Discussion paper presented by Niall O’Reilly at 6th International ‘Life & Development Forum’ – “We Make Life Better – Hangzhou, White Horse Lake Jianguo Hotel , November 8-9, 2013.*****
Sustainable development is a continuous, guided process of economic, environmental and social change aimed at promoting the well-being of citizens now and in the future. To realise this requires creating a sustainable and resource efficient economy founded on a fair and just society, which respects the ecological limits and carrying capacity of the natural environment (Source: Wikipedia)
In 2013, the economic situation in Ireland is dramatically different to the earlier part of the last decade, when Ireland was known as The Celtic Tiger. Measured against the standard indicators of GDP, and GNP – trends for economic development, new housing output, tax revenues, and employment levels have dropped sharply.
We have also seen rising unemployment, a banking crisis and a collapse in the property market after a sustained, if unsustainable, boom in the property market. A number of factors drove these unsustainable trends, including: rapid growth in employment, large scale inward migration (annual immigration rose sharply from 52,600 persons in 2000 to peak at 109,500 in 2007) (2), rapid natural population growth (17% increase between 1996 and 2006), fiscal incentives for the construction sector, rising car ownership and weakness in the strategic approach to spatial planning.
At a time of rapidly rising prosperity and development, the existing structures and controls were not strong enough to withstand the pressures that unavoidably arose.
This legacy leaves Ireland facing huge challenges in the period ahead, challenges that are all the more serious when set against the backdrop of a global economic downturn.
The sustainability pressures on the economy continue to be high and while some progress has been made, there is still a distance to travel before Ireland can fully remove itself from what is the most serious fiscal and economic crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland.
In meeting the challenge, the Irish Government is implementing a radical Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland – a national recovery agenda, which seeks to integrate sustainable development principles into policy making across all sectors, for the purpose of stimulating:
- the transformation of public services
- economic growth based on knowledge and innovation
- an inclusive, high employment society
- a greener low carbon economy
- and a good quality natural and built-environment so that Ireland can once again prosper on a competitive global stage.
Lessons must be learnt from Ireland’s recent experience and Ireland will have to ensure structures and systems are put in place that are strong enough to survive periods of pressure which might threaten to weaken sustainable growth and fiscal stability.
It is widely accepted that economic growth, social unity and environmental protection are equally important targets for meeting the prime objective of delivering well-being in a diverse multi-cultured society that promotes participation, a society in which everyone takes responsibility for the environment.
While the establishment of a more sustainable pattern of development for Ireland is one of the key challenges of government and ultimately for society, there is also a clear consensus that a return to ‘business as usual’ is not an option.
At a global level there is a growing consensus that the world’s systems of production and consumption cannot be sustained without posing a huge threat to the environment and to human health. Water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, resource depletion and irreversible biodiversity loss are problems that have to be tackled as a matter of priority.
Consensus is now focusing around the need to put economies on a more sustainable, green growth path on the basis that the cost of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services is lower than the cost of allowing biodiversity and ecosystem services to decline.
For Ireland ‘green growth’ and the ‘green economy’ are now fundamental aspects of Government policy as the country shifts away from the ‘brown economy’ on the road to becoming a low-carbon, competitive, resource efficient and climate resilient country, policy which will ultimately improve its citizens’ well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.
Economic, environmental and social progress are mutually related.
Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development
This Framework contains measures to help meet the overall goal of achieving continuous improvement of quality of life both for current and for future generations.
The following set of 7 principles for sustainable development are the central aspects of this Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland:
- In relation to “economy”, the principle seeks “to promote an innovative, competitive and low carbon economy with the aim of achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” and to reduce pressure on natural resources
- In relation to “satisfaction of human needs by the efficient use of resources” the key objectives are that:
(a) “Prices should reflect the real costs to society of production and consumption activities and polluters should pay for the damage they cause to human health and the environment”
(b) “The needs of current generations should be addressed without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”
(c) “Resources should be used within the capacity for regeneration”
3. In relation to “respect for ecological integrity and biodiversity” the Framework seeks to ensure that “the abundance of wildlife and extent of habitats should be maintained, improved and restored where necessary, through sustainable management”
4. In relation to “social equity” the main principle is that “social inclusion should be promoted to ensure an improved quality of life for all”
5. In relation to “respect for cultural heritage and diversity” the Framework will ensure that “the quality of landscapes, the heritage of the man-made environment and historic and cultural resources should be maintained and improved”.
