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Ireland Ranks 11th out of 15 EU countries on UN Sustainable Development Goals

The report entitled Measuring Progress: Sustainable Progress Index 2021’ ranks 15 comparable EU countries based on their delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The index publication comes just after UN World Social Justice Day and is a timely reminder that Social Justice is a multi-faceted and multi-departmental issue that must be measured if it is to be accounted for.

Main Findings:

The report finds that Ireland is ranked 10th out of the 15 countries on the economy dimension. Although the record on GDP per capita and unemployment is good - we score best on these indicators - the low score on the economy index is influenced by several factors including low pay, the proportion of youths not in employment, education or training (the NEET rate), the need for further policy action with regard to logistics and broadband capacities and the % of GDP devoted to R&D.  These lower the score on this dimension.

On the social index, Ireland is in the middle of the ranking, in 6th place.  We score highly on goals relating to education, peace and justice; less well on goals reflecting poverty, inequality, gender equality and health and well-being.

Ireland scores last on the environment index which suggests Ireland is facing significant challenges in meeting our environmental targets.   Ireland’s score has improved on some environmental SDGs, but other countries are making progress at a much faster rate, pushing us to the bottom of the rankings.  Poor performance on goals relating to responsible production and consumption, clean energy and climate change are among the key factors driving the result for this dimension.

The overall Sustainable Progress Index, which includes all 17 goals set out by the UN, concludes that Ireland is in 11th place out of the 15 countries. Countries at the bottom are Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands top the rankings.

Where Ireland ranks

Ireland is performing well in some areas and we are in the top 5 for three SDGs; ‘Quality education’ (SDG 4), ‘life on land’(SDG 15) and ‘Peace, justice and strong institutions’ (SDG16).  But several of the SDGs are in the middle of the rankings (reduced inequalities, good health and wellbeing, decent jobs and economic growth for example), implying there is much scope for improvement.

Ireland scores at the bottom of the list for several environment SDGs indicating that some persistent sustainability issues must be addressed. The data for SDG 7 ‘Affordable and clean energy’, SDG12, ‘Responsible consumption and production’, SDG13, ‘Climate action’ in particular, point to the need to rebalance the goals of economic and social progress with sustaining the planet’s environment and resources as well as combatting climate change.

Climate challenge

If Government is serious about a commitment to a Green New Deal then serious policy changes are required now.  This is the fifth edition of the Sustainable Progress Index and Ireland has consistently ranked among the poorest performing countries in the EU-15 on the environmental SDGs.  The Programme for Government commitment to more than halve our carbon emissions over the course of the decade rings hollow without political commitment and action.

Some practical proposals that would improve our performance would be to introduce a circular economy package for Ireland across all areas of economic activity, place a levy on single use plastics, invest in the development of short supply chains (especially for farmers) and develop a comprehensive mitigation and transition programme to support communities and people in the transition to a low carbon society.  Sustainable agriculture policy, sustainable land management, and short supply chains for farmers and consumers must form the basis of future agricultural and Ireland’s CAP programme 2021-2027.  If not then our climate and agricultural policies will be at odds with each other.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the interdependence of our economic, social and natural spheres.  It is obvious that they need to be approached in a holistic manner.  Government has the opportunity to lead the way towards a new generation of politics shaped by the economic, social and environmental demands of a truly healthy society. The Sustainable Progress Index is a landmark annual report to enhance the policy decisions of the Irish Government when it comes to progressing the SDGs.  It should be recognised that we are performing well in many areas. However, there are certain areas where we are seriously underperforming, particularly in the area of climate action, and this is dragging our overall ranking down.  Addressing the complexities of sustainable development requires a joined-up thinking approach. It requires a balance between economic and social progress and sustaining the planet’s environment and resources as well as combatting climate change.   It requires political ambition and commitment towards a just transition.

 To read the Sustainable Progress Index 2021 click here.