE, Zero Waste Alliance.  


Call for the nomination of experts for the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Call for the nomination of experts for the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

A chairde,

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established, in April 2012, as an independent intergovernmental body. The Secretariat for the Platform is located in Bonn, Germany.

One of the main functions of the Platform is to assess the state of the planet's biodiversity, its ecosystems and the essential services they provide to society.

IPBES provides a mechanism recognized by both the scientific and policy communities to synthesize, review, assess and critically evaluate relevant information and knowledge generated worldwide by governments, academia, scientific organizations, non-governmental organizations and indigenous communities. This involves a credible group of experts in conducting assessments of such information and knowledge in a transparent way. 

Ireland is a member of the Platform; the Government Department responsible is the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht (National Parks and Wildlife Service).

Nominations of experts

A 2014-2018 work programme was agreed in Antalya Turkey, December 2013.  The meeting report and relevant Decisions can be found on  A number of task forces and expert groups were proposed to take forward elements of the work programme.

Governments and other relevant stakeholders have been invited to nominate and present names of experts to participate in any of the task forces (items 1 to 3 below) or expert groups (items 4 to 8, below) as follows:

  1. Task force on capacity building, for implementation of work programme deliverables 1a and 1b, in accordance with the Terms of Reference (ToR) set out in Annex II to Decision IPBES/2/5. The first meeting of the task force is anticipated in the week commencing 19th May 2014;
  2. Task force on indigenous and local knowledge systems, for implementation of work programme deliverable 1c, in accordance with the ToRs set out in Annex IV to Decision IPBES/2/5. The first meeting of the task force is anticipated in the week commencing 16th June 2014;
  3. Task force on knowledge and data for implementation of work programme deliverables 1d and 4b, in accordance with the ToRs set out in Annex II of Decision IPBES/2/5. The first meeting of the task force is anticipated in the week commencing 2nd June 2014;
  4. Expert group to implement work programme deliverable 2a, on the development of a guide to the production and integration of assessments from and across all levels. A meeting of the expert group is anticipated in the week commencing 5th May 2014;
  5. Assessment on pollination and pollinators associated with food production (work programme deliverable 3a), as outlined in the initial scoping document for this assessment, set out in Annex V to Decision IPBES/2/5. A meeting of the assessment author group is anticipated in the week commencing 30th June 2014;
  6. Methodological assessment on scenario analysis and modelling of biodiversity and ecosystem services (work programme deliverable 3c), as outlined in the initial scoping document for this assessment, set out in Annex VI to Decision IPBES/2/5. A full scoping meeting for the assessment is anticipated in the week commencing 28th April 2014;
  7. The scoping of a methodological assessment on the conceptualization of values of biodiversity and nature’s benefits to people and development of a preliminary guide on the subject (work programme deliverable 3d). A full scoping meeting for the assessment is anticipated in the week commencing 28th April 2014;
  8. Expert group to support the IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel and Bureau in developing a catalogue of policy support tools and methodologies, and providing guidance on how the further development of such tools and methodologies could be promoted and catalysed (work programme deliverable 4c). A meeting of the expert group is anticipated in the week commencing 5th May 2014.

All nominations of experts to contribute to the above opportunities have to be submitted by email to the IPBES Secretariat ( by 28 February 2014.

Nominations can be made by Government or via a relevant stakeholder.  Relevant stakeholders are defined as qualified national, regional and international scientific organizations, centres of excellence and institutions known for their work and expertise, including experts on indigenous and local knowledge on issues related to the Platform’s functions and programme of work.  Please note that the final selection of experts from the lists of nominations will not exceed 20% of those presented by relevant stakeholders, in other words 80% of experts will be selected from those nominated by Governments.

If you wish to be considered as a Government nominee please submit a full Curriculum Vitae and a clear indication to which work programme deliverable the nomination is made to and .  Please make the substance of the CV relevant to the work programme deliverable/s to increase your chances of selection.  NPWS are keen to facilitate Irish experts and anticipate that we will forward all nominees, however we reserve the right to make a sub-selection based on the calibre of submissions particularly in relation to the specific work programme deliverable.

The deadline for submission to Government is February 17 th.

All nominated individuals should ensure they are available on the above indicated dates to participate in the relevant meetings and have enough time and institutional resources to participate fully in the process (please note that no budget to assist travel is currently available from DAHG). Expertise is desirable but not limited to Natural and Social Scientists and Economists.

A further call for nominations for experts to contribute to other work programme deliverables (including for scoping and authoring regional and sub-regional assessments, and assessments relating to land degradation and restoration, invasive alien species, and sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity (work programme deliverables 2b and 3b respectively)) will be circulated towards the end of March 2014, with a deadline for nominations in June 2014.

Please forward any queries to (01 8883280) and (01 8883294).