6. In relation to “Equity between countries and regions” Ireland will:
(a) “promote fundamental rights, by combating all forms of discrimination and contributing to the reduction of poverty”
(b) “promote consistency between local, regional, national, European Union (EU) and global actions in order to increase their contribution to sustainable development”
7. The 7th and final theme of Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development relates to good “decision-making”. In this regard, the framework will aim to:
(a) Guarantee citizens’ rights of access to information and public participation procedures.
(b) Ensure citizens’ access to review mechanisms.
(c) Develop adequate consultation with all interested parties, including citizens, businesses and social partners (such as trade unions), and develop participatory channels for all such interested parties.
Of course there are challenges.
Ireland’s Sustainable Development Framework catagorises 12 the key challenges under the following themes:
- Sustainability of public finances and economic resilience.
- Sustainable consumption and production.
- Conservation and management of natural resources.
- Climate change and clean energy.
- Sustainable agriculture.
- Sustainable transport.
- Social inclusion, sustainable communities and spatial planning.
- Public health.
- Education, communication and behaviour change.
- Innovation, research and development
- Skills and training
- The 12th challenge is how to address global poverty and sustainable development.
I will now briefly explain Government-led initiatives regarding two of these themes: sustainable transport and public health
Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future
Transport, which is a key element of a sustainable development strategy, should be closely aligned to land use planning and the need to create more sustainable communities.
Sustainable transport is central to Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts.
Transport trends in Ireland from the mid 1990’s onwards are unsustainable. The main problems associated with transport in Ireland are:
- Rising pollution – greenhouse gases and particular air pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment such as nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Increasing congestion on roads that lengthens journey times, adversely impacts on family, leisure time, and community life, contributes to the growing problem of obesity, and adds to pollution and costs at many levels including affecting Ireland’s national competitiveness. In Ireland there is a clear appetite to abandon the car for commuter driver, if only this were practical.
- Safety also remains a key issue despite the steadily decreasing numbers of road deaths.
- In addition, a key characteristic that distinguishes energy use in transport in Ireland is the almost total dependence on oil as a fuel and on import dependency, over 99% in both cases.
Without intervention, congestion will get worse, economic competitiveness will suffer, quality of life will deteriorate and carbon emissions from the transport sector will grow.
In order to achieve a sustainable travel and transport system by 2020, Ireland needs to change its unsustainable behaviour and habits as a nation and as individuals.
Sustainable and smarter transport measures currently being implemented by the Government under the Framework for Sustainable Development are set out in four key goals:
Goal 1 – to “reduce overall travel demand and the distance traveled by private car” and encourage smarter travel, including
- focusing population and employment growth in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel for employment and services
- using pricing mechanisms or fiscal measures to encourage behaviour change and discourage people from using the car unnecessarily.
Goal 2 – to “maximise the efficiency of the transport network” by ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available mainly through a radically improved public transport service and investment in cycling and walking.
Goal 3 – to reduce reliance on foss1il fuels and emissions by improving the fuel efficiency of motorised transport through
- improved fleet structure
- energy efficient driving
- alternative driving.
Goal 4 – to improve accessibility to transport.
To achieve these goals the Government is pursuing a number of key targets such as:
- Dramatically improving the placement of spatial and transport planning to stop urban sprawl, and urban-generated one-off housing in non-urban areas
- Encouraging e-working through better broadband provision
- 500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work (200,000 people will switch to cycling and walking) to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%
- Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work
- The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels
- A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport
These key targets are ambitious. However, they are necessary to improve the quality of life of Ireland’s citizens, to secure future energy supply, and to ensure that the transport sector substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the need for all developed nations to do so. These targets represent a complete turnaround in the current trends. They mean that the Irish public must radically alter how they travel, and that Government priorities in the transport sector must move towards more sustainable modes.
Smarter Travel and Sustainable Transport Ideas:
- Specification of a maximum permitted level of car parking for Government offices and commercial sites, which have suitable public transport facilities and are within walking/ cycling distance to amenities
- The adoption of flexible working policies. The Government has provided leadership in promoting such flexible policies in the public sector
- Ensuring that every school and college in Ireland has a school travel plan to encourage students to take alternatives to the car.
- Government commitment to a culture of walking in Ireland
- A car-sharing website which will help employers to encourage such initiatives in the workforce.
- One smart-card to pay for all forms of public transport
- Conversion of taxi and public bus fleet to alternative fuels.
A Healthy Ireland
Public health protection is an essential goal for society in delivering well-being and quality of life. Ireland has made significant progress in regard to the health of its population, but some key challenges remain.
