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Looking Ahead to 2021

It has been a strange new year.

I’ve been attempting the usual resolution-making and contemplation of the past 12 months, as I like to do in the early days of any new year.  It has been challenging. The past 12 months have certainly been a roller coaster, with who-knows-what ahead of us for the next 12 months.

As I write, in the weeks after the shocking attempted coup in the United States, with the course of a second impeachment of the President of the United States of America now underway, it seems the world is off-kilter on so many levels. It’s tragic that five people lost their lives over the course of those truly appalling events that brought the themes of death and instability onto our screens, front and centre again in global news in the opening days of another year. It struck a chilling and sombre tone to the start of what we had hoped would be a time for looking forward with optimism as we rest in something of a limbo, at the early stages of a vaccination roll-out.

Even more shocking, on the home front, is news that despite the heroic efforts of our health services and the strong advice from Government around following the medical advice stringently, Ireland has hit a per-capita rate of infection that is the highest in the world. My thoughts go out to the families of the 63 people who died of Covid-19 yesterday, January 13th. It’s a staggering, heart-breaking and disturbing figure.

Covid-19 has been to the forefront of our news and personal concerns for the past 10 months and a lot of my communications over that time have been directly or indirectly related to Covid. It has turned our lives upside down and visited tragedy and loss on countless families at home and abroad.

Before I started writing this piece, the rates of infection had hit their highest ever level in this country, with 8,248 cases recorded on January 8th. It’s sobering to think that we could go from having a low rate, to a chillingly high rate per head of population, in such a short space of time. 

Personal behaviour continues to be the key component and again and again we must remind ourselves to follow the advice and regulations, to stay home as much as possible, reduce social contacts, wear masks (even outside) and wash hands. We must not get complacent as we see infection-rates dropping. The death-rates are truly tragic and we can prevent further deaths by working together.

Because of my work, I live between my hometown of Tramore in Co.Waterford and Brussels. I’ve been based at home for the majority of the time over the past several months and any movement between countries has been hyper-cautious and for blocks of time which have included multiple Covid-tests and isolation.

I consider myself lucky to have been able to work from home for much of the last year. That’s challenging of course, but like so many I’ve just had to get on with it and make the most of it. In recent days and weeks, on a personal level, it has been particularly worrying, with Covid rates around Waterford and particularly Tramore, rocketing to deeply worrying levels. It makes me fearful for the well-being and safety of people close to me, particularly my mother and older relatives and friends. 

I feel I’m one of the lucky ones in terms of my immediate loved ones. My daughters are safe and well. None of them has to go to work at the frontlines, where the world’s most heroic and dedicated people are putting their own lives at risk in the fight to save lives. That my daughters, and I and people throughout the world have frontline staff, particularly healthcare workers, undertaking daily and hourly acts of the purest bravery for us, is humbling and a fact that I remind myself of on a daily basis.

It’s horrifying to think that this is what’s known as a zoonotic virus, in other words, one that has been proven to have stemmed from an animal source. As an ecologist and through my work in the European Parliament around the area of health and the environment, I’m acutely aware of the unsettling implications. The connections between this pandemic, the impacts of climate chaos and habitat destruction and further risks unless the world unites and significantly increases efforts to reverse the dangerous trends, is a subject I will cover in more detail in future communications. 

As I return to Brussels for essential direct input in the next crucial stages of my work on the legislative review work on the 8th Environment Action Programme, I don’t underestimate the importance of setting and putting in place international goals, monitoring and measuring tools and the framework for increasingly committed worldwide targets. The 8th Environment Action Programme is about all of these things and more. I’m honoured to be the Rapporteur (European Parliament’s lead negotiator) on such hugely important legislation at a time when this area of work and learning, action and implementation are vital for our future survival. 

We’re moving into another year and as time passes, the urgency around addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency we are immersed in, becomes ever more pressing. We are in the middle of a pandemic that has, even with the extreme measures being taken internationally, killed almost two million people throughout the world. Hope is in sight, in the immediate task of saving lives and addressing the current pandemic with the help of a vaccine roll-out. We have, sadly, seen first-hand what a global health emergency can look like. To prevent the further zoonotic pandemics that will come our way unless preventative steps are taken, there has to be committed intervention in the form of increased dramatic environmental action at a global scale. 

As we move through January towards a hopefully brighter Spring, I ask you to come on board and make 2021 the year where you commit to informing yourself and joining the global fight to save our planet and the species that inhabit it. Our lives, and the survival of the human species into the future, depends on massive agitation and engagement and real, decisive, action. 

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