Going green is the way to our future prosperity
THE unprecedented crisis in global financial markets, along with the collapse of the property market, has created major challenges for Ireland.
It is now recognised that there is no quick-fix to these economic challenges.
Stabilising the economy in the short-term is clearly the priority, but building a smart resilient economy will be the priority in the medium-term.
Along with the financial crisis, Ireland, like other countries, is faced with the twin environmental challenges of a climate-change crisis and an eco-systems crisis.
There have been many warnings based on sound scientific evidence about the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. A similar but less well-recognised crisis exists in the inexorable loss of biodiversity worldwide.
We must not ignore these warnings but must design our recovery plan to provide for a low-carbon economic recovery which respects our natural capital and adopts a sustainable approach to the eco-system.
The good news is that the greening of the economy is beginning already.
The Environmental Goods and Services (EGS) sector is worth €3.6bn in Ireland. The environmental technologies market is forecast to reach €2.3 trillion by 2020, while in the EU the sector employs 3.4 million people and turns over €227bn annually.
A joint report from Forfas and InterTrade Ireland has shown strong sector growth in renewable energies, efficient energy use and management, waste management, recovery and recycling, and water and waste water treatment.
Meanwhile, a report for the Environmental Protection Agency published last year shows that Ireland enjoyed the second-highest growth rate in green industries in the EU after Finland, with a growth rate of 55pc between 1999 and 2004.
The UN's Environment Programme believes that enormous economic, social and environmental benefits will arise from combating climate change and investing in clean technologies.
The question facing leaders now is how to reinvest in the global economy -- will it be the old, extractive short-term economy, or will it be the new green economy that deals with multiple challenges while generating multiple opportunities?
We must capitalise on the few benefits of the downturn. Emissions have fallen and there is a possibility that if the economy shrinks further, Ireland may even meet its Kyoto obligations. But relying on a contracting economy to meet emissions obligations is not a strategy and more drastic action is needed to meet our EU commitments.
Not only must we cut emissions, we must make sure that they do not rise again with economic growth.
The solution is investment in the green economy and this is something that the EPA has championed through STRIVE (Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for the Environment), a programme that has invested €30m in environmental technologies since 2005.
The STRIVE programme has shown hundreds of businesses in Ireland that cleaner production saves them money, at a time when people are more conscious than ever about the need for efficiency.
The downturn also brings renewed focus on the indigenous sectors of food and tourism -- two industries that rely heavily on the domestic environment. We must fully commit to the green economy and to the agreement of a Green New Deal for Ireland.
Our vision should be an Ireland of the future, thriving on the success of a green, low-carbon economy, not simply because reducing our impact on the environment is something we must do, but because green jobs, green technologies and renewable energy innovations are recognised as the foundations of our future prosperity.
Dr Mary Kelly is director general of the Environmental Protection Agency