Yours sincerely,
Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe
Principal Officer
Science & Biodiversity
National Parks & Wildlife Service


Dahr Jamail, The Climate Change Scorecard

This aricle was written by Dahr Jamail and published by in December 2013

Dahr Jamail is a feature story staff writer and producer for Al Jazeera English. Currently based in Doha, Qatar, Dahr has spent more than a year in Iraq, spread over a number of trips between 2003 and 2013. His reportage from Iraq, including for TomDispatch, has won him several awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism. He is the author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.

The original is available here The Climate Change Scorecard

Since a nuclear weapon went off over Hiroshima, we have been living with visions of global catastrophe, apocalyptic end times, and extinction that were once the sole property of religion.  Since August 6, 1945, it has been possible for us to imagine how human beings, not God, could put an end to our lives on this planet.  Conceptually speaking, that may be the single most striking development of our age and, to this day, it remains both terrifying and hard to take in.  Nonetheless, the apocalyptic possibilities lurking in our scientific-military development stirred popular culture over the decades to a riot of world-ending possibilities.

In more recent decades, a second world-ending (or at least world-as-we-know-it ending) possibility has crept into human consciousness.  Until relatively recently, our burning of fossil fuels and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere represented such a slow-motion approach to end times that we didn’t even notice what was happening.  Only in the 1970s did the idea of global warming or climate change begin to penetrate the scientific community, as in the 1990s it edged its way into the rest of our world, and slowly into popular culture, too.

Still, despite ever more powerful weather disruptions -- what the news now likes to call “ extreme weather” events, including monster typhoons, hurricanes, and winter storms, wildfires, heat waves, droughts, and global temperature records -- disaster has still seemed far enough off.  Despite a drumbeat of news about startling environmental changes -- massive ice melts in Arctic waters, glaciers shrinking worldwide, the Greenland ice shield beginning to melt, as well as the growing acidification of ocean waters -- none of this, not even Superstorm Sandy smashing into that iconic global capital, New York, and drowning part of its subway system, has broken through as a climate change 9/11.  Not in the United States anyway.

We’ve gone, that is, from no motion to slow motion to a kind of denial of motion.  And yet in the scientific community, where people continue to study the effects of global warming, the tone is changing.  It is, you might say, growing more apocalyptic.  Just in recent weeks, a report from the National Academy of Scientists suggested that “hard-to-predict sudden changes” in the environment due to the effects of climate change might drive the planet to a “tipping point.”  Beyond that, “major and rapid changes [could] occur” -- and these might be devastating, including that “wild card,” the sudden melting of parts of the vast Antarctic ice shelf, driving sea levels far higher.

At the same time, the renowned climate scientist James Hansen and 17 colleagues published a hair-raising report in the journal PLoS.  They suggest that the accepted target of keeping global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius is a fool’s errand.  If global temperatures come anywhere near that level -- the rise so far has been less than one degree since the industrial revolution began -- it will already be too late, they claim, to avoid disastrous consequences.

Consider this the background “temperature” for Dahr Jamail’s latest piece for TomDispatch, an exploration of what climate scientists just beyond the mainstream are thinking about how climate change will affect life on this planet.  What, in other words, is the worst that we could possibly face in the decades to come?  The answer: a nightmare scenario.  So buckle your seat belt.  There’s a tumultuous ride ahead. Tom

Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?
Scientists Consider Extinction 
By Dahr Jamail

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

The reason, of course, is climate change -- and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.

The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that -- right at this spot -- had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.

I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists -- not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers -- who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic.  Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at -- and over -- a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.

Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say. 

“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm... within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean.  That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the Earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears.  “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018.  (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier -- by 2016.)

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return,” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2).  It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale -- and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.  “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet.” In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95% of all species were wiped out.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of six degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas.  Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are currently in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference being that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying. Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible -- even in the course of just the next few decades.

The Sleeping Giant Stirs

According to a NASA research report, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?”: “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon -- an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That's about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth's soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable top soils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost -- and its stored carbon -- may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies.  Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic's carbon cycle. He told NASA, "Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures -- as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth's surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic's carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming."

He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems."

The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 333,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.

Miller revealed another alarming finding: "Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we've measured have been large, and we're seeing very different patterns from what models suggest," he said of some of CARVE’s earlier findings. "We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher than normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That's similar to what you might find in a large city."

Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates -- often described as methane gas surrounded by ice -- exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: "The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans."

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.

The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in -- and the news is not good.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Consider this timeline:

* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.

* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.

* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.

* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.

* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project , which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis , a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.

* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.

* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

“Things Are Looking Really Dire”

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested.  Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn't be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”

"Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology," Dawe says. "Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don't reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us." And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. "Everything is worse and we're still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don't exact immediate punishment on the stupid."

The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change -- and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not.  As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us -- so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. ( According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

A World Bank- commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. "There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees," says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy."

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread.  All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” -- to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family.  Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining.  But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books:  Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and  The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan . He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail