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Shadow Report on Ireland’s progress under the Sustainable Development Goals: Social Justice Ireland’s submission to Coalition 2030

Social Justice Ireland is delighted to be part of Coalition 2030, working together to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to provide our Sustainable Progress Index (the Index) by way of our contribution to its report on Ireland’s performance under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Our Index monitors Ireland’s performance under each of the 17 SDGs, using data collected on 53 indicators, and ranks that performance against the EU15 countries.  We then provide a list of policy recommendations and considerations for Government based on the evidence gathered. 

In terms of placement within our EU15 peers, Ireland ranks 10th overall in its performance under the SDGs.  The Index groups the SDGs into three interdependent and interlinked dimensions of progress – Environment, Society and the Economy (Fig.1). 

Fig.1:  SDGs used in the 3 Dimensional Indexes

Source:  Measuring Progress:  Economy, Society and Environment, Sustainable Development Goals 2018 (Clark et al, 2018:13)

Economy Index – SDG 8 and 9

It is acknowledged that GDP is not an ideal, or even accurate, measure of progress. The problem with using GDP as a measure of progress was particularly evident in the spike in GDP growth in 2015, caused by multinational corporations shifting profits to Ireland to take advantage of our low corporate tax rate. It is, however, an important tool for public policy, as it allows for comparative analysis of market activity. The Economy Index looks at household consumption as a more accurate reflection of economic growth which, when considered as a percentage of GDP, shows a continuous decline since 2008, to 33.9 per cent in 2016.

The Index also looks at unemployment and long-term unemployment. The trend for both has been a decrease since 2012, having risen significantly since 2008, however the move towards higher employment rates must be viewed alongside the increasing instance of low pay and wage stagnation.

In looking at ‘industry, innovation and infrastructure’ (SDG9), the Index considers expenditure on R&D and internet access and notes a decline in the rate of expenditure on R&D, which may be attributed at least in part to the issues with GDP mentioned earlier. The Index notes that the rate of households with internet access has risen steadily since 2005, with almost 86 per cent now having some access .

Overall, the Index ranks Ireland 10th out of the EU15 on Economy.

Society Index – SDG 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 16, 17

In considering SDG 1, the elimination of poverty, the Index points out that Ireland has a ‘structural poverty problem that will not be fixed by economic growth alone’ (Clark et al, 2018:27), and again underlines the point made earlier about the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of progress, where even the GDP spike in 2015 did not significantly reduce the poverty level. Ireland does better on the goal of ending hunger, though with an obesity rate 4.1 per cent higher than the EU average , this remains a concern. Ireland’s performance in respect of health and well-being is also good, with longer life expectancy and better levels of health perception than previous years.

Ireland has made moderate progress in the areas of education quality, reducing inequalities (within the country, our progress on reducing global inequality is stated as being ‘minimal’) and improvements to our score on the Social Justice Index. There is more to be done within each area, however, with falling rates of adult literacy, persistent household debt compensating for income inequality, and much ground to be made in respect of Ireland’s ranking on the Social Justice Index with comparison to its placement in 2008.

Ireland’s performance under SDG 16, peace, justice and strong institutions, is mixed, with fluctuations in homicide rates from 2000 to 2014 and the slight reversal of the upward trend in Ireland’s Corruption Perception Index in 2016.

Finally, under the Society Index, our progress under SDG 17, partnership for the goals, is declining with decreases in official development assistance and financing to developing countries.

Overall, the Index ranks Ireland 10th out of the EU15 on Society.

Environment Index – SDG 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Ireland has performed well on some of the indicators under this index, with Irish water and sanitation being among the best in Europe, good air quality relative to other European countries and a reduction, albeit small in the context of the rate of increase between 1960 and 2001, in CO2 emissions.  However, Ireland still has work to do to increase the proportion of renewable energy consumed and forestry coverage, reduce the amount of municipal waste generated, and meet the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive to meet the challenges of marine conservation.

Overall, the Index ranks Ireland 13th out of the EU15 on Environment.

Further details of our submission, and policy recommendations, see our Submission to Coalition2030.