Ireland Needs to Introduce Water Charges, says OECD

May 27, 2010 Updated: May 27, 2010

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Environmental Performance Review of Ireland was released this week and recommends 'strengthening efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, charging households for consumption of water, and encouraging public participation in environmental decision-making.'

The report examines Ireland’s progress since the previous OECD Environmental Performance Review in 2000. It analyses the extent to which Ireland has met its national objectives and international commitments regarding the management of the environment and natural resources since the previous review.

According to the OECD “many positive achievements are recorded that will be of interest to those seeking to identify efficient and effective means to achieve environmental policy goals.” The report also contains a list of recommendations to help with further progress in environmental performance for Ireland.

Since Ireland's environmental performance was last reviewed in 2000, 'substantial progress has been achieved. Environmental policies have been improved, and a series of actions taken to support the development of an innovation-based, green, low-carbon economy,' says the OECD.

The organisation believes that Ireland has strengthened Institutions and significant investments have been made in environmentally related infrastructure. As a result the OECD says Ireland 'generally has good air and water quality'. Our energy intensity, or energy use per unit of GDP, is the lowest among OECD countries.

Regardless of the progress made over the past decade the OECD says “significant challenges remain.” The Review presents 38 recommendations to improve water, air, biodiversity and international environmental co-operation.

Areas to focus

There are three areas where action is particularly important. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, efficient use of water resources by effectively charging households for the consumption of water and increased Public Participation in environmental decision-making.

Implementation issues

Ireland continues to face implementation problems, in particular regarding surface and groundwater quality, waste management, and nature and biodiversity protection. The OECD cites the lack of “enforcement capacity in smaller municipalities” as the main impediment. Even though major steps have been made a lot needs to be done to make Ireland's environmental regulatory framework consistent with EU legislation.

Ireland's environmental legal system “lacks coherence” says the OECD. Ireland's track record for transposing EU regulations into national law has been far from adequate. In 2006, the number of procedures brought by the European Commission against Ireland for infringing EU environmental directives was among the highest in the EU.

The most publicised issues have involved the application of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for projects in sensitive areas.

Water charges

The OECD has made recomendations with respect the water sector, which they believe relies on state budget transfers for investment and operations.

“A fundamental and politically sensitive issue in Irish water policy is pricing household consumption of water; the absence of household water charges impedes the development of an economically, environmentally and socially efficient water services sector,” says the OECD.

The role of the Environmental Protection Agency was praised for making sure local government implemented their water-related function.

It was noted however that the rate of progress so far is unlikely to prove sufficient to meet the Water Framework Directive goals for 2015.

“The Environmental Performance Review is the result of rich and co-operative dialogue between Ireland and the other members and observers of the Working Party on Environmental Performance. We are confident that this collaborative effort will be useful to advance the policy debate in Ireland on how to tackle the important environmental challenges that are common to us all” said Angel Gurría Secretary-General OECD