Participating in environmental protection
The Environmental Protection Agency recognises that it has an important role to play in providing online, up-to-date and accessible information on the environment.
Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA was speaking at the recent Environment Ireland conference. The Agency is working hard to make environmental information interesting and relevant to the public, she said, to encourage sustainable behaviour and stimulate increased community engagement with the protection and improvement of the environment. Community engagement in environmental protection has been identified by the EPA in its recent state of environment report as an ongoing and future challenge for Ireland. “It is the work and protection at a local level that contributes significantly to the overall state of the environment in Ireland,” Laura Burke pointed out.
“If 23 years of experience in environmental protection have taught us anything it is that public access to information is not enough,” she said. "We all own the environment and have a responsibility for its care and protection: after all, our health, our wellbeing, our economy, our very culture depends on it. We in the EPA are keen to foster community engagement and to provide the supports required to empower citizens to become more informed about, and engaged with, environmental and sustainability issues.
The EPA has a strong track record in providing good quality and reliable information from complex datasets on open.gov.ie, to public facing platforms like Beaches.ie, Livegreen.ie, My Local Environment, Catchments.ie and others. It has also expanded the availability of information online about the compliance of licensed sites. Ms Burke emphasised that the EPA is keen to further advance its work beyond what is currently in place.
“The EPA provides online information about Ireland’s Environment and about the many ways you can get involved and play your part in protecting it. But even with all this information provision we are continuing to challenge ourselves as to how well we are doing in engaging and supporting communities in the protection and improvement of the environment, both directly and with and through other organisations in the public, private, non-governmental, representative and voluntary sectors. We would encourage people to get more involved locally and become more informed about, and engaged with, environmental and sustainability issues,” said Ms Burke.
‘Communities’ aren’t just geographical entities; they include communities of practice drawn from groups across, for example, business, research, education, sport, religion or professions. They embrace farming organisations, community groups, industrial and trade organisations, schools or NGOs.
There are excellent ground-up initiatives such as Cloughjordan, Duhallow, the Community Reuse Network, and others such as the recently established Local Authority Waters and Community Office (LAWCO) that are showing the way. We can learn how to support and replicate them. LAWCO, the new local authority water and communities office, with its twelve water community officers strategically located around the country, is pioneering a new approach to community engagement and is actively seeking local community involvement in projects to improve and protect local water sources such as rivers, lakes and coastal waters These new water community officers are getting a very positive response from the public which augers well for the future of water protection and management in Ireland. The EPA will continue to work closely with LAWCO to make sure that they have the best possible information and science available to inform their engagement with local communities.
“A key strategic priority for the EPA in the coming years is to work with others to advance citizen science initiatives, particularly in air quality, water quality and in sustainable behaviours. We see significant opportunities and benefits in closing the loop where the very citizens to whom we have been delivering information become active participants in co-creating environmental data, particularly within their local communities.”
Visit www.epa.ie/irelandsenvironment to find out how to Get Informed and Get Involved.
www.epa.ie/irelandsenvironment won the eGovernment Awards, General category in 2016.