Climate change poses potentially catastrophic threats to Ireland’s welfare, specifically to the country’s dwindling water supply and the short-staffed health system. The climate crisis in Ireland has reached a breaking point whose only solution lies in implementing grassroots initiatives which engage local communities and obtain their support from public and private sector partnerships.
“There are embarrassingly few alternatives to car transport available to the large commuter population in Ireland. However, the advent of Greenways in Ireland provides a feasible solution to the destructive transport emissions currently plaguing the Irish climate.”
In 2019, the Dáil Éireann declared a climate and biodiversity emergency in Ireland. This declaration was accompanied by a government target of net emissions by 2050. Transport emissions constitute a major proportion of Ireland’s carbon footprint. However, in spite of their ambitious goals, the government has made minimal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing vehicles or to provide alternative, more sustainable vehicles. There are embarrassingly few alternatives to car transport available to the large commuter population in Ireland. However, the advent of Greenways in Ireland provides a feasible solution to the destructive transport emissions currently plaguing the Irish climate. Greenways provide a practical and safe mode of transport for cyclists throughout the country. In comparison to driving, cycling is a much more sustainable alternative for travel. In fact, a study conducted by engineers at the University of Galway demonstrated that a 3-metre-wide Greenway produced only 30% of the carbon footprint that a single-lane rural road produced. What’s more, the carbon dioxide emissions produced by Greenways almost exclusively came from the greenway’s construction. Therefore, once the Greenway has been built, it produces a virtually negligible carbon footprint. If driving was replaced by cycling on Greenways throughout Ireland, the pollution of the air by greenhouse gases would be reduced dramatically.
Waterways Ireland provides the ideal model for the development of greenways which maximise environmental benefits while also creating a collective consciousness among the Irish population regarding the climate crisis. Waterways Ireland is one of six North/South Implementation Bodies created by the British-Irish Agreement of 1998. It is the cross-border authority responsible for the management, maintenance, and development of several waterways and greenways in both Northern and Southern Ireland.
One key component of their operating model is their high level of engagement of local communities in their initiatives. Waterways Ireland has successfully galvanised support for climate change solutions through educating and engaging local populations. Once the greenways and waterways are built, local businesses are very involved in contributing to their maintenance. Moreover, Waterways Ireland has partnered with organisations such as Rowing Ireland to host competitions and trainings on their waterways in order to cultivate knowledge of the waterways. This collaboration demonstrates Waterways Ireland’s commitment to engaging local people in their greenways and waterways and ensuring that people in surrounding areas can avail of the numerous benefits offered by these developments. Waterways Ireland has also launched an education programme to teach children about the environmental benefits of waterways and greenways. Local communities’ dedication to promoting climate change solutions produced by these initiatives will provoke the development of a collective public mandate for climate policy.
Waterways Ireland has created both sustainable infrastructure and a sustainable call to action which will pave the way forward for Ireland’s climate action. In addition to the inclusion of local populations in their programs, Waterways Ireland has also introduced a new model of public and private sector collaborations aimed at combating the climate crisis.
“Waterways Ireland’s public-private partnerships provide the blueprint for creating sustainable infrastructure through mobilising all sectors of society.”
Public-private partnerships are central to Waterways’ mission. Waterways Ireland receives funding for their projects from both local and national authorities and the private sector’s investments. One such public-private collaboration is the expansion of the Royal Canal Greenway, extending the greenways from the North Strand in Dublin to Phibsborough. This project is a partnership between Dublin City Council, Waterways Ireland, and Irish Rail. This extension will enable Dublin residents to commute easily and sustainably across the city. This project demonstrates the efficacy of public-private partnerships which allow large government projects to be completed with private-sector financing. Waterways Ireland’s public-private partnerships provide the blueprint for creating sustainable infrastructure through mobilising all sectors of society.
Waterways Ireland’s monumental developments have clearly illustrated that the way forward for climate action in Ireland relies upon the creation of grassroots initiatives that engage all sectors of society and generate extensive community involvement. These grassroots programs are the only way to avoid the over-politicisation of climate policies and to instead generate long-lasting, sustainable infrastructure in Ireland. The government must spotlight Waterways Ireland’s incredible work and sponsor other initiatives aiming to create sustainable climate change solutions through engaging with local communities and catalysing public and private sector support.