Will our protections for threatened species fall off a cliff edge come Brexit?

Christopher McAteer, Nature Matters NI The potential effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland are so overwhelmingly varied – and often alarming – that it may seem a touch masochistic to consider yet more concerns. But if worries over tariffs, the fledgling economy, and a hard border aren’t enough for you, then the cliff edge facing our environment might be just up your street. A whopping 80% of the UK’s environmental laws originate from the EU, which will now have to … Read more

Local Environmental & Planning Governance Under Scrutiny (Somewhat)

On the heels of another damning report on failures relating to compliance with environmental and planning rules, Northern Ireland will be subject to international scrutiny December under the aegis of the authoritative United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Aarhus Convention. The Convention – named after the Danish city where it was adopted in 1998 – grants citizens rights and imposes on Parties (including the UK) and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to environmental … Read more

Environmental Governance Failure in Northern Ireland: High Time to Turn Over a New Leaf

By Ciara Brennan, Ray Purdy and Peter Hjerp Recent scandals including the RHI debacle and the discovery of illegal dumping on a massive scale (most notably at the Mobuoy Road ‘super-dump’) have catapulted Northern Ireland’s environmental governance failures into the public eye. The divergence from what can be considered ‘good’ environmental governance is clear and the environmental, economic and socio-political consequences of these failures cannot be overestimated. Protecting the environment is not a one-way cost and there has been very little … Read more

An EPIC View of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Wondrous images, from a million miles out in space, from NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) of the shadow of the moon crossing over North America on Aug. 21, 2017.  EPIC is aboard NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), photographing the full sunlit side of Earth every day.  [Image credit: NASA EPIC Team. Video credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Katy Mersmann] Pete Baker

Changes foreshadowed in the integrated energy and agriculture markets, leaving Stormont behind

The local vacuum of practical debate over Brexit continues, while real events move on.. I confess I hadn’t  heard of “the Celtic interconnector “ before coming across it in a story  in the Financial  Times. The EU commission made  this  announcement  at the end of June. A project to build an interconnector linking for the first time the French and Irish electricity systems will today be awarded a €4 million grant from the European Commission… At 4 million euros, it … Read more

Seven years of Solar Dynamics

It seems like only yesterday that I was noting First Light on Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory [SDO], and the early hours of this morning for ‘three years in three minutes‘ and ‘SDO Year 4‘.  In fact the SDO was launched on 11 Feb 2010, with First Light in April of that year. [Seven long years… – Ed]  Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre have produced a short [3 min 22 sec] video marking the solar sunspot cycle during that time. [Credit: NASA’s … Read more

A bit of perspective…

…with this stunning composite image of the Earth and its moon, courtesy of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona] From the associated text This composite image of Earth and its moon, as seen from Mars, combines the best Earth image with the best moon image from four sets of images acquired on Nov. 20, 2016, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Each … Read more

Soapbox: Arlene Foster Was Never a Suitable First Minister

The exclusion motion on Arlene Foster focussed on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal.  I would argue, however, that Mrs Foster has a track record beyond RHI that shows she was never suitable to be our First Minister. The potential £250m clean-up costs highlighted in 2013 by the Mills Report into illegal waste dumping in Northern Ireland I believe can be traced back to Arlene Foster’s decision when Environment Minister, not to create an independent Environmental Protection Agency (iEPA).  In … Read more

Genuine power sharing with Sinn Fein would have averted the RHI mini-crisis

Did the BBC snatch or stage Jonathan Bell’s prayer before his confessional trial before Nolan? Either way it resembled nothing more than a man having his head laid on the block and making peace with his Maker before execution (and I don’t mean Nolan).  While the mawkishness of the prayerful moment recalls the early Paisley playing the martyr before or after some act of provocation, Bell’s evoking of the DUP’s spiritual origins is unlikely to save him. He is now … Read more

Old-fashioned confession might have served DUP better than this RHI runaround…

An Evening with the Borgias was how one Facebook friend put it. Well, perhaps not quite that bad but since DUP on DUP action is such an uncommon sight on NI television, last night’s Nolan Special was revealing in parts. One of the things it revealed is that former Minster Bell has been Stephen Nolan’s ‘Deep Throat’ for some of this story. Most of his revelations centre around his own brief tenure in the department at the core of the … Read more

