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Policy issues concerning Environment

The National Economic Plan - to be published on Budget day - must give equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations. Otherwise, this Government will simply repeat the mistakes of the past and many will be left behind.  The National Economic Plan must be underpinned by a new social contract that treats our environment, society and economy equally

As we look towards the future and rebuilding our society and our economy we have the opportunity to ensure that our investment strategy reduces carbon emissions, creates a vibrant society and economy, and supports a just transition. Here we outline investment priorities for Budget 2021.

The commitment to using wellbeing indicators alongside economic indicators in the Programme for Government is welcome.  Creating a sustainable Ireland requires the adoption of new indicators to measure progress. To reflect this, the wellbeing indicators that the new Government has committed to developing must include new indicators measuring both wellbeing and sustainability in society, to be used alongside measures of national income like GDP, GNP and GNI.

As we look towards the future and rebuilding our society and our economy the new Government must consider how we can ensure that our recovery package and investment priorities post COVID-19 help us build a sustainable society and economy, and also move us towards a just transition and meeting our climate targets by 2030.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed how we live our lives and, in many ways, served to highlight inefficiencies or flaws in how we have structured our society or how we conduct our business. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has also caused many of us to re-evaluate our perspectives on how society operates, and given us new found respect for certain professions and industries. Here are some lessons we hope that policymakers have learned from this current situation.

One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant economic ‘deep freeze’ it has resulted in has been a large reduction in harmful emissions.  This reduction while welcome is only temporary.  The challenge is to ensure that investment in our recovery also supports progress to our climate commitments.

If a government is setting environmental goals, it is important that its taxation system supports these goals. There is great scope in Ireland for shifting the burden of taxation away from productive activity and onto activity which reduces social wellbeing, depletes natural resources and biodiversity, harms the environment, and contributes to climate change. The taxes that people and organisations pay should, to the greatest extent possible, be based on the value they subtract by their use of common resources.

The World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Lancet Commission have just published a landmark report on the need to place children at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The report finds that despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future. Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflict, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country. 

Ireland ranks 10th out of 15 comparable EU countries in this year’s Sustainable Progress Index, commissioned by Social Justice Ireland.  The index comprises three dimensions: economy, society and environment.  Ireland is ranked 11th out of the 15 countries on the economy dimension.  On the social index, Ireland is in the middle of the ranking, in 7th place.  Ireland, however, scores last on the environment index which suggests we are facing significant challenges in meeting our environmental targets.  

Whatever combination of parties sits down to negotiate the next Programme for Government, sustainability must be a key focus. This requires a focus on more than just environmental sustainability, but also financial and regional sustainability.

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