I call Deputy Niamh Smyth.
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Global Assessment Report: Statements (Resumed)
Having addressed the Fine Gael Government’s inaction on this issue at national level yesterday, I welcome the opportunity to address the global and intergovernmental context of the biodiversity crisis. Regarding some of the Minister's comments when she referred to Fianna Fáil's time in government, I remind her that was almost ten years ago. I appreciate that she is new to her role. I have full confidence in her and I appreciate the efforts she is making and the measures she is bringing forward to tackle biodiversity. However, her Government's record during its tenure in office has been pretty abysmal.
As I noted yesterday, it was Fianna Fáil’s amendment that provided for the Dáil’s declaration of a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency. Fianna Fáil also called for the biodiversity crisis to be examined by the Citizens’ Assembly. There is full agreement in this House that the situation relating to biodiversity in Ireland is at crisis levels. The dire state of affairs here very much mirrors the disturbing global picture. The assessment report of the UN intergovernmental platform is the largest and most comprehensive assessment on the health of nature ever published. It underlines that we are faced with a global emergency. Ecosystems are rapidly declining and a million species are at risk of extinction. The global assessment report is extremely disturbing because it clearly shows that we will leave behind a much worse world for future generations.
The report notes that the main drivers of global biodiversity loss include the massive increases in production and excessive working of land and soils, as well as the climate crisis and rising levels of pollution. It highlights the extremely damaging impacts of wastewater, plastics and fertilisers. I emphasised yesterday that destruction of biodiversity does not only mean loss of species. The Irish public will suffer significant environmental, economic and health impacts without radical Government action. My colleague, Deputy Eugene Murphy, alluded to that during the debate which preceded this one. If trends continue, there is much greater risk of disruption to our agriculture and forestry sectors. I draw the Minister’s attention to the very informative list of necessary measures detailed in that report. It is important the Government clearly addresses how it is integrating these into departmental strategies. The report calls for: massive investments in afforestation and other green infrastructure; reducing levels of consumption and waste; shifting incentives and subsidies to encourage protective measures; revising trade rules and accounting for nature deterioration in international trade; stronger environmental laws and ensuring enforcement; and public awareness raising campaigns on biodiversity protection. These are the key recommendations in the report that we need to see integrated into departmental strategies.
Naturally, responses are very much linked to action in respect of the current climate emergency. However, Ireland’s approach to climate policy at international level has been to trumpet itself as a supposed exception, calling for weaker metrics and regulations and demanding less onerous obligations instead of planning on how to meet the demands. The Government's initial climate plan was poor. The reaction of so many citizens in demanding real action now has been so strong that it will bring forward a new one in June.
Ireland needs to regain credibility within the EU and UN in the context of the climate and biodiversity crises. Yet just before the schools’ strike for climate action in March, all of Fine Gael’s MEPs voted against an amendment to increase the EU’s 2030 target. The Government has also refused to join other progressive EU member states and support greater climate ambition in the EU Council. This Government’s approach goes directly to the public's demands. On Friday last, on foot of the RedC exit poll, we learned that almost 90% of voters feel that the Government needs to prioritise climate change more that it is doing at present.
At international level, Ireland must lead the way in drawing up new global goals for biodiversity so agreement can be reached at the next meeting on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in China in 2020. It should also lead the way at EU level and ensure the sustainable development goals and targets are prioritised in EU legislation.
The Minister stated yesterday that the Government’s efforts are bearing fruit and that progress is being made to protect biodiversity and habitats. Perhaps this is the message the Minister hears at the Cabinet table but it is not the message the rest of us are hearing from citizens on the ground. The necessary examination of this emergency by the Citizens’ Assembly is a reflection of the failure of the Government to adequately prioritise biodiversity protections. A co-ordinated strategy which integrates biodiversity objectives into policy-making is needed across all Departments and public bodies, particularly Bord na Móna and Coillte. The Government must ensure the enforcement of existing environmental laws and restore budgetary allocations to relevant State agencies to pre-recession levels. We also need greater investment in ecology staff, particularly in local authorities, in order to review ecological impacts of developments and improve enforcement of environmental protections.
I do not need to tell the Minister that the country is covered with litter as a result of illegal dumping. Every local authority, including that in my area in Cavan, is completely under-resourced in the context of dealing with this problem. We have one person or two at the most on the group in my local authority area who are able to go out and investigate illegal dumping and they then have to clean up the mess and try to find evidence regarding from where the rubbish involved came. Having one or two people doing this work is not enough. Greater resources need to be provided to our local authorities in order to ensure that they have the manpower to deal with this problem.