No one who understood the public interest in RHI would have backed down so softly on cost reductions

It’s clear that First Minister Arlene Foster has some serious questions to answer about an overrun of £400 million on one Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme. Ironically it is just a little over a year since Peter Robinson said he would not give “rogue Sinn Féin or renegade SDLP ministers” a chance to take “decisions that will harm the community in Northern Ireland”. What else is such a large (and un-subsidisable) hole in the public finances other than large-scale harm to the NI community? And … Read more

Wake up Stormont! The Peace Walls programme needs the back up of a major programme of borrow- to-invest in housing

Turning away from Brexit to the home front, congrats to the Guardian for  promoting a  theme developed there  by Professor Paddy Gray, an academic on the Built Environment, an austere title for a school of research  which  hosts  a great deal of imaginative and  practical  work on developing society. Gray argues that the slow and careful task of bring down peace walls requires a change in favour of greater incentives for voluntary mixed development.  In some places, this is a … Read more

The strategically important A6 or the immortalised landscape of south Co Derry?

Now, I don’t have a strong view on this issue. But the latest proposal for to build a four-lane dual carriageway, linking the main Derry to Belfast road at Toome with the M2, will cut close to Lough Beg and Mossbawn near the late poet’s former home. Arguably the link between Derry and Belfast, left hanging in the area for nearly 40 years, is one of Northern Ireland’s most strategically important roads in terms of linking Northern Ireland’s two largest … Read more

Message for the divided politicians. Read the long list. This is what really matters over Brexit.

Divisions in the Executive and the Assembly contributed to the lack of  scenario planning for the referendum outcome and are inhibiting the development of a clear Brexit strategy. These are among the conclusions in  a comprehensive briefing paper prepared for the Centre for Peace Building and Democracy ( chair Lord Alderdice) by  Queen’s academics  Professor David Phinnemore and Dr. Lee McGowan, entitled Establishing the Best Outcome for Northern Ireland. ‘Notoriously, similar strictures  apply  to  Whitehall and Westminster, But party divisions … Read more

Mercury in motion

If you missed yesterday’s rare Mercury transit across the Sun – the last was in 2006, the next in 2019 – then where were you! [Busy… – Ed]  But even if you were paying attention you’re unlikely to have had as wondrous a view as that of Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. They’ve helpfully released a stunning time-lapse video compressing the entire 7 hour spectacle into a digestible couple of minutes.  I recommend switching to full screen mode and cranking up the volume.  Enjoy!  [Video … Read more

Another view…

Vote… don’t vote…  In the meantime, here’s another in an occasional series of wondrous views from the International Space Station, via the Nasa Crew Earth Observations videos – Sunglint over the Ocean.  [Video courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center] This video was taken by the Expedition 47 crew on board the International Space Station. The sequence of shots was taken on March 25, 2016 from 11:45:02 to 11:57:17 GMT on a pass over … Read more

Soapbox: If you go down to the woods today… you’re in for a very big surprise

James Orr is director of Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland. In his account of what’s been happening in an East Antrim wood belonging to Northern Ireland Water, he argues that recent planning reforms have led to a water company getting involved in oil exploration on its own land. Woodburn, near Carrickfergus. The clue is in the name. In this local haven, there is a wood growing and a burn flowing. Woodburn is designated in the local plan as a … Read more

ISS Night-time Compilation

A brief musical interlude, accompanied by a selection of wondrous time-lapse videos, old and new, from the International Space Station, by NASACrewEarthObs.  Full-screen mode recommended.  Enjoy! [Credit: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.] The final video clip shows the surprisingly robust sun-grazing Comet Lovejoy as it emerged triumphant from its close encounter with Sol in December 2011. Pete Baker

European Nature Directives may be the best tool we have to protect NI’s natural environment

Colum Delaney, Conservation Officer, Policy Advocacy RSPB NI. Just before Christmas I wrote an article for Slugger on the unprecedented cuts to the Department of the Environment’s budget, and in turn, the devastating affect that this would have across the environmental sector with the removal of the Natural Heritage Grants Programme. Whilst the exact ramifications aren’t yet clear, it’s certain that nature will once again be the loser. Fresh from this sustained attack, a new danger has emerged from Europe. … Read more