NUI Galway researchers highlight need to integrate environmental policy across Government

Jun 10 2020 Posted: 11:31 IST

Research finds Ireland can improvise well in a major crisis, but “silo mentality” a barrier to long-term environmental planning

New research by NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute has shown Irish policymakers can respond in fast and imaginative ways when put under pressure by disruptive crises. However, it shows failure to plan for long-term environmental challenges.

Known as the EPIIC (Environmental Policy Integration: Innovation and Change) project, which was funded by the EPA, the initiative explores how well environmental policy is integrated into Ireland’s system of government and public administration. It looked at emergency responses, how they’re dealt with in the short-term, and how they impact the long-term. The research found that Irish policies for energy poverty and conservation were quickly and creatively developed, even in the face of the 2008 financial crisis.  

Throughout the process 38 interviewees expressed strong views on a lack of environmental data sharing, on the suitability of voluntary agreements that aim to go beyond compliance, and the importance of subsidies, specifically feed-in tariffs, for new renewable technologies in Ireland such as anaerobic digestion or biogas.

Interviewees suggested that awareness of the Environmental Policy Integration concept was limited because of a ‘silo mentality’. It suggested that the State could engage more with the citizen to achieve buy-in when formulating responses for the long run. This will require institutional change, adaptation, and evolution along with a dedicated ‘network agent’ to broker formal policy networking.

Environmental Policy Integration is not a new concept, nor is it unique to Ireland, but the EPIIC project showed how it requires a renewed effort to ‘mainstream’ environmental and climate concerns into all other policy sectors, notably into agriculture, energy, transport, and health. The research commended policy ‘champions’ for using this approach including specialist agencies, larger multi-national firms and also not-for-profit NGOs.

Dr Brendan Flynn, NUI Galway, Principal Investigator for EPIIC and one of the Ryan Institute authors explained: “This research is more relevant than ever right now. Our approach was to explain how policymaking is increasingly having to improvise in a global era of disruption -and that was long before COVID-19. However, with the scale and lethality of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is not just an opportunity -but a necessity -to get joined-up policies working. Our research explains how, for example, retrofitting for energy conservation was so successful in getting ‘silos’ ranging from health to energy to jobs working together, during the last great recession in the late 2000’s. That success story can be replayed and built upon.”

Pádraic Ó hUiginn, co-author, elaborated: “Our research identified areas of cross-sectoral pressures on the Irish environmental policy system and the gaps and opportunities for joined-up thinking. We followed our own ‘epic’ process of thirty-eight interviews, across three jurisdictions, aimed at giving voice to the experiences, insights and learnings of those on the frontline of environmental policy delivery. We think the EPIIC report offers something like a ‘Rough Guide’ or a ‘Lonely Planet’ travel guide for those in government and public administration faced with the daunting challenges of delivering joined-up environmental policies. It offers tips on the ‘must see’ and ‘best to avoid’ routes to policy integration.”

EPIIC was published as part of the EPA Research Programme 2014–2020. The programme is financed by the Irish Government. It is administered on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment by the EPA, which has the statutory function of co-ordinating and promoting environmental research.


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