‘Concerning lack of progress’ on sustainable development in Ireland

Report from Coalition 2030 highlights major problems with housing and climate action

There is “a concerning lack of progress” in ensuring sustainable development is at the heart of Government policy, according to a report by Coalition 2030, a group of more than 100 civil society organisations.

Its report evaluates Ireland’s record on sustainable development, covering 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (STGs) agreed in 2015 – spanning social, economic and environment sectors – and details lack of progress on all goals.

The "2030 Agenda" for sustainable development was signed by Ireland and 192 other countries and includes a commitment to end global hunger, fight inequalities and tackle climate change – it also contained a "Leave No One Behind" promise.

In spite of their findings, combined with momentum lost in the past three years, there was still an opportunity for Ireland to become a leader in implementing the goals at home and abroad, said Dr Susan Murphy of TCD. It required not only a "whole of Government" approach but also a "whole of society" response, she added.


Minister of State for Natural Resources Sean Canney said Ireland was proud of having played a leading part in the 2030 Agenda negotiations on the goals.

“We recognised then, and recognise now, the urgent need to chart a course towards achieving a sustainable future,” he added.

There was a “whole-of-government” approach to implementing the SDGs, with clear roles for every Government department and overall political oversight provided through the Cabinet, he insisted.

In July, the Government presented its first progress report on the SDGs to the UN which was “frank about where we need to perform better”. This confirmed Ireland has a thriving economy but still had work to do to become a truly sustainable society, he accepted.

The report identified strengths in education, health, economic growth, innovation and some environmental issues such as air quality – and highlighted major problems with housing and climate action.

“However, we also face challenges in many areas including addressing high levels of obesity, meeting our own national poverty targets, achieving sustainable consumption and production, protecting our marine and terrestrial habitats, and achieving full gender equality in Irish society,” Mr Canney added.

Richest countries

Yvonne Callaghan of SIPTU said Ireland, as one of the richest countries in the world, had to do better and move faster than most in meeting the SDG targets. There was a long way to go on leaving no one behind but it had "the potential to be the best performer on every single goal, showing that it's possible to combine economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development", she added.

Irish Wildlife Trust campaigns officer Pádraig Fogarty highlighted how Ireland continues to struggle to control greenhouse gas emissions and is forecast to miss all of its reduction targets. The extent of environmental degradation and lack of implementation of EU directives indicated the problem was at Government level.

“Protecting the living world is at the heart of protecting human rights, equality and our way of life,” he added. “Strong political action to avert extinction and climate catastrophe must be at the heart of the SDGs.”

Restoring nature was one of the best opportunities to address climate change, he said, citing a Nature Conservancy report suggesting that taking this route could help achieve 40 per cent of emission targets under the Paris Agreement.

The event was attended by TDs and Senators and provided the opportunity to hear testimony from people with lived experience of the issues outlined in the report.

Representatives from the North West Inner City Training and Development (NWICTD) Programme in Dublin shared their experiences and thoughts on further actions they believe are necessary in areas such as housing, education and poverty.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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