Social Justice Ireland’s new report Measuring Success: Sustainable Progress Index 2022

Social Justice Ireland’s new report Measuring Success: Sustainable Progress Index 2022

Dáil Contribution on Social Justice Ireland’s new report Measuring Success: Sustainable Progress Index 2022

This is a welcome chance to discuss an important and substantial piece of work that issues every year from Social Justice Ireland, which tracks our attainment in terms of the sustainable progress index or sustainable development goals over of the year. I raised this issue this time last year and submitted a similar Topical Issue.

It is an important milestone and a good opportunity to take stock of where we are with regard to the sustainable development goals. It is nearly seven years ago now that Ireland played a significant and historical role in the process to agree and adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development plan and sustainable development goals alongside the co-chair, which at the time was Kenya. The adoption of agenda 2030 was one of the pivotal moments of 2015, with countries from all over the world coming together and committing to do more for fair, equitable and environmentally sustainable development. We have had some positive progress in terms of the workings of the Parliament here. We have it written into standing orders of each committee now that they should consider progress on the sustainable development goals within their area although I am not sure how many committees are undertaking that work.

I will direct the Minister of State to page 36 of the Measuring Success: Sustainable Progress Index 2022 report, which gives a nice visual dashboard that in one snapshot gives an overview of how we are doing in terms of sustainable development goals. I am heartened that the arrows are tending in the correct direction. There are no areas in which we are making backwards travel. Many areas are still earmarked for concern, however. The ones that are red-listed include climate action, responsible consumption and production and partnership for the goals. I draw particular attention to goal 7, which deals with affordable and clean energy. It states that “Ireland’s CO2 emissions from energy fuels combustion/electricity output … are one of the highest in the sample.”

The heat strategy that was issued earlier this week identifies that we have a difficulty in terms of heating our homes in a sustainable way. We certainly have an issue around the affordability of heating our homes at the moment. The score for the proportion of people who are unable to keep their home adequately warm places Ireland in the middle of the rankings. I am sure that with our ambitious retrofit scheme, which again was announced last week, we will be hoping to make significant substantial improvement in that area in the 12 months ahead and beyond.

In the area of responsible consumption and production, again, we rank poorly based on this sustainable development goal. Our “recycling rate of municipal waste is very low and the indicators of circular material use … is one of the lowest in our sample.” Again, I would be hoping for significant progress on this as we introduce our circular economy. The work in front of us will be significant in tackling not only input costs but the resultant emissions.

On climate action, a key indicator used by EUROSTAT is greenhouse gas emissions. While we are making some progress in this area, we are not making it any way far or fast enough. Emissions may have fallen but we are still well above the EU average. The last of the sustainable development goals to which I will point is goal 14, which is life below water. I spoke previously in this House on an Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report that highlighted the intense problems we have in some of our waterways. We have very few pristine rivers left. We have a particular problem where I am from in the south east in terms of the level of nitrogen that is finding its way into the waterways.

I ask the Minister of State for an update of the progress of where we are in terms of the implementation plan and co-ordination of the interdepartmental working group and how that work is ongoing within the Department.

Response from Minister for State, Frankie Feighan, T.D.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and welcome the opportunity to discuss Ireland’s progress towards its sustainable development goals. A renewed focus is currently being given to progress Ireland’s commitments to agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

Substantial progress has been achieved in recent months in respect of reviewing Ireland’s implementation of agenda 2030. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has overall responsibility for promoting the sustainable development goals and overseeing their coherent implementation across government.

The Department is currently developing Ireland’s second SDG national implementation plan, in which key priorities and actions have been identified to further successful SDG implementation across the Government and to promote awareness of the goals. It is intended that the draft plan will be made available shortly and that it will form the basis of discussion at the next SDG national stakeholder forum. It is important to emphasise that given the broad scope and cross-cutting nature the SDGs, the Government recognises that strong and effective governance arrangements are essential to ensure high level engagement with the 2030 agenda. For this reason, the established SDG governance arrangements of a senior officials group, which is chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and which is supported by the interdepartmental working group chaired by the Department, will remain an integral part of the next plan. To ensure that Ireland’s reporting on SDG progress is both comprehensive and relevant to its national circumstances and level of development, the identification and management of national data is carried out by the Central Statistics Office in consultation with the SDG interdepartmental working group.

