I recently attended the National Conference on Sustainable Development Goals in Ireland to gain an insight into how the UN SDG’s are being implemented in Ireland and Europe. Being an Irishman I was very proud to learn that Ireland was influential in the agreement of the SDG’s: been appointed, alongside Kenya, as co-facilitator of the post-2015 sustainable development negotiations. It was insightful to hear David Donoghue, former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, speak at the conference sharing his memories of the process that has led us to the worldwide agreement.

Lesson 1 – Ireland is accountable to the EU for sustainability and considerable annual fines occur should targets not be met (providing an impetus to meet targets on time or soon thereafter) – a clear difference to any consequences to Australia for non-compliance; Australia, the ‘Unaccountable Nation’ ?

Whilst Ireland is by no means the most sustainable society in the world, with greenhouse gas emission targets for 2020 likely to be missed – triggering potential annual fines of up to €455m from the EU, it is progressing with the implementation of the SDG’s. The severe annual fines are a strong motivation for the Government to implement change sooner rather than later.

Lesson 2 – A national/state implementation plan, with clear and measurable targets, is a strong starting point for achieving the Goals.

On 1st May 2018 the Irish Government launched the National Implementation Plan 2018 – 2020 in direct response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This plan provides a whole-of-government approach to implement the SDG’s, with four strategic priorities to guide implementation:

  • Awareness: raise public awareness of the SDGs;
  • Participation: provide stakeholders opportunities to engage and contribute to follow-up and review processes, and further develop national implementation of the Goals;
  • Support: encourage and support efforts of communities and organisations to contribute towards meeting the SDGs, and foster public participation; and
  • Policy alignment: develop alignment of national policy with the SDGs and identify opportunities for policy coherence.

Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has lead responsibility for promoting and overseeing the coherent implementation of the SDGs on a whole-of-Government basis. All Ministers retain responsibility for implementing the individual SDGs. The Plan provides a ‘SDG Matrix’ which identifies the responsible Government Departments for each of the 169 targets. It also includes a ‘SDG Policy Map’ indicating the relevant national policies for each of the targets.

Lesson 3 – The gathering and reporting of data is essential for monitoring progress towards achieving the Goals and identifying where action is required. This data should be fully accessible in an open source format to allow organisations at every level implement, review, and report on progress towards achieving the SDG’s.

Ireland’s Central Statistics Office has led the development of a public and open source online data gathering platform – Geohive. The public platform is to be used for exploring, downloading and combining publicly available data relating to the SDG’s.

The platform provides extensive categorised and detailed information relating to the Goals; allowing governmental, private sector and community orgainsations to evaluate the information and focus on particular SDG’s or individual indicators which may need action. The platform also ensures ‘data supported’ monitoring and reporting is implemented.

In addition to providing open source data, the platform is continually updated with new information. A additional resource called ‘Story Maps’  provides an interactive analysis of progress against individual goals and indicators.

A look at the introductory video on the homepage is beneficial to anybody with an interest in this area.

‘Story Map’ Screenshot

Lesson 4 – Knowledge among and empowerment of communities is essential to ensure an all of society approach to the SDG’s is implemented. Increasing knowledge with and empowerment of the youth in society is a key step in this process.

Achieving the SDG’s will take action at all levels of government and society. Growing knowledge among society is critical in securing a positive response to change; growing the knowledge of, and engaging with, the youth of society is essential.

The conference included presentations from local groups, including Galway’s Comhairle na nÓg (child and youth council). Two representatives of this youth group showcased what they have done in supporting refugees settled in Galway County; other SDG actions included workshops and training for youth on implementing the Goals.

Lesson 5 – Politicians, no matter where in the world, will hide behind generalistic responses and play the smoke and mirror game – leading many to question the actual political will within Government to make meaningful change.

When questioned about continued oil and gas exploration licences being issued by the Irish Government, the Minister deflected to other ‘positive’ actions the government was taking on renewable energy. Additionally, when questioned about the growing agricultural sector [accounts for 32% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas production (1)] including the opening up of China for increased trade of beef products from Ireland [estimated up to 1.5 million tonnes (2)], Minister Kyne responded with a unproductive answer along the lines of ‘better us feeding them than someone else’.

 

(1) Source Link.

(2) Source Link.