Yesterday the Minister stated, "The Government is creating a legal onus, or a biodiversity duty, on public bodies to have regard to policies, guidelines and objectives to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the national biodiversity action plan." I would welcome further information on this legislation, when it will be introduced and on how it aligns with Ireland’s obligations under EU and international law.
As I mentioned previously, the climate crisis is fundamentally linked to biodiversity loss. The cross-party report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action includes several recommendations which would help to reduce emissions and encourage a sustainable approach to agriculture, forestry and peatlands. The Government has committed to: the preparation of a national land-use plan; that new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, payments post-2020 will be made available for activities which supports ecosystems and carbon storage, with a focus on planting of native trees; a new integrated plan with targets for the restoration, rehabilitation and re-wetting of peatlands, as well as a new national hedgerow conservation strategy; and a review of current national forestry strategy in order to ensure policy properly supports native trees and biodiversity-rich woodlands. The Government must deliver on each of these recommendations, including associated timelines, in the all-of-Government climate plan due in June. The science demands measurable progress and not living documents. Perhaps it is not the most exciting of messages for the Government to have to sell but it is vital that we can track implementation across Departments and relevant public bodies.
I would like to read into the record the conclusion of the Living Planet Report 2018, which states, "We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it. We may be the last that can act to reverse this trend”.
To say that biodiversity has not been a priority for Fine Gael in government would be a gross understatement. The Government must end the empty rhetoric on sustainability. No one, particularly the younger citizens, buys it. The Government has an opportunity to take the initiative and step in the right direction by immediately responding to the global assessment report, and reflect in full the Oireachtas committee's recommendations on biodiversity in its new climate plan. These must also feed into current departmental planning and strategies, including in agriculture, forestry and peatlands, and must also inform investment decisions in budget 2020.
It is interesting that the two debates, this and the one we had earlier, are interlinked. They flow into each other. Last night I talked about the five drivers of the negative effects we have seen on systems of biodiversity in this country and elsewhere. The same five drivers are having a negative effects throughout the world. I refer to the way we have exploited our land and sea. I refer also to fish farming, urbanisation, intensification or centralisation of farms and ranching, which has destroyed many hedgerows to create larger fields and generate a greater crop yield, and to the use of pesticides and the likes to increase the yield. We have harvested our forests but last night the Minister asked what would we do without forests.
I mention the exploitation of nature for fun. I have no problem with its exploitation for sustenance in that we need to survive and feed ourselves but there is a level at which we can survive without having to exploit and do damage to our environment.
People throughout the world and on this island do not believe that the climate is changing. The climate does not change overnight. There have been many changes in climate over decades, centuries and millennia, but what is different about this change is that it is happening in front of us and it is being caused by us. It is not caused by plate shifting, volcanoes and ash obscuring the sun. This has been caused directly by our exploitation of natural resources for profit, greed and our gratification as humans. Everyone is not benefitting from this exploitation. The opposite is the case.
In the intensification and acceleration of that exploitation, the other driver is pollution, in particular, plastics and chemicals. Our air, water and land are being poisoned by us. In many cases, the damage will be irreversible. We have seen the damage of nuclear pollution where a little damage will take many centuries to undo but in comparison to the pollution in which we all have been involved in terms of our use of plastics and more frequent air travel, nuclear pollution is minuscule. While we will not be around to see the damage done, we are seeing the damage our pollution of the water and soil is having.
I mentioned invasive species last night as something we can immediately address. If nothing else, the international body can have a quick effect and, in terms of the changes required, at a small cost, but that is not the problem. I outlined last night that one fifth of the earth's surface is at risk of invasive plants and animals, and I presume the sea and inland waters are as bad, if not worse. I am aware of many invasive species. As I said last night, the document from Invasive Species Ireland mentioned plants which I was not aware were invasive species. However, when one looks at the photographs in the field guide produced by that organisation, which, I think, no longer exists, it is scary because they are species we now take for granted. They carpet many of our waterways or lakes, and some of the national parks.
