Ireland’s failure to hit climate targets leaves it short of sustainable development goals

Oireachtas Committee hears planning system is ‘single greatest hurdle’ to achieving goals by 2030

Failure to achieve Ireland’s climate goals is undermining the country’s ability to make progress on a wide range of UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), the Oireachtas Environment and Climate Action Committee has been told.

Addressing the committee on Tuesday, Shane Conneely of Chambers Ireland said it was “deeply concerned that, as things stand, Ireland will not be able to meet our climate targets, our National Development Plan, nor our climate action plan”.

On top of this, he added: “Our planning system has become the single greatest hurdle to achieving the sustainable development goals. We are more than halfway towards 2030, when we are supposed to be achieving our goals, but on climate action it seems the attainment of that goal is further away than ever.”

It was likely that targets for offshore wind energy, despite the increased ambition, would be missed. “We fear that our country is unlikely to be able to upgrade our energy networks to admit the quantity of renewable energy that is available to us,” Mr Conneely said.


“Without alternative means of transport and without decarbonisation of our energy infrastructure it does not seem possible that we will be able to meet our 2030 targets,” he added.

He highlighted the need for better public transport “because quality-of-life issues are making it harder for businesses to attract and retain staff across the country”.

Transport was “an enormous component” of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions with a need to have an alternative to using cars. Addressing this would enhance the economic potential of cities and towns and help with “activation of vacant and underutilised properties” in urban areas.

Ireland needed to undertake a wide range of actions urgently from an environmental and climate perspective if it was to meet its SDG targets, said Meaghan Carmody, coordinator of Coalition 2030 – a group of 70 civil society organisations.

Ireland’s emissions were still rising, and while the climate plan contains welcome commitments, several weaknesses remain, she said. “It is clear that the energy needs of those furthest behind remain unmet ... energy is a fundamental need which enables the fulfilment of multiple human rights, yet energy poverty threatens over a third of Irish households. Initiatives to retrofit homes run the risk of leaving some people further behind, as the upfront costs make it inaccessible to many low-income households.”

The energy upgrade scheme designed to target households in energy poverty was not accessible to tenants in the private rental sector while Travellers, in particular, experienced significant levels of energy poverty and are still largely dependent on the burning of fossil fuels, she said. “Others, including people living with disabilities and single parent households, are at particular risk of extreme fuel poverty as the one-off energy measures in Budget 2023 do not go far enough, as once this money is gone, it is gone.”

Ms Carmody highlighted barriers to SDG implementation including inadequate resourcing of the Government’s SDG Unit, “especially given the sheer number of actions in the national implementation plan for which the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is the lead”.

There was a lack of SDG integration into national and departmental budgeting, and a dearth of reporting on SDG progress on implementation of 169 key targets. “With seven years to go to achieve the SDGs, these obstacles must be unblocked in order to create an environment where the State has the best possible chance of reaching the goals, in Ireland and abroad,” she said.

Colette Bennett of Social Justice Ireland said its analysis on progress based on comparison with 13 other EU countries indicated Ireland was in the top five for just three SDGs: quality education; good health and wellbeing; and sustainable cities and communities.

The pressing issues needing to be addressed were on affordable and clean energy; responsible consumption and production; and climate action. The low score on the “no hunger” SDG emphasised the need to embrace sustainable agriculture fully.

In response to Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, who asked if too much focus was on individuals rather than major stakeholders, Karen Ciesielski of the Irish Environmental Network said there was a strong case for the State to lead from the front, especially in protecting nature.

In addition there was a need for “SDG-proofing” in annual budgeting, she believed. If the SDGs were linked to spending, it would indicate if the required incremental system change was happening.

People wanted change to ensure Ireland was a sustainable place to live, Ms Ciesielski added. This included having sustainable food, backed by local and affordable choices.

Sadhbh O’Neill of Stop Climate Chaos said it was not about individuals versus the system; it was primarily about the policy approach, including regulation by the State and to what extent there was reliance on markets.

She cited the case of electricity markets which had gone through reforms and were on a path of systemic change, driven of late by distortion from high gas prices. But there was a lack of an adequate regulatory framework, with the result that electricity was lagging behind.

Progress on implementing SDGs was being evaluated using an accelerator toolbox which can measure progress under environmental, economic and social headings, Hannah Gilmartin of Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) confirmed.

With her department having lead responsibility on implementation, she believed the arrangement of assigning responsibilities to other departments based on particular SDGs worked as “it promotes ownership”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times