February 2019: Social Justice Ireland published a report that assesses Ireland’s SDG performance compared to 15 other EU countries on economy, environment and society indicators. The report finds that Ireland is doing relatively well on SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) but has room for improvement on many SDGs.

The report titled, ‘Measuring Progress: The Sustainable Progress Index 2019,’ finds that Ireland ranks 11th among the 15 EU peers. On SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), Ireland ranks second on real gross domestic product (GDP) growth per capita. Although Ireland shows good improvement in reducing unemployment, the indicator on youths not in employment, education or training (NEET) places Ireland 11th. In addition, 22% of employees are considered low-paid.

On SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), Ireland spends the least among its peer countries on research and development, although the country’s share of research and development workers has increased and Ireland’s number of patents has also increased. Further, Ireland’s percentage of the population with internet use is less than the EU’s best performing countries. The report concludes that there is “scope for improvement” on SDG 9.

On society, the report ranks Ireland in tenth place. Ireland is ranked seventh on SDG 1 (no poverty). On SDG 2 (zero hunger), Ireland has the second-highest obesity rates, with over 25% of the population categorized as obese. Ireland’s proportion of organic farming is “well below the EU average” at just under 1.7%, placing it the lowest among the EU.

On SDG 3 (good health and well-being), Ireland falls in the middle of its EU peers. On SDG 4, Ireland ranks the highest among the EU15 on early leavers from education, and has an “impressive” PISA score, second only to Finland. Ireland also performs well on the indicator representing third-level tertiary qualifications and expected years of schooling, and it performs in the middle of the ranking for expected employment rate of graduates. Overall, Ireland places second for SDG 4.

On SDG 5 (gender equality), Ireland places tenth overall, in part due to poor performance on indicators for the share of women in national parliament and in senior management roles. Ireland places seventh on the gender pay gap. On SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), Ireland demonstrates a “need for greater progress,” with an overall rank of 11 and low performance on social justice and absolute debt, in particular. On SDG 16, Ireland places fourth, as a relatively safe society with a low perceived occurrence of crime, violence and vandalism, and a low number of deaths due to homicide or assault.

On SDG 17 (partnership for the Goals), the report finds that “much needs to be done to accelerate progress,” in part based on Ireland’s 0.3% contribution of gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance (ODA), which is well below the EU average. Ireland is expected to improve on this indicator based on a 2019 commitment by the Irish Government to increase its ODA.

On environment, Ireland places 13th out of the EU15. Ireland ranks fifth on SDG 6, with a good score on measure of freshwater withdrawal as percent of total renewable water resources. The report cautions, however, that further effort is required on indicators for access to improved drinking water and improved sanitation. On SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), Ireland has a poor share of renewable energy compared to its EU peers and one of the highest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy fuels combustion and electricity output. Ireland’s overall score is 12, which the report states “poses significant challenges for Ireland.”

On SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), Ireland scores well on air pollution in urban areas and has an overall rank of eighth. On SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), Ireland’s “performance is poor,” with the country generating more waste than the EU average, having a high percentage of untreated wastewater, and the lowest recycling rate among the EU15.

On SDG 13 (climate action), Ireland ranks 11th, with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “well above” the EU average. On SDG 14 (life below water), the report states that for most countries, “complete data remains a problem for accurately estimating achievement on this SDG.” But based on available data, Ireland is performing poorly in meeting SDG 14 objectives. On SDG 15 (life on land), Ireland is ranked eighth, and the report praises Ireland’s share of protected terrestrial areas and freshwater areas.

As for relative rankings overall, the ‘Sustainable Development Index’ places Ireland in 11th place, with Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece behind Ireland. Sweden, Finland and Denmark place the highest. The report ranks Ireland in the top third for SDGs 4, 6 and 16. Ireland places in the bottom third for SDGs 7, 10, 12 and 17. Ireland places in the middle for the remaining ten SDGs, indicating room for improvement. The report further observes an urgent need to secure policy coherence, noting that several aspects of current government policy are “at odds with the SDGs,” such as generating economic growth by increasing agricultural production.

The report is the third in a series that analyzes Ireland’s progress compared to its EU peers. [Publication: Measuring Progress: The Sustainable Progress Index 2019] [Green News article on Index findings] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on 2018 Index]