A Glimpse at Northern Ireland’s Environmental issues at the time of one of the Biggest Environment Concerns

The pictures above show peaceful, undisturbed and vibrant sites that have been respected and protected by the public. However, the environment still remains a major concern for the earth, generations are actively witnessing a shift in climate change, the decline of nature and wildlife, along with the negative affects. One of them being changes in weather, as the last few years have seen droughts, flooding and extreme heatwaves ripple across the world. In 2020, environment elements improved in many continents due to the restrictions and lockdowns that were imposed throughout the height of the pandemic. Three years later and now there are growing concerns with the announcement of new oil drilling projects and warnings from various scientists which state that the public and world leaders need to act now before irreversible damage is initiated.

Northern Ireland makes up 5,459 square miles of land, which holds cities, towns, villages but along with this land, comes nature and wildlife. The two common denominators needed in this shared world is a protected environment for the ability to maintain a healthy and sustainable planet. The Northern Ireland Environmental Agency actively reviews the largest issues Northern Ireland faces each year including pollution, biodiversity and climate change. The agency also reviews the household concern for Northern Ireland which has only risen throughout the years as environmental issues have only grown to need more attention. A group called Friends of the Earth highlight Northern Ireland’s issue with air, water and soils. The group has one purpose, to change the environmental picture over Northern Ireland for a clean and safer space for future generations. The situation needs to change as they highlight “Northern Ireland has no independent Environmental Protection Agency or no law to climate changing emissions as the planning system leans heavily towards new development.” The group also identifies that communities have very little to no say in what is happening in their environment.

A collection of data was completed by the group which unveils a devastating impact for land here, including the extraction of 1.7 million tonnes of sand from Lough Neagh which is one of Northern Ireland’s most appreciated and valued wildlife sites. Although the data also shows that 90% of protected sites here have been badly damaged by pollution from agricultural factors.

However, John Tennyson, used to work as a caretaker for a school and Hillsborough Fort and Forest Park, from his experience the majority members of the public displayed good attitudes and behaviours towards the fort and forest grounds. Although communities have little to no say in terms legislation or law, he reflected on how members across various communities were always very respectful and appreciated the park: “It was kept well due to the majority of the public respecting the grounds. There was a few occasions were there was littering and spray painting but from my experience because people can’t really have a voice in terms of those, they practise it in a more efficient way.”

The biggest issue in terms of environmental factors is climate change, the potential damage it could cause Northern Ireland disruption across the board affecting everything from businesses to daily lives. Making changes to small elements of daily life can be impactful, for example, deciding to cycle instead of driving the car (if it is a short distance). If these extreme changes occur in result of the crisis, flooding will pose more of a risk to people’s homes and businesses, especially in coastal areas. This opens an examination of a possible domino effect as more pressure falls on elements such as drainage, roads and habitats. The observation of these changes are worldwide and have been present over the past few years, from rising sea levels to droughts in California and wildfires in Australia.

There are simple steps that can be taken to lower the percentage of problems in Northern Ireland for a 2023 report and ensure the continuation of growing concern for the environment. Fiona Irvine, a youth club leader said she feels “The local government should follow, try and test ways of recycling waste here as Germany, Sweden and Scotland seem to be ahead.” Improvements to the percentages can transfer from minor actions. In relevance to the crisis, Earthtopia have shared significant and impactful actions through their TikTok page that can be taken in the average home as they revealed that 20% of Co2 emissions come from home energy.

TikTok pages created for spreading information regarding the environment are not working alone, as a game called Long Leaf Valley was recently advertised on TikTok. The game plants real trees throughout the world by partnering with the Eden Reforestation Project, the player earns tree tokens through a puzzle game by rebuilding the town the character is in, mirroring what can be accomplished in the real world. Longleaf Valley Players have planted 421, 326 trees up to the May 4th 2023. Fiona Irvine gave her opinion of the game stating “It’s a good idea but people aren’t stupid, give them the issues and see what they come up with.” She also ventured into the idea of school educating young people about the environment through the use of the game, she expressed that she doesn’t think it would help every child. Her thought process highlighted that she thinks it would be more effective to “Include more competitions to see if they can come up with a plan b or c as there are too many different brains running about schools.”

A Big Concern arises for the International Environmental Crisis in 2023

The environmental crisis is not only present in Northern Ireland, it is a global issue but there is a steady increase in world leaders collectively speaking on the environment and legislations being set to secure the progress of a more healthy and sustainable earth. Northern Ireland set out an environmental plan last year called The Climate Change Act 2022 which aims to set a target of Net Zero by 2050. However, some have found that not all recently reported environmental news has been positive.

In 2023 the controversial $8 billon Willow Project which was first approved in 2020 but has received final approval by the US government on March 13th. Public opinion regarding the matter is spilt. Members of the public have also called attention to what occurred eight years ago in 2015, when leaders around the world came to an agreement of a plan which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise of temperatures on a global scale. Two years later in 2017, former President Trump spoke on the US backing out of the plan as it would result in a negative impact on the economy.  The next election in 2020 witnessed Biden include in his campaign that re-joining the deal would be on the table within his first day, the proposal also included signing a plan with the result of more electric cars, pledged to lower greenhouse gases in 2030 by 50% along with the expansion wind farms along their coastline. As we cut to this present time, Willow is the biggest oil project in the US to date that aims to produce an estimated 180,000 barrels a day over the course of the next 30 years. It is also expected to project 260 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Alaska drilling project has caused a stir online as concerns for the environment and climate change has remained a major topic of conversation in recent years.

However, not all opinions on the project have evoked a negative response with some members of the public pointing that the Administration referred to future rules for the protection of other land which will block 13 out of 23 million acres.

Environmental activists have expressed their outrage at the project as the concerns for the climate crisis, using digital platforms such as Tik Tok, Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness and information surrounding the Willow Project in a bid to halt the process. A week on from the approval, scientists gave their final warning on climate change through the IPCC report which called for governments around the globe to fast-track their efforts to improve the climate crisis. The other major cause of concern is for the animals along with their habitat, climate change is causing irreversible damage to their natural world, resulting in an unsustainable habitat for animals. A petition to stop the project is still ongoing with millions of signatures from across the globe.

For in-depth information and statistics regarding the environment in Northern Ireland, there is more available at: NI Direct, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/climate-change