In the wake of the Dáil declaring a national Biodiversity and Climate Change Emergency last week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’ve had countless conversations over the past few days, and people have been putting it up to me – what am I, Senator Grace O’Sullivan, going to do about this?
Of course it’s hard to know where to start. I’m canvassing at the moment to try to get elected to the European Parliamen. As the only Waterford-based MEP candidate in the race, people have been asking what changes can be made at a local level, but I’ve also been getting calls and messages from all 12 of the counties in the Ireland South constituency I’m running in. I could be here all day giving you my opinions and plans and ambitions, but that wouldn’t be practical. I’ve written here quite extensively about climate and environmental issues before, so this week I want to look at a couple of what I see as fundamental stakeholders, namely – the main providers of human nutrition locally, nationally, internationally – farmers and the fishing community.
I spent ten years of my life at sea. Fishing was a livelihood for some members of my family. I’m an ecologist and Green Party spokesperson on the marine. In other words, I care about this stuff and want to continue doing something about it, but on a bigger stage where I can make a bigger difference that could have positive benefits in a struggling industry, and by default help us, the consumers, to ensure we have a reliable food source into the future.
Likewise farmers are facing huge challenges. Tasked with the responsibility of providing food, they need to be supported. In the emergency ecological situation we find ourselves in, while farming methods need to change in order to tackle it, farmers must be respected and given help with transitioning to new ways. I firmly believe that we Greens have more in common with farmers than many might believe. The cliché image of Green politics and agriculture being at loggerheads is changing rapidly. And it’s about time. Collaboration is in everyone’s best interests and below are a few practical and doable areas where I see real possibilities for creating change.
So, in terms of fishing, we all know that the fishing industry in this country is in tatters for ordinary fisherman trying to make a living. One of the (many) issues causing that is the decimation of fish stocks. Some of the specifics of what I can do if I’m elected to Europe would make is possible to get back to healthy oceans with thriving, recovering fish stocks which are fairly fished so that ordinary people can make a decent living.
- Amend the common fisheries policy to ensure that stocks are better protected, and more importantly, ensure that national implementation and national quotas policy adheres to the Maximum sustainable yield principle
- Create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas at the European level to increase protections for critical habitats and limit human activities in them
- Fully implement EU birds and habitats directives and properly resource the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure that Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) are properly monitored and the law enforced
- Prevent the flow of microplastics into the ocean: ban all microbeads, strengthen the plastics regulation to ensure the eventual elimination of most/all non compostable plastics and institute a deposit return scheme for some plastics.
In terms of farming, broadly the areas I’d like to focus energy on would be around supporting diversification and sustainable family farming; supporting food production to supply local markets/local economy; supporting funding for renewable energies/micro-generation/farm community energy co-ops; examining sustainable farming/community coops; supporting funding innovation for farming sme’s.
A few more specific areas I would focus on in Europe are these:
- I will work to ensure that Ireland draws done it’s full allowance under the Common Agricultural Policy: under the new reform more of the pillar 1 funding is linked to greening measures – I want to see that Irish farmers are not unable to access that due to overly complicated applications systems or lack of awareness
- I will fight for strong and well structured rural development funding in pillar 2 and focus on integrating that with national spending on things like the post office network to revitalise our rural towns.
- I will work to promote diversification in Irish agriculture, to help cushion us from global price drops. We have put all our eggs in one basket for a long time, and this is not serving irish farmers well. We have to encourage greater horticultural production in ireland – we’re importing the vast majority of our fruit, vegetables and grains, and this is not sustainable.
- Ireland’s image as a green producer of food is at risk from government greenwash and changing debates on agriculture and climate. I will seek to ring fence protections for organic agriculture production and ease the access into programmes for interested farmers.
- Many farmers are interested and eager to use their land in other ways, and I want to see greater access to sidelines such as renewable energy production (solar, wind and other) and EU encouragement for incentives like feed-in tarrifs and more.
- Implement much stronger controls on offshore aquaculture schemes
These ideas may sound ambitioous. They are. That’s the point. No one person could tackle all of these areas, it has be on a collaborative basis. We need to be ambitious so that people can make a fair living while at the same time we mitigate against further species decimation and further climate-related damage. We can do this: give people at the forefront of providing human nutrition the chance to have a decent quality of life, while at the same time allowing the planet to heal.