I am pleased to make the annual sectoral adaptation transition statement to the Dáil on the steps taken by my Department in 2019. As part of the Government's climate action plan and in accordance with the national adaptation framework in October 2019, my Department published two sectoral adaptation plans, one addressing biodiversity and the other on built and archaeological heritage. My Department also has responsibility for implementing several mitigation measures in the climate action plan, including those relating to peatland conservation and the development of guidance for the retrofit of historic buildings. The two sectoral adaptation plans published by my Department are part of series of five adaptation plans covering our natural and cultural capital. My colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, spoke last week about plans for seafood, agriculture and forestry.
As we know, biodiversity is fundamental to our natural capital, the stock of natural assets required to sustain a healthy economic and social life. Biodiversity provides us with clean air, water, food, materials, medicines and health benefits. It supports pollination and soil fertility, regulates climate and protects us from extreme weather and other effects of climate change. Despite the important role that biodiversity plays in underpinning our economy, health and resilience to climate change, we are losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during previous mass extinctions. By the end of the century, climate change is likely to become the most significant driver of biodiversity loss. Increases in temperature will change the timing of life cycle events and the distribution of species. The physical impact of more intense storms and increased winter and spring rainfall will accelerate the degradation of habitats that are already compromised by unsustainable practices. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity needs to be escalated.
Actions within the biodiversity climate change adaptation plan are aimed at improving sustainable agriculture, including better soil and land management and, most urgently, the restoration of natural systems. We have moved into the implementation phase of this adaptation plan and many actions are being progressed. One of the most foundational actions to be taken will be the action to account for the economic value of biodiversity and the role it plays in sustaining our economic and social life. This occurs through the provision of ecosystem services, such as pollination, and, as we are now most aware, on the risk of disease in humans.
We are working with the research community to value ecosystem services and to develop a roadmap towards the integration of natural capital values into national accounts and reporting systems. This will strengthen the business case to promote nature-based solutions as a climate adaptation tool for other sectors. I welcome the inclusion of nature-based solutions as part of the local climate adaption plans. Together, we can address the societal challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Some of the actions my Department is taking will assist us to adapt to climate change and, through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate its effects by improving data availability and taking action on foot of that data. My Department has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a transnational research call to investigate the consequences of climate change on biodiversity and the potential of nature-based solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Submissions are currently being evaluated. We will also provide technical support to the Geological Survey of Ireland, which will be monitoring and modelling groundwater levels to further understand how possible climate change scenarios might impact on a range of Irish groundwater systems. My Department funds the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which is undertaking important work deriving climate change indicators through monitoring programmes and citizen science.
As we are all aware, our peatlands can play a strong natural role in climate regulation. Carbon loss from drainage and damage to peatlands can be stopped or reduced through the restoration of bogs and good hydrological management measures. That is why our aim, as outlined in the climate action plan, is ultimately to restore over 22,000 ha of our unique raised bog habitat. The national protected raised bog restoration programme is being accelerated this year with funding of €5 million for peatlands restoration allocated from revenue raised from the increase in the carbon tax in budget 2020. This funding will allow for restoration measures to be undertaken on over 1,800 ha of designated raised bog in 2020 on up to nine sites across seven counties in the midlands. The 2020 programme has already commenced with the appointment of Bord na Móna, through a public procurement process, to project-manage the programme, to provide other necessary professional services and to undertake the work on the nine sites.
I hope that the restoration works will commence in the coming weeks. A specialised piece of equipment, called an eddy covariance flux tower, is also scheduled to be installed at a designated raised bog site to monitor ecosystem scale fluxes of turbulent energy, water and greenhouse gases between the bog and the atmosphere. Twenty-three other raised bog designated sites have been identified for restoration works over the next number of years under the national protected raised bog restoration programme.
We are also taking action in respect of our blanket bogs. My Department led a recent successful bid to secure EU LIFE funding to implement concrete actions in 24 blanket bog special areas of conservation, SACs, in Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim. Conservation measures will increase the resilience of these blanket bog complexes to climate change and contribute to carbon sequestration and water regulation.
Our built and archaeological heritage is as irreplaceable a resource as our natural environment, not only for its intrinsic value and contribution to our individual and collective well-being, but as a cornerstone of our tourism industry, which is vital to many of our regional economies. Our heritage is vulnerable to climate change impacts, including flooding, storm damage, coastal erosion, microbiological growth and wildfire. It is also vulnerable to maladaptation, which is the inadvertent loss or damage to heritage structures and sites during adaptation works by others.
The built and archaeological heritage sectoral adaptation plan that my Department published in October 2019 has five key goals: first, improve understanding of each heritage resource and its vulnerability to climate change impacts; second, develop and mainstream sustainable policies and plans for climate change adaptation of built and archaeological heritage; third, conserve Ireland’s heritage for future generations; fourth, communicate and transfer knowledge; and fifth, exploit the opportunities for built and archaeological heritage to demonstrate value and secure resources.
Among the tasks identified to achieve these goals are conducting risk and vulnerability assessments, undertaking monitoring of climate change impacts on heritage assets and integrating heritage issues into national and local policies. Capacity building, disaster risk management and increasing heritage resilience will also be vital steps in implementing the plan. Climate change issues will be fully integrated into forthcoming policies of my Department, including the national heritage plan, Heritage Ireland 2030, Places for People - National Policy on Architecture, and the national vernacular strategy.
Cross-sectoral impacts, including in the areas of flood relief, agriculture and energy efficiency measures, will be critical to manage in protecting Ireland’s heritage assets. My Department has revised its built heritage investment scheme criteria to allow local authorities, on a pilot basis, to fund works of maintenance and minor repair in order to increase the resilience of historic structures to climate change. In 2020, we will publish guidance for the custodians of historic buildings on dealing with disasters, including climate-related disasters such as flooding, weather damage, decay and rot and catastrophic collapse.
Under the climate action plan, my Department has been tasked with leading the development of retrofitting guidance for traditionally built or historic buildings. This work is necessary to support the commitment in the climate action plan to retrofit 500,000 homes, most public sector buildings and up to one third of commercial or mixed-use buildings by 2030. The guidance is intended for designers, specifiers, installers and property managers and will make an important contribution to achieving our target of reducing emissions from the built environment by 5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
A working group has been established, chaired by my Department and including officials from the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and Education and Skills, the Heritage Council and the OPW, to oversee the preparation of this guidance. It is anticipated that a draft will be issued for public consultation in late 2020.
With both climate change adaptation plans published on 31 October 2019, my Department continues to welcome close ongoing working relationships with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and other stakeholders. We are continuing to work with our adaptation partners across government in establishing the framework for the plan's implementation in the years ahead. This collaboration is a vital component in the delivery of our plans as we seek to make effective use of limited resources. In light of those limited resources, the initial focus on both sectoral adaptation plans to date has been to establish baseline data, undertake risk vulnerability assessments and continue to integrate climate change adaptation into our existing plans and policies, such as heritage management plans and future polices.
There is no doubt that we must do much more to halt the decline of biodiversity in our country, protect our built and archaeological heritage and take steps to improve the resilience of our built and natural environment to climate change. Our quality of life and our future prosperity depend on the steps we take now. I hope that Deputies across the House will continue to advocate for and support the necessary steps, beginning with a commitment to implement fully the actions outlined in the sectoral adaptation plans.