The Minister, Deputy Madigan, mentioned rhododendron and laurel. Rhododendron is being widely sold in supermarkets. It is a nice plant to look at but it is being sold in supermarkets at the same time we are trying to rid the national parks of it. The fact it has dislodged or overwhelmed native species to such a degree that they are endangered shows that much more should be done. It might need to become, along with other plants, a banned or reportable species. There is legislation to deal with noxious species, most of which are native or, at least, have been here for many centuries. The Minister could provide local communities with incentives to remove invasive species. That might involve funding to Tidy Towns organisations or groups, such as Men's Sheds, which are active throughout the country. Towns could get some sort of credit. Organisations, such as Irish Seed Savers and groups looking to replant the lumper potato, could be helped.
We need to increase tax on packaging and increase the electrification of trains and cars. We need to increase the use allotments and community gardens in urban centres. It is happening but not at the rate required and that would encourage people. That is not only about planting. It is giving people a greater appreciation of how we are interdependent on all the other species with which we share the earth. Our survival depends on us protecting the world's ecosystem. Thankfully, the younger generation seems to understand that. Hopefully, it will continue to put the pressure on us, as legislators, but also on the rest of society, to decrease and reverse the damage we are doing.
I refer to an interesting scheme, and I do not know why it is not being replicated in Ireland. An Irish company, Kingspan, announced that it will recycle 500 million plastic bottles from the Mediterranean, bring them ashore in Barcelona and transform them into insulation. Why is that not happening in Ireland? That company is based in Ireland. Our shores are just as polluted as those in the Mediterranean. We could ask companies like Kingspan how to remove plastic from the seas around Ireland and reuse it so that it does not merely go into a black hole in the hope that it will go away, which is what we did in the past with our rubbish and which we are living to regret.
Much more can be done to ensure polluters are punished, exposed and fined to such a degree that others will learn that behaviour is not in anybody's interest.
It is great that 130 countries are coming together under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. I do not know enough about this initiative or the extent of its funding or power but the EU recently decided to divert €13 billion from the social fund into military research. I did not see any similar diversion of funds towards radical action to save our planet or encourage some of the projects I have mentioned. These projects could be started quickly and could have a rapid impact on what is required. In the longer term, however, much bigger schemes are needed. We need our culture to move from capitalism, which is the exploitation of resources for profit, towards a global system that appreciates and saves the earth, not just for the few but for all those who live on this planet, not only humans but all other natural species as well.
I wonder if it is a sign of positive things to come that the Dáil is having two debates on biodiversity in one week, one on the extinction of species and the other on the related topic of ecosystems. We have to take climate change seriously as otherwise the consequences will be dire. While reflecting on what I would say today, I was reminded of a conference I attended in April 2013, which was organised by the Mary Robinson Foundation, Irish Aid, the World Food Programme and other organisations. People came from all over the world, including Nepal, the Caribbean, Mongolia, the Arctic, South America, Africa and Bangladesh, to relate their experience of the impact of climate change on their communities and way of life. We heard the experiences of farmers, fishers and herders and everyone told the same story of great resilience in the face of the challenges arising from climate change. The conference was entitled, Hunger, Nutrition, Climate Justice, and the point was that all three are related. Hunger and nutrition are tied in with climate. The issue is not only climate change but also climate justice. The previous Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, committed to the idea of climate justice.
We are making some progress, with Deputy Thomas Pringle's Bill on fossil fuels divestment and we have seen the green wave in European and local elections, on which I congratulate the Green Party. I also acknowledge the work of the various non-governmental organisations, NGOs. I make particular mention of a book titled, Climate Generation: Awakening to Our Children’s Future, written by Lorna Gold of Trócaire. It should be required reading for everyone, that is, if we want a future for today's children, never mind their children. The book gets across in a very practical, readable and accessible manner the ways in which climate change is the greatest challenge for our generation. The easy part is voting green. The difficult part is putting into practice the principles and theories that will make a difference and bring about climate justice. Ms Gold traces her journey in coming to an understanding of what climate change really means and the danger that she, as a mother trying to protect her children and the world in which we live, faces. The book is positive in that it shows that we can make a difference. I encourage people to read it.
Biodiversity concerns the variety and variability of life on earth and includes marine biodiversity. However, biodiversity is not distributed equitably or evenly on earth. In the previous debate on the extinction of species, it was scary to realise the extent of the extinction and the rapid environmental changes that cause these mass extinctions. The report we are discussing is very clear and I will refer to parts of it which stuck with me. Nature, it states, is essential for human existence and good quality of life but most of nature's contributions to people are not fully replaceable and some are irreplaceable. Another key message that struck me was that nature across most of the globe has now been significantly altered by multiple human drivers and that it is human actions that threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before.
