Urgent environmental sustainability measures and investments to reduce carbon emissions and protect biodiversity can act as catalysts for Ireland's economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the National Economic and Social Council.
In a position paper it has set out key policy actions needed to support a sustainable recovery. "Such actions can be a means of re-imagining our economy and society, and crucially the relationship between them and our natural environment," said author Dr Jeanne Moore.
The paper underlines the current opportunity to do things differently at EU and national levels: “A key question is how much this openness will materialise as a meaningful shift in policies and practices or will there be a return to business as usual?”
The programme for government “includes ambitious climate plans and a significant shift towards active mobility and sustainable transport”, it points out – while the Government has committed to delivering a sustainable recovery. “Positive signals are coming from the EU in relation to the Green Deal and a sustainable recovery and represents a fresh push to deliver a sustainable and inclusive future.”
While setting the direction of travel towards green and sustainable is positive, the paper notes “delivering sustainability will require more than navigation and ambition but will necessitate concrete innovative and collaborative action on multiple fronts including governance, finance, business and technological innovation and a just transition”.
The working paper from the NESC Secretariat supports measures to ensure “green investment and conditionality”. This would be achieved “by attaching conditions to rescue and other measures that provide developmental outcomes for the public good”, it says.
It strongly advocates provision of national accounts beyond traditional economic indicators by “providing national accounts in wellbeing and sustainable development; including a circular bioeconomy... and accounting for nature through ‘natural capital’ and ecosystems services”.
The paper underlines the need to build better resilience in cities and communities in the face of massive disruptions that can and will happen by determining “what does it mean to build-in resilience to adapt and cope with future shocks in all aspects of our economy, society and environment?”
Despite progress in addressing some UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), progress in environmental sustainability has been slow in Ireland, the paper says. "Our record on responding to the climate and biodiversity emergencies and sustainable development goals has been poor overall."
Progress reports highlight Ireland’s low ranking on SDGs such as affordable and clean energy; responsible consumption and production, climate action and water.
The multiple sustainability challenges are profound and complex, while many are in flux with differentiated impacts for countries across the world, it says. “There is a growing consensus that responding to these effectively will require more than incremental steps but a systemic change in energy, heating, food and mobility practices.”
In Ireland and in the EU it will require “both an openness to change and a heightened focus on building resilience”. Governments will need to monitor and assess sustainability risks, for example, deepening the work already carried out for the national risks assessment. “How this analysis is then used by the policy system should also be carefully considered,” it says.