Wider impacts

The public sector has had and continues to have far more of an impact on climate change than private industry and business. This is because of the indirect influence of public policies on every aspect of daily life, from transportation, to housing, to the environment and public services and land use. Almost every part of our lives is influenced to some extent by public policy.

Public policy can for example influence the entire construction sector by ensuring that buildings are constructed to a certain code to ensure energy efficiency or influence transportation in Ireland by allowing lower emission cars to pay less motor tax. Measures such as these have a positive impact on climate change.

Conversely, a lack of public policy can have a negative impact on climate change. Unfortunately, the lack of proper planning policy during our recent construction boom has resulted in communities located on the outskirts of towns and cities, lacking adequate transportation infrastructure, resulting in long commutes and therefore more emissions. Thankfully, recent planning guidelines such as Sustainable Residential Guidelines in Urban Areas, are now addressing this issue. Similarly, efforts to provide a legislative basis for addressing climate change are ongoing.

Public policy can also impact on climate change through sustainable procurement. State and regional bodies and local authorities can lead the way in implementing policies and measures to combat climate change and can be the leaders in resource efficiency. This will encourage and require private business to utilise more environmentally friendly technology and methods.

Sustainable procurement can be applied to products, services and construction. Green procurement can for example specify types of product such as water based paint, renewable energy or recycled paper and technical specifications that limit the environmental impact, and the use of eco labels or the application of environmental management systems. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to businesses engaged in and dependent upon government contracts.

Local authorities, as managers of our waste and water services, can have a direct impact on climate change. As discussed earlier, waste and water can result in significant emissions. Installation of recycling facilities, as is happening in some communities in Ireland, can reduce the amount of waste going to costly landfills that generate methane emissions. Leak detection and water system improvement schemes will result in less leakage, less water escaping unused and therefore less energy spent on treatment and transportation.

Not only do measures such as procurement, sustainable policy and efficient resource management have a direct affect on combating climate change, they also increase public awareness of the importance and magnitude of the climate change threat and encourage action in businesses, communities and individuals.

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