When we consider the human aspect, disasters occurred recently in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. We, in the developed world, are the humans in question. We are the drivers who are threatening the globe, not the humans in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe who are mainly peasant farmers and fishers and women of very limited means. What we are seeing are changes in land and sea use, the exploitation of organisms, pollution, consumption patterns and human population trends. We have statistics showing that humans are estimated to have caused an observed warming of approximately 1°C relative to pre-industrial levels and that average temperatures have been rising for the past 30 years. Indigenous peoples and local communities in many parts of the world are suffering. Ironically, as the report tells us, some climate change mitigation programmes have had negative impacts on these indigenous peoples and local communities who are facing ongoing deforestation, the loss of wetlands, mining, an increase in unsustainable agriculture, pollution and water insecurity. Some of these developments are being driven by multinational companies which do not even pay tax in the countries in which they are operating.
What we, in the developed world, are doing, allowing to be done and turning a blind eye to is impacting on countries in the developing world, the global south. These are the countries that we support through Irish Aid. "Policy coherence" is the phrase that should be at the heart of what we are discussing. Ireland played a dominant role in securing agreement on the sustainable development goals, SDGs. One can see how dependent these goals are on climate justice, with one specifically related to climate action. Ireland is not leading by example. Our recently launched policy for international development, A Better World: Ireland’s policy for international development, is very firm that the SDGs are at the heart of our approach to international development and climate action is a focus in the document. We are making a difference in health, education and reducing hunger and poverty. The Overseas Development Institute stated in 2018 that Ireland is the most efficient donor in targeting extreme poverty.
A Better World commits Ireland to new initiatives, scaling up our funding on climate action and exploring innovative approaches to climate finance, risk insurance and support for small islands developing states, especially those that are most vulnerable. We know that some of these islands are faced with being wiped out in a number of years. The policy document also features a commitment to a new oceans funding initiative to explore the potential of the blue economy. We have to match these initiatives with initiatives in Ireland. It sometimes strikes me that we the Oireachtas is not doing enough, even on simple matters such as waste disposal. For example, we have several bins for separated waste but I guarantee that if we looked in them now, we would find the same items in all three bins. We are not leading by example and we could be doing far more.
The burden of climate change has not been distributed proportionately. I was struck by a statistic at the recent Dóchas conference showing that it would take a Ugandan farmer 198 years to produce the annual emissions of one New Yorker. That speaks clearly to the lack of proportionality involved in this.
It is clear from this global assessment report and its research findings that they must be the driver, when it comes to climate, the environment and agriculture in Ireland. We are already facing fines because we are not reaching targets, which is a total waste of money that could be used in better ways to meet the targets.
The greater cost, however, is the damage we are allowing to continue by not matching our words with actions. This means we must make hard and difficult choices and decisions. People will be upset, particularly vested interests. People will be working in the areas affected, which is why forward planning will be needed. When we look at the procedures, policies and plans we have for health and safety in many areas, for example, fire safety and bettering our own health, we have to bring the same urgency to this issue. This is about survival. An Taisce states that the needs of the many must outweigh the economic interests of the few.
The challenge is to achieve the sustainable development goals. We only have ten or 11 years to do this. The current trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will directly impact on some 80% of the targets relating to poverty, hunger, health and water. The answer is not to increase overseas development aid, ODA, because we are not taking climate change seriously. We must look at ODA and climate change together. The answer is to do what is right and necessary now. It is to adopt the attitude of many indigenous peoples, including Native Americans, and think seven generations ahead when we are making decisions.
I welcome the fact that we are having these statements. In respect of the proposals and ongoing programme that the Minister mentioned in her speech, we strongly support them. We would like to see more. It is good that we are finally having a conversation about biodiversity. The statement from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history says it all. For Ireland, there are three dimensions to it, namely, this island; what happens generally in Europe and in the European Union and what we are doing collectively as members; and how we are meeting our requirements under the various international agreements we have signed up to.