The Central Statistics Office, working in conjunction with Ordnance Survey Ireland, has developed an online GeoHive data hub to provide spatially relevant information on our progress towards targets under the SDGs. As part of this initiative, the CSO has published of individual SDG goal reports. Goals 1-11 are available online and the remaining SDG goal reports will be published in the coming months.

Social Justice Ireland has produced an index of its own design, which ranks Ireland’s performance under all 17 SDGs. I welcome the publication of the 2022 report which has measured Ireland’s economic, social and environmental performance in relation to the SDGs. The 2022 report ranks Ireland tenth out of 14 comparable countries. It is ranked ninth on the economy, eighth place in the social category and ninth on the environment. Ireland is in the top five for three of the SDGs, which are goal four, quality education, goal 11, sustainable cities and communities and goal 14, life below water. A good score on goal 16, peace and justice, indicates that Ireland is a relatively safe place to live, with reasonably good, transparent, effective and accountable institutions.

In areas that have identified where work is needed to address some important sustainability issues, significant progress has been achieved in relation to goal 7, affordable and clean energy, goal 12, responsible consumption and production and goal 13, climate action.

Follow up from Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I realise that this is outside of the remit of his own Ministerial work. I acknowledge that the report is not scathing. It does not necessarily paint a picture of a country that is doing badly. It is showing progress across most of the indicators and the report does acknowledge that there are areas, for example in education, where Ireland does extremely well. We should work to maintain that level of progress.

I would say that the word “shortly” is doing much heavy lifting in terms of the timeline on this. The second national implementation plan has been promised for a while. I would like to see it and I would like a concrete timeline on it. I would also like a concrete timeline on when it will be brought to the national stakeholder forum. I acknowledge what the Minister of State is saying about a broad and cross-cutting nature. I think that is one of the strengths of it. I spoke about policy coherence earlier, when we were talking about the town centres first programme. That is one of the strengths of taking an SDG-led approach to these issues.

I want to acknowledge, as I did earlier, the work of Chambers Ireland in producing a toolkit for businesses. What it does in a really meaningful way, which I think sometimes we fail to do on larger policies, is it takes a first principles approach. It does not just take the 17 SDGs, but it looks at the 169 sub-targets that are below those SDGs. It seeks to implement them in a common sense and practical way. I sometimes worry when I see Government documentation that includes SDG material that we engage in a retroactive badging. For instance, after we produce the policy document we ask beside which goals can we put the nice picture in the document. I would prefer to see us change our approach, to go back to first principles, to look at the goals, to look at the sub-goals and to design our policies accordingly to achieve that level of cross-cutting policy coherence. This would help our Departments work better to deliver for the people.

Response from Minister for State, Frankie Feighan, T.D.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue. Ireland’s second SDG programme is currently being finalised. It is intended that the draft plan will be made available – I know the Deputy might not like to hear this word – shortly. However, we will try to get a timeline as quickly as possible to form the basis of discussion at the next SDG national stakeholder forum. This will allow for a final round of input from stakeholders prior to finalisation and publication.

It is important to note that the report uses official published data from international sources such as the OECD, the WHO, the United Nations etc. as well as from non-governmental organisations such as Gallup and Transparency International. The composition of the index of the Social Justice Ireland’s own choosing is significant, because the choice of which indicators to include and exclude from an index will invariably impact on a given country’s ranking within that index. The report claims that data selection for this report is first informed by the UN indicators set in 2020 and that it is aligned to this indicator set as closely as possible. However, the report also acknowledges, as changes have been made in the indicator set, the rankings in this report are not directly comparable to the earlier versions of the index. As new information becomes available, the number of indicators evolves. Where possible, each SDG is covered by a minimum of four indicators. However, the report acknowledges that data coverage across the goals is unequal.

Ireland’s good performance, good health and wellbeing does not take into account the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 on the SDGs cannot be fully captured in this year’s index. The full scale of the pandemic will likely only be evident in later editions. Again, I thank the Deputy. I hope we will have a timeline as quickly as possible.