Framework for Sustainable Development in Ireland – Our Sustainable Future

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 11th October 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important topic.

Meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the survival of future generations is at the heart of the Framework for Sustainable Development in Ireland entitled Our Sustainable Future.

The words ‘sustainable’ and ‘development’ are key in this context. Some observers mistakenly equate sustainable development with little or no development or at least a striving to make development more difficult. Rather than stymie development, this document recognises the need for on-going development and aim to ensure that such development does not compromise the safety or security of future generations.

The idea of sustainable development has become embedded in Irish life and this is what this framework seeks to further. However, it is worth noting that the country’s first sustainable development strategy was launched a mere 15 years ago in 1997. A second followed five years later and then there was a gap of a decade until the present plan, which has been in preparation for two years.

There is a moral obligation on all of us to use resources as efficiently as possible, to preserve the world’s natural resources for future generations and to work in harmony with other agencies across the world to ensure that as countries currently undeveloped or underdeveloped see increased development, that they avoid the pitfalls experienced by many western countries in terms of reliance on fossil fuels and the creation of greenhouse gases.

While the aims and objectives of Our Sustainable Future are laudable, the success or otherwise of the document will be measured in terms of implementation and to that end, I welcome the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and the Green Economy and also the high-level inter departmental group on sustainable development, which will monitor progress on implementation of sectoral measures and report annually via an annual progress report to the Cabinet Committee.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has spoken of the need to use this plan to look beyond the present economic crisis and forge a vision of changing Ireland into a resource efficient, low-carbon and climate resilient country and there is no sector of Irish society that is excluded when it comes to the drive to create such a society.

There are a number of measures arising from this report which will help improve sustainable development into the future, among them the development of environmental tax reform and the incorporation of social and environmental indicators into the measures for economic progress. I also note that, in line with OECD recommendations, priority is to be afforded to developing fiscal measures that will advance the green economy agenda.

Ireland’s consumption per person is really at unsustainable levels and has grown significantly since 2000, giving a current position where the per person consumption is the highest in Europe, much higher than Finland, which comes second and almost three times that of the UK and the Netherlands.

The current level of consumption is putting pressure on resources, raw materials, water, biodiversity and much more. This is not just an Irish phenomenon, resource use in the EU 12 increased by 34% between 2000 and 2007. Just consider this sum, in 2007 alone, the EU27 countries between them consumed 8.2 billion tonnes of materials.

Our Sustainable Future stresses the importance of decoupling economic growth from consumption of environmental resources. Key areas identified in relation to this include a common approach to displaying benchmarks of environmental performance on products, for example your a-rated washing machine or freezer, but increasing this to cover services and companies.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 40% of the world’s economy is based on the use of biological resources. The value of Irish biodiversity has been estimated at €2.6 billion per year in 2008. The need to protect diverse ecosystems, habitats and species is clear. Measures provided for in the current document include the implementation of Ireland’s National Biodiversity Plan and the development of a national terrestrial and marine habitat map and the development of an integrated approach to green infrastructure.

I particularly welcome the measure to communicate in a more effective manner the economic rationale for conservation of natural resources.

In terms of agriculture, Food Harvest 2020 sets out the vision for the industry for the next eight years. Progress has been made in relation to agriculture and we have seen the implementation of much legislation at national and EU level to combat water pollution and biodiversity loss. However, the report notes that negative environmental impacts are still seen and form a significant challenge in the period ahead. In this respect, schemes focusing on the protection of the rural environment, such as REPS, should be a key weapon in our armoury and must be strengthened in the years ahead.

The transfer of knowledge from advisory services to farmers will also be key to successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions in farming in coming years and existing Teagasc programmes must be built upon to minimise environmental impacts from agriculture, while at the same time promoting food security and sustainable development.

The need to break the link between economic growth and consumption of environmental resources is clear to anyone with an interest in either the environment or the economy and I believe that the measures contained in Our Sustainable Future represent a cohesive set of actions with the goal of reducing the current unsustainable level of consumption in Ireland.