I spent three years of my life working in Africa in the 1980s, long before I became a full-time politician. I have gone back there frequently, particularly in the years when I was Minister of State with responsibility for development. I also went back there in a private capacity the Christmas before last. I went back to where I had worked, in Dar es Salaam, which is a very large city on the east coast of Africa. It was roughly the same size as Dublin when I was working there in the 1980s. There were about half a million people plus growing towns in the area. The population is now 8 million. It is full of traffic. Without a doubt, there is a growing middle class which has done better. However, the reality in the Africa that I know is that women are the principal farmers. Women farmers feed their families. It has been a cornerstone of the Irish development programme since it was first developed way back in the 1970s that we would be involved on the ground in contributing to key countries. Malawi has already been mentioned. Countries like Tanzania and Ethiopia, which the Taoiseach visited not too long ago, are also key countries in the Irish programme. The difficulty is that in Africa there is a mass migration of people to cities. We are seeing the development of massively large cities in Africa because, particularly for poor people in the countryside, they offer an opportunity for access to education, to modern infrastructure, sometimes at an appallingly low level, such as lighting and electricity, and to water, even though the standard of that water may be variable. In the context of Ireland's commitment to development co-operation with countries in Africa and Asia, we need to be very aware of how hard life is for many poor people. Many Irish people will be familiar with images of the big shanty towns that have developed in different cities.
In my visit back to Tanzania, I got an opportunity to return to the Serengeti and to what is probably the most famous area for seeing animals, the Ngorongoro Crater. I was stunned at the fall in elephant numbers since the middle of the 1980s when I had been there previously. By the standard of David Attenborough's television programmes they are still stunning but they are nothing like the numbers that were once there. Despite massive efforts on the part of the local ranger staff to cut down on poaching, there is international trading in ivory. There is an awful lot of death and reduction in animal life. That is not something we can influence but, through our development programmes, we can provide education and support to the institutions in those countries that are training young people to conserve and provide for the animals. We can lend our voice in international fora to helping women farmers and small farmers and to providing financial structures. Globalised finance is not friendly to poor people. It is not friendly to poor people or those in trouble with their mortgages in Ireland but, equally, it is not particularly friendly to poor people in Africa. There is no great financial discussion here about these issues but finance and how we use the financial resources of the world are absolutely essential in empowering ourselves and all the countries in co-operation through the UN and the various international climate fora.
On our own country and biodiversity, there should be a biodiversity plan for each city in Ireland. I spoke last night of the wanton felling of trees by developers once they get on a site. Some colleagues last night who are not here today were very angry that I mentioned the forest fires around places like Killarney a month or two ago and the destruction they caused. We also had the fires in Donegal around the same time. While it may be difficult for some of the Deputies, like Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, who was shouting and roaring last night, to understand it, people who live in cities can be very concerned about the countryside and want to see farmers supported financially to be caretakers of our biodiversity as well as looking after their farming interests. This is a key balance that we have to address in policy terms. That may be difficult for a party like Fine Gael. Traditionally, large farmers have focused on the message that has been about for decades of more and more production rather than the quality of the production and the production being consistent with the protection of biodiversity. That is something that we have to be able to deal with.
I refer to today's water quality report on the beaches around Dublin. The greater Dublin area is very populated and we have bad reports on quite a number of beaches on the north side, near the centre of town and further to the south. We have been getting these reports for a number of years now. It may not be the direct responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Madigan. It may be more for her colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We still have something like 42 locations in Ireland that are pumping pollution into lakes, waterways and the sea. We have discussed the issue in this and previous Dáileanna. I would like to hear from the Minister what, if any, progress has been made in respect of beaches like Portrane, a beautiful beach on the north side of the city which has got some black marks in today's report.
This is a really important recreation space for people on the north side of Dublin city. What is being done about this issue? Fantastic work was done in Cavan. Some 20 years ago, the lakes in the county were heavily polluted but control of agricultural effluent has reversed the position. We can protect our biodiversity. We have to protect and conserve those environmental assets that are so often also sources of pleasure. Will the Minister ensure the different streams of Government commentary and planning are drawn together? Some areas are dealt with by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment while others fall within the remit of the Minister's Department. The first step I would like to see taken is the development of a whole-of-Government approach to this issue.
There was a sad story in the news this morning concerning the death of the last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia. It is symbolic but it is impossible for us not to feel a sense of grief, particularly those of us who are of a certain age. My interest in ecology dates back to the late 1970s, when we studied it in school. I remember various things from that time, including collectible cards in cereal packets. At one point, they changed from featuring footballers to bearing pictures of animals at risk of extinction. It came as a shock last year when the World Wildlife Fund, which was behind those cards in the 1970s, acknowledged that we had lost 50% of all invertebrate wildlife in the world. We have not managed to change our ways, despite everything we knew at the time and everything we we learned from Rachel Carson about the use of pesticides and insecticides, from Donella Meadows in her book, The Limits of Growth, about the challenge we faced in this century to avoid mass extinction and from James Lovelock and his Gaia theory of how our whole living system is connected.
