UCD Earth Institute

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Environmental Policy and Behaviour:

Over three decades ago the United Nations recognized that the practices of human beings to support our existence was damaging our environment and was unsustainable.

How humans think about and interact with their environment has huge implications for policy decision making and compliance with environmental rules and regulations. 

Too often we take nature and what it has to offer for granted and treat it like a free, infinite resource. There is no doubt that nature's value, beauty and the benefits we derive from it by far transcend anything that could possibly be captured in monetary terms. This however, at the same time, makes it very difficult to protect, especially when competing interests are at play. Sometimes, expressing at least nature's more tangible benefits in monetary terms, has the potential to convert them into a commonly used metric. 

Non-compliance with environmental rules and regulations represents a key weakness in environmental policy implementations and is an important aspect of any human-environmental interface. Over the past decade, one of the most important trends in European environmental regulatory techniques has been a shift from hierarchical, state-led governance via command-and-control techniques, to decentralised, society-led governance by local private actors, including environmental NGOs but also private individuals and companies.

 

KEY WORDS: Environmental Policy, Environmental Economics, Environmental Valuation, Economic Implications of Natural Disasters, Ecosystems Services, Sustainability Science, Risk Management, Consequences of Loss of Habitat, Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Biodiversity, Sustainability, Governance, Climate Change Adaptation, Climate Change Mitigation.

 

Research impacts

A big idea in environmental economics is that market forces on their own fail to protect our environment, in part because there is no price that tells us that nature, high quality water and air, and the ability of the atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gasses, are scarce. As there is no price reflecting scarcity, we waste these precious endowments.

The solution to this market failure is to apply the polluter and user pays principle – we should be charged for our use, and this will encourage us to conserve, to find new and better ways of using scarce resources.

This principle has been applied by Prof. Frank Convery and his collaborators at UCD Earth Institute to a number of key resource and environmental challenges in Ireland and in Europe. Their research looks forward – exploring new ideas for the application of prices reflecting scarcity – and back (ex post) – assessing performance and scope for improvement.

In the resource efficiency area, social scientists have been assessing the impact of the plastic bags levy (90%+ reduction) as well a trying to understand the role of water pricing in managing its conservation and showing that pay by weight or pay as you throw increases recycling and reduces waste to landfill (by 30%).

Developing more resilient and sustainable city-regions requires new ways of thinking about both urban problems and also urban management policies.

In this EPA funded project, Dr Mark Scott and his colleagues at UCD Earth Institute are investigating the potential of integrating ecosystem services into the management of the built environment through the spatial planning system. This will help address challenges relating to biodiversity threats and mitigation and adaptation to anticipated climate change.

Working collaboratively with key stakeholders in the Dublin Region, including planning practitioners, heritage/biodiversity officers, engineers and local authority parks departments, the project team is investigating the potential of spatial planning policy frameworks to enhance, restore and create new ecological networks within the urban environment. A range of spatial scales will be addressed: from exploring the benefits of strategic green infrastructure corridors to the local scale such as retrofitting neighbourhoods to cope better with flood water or the potential for green urban design to enhance local biodiversity through green roofs or green walls.

The principal output from the project will be a step-by-step framework for the development of an ecosystem approach, which operationalises the Green Infrastructure concept within the planning system. To support the use of the guidelines, policy-makers and major environmental stakeholders will be involved in the process. As part of post-project dissemination, a web-based planning toolkit will be developed along with a series of CPD seminars for planning and design professionals.