Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Topical Issue Debate

Sustainable Development Goals

5:00 pm

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

This matter arises from the annual sustainable progress index published yesterday by Social Justice Ireland, which mentions Ireland's progress implementing the UN sustainable development goals.

I compared this year's index to last year's and I note that there has been little or no positive change in how the Irish economy is integrating sustainable development and well-being objectives into everyday strategies and actions. Most worryingly, consecutive reports highlight poor and deteriorating performance on particular goals, including sustainable development goal 7, affordable and clean energy; goal 12, responsible consumption and production; goal 13, climate action; and goal 14, life below water. In addition, we are making poor progress in our Aichi biodiversity targets. This year, Ireland has retained its last place position in the index for these goals and targets. It is dead last, with the wooden spoon. These goals all speak strongly to core Green Party objectives. If I see no significant improvement in these areas, my voters will rightly ask me why.

Nearly six years ago, Ireland played an historic role in the process to agree and adopt Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals, SDGs, as co-chair alongside Kenya. The adoption of Agenda 2030 was one of the pivotal international moments in 2015, with countries from all over the world coming together and committing to do more for fair, equitable and environmentally sustainable development. I was pleased to note that the Taoiseach, in his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations last September, reaffirmed our nation's commitment to the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2030, but this needs to be more than an empty formula and a shiny pin on the lapel, which I notice that both the Minister and I are wearing this evening.

If this is to be the decade of action on the SDGs, we need concrete, measurable actions that help us to live up to the commitments that Ireland played such a key role in framing. I am wary of the perception that the SDGs are something applicable to developing countries - that they are something that we work on thar lear, i bhfad uainn i gcéin. For the SDGs to be effective, they need to be universally applied, as much here as anywhere else. We have seen some concrete progress in this Dáil, with the establishment of the all-party Oireachtas group on sustainable development goals. The SDGs and their attainment are now written into the Standing Orders of each committee.

It should be acknowledged that a national implementation plan has been in place since 2018, though I would question the level of oversight and reporting which exists to ensure the plan is being fully followed through. I have submitted parliamentary questions to each Department to ask which of the 169 sub-targets of the 17 goals it has identified as being relevant to the Department's work and whether the commitments to the SDGs will be reflected in the new strategy statements. The answers I have received have varied from excellent, and I give particular credit to the Department of Finance for its response, to abject. Ireland's shortfalls in meeting our goals and targets demonstrate a failure to enshrine one of the key tenets in Agenda 2030, which is universality. This means that everyone has a role to play and needs to work together. At Government level, this means full endorsement, understanding and leadership of all relevant Ministers and Departments, not just one or two.

I understand that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has been leading Ireland's implementation of the goals, including through the development of implementation plans, the co-ordination of an interdepartmental working group and engagement with civil society organisations and stakeholders. Will the Minister inform the House of the nature of the work being undertaken?


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