The aims of this government policy Our Sustainable Future are to provide for the integration of sustainable development into key areas of policy, to put in place effective implementation mechanisms, and to deliver concrete measures to progress sustainable development. A recent progress report on actions under the national sustainability plan has concluded that Ireland continues to move in the right direction generally across the spectrum of sustainable development goals, while recognising the role of the economic downturn in reduced emissions and consumption. The report also concluded that it will be important to maintain our focus on sustainability through the period of economic recovery and growth.
In its 2014 Climate Change Policy Position document, the Irish Government articulated a vision to 2050 that integrates the climate and sustainability imperatives in stating that it aims “as a fundamental national objective, to achieve transition to a competitive, low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050”.
Ireland has developed a public platform Ireland's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) GeoHive data hub for exploring, downloading and combining publicly available data relating to the UN and the European Union (EU) Sustainable Development Goals. Ireland's progress against each Goal is measured using a set of globally and EU agreed Indicators, and, on the platform, you can search for, discover and visualise the data used to create those indicators. This platform was developed as part of a partnership between Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Central Statistics Office and ESRI Ireland. It is now the Government of Ireland platform for SDG data.
The coming years will need to see much greater effort – at an institutional and commercial level – to secure the supply, from sustainable sources, of the primary and secondary raw materials necessary to sustain our economies and our wellbeing. The recognition of the limitation of critical raw materials, allied to the ambition of resource efficiency and life cycle assessment for goods and services, has evolved and coalesced into the concept of the circular economy.
The enabling conditions needed to move to a circular economy require wide-ranging integrated market interventions such as eco-design, eco-labelling, life cycle assessment, recycling, durability, clean production, repair and reuse, elimination of harmful chemicals, renewable energy, carbon neutrality, etc. Most of these policies and concepts will require major intervention over the coming years if they are to become the reality and norm. From a social and values perspective, the circular economy can assist in driving an appreciation of sufficiency as regards consumption behaviours.
In the coming decade, businesses will increasingly be required through regulatory approaches to undertake life cycle assessment for their goods and services and to adopt eco-label standards. The latter are essential to support informed consumption choices. Goods and services that currently incorporate environmentally harmful substances/practices will be required to be eliminated or replaced.
In Ireland, the significant role expected for agricultural and food production and tourism will require ambitious and monitored sectoral development plans to ensure that future growth can be achieved through carbon neutrality and sustainable production/service processes. The national food sector development plan, Food Wise 2025, includes a monitoring and implementation plan to track and measure implementation of initiatives and actions, in particular those dealing with the environmentally sustainable expansion of the sector.
National plans and programmes also contribute to progressing decoupling. Bord Bia, through its very successful Origin Green Programme, has identified the competitive advantage of marketing sustainable low carbon produce to a national and international audience. Bord Bia has developed a suite of programmes for its client primary producers and processors to progress certified resource-efficient sustainable food production practices.
Major producers, retailers and service providers are also progressing greener credentials as part of their commercial strategy (e.g. Green Hospitality, the Musgrave Group’s Environmental & Social Accountability Policy). The need for sustainability is strongly reflected in a number of national sectoral policies and economic development strategies (e.g. Food Wise 2025, National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Action Plans). Strategies should include a commitment to report publicly and regularly on their environmental performance against relevant environmental indicators. This will make the strategies more robust and provide for increased environmental accountability and transparency during implementation.
Not only is there evidence of decarbonisation, resource efficiency and green growth, but there is also evidence that the economic contribution of a valued and protected environment is becoming widely appreciated at business and policy level (e.g. Origin Green, eco-labelling, green tourism). This realisation is strong at the general public level, also, as indicated by the results of a 2014 EU survey of environmental attitudes, which found that Irish people’s appreciation of the economic value of the environment significantly exceeds the EU average. The coming years will need to see a broader range of metrics and indicators developed for national economic performance that take into account matters such as wellbeing, environmental health, ecosystem services and natural capital.