Ireland facing major challenges on housing and climate action, UN told

Minister Denis Naughten accepted more needed to be done urgently if sustainable development goals to be met

The Government would produce a new international development policy and commit financial support for global climate action later this year, Minister for for  Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten has told the UN. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The Government would produce a new international development policy and commit financial support for global climate action later this year, Minister for for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten has told the UN. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Ireland’s progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 has been strongly defended in an address to the United Nations in New York by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten.

The minister, who has responsibility for the Government’s implementation of the 17 goals across economic, social and environmental policy, admitted however that Ireland was facing major challenges on housing and climate action in particular.

Additional areas of concern in the Irish context were “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 Naughten said.

The latest sustainable development goals index report on country-by-country progress ranks Ireland 18th out of 156 countries, and ahead of the EU average, but is critical of performance on climate change actions; protecting waterways, especially oceans, and in maintaining biodiversity.

A separate report by Coalition 2030 – representing more than 100 Irish and international civil society organisations – warns there are significant gaps in the Government’s implementation plan published this year.

“Arguably the greatest threat to Ireland’s implementation of the SDGs is a pronounced lack of policy coherence,” it concludes.

Presenting Ireland’s “voluntary national report” to heads of state and ministers from 193 countries on Tuesday, Mr Naughten accepted more needed to be done urgently, if the goals were to be met.

‘Silo thinking’

The sustainable development goals were nonetheless “forcing the Government and ministries to “break away from the old ‘silo thinking’ that says ‘this is someone else’s problem’, or worse, ‘we have no solutions’”, he told delegates reviewing global progress on implementing the goals.

The Government had acknowledged pressures on housing supply, and consequent increasing house prices and rents and the high incidence of homelessness as one of its most pressing challenges. “We are determined as a Government to increase Ireland’s stock of social housing by 50,000 homes by 2021, with the necessary funding being ringfenced to achieve this.”

Project Ireland 2040 would be central to achievement of the sustainable development goals at home, he added, while Ireland would also continue to support the goals globally.

“Ireland is playing catch-up on our obligations in relation to climate change,” Mr Naughten accepted. As a consequence, €22 billion in climate investment was part of the national development plan.

“Project Ireland 2040 also includes a Climate Action Fund in excess of €500 million, which is €126 for every person in our country, making it the biggest per capita fund of its type in the world,” he said. This “will stimulate innovative ideas and deliver concrete projects that will contribute towards Ireland’s climate and energy targets, while also addressing fuel poverty”.

He highlighted innovative economic, social and environmental policies which Ireland had adopted, but in the review “we have been equally transparent about where we need to perform better...we still have work to do in order to be the kind of truly sustainable society that we want our children to grow up in, and where we ourselves want to grow old.”

Financial support

In the review, the Government identified Ireland’s strengths in education; health, economic growth, innovation, some environmental issues such as air quality, and in supporting a peaceful and safe society.

Ireland is providing €1.2 million to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to support the further development of the Great Green Wall initiative in Africa and €500,000 to support the UN Climate Change Convention in delivering its capacity-building programmes, including addressing the gender impacts of climate change,the Minister said.

The Government would produce a new international development policy and commit financial support for global climate action later this year, he added.

“Our new policy will prioritise ...interventions on gender equality, peace, education, sexual and reproductive health, and on nutrition and sustainable agriculture”, he said.

This would entail “doubling our global footprint, and expanding our development cooperation to include West and North Africa”, and making progress on achieving the UN development spending target.