Environ 2019 - Engagement for Climate Action

This year’s Environ was hosted in the Institute of Technology Carlow, between the 15th and the 17th of April, gathering 204 delegates from all over Ireland, NW Europe and Italy, and including researchers from academia, industry representatives and policy makers, as well as local community and media.

The conference started on Monday 15th of April with an interesting workshop open to the delegates and the public, which was delivered by Ms Mary White (ex Green Party) via her Blackstairs Eco Trails tour by the River Barrow. Delegates, and public who wished to participate, subsequently visited the “Day-to-Day Sustainability – What Can I Do?” Fringe Festival at Environ 2019 held at the Delta Sensory Gardens in Carlow. This was a highly successful part of the conference programme, being the first event of its type in Carlow and in any Environ held thus far. Delegates and visitors from the public were offered the opportunity to learn about basic and small, but significant, actions that all can do to enhance their sustainable living on a day-to-day basis. Exhibitors ranged from the Carlow Bee Keepers,  to  Coillte, to the Voice Ireland, the Zero Waste Campaign, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Tegasc  and many more.  The third workshop in Environ 2019, was a highly specialised session inviting scientists interested in the field of bioinformatics and was held in the Institute of Technology Carlow, by the Institute’s resident bioinformatician Dr Andrew Lloyd, and entitled “Gene Discovery in Microbiomes”. 

Monday the 15th of April culminated with a public event held in the Institute, which was directed towards the local community. The floor opened with Mr Malcolm Noonan, Kilkenny Green Party Councillor, and the panel of experts present consisted of Dr John MacNamara, Bord na Móna’s Head of Regulatory Affairs Team, Ms Mindy O’Brien from the Voice Ireland, Mr Eddie Punch, the General Secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmer’s Association, Mr Thomas Ryan, the Environment and Infrastructure Executive with the Irish Farmers’ Association, Dr Janette Davies from the Institute of Technology Carlow Wexford Campus and an expert in human behaviour and the environment, and Ms Martina Moyne, a lecturer in product design and innovation, a Research Fellow in Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science and an expert in sustainable design.  The evening was invested in lively discussion with experts and stakeholders on climate action under the skilful coordination of Ms Sue Nunn, broadcaster and editor in KCLR 96 FM.

The scientific part of the conference proper was opened next morning by the President of the Institute Dr Patricia Mulcahy, followed by greetings from the ESAI President, Prof Frances Lucy of IT Sligo, and the Conference Convenor, Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte.  The floor was then offered to the first plenary speaker, Prof Victoria Thoresen, from Norway’s Inland University and UNESCO Chair for Education about Sustainable Lifestyles, and directly involved in setting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Prof Thoresen’s keynote presentation was entitled “Finding the balance – Why dealing with climate change requires large scale, fundamental change at all levels”. Prof Thoresen presentation was followed by the second plenary talk of the conference delivered by the EPA’s climate expert scientist, Dr Frank Mc Govern and entitled “Climate Change: science, policy, action”.  The day unfolded with numerous original research oral presentations from Universities and Institutes of Technology, ranging from UCC, NUIG, Trinity College and UCD, to Ulster University, Maynooth, GMIT, IT Sligo, UL and Athlone IT, covering the length and breadth of the land, where environmental sciences are studied. The oral presentation sessions were interchanged with poster sessions where authors had the opportunity to discuss their findings with delegates. The highlight of Tuesday the 16th of April was the social progamme that was held in the evening at the Woodford Dolmen Hotel, Carlow, starting with traditional live music entertainment in the drinks’ reception, which subsequently evolved to a full conference dinner, social interaction and networking and further entertainment until late in the evening.

The final day of the conference, Wednesday the 17th of April, was opened with a plenary keynote address by Prof Erik Meers from Ghent University on “Nutrients recovered from waste (water) streams for production of mineral fertilisers”. Prof Meers is a member of a wider consortium of scientists working on an Interreg_NWE funded project in soil nutrient sustainability called ReNu2Farm. The ReNu2Farm project was highly featured in Environ 2019 via Prof Meers’ talk and also by three more oral and four poster presentations by other consortium members who attended the conference and presented project findings. The day, and indeed the whole conference, culminated at the afternoon with the presentation of the Environ 2019 special prizes to students with the best presentations, courtesy of the event sponsors. The Best Biodiversity Presentation at Environ 2019 was sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and awarded to Mr Alan McCarthy form UCC.  His presentation was entitled “Young commercial forests as a habitat for the hen harrier (Circus cyaneus); selection of a suboptimal habitat?”.  Ms Aoife Egan from the Institute of Technology Carlow was awarded the Best Soils Presentation at Environ 2019, entitled “Estimating the potential of Fourier transform spectroscopy as a novel tool for nematode characterisation”; the prize was sponsored by the Soil Science Society of Ireland. The Best Waste and Resource Management Presentation was sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) and was given by Ms Annijia Lace from the Institute of Technology Carlow; her presentation was entitled “Arsenic detection in water using microfluidic detection system”.  Mr Conall Holohan from NUIG won the Best Water Related Presentation at Environ 2019 with title “Fat-anaerobic digestion to energy: unlocking the forgotten resource”. The prize was sponsored by the Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).  The Richard Fitzgerald Poster Prize for the Best Aquatic Poster at Environ 2019 was awarded to Mr Raymond Wilson from the University of Ulster. The title of the poster was “Environmental change in Ireland’s small marl lakes”.  Mr Sean O’Connor from IT Sligo was awarded the ESAI Best Poster Presentation at Environ 2019 for his poster entitled “Techno-economics analysis of small-scale anaerobic digestion in an Irish dairy farm context”.  The Best Oral Presentation at Environ 2019 was awarded to Mr Felipe Guapo from Maynooth University. His presentation was entitled “Molecular and behavioural characterisation of neonicotinoid exposure on bumblebees reveals trends between chemical effects and their mode of action”.

The conference was a great success highlighting the best research and new knowledge generated in environmental sciences in Ireland. Overall 204 delegates gathered, presented, discussed, debated and networked in three productive days, while offering 72 oral and 44 poster presentations. The quality of the presentations was high and the fact that most of them were delivered by young scientists bodes well for the future of environmental sciences in Ireland. The need for this continuity is more pressing and pertinent than ever now as humankind is at a critical juncture. The overarching conference theme “Engagement for Climate Action” aimed at and achieved capturing this message.

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