I have some personal reflections from the late 1970s. We used to go on holidays to Brittas Bay in County Wicklow when I was a child. I was there again this summer and it evoked some memories. Everyone of the same age will remember something similar to what I am going to recount. Our dad used to get us up in the morning and bring us out to collect mushrooms. I do not know if the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, did that as a child. We were always guaranteed to get mushrooms back in the late 1970s when we got up every morning at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to bring back breakfast. At the height of the drought last summer, I saw the same field where we used to collect mushrooms all those years ago. It looked like a lot in a holding in the Texas panhandle during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. There were a few distressed and bedraggled cattle in a field that was so dry it looked almost like rock. We all know that mushrooms are no longer collected in the same way. Our use of fertiliser and the ruining of the land means we have lost all of the microbial activity in our soil. All the nitrogen has killed the dense organic network. Our farmers are just starting to cotton on that microbial life in the soil is the key to good farming. All the fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides are killing the natural system and not serving our interests or needs.
I remember as well that we would go fishing when we were on holidays in Brittas Bay back in the 1970s, near where McDaniel's pub is located, if people happen to know that end of the beach. Dozens of sea trout would flash by in the water back then, flying at speed through one's legs as we fished in a small little brook leading to the Irish Sea. I remember hiring a boat in Wicklow and having great hassle because every time we dropped a fishing line in the water huge dogfish, a member of the shark family, wrapped themselves around our lines and it was impossible to take them off. We were looking for cod, mackerel and other fish. A fisherman from that neck of the woods, who is very interested in this topic, rang me last year. He was almost crying when he told me that what used to be a prize sport fishing area now only yields tiny fish, if anything.
One of my other memories echoes what Padraic Fogarty has written about in his brilliant book about the loss of nature in Ireland, Whittled Away. Coming home from Brittas Bay in those days seemed like a massive voyage. We nearly had to take sleeping tablets to survive the journey. On our way home, even in our drowsy state, it was possible to see the constant dance of insect life as moths were drawn to the car headlights. The windscreen of the car above the dashboard would be covered in such insects. I drove for about 12 hours in the country recently, including some time at night, and there was not a single insect on my windscreen when I got home.
As children in the Dublin suburbs, we would leave a jam jar out - Deputy Eugene Murphy might remember this as well - and it would be full of wasps within seconds. That was cruel and we do things differently now but the richness of insect life and the bird life that came with it is gone. This is not just about different fields. It is about our home, island, fields, rivers and sea, which have been completely denuded. We could count the loss in many different ways. Farming is one area where we can count it. The chair of the Committee on Climate Change in the United Kingdom, Lord Deben or John Gummer, warned against us going down the route the UK followed. He pointed out that we still have some family farming traditions left in Ireland. We can recover and prevent the complete loss of our soil. We need a national land use plan to achieve that. The critical work we did in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change was the agreement to draw up such a plan. We will have to agree to farm in a completely different manner because the current method is not working. We are trading on the Origin Green brand and selling into international commodity markets where we do not get a premium price. This approach does not work for Irish farmers. We have to avoid making the mistake of trashing our country in a manner similar to that which occurred in New Zealand for the sake of selling more beef and dairy products into international commodity markets. Let us reverse direction and abandon the false Origin Green brand.
Let us turn our forestry model around. We are implementing an industrial model with rows of single species at high risk from invasive beetles and other threats, which are chopped down every 35 years. That causes further damage to our soil and water courses. The Minister is at the Cabinet table and a new whole-of-Government climate plan is due to be written. Let us completely change that forestry model to create a continuous cover forest that will be a joy to behold and walk through, one which will be full of biodiversity. Timber will be growing in those forests for 100 years and during that time we can employ thousands of young Irish people as expert foresters to bring out the particular trees at the right time. Such a strategy would also help us to manage flood protection, restore pristine water quality and replenish fish, insect and other wildlife species. We need to bring those back if we are really serious about protecting nature. We have to stop extracting peat immediately. It has stored carbon for 10,000 years. We have to bring back the equivalent of our Amazonian rainforests - our bogs - so that insect life, bird life and flora can thrive.
