Environmental issues undermining Ireland’s progress on UN sustainable development goals – Social Justice Ireland

Republic ‘underperforming in affordable energy, clean water, infrastructure, gender equality and sustainable agriculture’

Ireland’s progress in implementing the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) is being impaired by a poor ranking on environmental actions, according to a report from Social Justice Ireland (SJI).

The sustainable progress index for 2024, issued on Tuesday, shows Ireland is at the bottom of the ranking on the environment index. It ranks Ireland eighth overall out of 14 comparable EU countries based on performance under the headings of economy, social and environment.

The UN created the 17 world development goals in 2015 with the aim of “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future” with a 2030 deadline for them to be implemented.

“At the midpoint of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, a reality check reveals significant challenges are still evident in meeting some of the environment goals,” said SJI research and policy analyst Michelle Murphy. “Ireland is still seriously underperforming in ... affordable energy, clean water, innovation and infrastructure, gender equality and sustainable agriculture.


“This is dragging our overall ranking down even though we are performing well in some areas. We are failing to balance core essentials such as economic and social progress, sustaining the planet’s environment and resources and combating climate change.”

There were obvious pressing sustainability issues on responsible consumption, she said, while “the low proportion of renewables in our energy mix points to the need for significant policy action to ensure current energy needs continue to be met without jeopardising future generations”.

Ireland is ranked ninth on the economy and in seventh place in the social index.

“Equipped with the global goals as tools for guidance and accountability, Government has the opportunity to address current social imbalances, lead the way towards a new generation of politics shaped by a new social contract, wellbeing and the economic, social and environmental demands of a truly healthy society,” Ms Murphy said.

The index says although the State’s record on GDP per capita and GDP growth is good – the low score on the economy index is due to factors including low pay, the proportion of unemployed young people, the need for further policy action on transport, logistics, broadband capacities and the percentage of GDP devoted to research and development.

On the social index, Ireland scores highly on goals relating to education, peace and justice; good health and wellbeing but less well on poverty, inequality and gender equality.

Countries at the bottom of the overall rankings are Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, with Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland at the top.

Ireland is in the top five for quality education (SDG4), peace and justice (SDG16) and sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), which the report says indicated that it “offers a good quality of life in cities and communities, performing very well on air quality in particular”.

Ireland’s reputation for quality education is evident, although some consideration should be given to the low rate of adult participation in learning, the index notes.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times