The Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss is holding its first meeting today in Dublin Castle under chair Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.
The Assembly is made up of 99 randomly selected Irish citizens who participate in the assembly’s six-month programme of work.
This is the first citizens' assembly anywhere in the world focusing specifically on biodiversity loss, so its deliberations are likely to be noted and watched carefully by environmental groups and related NGOs elsewhere.
The key question being asked of the 99 citizens, and the chair Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin is "how can the State improve its response to biodiversity loss", especially in light of the State officially declaring a biodiversity emergency in 2019.
The answer, according to Dr Ní Shúilleabháin, is likely to be complex.
There will be 10 days of deliberations including a field trip between now and the end of the year. And all of the meetings and presentations will be available online at www.citizensassembly.ie
The assembly is inviting people all over the country to get involved and to make submissions. And whether it is a tidy towns group, an estate group, a fisherman or a farmer, the assembly chair said all submissions will be collated and considered during their deliberations.
The keynote speaker at the assembly today was Professor Robert Watson, the former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity and the IPCC.
Prof Robert Watson told the assembly that the ecosystem services provided by nature underpin and sustain human quality of life.
He said humans are destroying ecosystems as a result of the way we have exploited them.
He said 75% of ice-free land on planet Earth has been transformed by human activities and that 66% of all oceans have been disturbed. In addition, he said, 85% of natural wetlands have been lost and 12% of all species on earth could go extinct.
Prof Watson said the direct drivers of these changes have been accelerating over the past 50 years to levels that are unprecedented in human history.
The key factors driving biodiversity loss he said include land-use change, and sea-use change, exploitation of natural resources, climate change, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.
So far, exploitation has been the dominant driver of biodiversity loss. But Prof Watson said climate change could become the biggest factor driving biodiversity loss if it is not successfully contained.
Government actions to tackle climate change globally are inadequate and as things stand right now the world is heading for up to 3.2°C of global warming, he warned.
He said the issue of climate change and biodiversity loss have to be tackled together and that they are not just environmental issues.
Rather, he said, they are all related to development issues, economic issues, security issues, equity and equitable issues and also moral issues for people.
This, he said, in all cases these are intra- and inter-generational issues and that the problems are getting worse with time.
Prof Watson said we need to conserve the biodiversity that we have, but also to restore the biodiversity that we have lost.
He called for food waste, water waste, and energy waste to be reduced and for government systems of the world to be transformed.