Ireland country briefing - The European environment — state and outlook 2015

Briefing Published 18 Feb 2015 Last modified 11 May 2020
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Photo: © John Doheny

Main themes and sectors addressed in the national State of Environment report

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[1] is required by national legislation to publish a report on the overall quality of Ireland's environment every four years. Ireland's Environment 2012: An Assessment[2] is the most recent and is the fifth such report.  

The report provides an assessment of the environment and the pressures being placed on it. It outlines the trends and changes in environmental quality as well as the socio-economic activities that are linked to these changes.

Thematic assessments for water, air, climate change, waste, nature, and land and soil are presented. The final section of the report provides a more in-depth integrated assessment of Ireland's environment, with an extended section on environment & economy and environment & health.

The EPA has developed an online resource[3] to provide regularly updated information across a range of themes using key environmental indicators[4]. The web resource has a series of factsheets, infographics and videos[5] to ensure the main findings of the report are made as accessible as possible. 

Key findings of the State of Environment report 

Ireland's Environment 2012 found that overall Ireland's environment remains in a good condition, although there are some areas of concern. The recent economic recession has lowered pressure in areas such as waste generation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the main challenge for Ireland is that as its economy recovers, it does so in a sustainable way. In this context, Ireland's Environment 2012 has identified four key environmental challenges for the country (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Ireland's Environment 2012: An Assessment - Main Environmental Challenges

Fig 1 - Ireland's Environment 2012: An Assessment - Main Environmental Challenges

Challenge 1: Valuing and Protecting our Natural Environment

A good environment is a critical component of a high quality of life, with clean air and safe water being two of our most basic human needs. Meeting the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and protecting our water resources in a changing climate are pressing challenges for Ireland. Maintaining our clean air and healthy soil will also require continuing attention, as well as protecting biodiversity and nature from further loss and damage.  

Challenge 2: Building a Resource-Efficient, Low-Carbon Economy

Ireland needs to transform its economy into a resource-efficient path, to bring increased competitiveness and new sources of growth. From waste prevention to efficient and renewable energy, investment in this area will position Ireland as a competitive economy as well as allowing us to meet targets under international agreements. Meeting the 2020 targets on GHG emissions is a major task for Ireland.

Challenge 3: Implementing Environmental Legislation

Ireland faces formidable challenges in meeting international obligations including for example on water quality, air quality, GHG emissions and waste management. It is important that Ireland complies with international commitments and ensures that legislation is implemented in a timely and appropriate manner. The EPA and other regulators have an important role to play to ensure that a healthy, safe environment is delivered for Ireland through effective enforcement of environmental legislation at national and local levels.

Challenge 4: Putting the Environment at the Centre of Our Decision Making

Achieving growth that is sustainable means that environmental considerations need to be placed at the centre of policy and decision making. Co-ordinated efforts from Government and public bodies are needed to ensure that existing and future activities maintain and improve the quality of the environment. Business and industry play an important role by ensuring their activities do not cause pollution or create environmental liabilities for future generations. All members of the public must play a part by taking action to avoid pollution and controlling our own environmental impacts.

Main policy responses to key environmental challenges and concerns

Meeting the four environmental challenges are critical to ensure environmental conditions are in place for a successful economy and for the well-being of the public. There is a diverse range of environmental legislation in force in Ireland aimed at improving the quality of the environment and protecting public health and ecosystems. The Government's framework for sustainable development -Our Sustainable Future- is intended to embed sustainability principles across all relevant policy areas, including transport, energy and agriculture.


A review of the water sector in Ireland noted that Ireland's valuable water resources could become of increasing strategic importance to the Irish economy.  To deliver a more national approach to water, a new public water utility company (Irish Water) was established in 2013 to take over responsibility for public water services from local authorities. A more sustainable funding model for water services investment is currently being created. New governance arrangements have also been developed to facilitate the implementation of the WFD in Ireland.


The National Biodiversity Plan 2011-2016 is the main tool by which Ireland seeks to meet its commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Three national strategies and plans on peatlands are currently being finalised. These are  

  • The draft National Peatlands Strategy;
  • A draft National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan; and
  • Review of the Raised Bog Natural Heritage Areas.

Climate change & Greenhouse Gases

In 2014, the Government published a National Climate Policy Position, together with the final Heads of the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill[6]. These re-affirm Ireland's commitment to compliance with existing and future obligations under EU and international law. The evolution of national climate policy will be an iterative process, based on adoption by Government of a series of national plans over the period to 2050.  Greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation to the impacts climate change will be addressed in parallel national plans – respectively through National Mitigation Plans and National Climate Change Adaptation Frameworks.  These plans are key to enabling the State to pursue a transition to a low carbon, climate-resilient economy in the period to 2050.


The ban on bituminous coal in large cities and towns has greatly reduced levels of particulate matter pollution in these areas. The ban was extended in 2012 and this is expected to further decrease levels of particulate matter across the country.

In 2014, a joint north-south study was commissioned to examine air pollution from residential solid fuel, in particular 'smoky' coal, and to consider potential policy options to reduce emissions on an all-island basis.


The last decade has seen significant changes in how waste is managed in Ireland. The national landfill levy together with the regulatory regime imposed on the waste industry has yielded significant and measurable improvements in environmental protection.

National policy on waste management is set out in A Resource Opportunity[8], published in 2012. This sets out the measures through which Ireland can make further progress to become a recycling society, with a clear focus on resource efficiency and the virtual elimination of landfilling of municipal waste.  

Rural Development

In 2014 a consultation paper on a new Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020 was published. Proposed agri-environmental climate schemes under the RDP are designed to promote the shift towards a low carbon and climate resilient economy and on restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems. Farmers participating in such schemes must comply with core management requirements (including nutrient management planning) and undertake priority environmental actions aimed at addressing the cross-cutting objectives of climate change, water quality and biodiversity.

Country specific issues

Meeting the four key environmental challenges is important to preserve and protect the environment as valuable national asset and to support the development of the Green Economy. Addressing the challenges requires concerted and determined action across a range of Government Departments, State agencies and local authorities, working together to tackle these complex issues and implement the right policies and solutions. However, the responsibility of protecting and managing Ireland's environment is a shared responsibility involving all citizens. We need to mobilise each of the more than four and a half million people living in Ireland to ensure that the environment is placed at the heart of everyday decisions and actions.

Clear, accurate and timely information is also vital in raising awareness among the public and among key policy and decision makers. Recent EPA initiatives include:

  • Air Quality Index for Health[8]: a web-based index, calculated hourly, showing air quality across Ireland and providing health advice.
  • A series of infographics and factsheets[5] developed for SoE topics to communicate key environmental information.
  • My Local Environment[9]: A map based section of the EPA's website provides information about the quality of the local environment based on a user defined location.
  • See it – Say it iPhone App: Allows people to report environmental pollution using their own phone. 
  • Bathing water: SPLASH[10]:  A map-based service which provides information on bathing water quality.

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.


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