Car free day? I wish.
I may have started the day on my bike in the rain, but by yesterday evening I’d taken cars, taxis and airplanes. I’m in Bergen in Norway for two days, at a Ministerial meeting of the Ospar Commission.
I took that pic yesterday on South William Street in Dublin City Centre.
Meanwhile I’m still in awe of the National Ploughing Association after my visit to the Ploughing Championships on Tuesday. The site near Athy in Co. Kildare resembles a small army on the move. There were tents to the far horizon, and tens of thousands of people on the search for the latest developments in Agriculture. At the Bord Bia pavilion their Chief Executive Aidan Cotter had a good story to tell: Irish food and drink exports are up by 8% this year to over €3 billion, and the new policy Food Harvest 2020 focuses on clean, green growth. They also served up a mean artisan sausage bap, just next door to some nervous looking cattle.
I called in to the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA), and they were pleased with an attendance of 150 last week at the annual Organic Conference in Birr last week, up 50% on last year. Teagasc organised the event, and I spoke at it, stressing the importance of organic farming in addressing the challenges of energy security, peak oil and climate change. I called in to the IFA tent, and had a chat with their President John Bryan. There’s a certain apprehension at the phase-out of the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS)and people were keen to find out more about its replacement -the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).
The number of stands that focused on renewable energy was striking, and I shot a YouTube clip with a SIAC wind turbine in the background. Many of the stands focussed on the potential of bio-energy crops such as Willow, Miscanthus and Eucalyptus.
Ploughing? There was definitely something visible on the far horizon, but between artisan producers, and bumping in to half the country, I never got to see it a close-hand.
European Mobility Week is coming to an end. I was delighted with the green carpet that Dublin City Council laid on on South William Street in the City Centre, together with the ferns that resembled giant palm trees. The car free area between South Great Georges Street and Grafton Street was working well when I called in around lunch-time. Hopefully it can be a spring-board to a more permanent pedestrianisation of more city centre streets. I'm told there was also a showing of " TheTriplets of Belleville" on Fade Street at a temporary outdoor cinema, which all sounded magical.
In Dún Laoghaire the Council put its efforts into upgrading the cycling and pedestrian facilities along the Metals - the path that runs alongside the railway between Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey. The Cherrywood Luas extension is almost complete, and there's workplace promotion of cycling being undertaken by the Council. One pet project I’m working on with the Council is drawing up plans for a contra-flow cycle lane on Newtown Avenue in Blackrock. This could allow an embryonic version of the ambitious Sutton to Sandycove cycle path to progress, and make it easier for cycle commuters find their way between Dún Laoghaire and the City Centre. I’ll keep you posted on progress.
Ospar? The Ospar Commission (OSlo PARis) is a mechanism by which fifteen Governments on the west of Europe cooperate to protect the marine environment. I'm in Norway, where Ministers are meeting for the first time in seven years to finalise a review of where we're headed on improving the maritime environment and focusing on cleaner seas. Ospar has put up a nice site for this meeting on Squizmix. Its nice to see an organisation like this embracing new media. Some interesting witnesses such as Jostein Gardner, author of "Sophie's World" will present at the meeting.
The main substance of the gathering though is to adopt the North East Atlantic Strategy and launch the Quality Status Report, the first in a decade. Hopefully we can sign off on the creation of new Marine Protected Areas in the Atlantic that can provide some protection for vulnerable fish and animal species. That includes protecting various shark species, and the Orange Roughy, a fish that disturbingly seems to get more hits on Google for recipes, than for sustainability. I'm told there was a detailed discussion earlier in the week between France and other countries in relation to Tritium discharges. France's dependence on nuclear power generation is producing an increase in radioactive discharges of Tritium, but at least there is a commitment to monitor levels in the years ahead, and hopefully set a baseline for discharges. It just goes to show that nuclear is not perhaps as clean a fuel as some make it out to be. There will also be recommendations on preventing pollution from oil and gas activities in the light of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. All of the discussions will feed into implementing the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to achieve good environmental status for EU marine waters by 2020. It will also inform the review of our Foreshore Licensing System, which is long overdue.
Its been a busy week, but one that illustrates the different threads of sustainability that run through the different areas of Government.