Dáil Statement on Biodiversity Action

Dáil Statement on Biodiversity Action

Dáil Statements on Biodiversity Action

The Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss reported at the beginning of last month, having been convened in May 2022 in line with a programme for Government commitment. Over the course of seven months and under the direction of their chair, Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, the 99 citizens heard, weighed and considered the advice of experts, both in terms of where we are, and more importantly, where we need to go. After that careful deliberation, the citizens’ assembly delivered 159 clear recommendations and in its first recommendation was an unequivocal message; that the State must take prompt, decisive and urgent action to address biodiversity loss and restoration and must provide leadership in protecting Ireland’s biodiversity for future generations.

The Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was equally clear in its views, asking us, the legislators of today, to put biodiversity and the rights of nature at the heart of the decisions that we make. This is particularly striking when we consider that it is today’s children who will live with the consequences of those decisions we take.

I am sure those 99 citizens and those 35 young people who gave of their time to produce these outstanding reports are watching carefully to see whether we will provide the leadership they have asked for. I will be watching carefully during next week’s debate on the EU nature restoration law to see which parties across this House will live up to these challenges.

I am sure we all learned at school the old song “A Place in the Choir”. It begins: “All God’s creatures have a place in the choir. Some sing low, and some sing higher”. More and more of those creatures are singing more and more quietly, their voices tailing off into oblivion. The Bramble Cay melomys, the Chinese river dolphin, the western black rhinoceros; these voices have been stilled forever, thousands and millions of years of evolution snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Future generations can no more know them than I can know the dodo. Here at home, the calls of the corncrake, curlew or nightjar, song lines that have animated our landscape for generations, are heard calling in ever-decreasing numbers. How long can the choir keep singing? How far can we push the natural world before the music stops?

It is a grim irony that the two words “ecology” and “economy” share their etymology in the Greek word, oikos, meaning the foundational social unit, or more simply understood as “home”. Whereas ecology is the study of our common shared home, the definition of economy has become twisted, especially when viewed through the dominant economic hegemon of our time, that of neoliberal capitalism. Kim Stanley Robinson, in his recent novel “Ministry of the Future”, defines ideology as “An imaginary relationship to a real situation”. This current economic orthodoxy seems determined to remain blind to the real situation, that infinite growth cannot be possible in a finite system and that economy must be a subset of ecology, not the other way around.

There are better ways for us to live together in our shared home. The sustainable development goals, SDGs, are one such lens that we can apply to our world view, through which we can ensure a better future for generations to come. We often consider the SDGs as something that applies to the developing world, far away from us and distant from here. However, let us look at the sub-targets of sustainable development goal 15, which relates to life on land. It commits us to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Sub-target 15.1 states:

By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.

Sub-target 15.5 asks that we:

Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.

Goal 14 relates to life below water. Target 14.2 states:

By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans.

How are we measuring up on these commitments? When we present our voluntary national report to the UN in July, how will we be able to stand over our record? The hour is late, but the day is not lost. The work of the citizens’ assembly gives us a clear roadmap should we have the courage to follow it. Future skies, future rivers and future seas will be quieter and emptier places unless we act now with urgency. I want my children and my grandchildren to know: “The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas” of Yeats, as I did growing up. If we act now with bravery, that can still be so.

An Ceann Comhairle

I thank Deputy Ó Cathasaigh for those words of wisdom.