The rise in life expectancy in Ireland during the past decade has been unmatched by any other country in Europe with the greatest gains in the older age groups reflecting decreasing mortality rates from major diseases.
In fact, the most important statistic from a health perspective is the number of people over the age of 65 which is projected to increase from over 500,000 now to over 1,300,000 in the next 30 years with the greatest proportional increases occurring in the 85+ age group.
However, Ireland’s ageing population, together with negative trends in obesity (60% of adults are obese), diet, exercise and other risk factors – such as smoking [6,000 deaths a year), and alcohol abuse (related road accidents cost over Euro 600 million a year) means that the level of chronic health conditions will certainly increase.
In addition, there are a range of social determinants of health, for example social exclusion, education, health services, the built environment and lifestyle choices:
People who are less well off or who belong to socially excluded groups tend to fare badly in relation to these social determinants
A healthy environment is also absolutely linked to the health of Ireland’s population which relies for survival on clean air and water and the crops we are able to grow in uncontaminated soil. Public amenities such as forest parks provide opportunities for recreation and add to our understanding of the environment thus supporting healthier lifestyles while contributing to our well-being.
The Irish Government’s Healthy Ireland framework is about taking important steps towards making Ireland a healthier and more prosperous country in which the whole population enjoys the best possible health and well-being.
It is designed to include Government Departments, local authorities and public bodies, businesses and employers, sports and voluntary groups, communities and families.
Initiatives within the Healthy Ireland Framework have four goals:
Goal 1: Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life:
This means addressing risk factors and promoting protective factors at every stage of life – from pre-natal, through early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age, to support lifelong health and well-being.
Initiatives in this context include:
- Increasing the number of adults (by 5%) and children (6%) with a healthy weight by 2019
- Increasing by 20% the proportion of adults eating the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day
- Reducing smoking among young people by 1% a year
- Decreasing levels of self-harm across all life stages
- Increasing by 20% of proportion of the population undertaking regular physical activity
Goal 2: Reduce health inequalities:
Health and well-being are not evenly distributed across Irish society. This goal requires not only interventions to target particular health risks, but also a broad focus on addressing the wider social determinants of health – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – to create economic, social, cultural and physical environments that foster healthy living.
Initiatives in this context include:
- Increasing the ‘stay at school’ rates of students in second-level schools
- Reducing the % of the population in consistent poverty from current 6% to 2% or less by 2020.
- Increasing self-reported happiness and well-being across socio-economic groups.
Goal 3: Protect the public from threats to health and well-being:
The Healthy Ireland Framework is designed to ensure effective strategies and interventions to protect the public from new and emerging threats to health and well-being are implemented. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and rapidly recover from public health threats through collaborative working is critical for protecting and securing the population’s health.
Initiatives in this context include:
- Increasing immunization rates for children to 95% uptake
- Reducing prevalence of food-borne infections in compliance with Ireland and EU legislation
- Complying with indicators defined in International Health Regulations, World Health Organisation (WHO).
Goal 4: Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a Healthy Ireland:
It is beyond the capability of any one Government Department or organisation to promote society-wide health and well-being. This can only be done through society-wide involvement in and engagement with health and well-being promotion and improvement activities – from individuals making positive lifestyle choices and projects run by community and local groups, to policy and legislative changes at the highest level of government.
Initiatives in this context include:
- Establishing key indicators measuring the level, range and effectiveness of cross government collaboration and effectiveness of structures.
- Increasing percentage of people participating in informal, unpaid charitable work.
The current health status of people living in Ireland, lifestyle trends and inequalities in health outcomes are leading Ireland toward a future that is dangerously unhealthy and very likely unaffordable. The work that is underway to build a health service that is accessible and fair will only succeed if Ireland builds an environment that supports people and their families to lead healthier lifestyles.
Evidence and experience from around the world clearly shows that to create positive and sustainable change in health and well-being, it takes the involvement of the whole community, the whole of Government, all of society working in unison.
In conclusion, having endured the worst crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland, by placing Sustainable Development as a critical component in Ireland’s Agenda for National Recovery the Government is clearly focused on pursuing coherent policies and sustainable actions for the health and well-being of the country’s most valuable asset: Its people.
Given Ireland’s present economic condition investment in the necessary infrastructure elements of the Framework for Sustainable Development will be challenging. However, the real challenge is to change mindsets, so that Ireland’s institutions and individual citizens realise the benefits from altering their behaviour for the common good.
Managing Director, Accurate Group Ireland China Market Makers (Route to Market, Export, Import, Partner Due Diligence)
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