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Ireland’s inspirational road map towards a fair, balanced and sustainable future

by David Newman, President, World Biogas Association

I wonder whether the COVID-19 pandemic really is changing the way we look at the world? Certainly, from some countries, you would say “not at all” as their governments seem determined to return to the status quo which got us into this mess in the first place. I am not naming names, but countries over the other side of the Atlantic (north and south) come to mind- though they are not alone.

But there are some extraordinarily encouraging signals. I have already written here about the EU Green Deal. I must admit, tears came to my eyes when I read it. I never thought that I would ever see an action plan like this one and I have been campaigning on environmental issues for 30 years. It was a text we would never have imagined ten years ago; not even five years ago. Magical ! At last politicians are listening.

Then my dear friend Percy Foster, CEO of the Irish compost and biogas association CRÉ, sent me the document which is being negotiated furiously by the parties trying to set up a coalition Government as I am writing this now, the  Programme for Government- Our Shared Future, which was published this month. Well, I almost fell off the chair.

It is a long read, 139 pages, but if you’re time- or energy- constrained, there’s no need to go any further than the first two pages to get the flavour. The index says it all: it is a menu for a fair, balanced and ecologically sustainable society in the 21st century. Of course, the parties may not agree to this, but just to see such a programme is exciting.

What does it lay out?

It starts by recognising that the role of Government is to provide a better quality of life for its citizens. So instead of some “make Ireland Great Again” empty, nationalist rhetoric, it emphasises the need to “create a higher quality of life for Irishmen and women”. The message is: people come first. Well, at last, it would be good to see a Government recognising its role.

Then it talks about the economy and where investments are needed to drive prosperity; how to do with this without damaging the environment through the implementation of an Irish Green Deal; it speaks of the need to make Irish society fairer, more inclusive, with excellent health care, housing for all, development across rural areas and not only in cities making communities safe and vibrant places wherever they are; it looks at strengthening Irish education, and the role Ireland plays in the wider world.

It really is quite an inspirational road map. Well done Ireland (can we all copy it please ?)

Regarding our industry working on renewable energy and treating biowastes, the document (if approved) makes specific pledges around the need for a new national waste and circular economy plan, including creating a circular economy unit in Government; the need to examine the role of composting in handling compostable packaging – a specific here I have never seen before in a Government programme; relative to composting (which can be combined with anaerobic digestion), a pledge to look at the role of carbon sequestration in soils and how to reward farmers for this; analysing and valorising the role of bioenergy in the national energy mix; reducing the use of artificial nitrogen fertilisers (great for compost and digestate); and a national commitment, similar to that of the UK and others, to be carbon neutral by 2050. Considering the size of the dairy industry in Ireland, that is a huge ambition.

I recommend you read this and distribute it widely, because in your country, wherever you are, it should be these plans we see more frequently coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. Send it to your government, your MPs and broadcast this on your websites. This is a programme fit for the Planet, not just for the Emerald Isle. I really hope they read this note, and adopt it.

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