The land use plan is crucial if we are serious about doing these matters. It should also extend to cover our seas. Let us listen to the great ecologist, E. O. Wilson. We should act on his advice to set aside 50% of our natural areas for nature protection. Let us create marine protection areas for 50% of the North Atlantic. We can then sleep at night knowing we are turning back the tide in favour of nature. As we move from the Holocene to the Anthropocene era, the biggest change is that 10,000 years of stable environment is now becoming unstable due to activities that mankind is at the centre of. The strange thing is that new Anthropocene era will bring us to an understanding that we are not at the centre of everything. We are connected in community with each other and with nature. We are part of nature and not separate from it. Our future health and well-being are dependent on us making this leap. It is a well-being which relies on a spiritual sense of connection to nature.
It is as Hopkins said, "Glory be to God for dappled things [...] All things counter, original, spare, strange". I am sorry if that sounds a bit hippyish or out there, but it is about that sense of understanding that we are about to make an evolutionary leap. We are at an evolutionary changing point when science accepts that it does not know everything and that the division of all things down to the level of individual particulate matter is not wise or the whole truth. It has to make way for culture, spirit, art and the sense of wonder in the world around us and value that in our economy above all else. Starting to steer everything we do is going to give us a sense of connection, purpose, meaning and place that will help us to address the major fundamental challenges of our time. We are ready to do that in Ireland and it is a better place to do it than anywhere else. Ireland is just as beautiful and important. Every field, parish and county is important and every young person growing up must not grow up solely with a sense of grief, loss and the absence of hope but rather with a sense of purpose, fulfilment and connection to their place and the part it has to play in our role in protecting the whole planet for their future and the future of nature too.
Some of the Deputies who contributed have left. As such, I will not address their comments but will respond to some of the points raised by Deputies Burton and Eamon Ryan. I thank Deputy Burton for acknowledging that we are doing something of value and for elevating the debate from the local and projecting it to the global. I accept what she said about the elephants in Tanzania and the Serengeti, although I have not been there myself. I am loath to criticise, but recent decisions in countries such as Botswana to lift the ban on hunting are regrettable. There is undoubtedly an interconnected global web of life and the destruction of any part of it has wide-ranging consequences.
I need to correct the record from last evening. I decry absolutely the fires in Killarney, but it was 175 acres not thousands of acres that were burned. I thank the National Parks and Wildlife Service teams, including Seamus Hassett, Peter O'Toole and their colleagues, for their Herculean efforts to put those fires out.
Deputy Burton mentioned Portrane but that matter is one for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and Fingal County Council. The primary challenge at Portrane was to save the beach. The "SeaBees" are being put in place with the approval of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Deputy Burton also referred to biodiversity plans. We have biodiversity plans for Dublin city and Fingal while Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is reviewing its plan. Funding for biodiversity can be used by local authorities to draw up further plans. The Deputy might have noticed after the inaugural biodiversity conference that one of the 40 seeds was a commitment to double funding for local authorities by 2021. That funding stands at €500,000 and we hope to increase it to €1 million.
Deputy Eamon Ryan is right that it is about soils and subsoils, what grows and the structural integrity of soil. As an aside, I note that the Deputy's story of his boyhood was evocative. He could be a wonderful poet, or perhaps he is already, like Hopkins, whose poetry I admire. I hope we put the fish back. Our native woodlands initiative is a good start. I am engaged with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Last year, Nephin was incorporated into our national park network. It had been a commercial forest. Coillte has made a further commitment to my Seeds for Nature initiative. We are at an inflexion point and the choice on action is ours to make.
Deputy Eamon Ryan also referred to mushrooms. My Department will engage in discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the next CAP. One area of great interest in that context is how to keep farmers farming while providing for them to maintain some of their land for biodiversity without financial loss. I can agree with the Deputy on the benefits of continuous-cover forestry. The forest service offers substantial incentives for the planting of broadleaf forests with native species. This may be a very important initiative with businesses now offering additional funding to encourage farmers to make this change.
It is clear from the debate on biodiversity and the report under discussion that this is not just a local problem, it is also a global problem. My Department is taking its remit in respect of biodiversity very seriously. As I stated in my opening and closing statements in the debate on the loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species, the Government has made serious progress but it intends to and will do more.