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Progressing Sustainability and Grasping the Opportunity to Change, NESC Secretariat Paper

Governments are increasingly recognising the environmental, social and economic opportunities to do things differently as part of recovery from Covid-19. As Ireland works to rebuild, it is important to reflect on how we can configure and align policy responses in ways that successfully drive and deliver sustainable low carbon development and practices that sustain our lives and surroundings, and provide protection against the challenges we face.
Today a new working paper from the NESC Secretariat, Progressing Sustainability in the Context of Covid-19: Grasping the Opportunity observes an opening to change to doing things differently at EU and national levels.  A key question is how much this openness will materialise as a meaningful shift in policies and practices or will there be a return to business as usual?’

Dr Jeanne Moore, the paper’s author said ‘urgent environmental sustainability measures and investments to reduce emissions and protect biodiversity can also be catalysts for recovery.’  She added that ‘such actions can be a means of re-imagining our economy and society, and crucially the relationship between them and our natural environment’.
The Irish Government has outlined its commitment to delivering a sustainable recovery. The new Programme for Government includes ambitious climate plans and a significant shift towards active mobility and sustainable transport. Positive signals are coming from the EU in relation to the Green Deal and a sustainable recovery and represents a fresh push to deliver a sustainable and inclusive future. While setting the direction of travel towards green and sustainable is positive, the paper notes that  delivering sustainability will require more than navigation and ambition  but will necessitate concrete innovative and collaborative action on multiple fronts including governance, finance, business and technological innovation and a just transition.

This paper suggests four concrete strategies for building-in sustainability with a focus on ways to deepen resilience and sustainability in practice:

  1. Supportive Sustainability and Wellbeing Frameworks: Applying frameworks to support policy decision-making can be a valuable strategy. It will be useful to consider frameworks such as: the doughnut economic model; providing national accounts in wellbeing and sustainable development; a circular Bioeconomy wellbeing framework; and accounting for nature through ‘natural capital’ and ecosystems services.
  2. Green Investment and Conditionality: A sustainable proactive and fair response from the State could be supported by attaching conditions to rescue and other measures that provide developmental outcomes for the public good. Further work to examine tools and explore their application for Ireland would be valuable.
  3. Sustainability: Building Resilience in Cities, Communities and Governance: Resilience acknowledges that massive disruptions can and will happen. What does it mean to build-in resilience to adapt and cope with future shocks in all aspects of our economy, society and environment? Further work to develop resilience capacity across cities, communities and the policy systems will be required.
  4. Applying a Just Transition Approach in Practice: NESC’s work to date, (See here and here) has highlighted the critical role of a just transition approach as part of a low carbon transition one that is fair, participative and place-based both in process and in outcome.  This is even more important in the context of a post-Covid-19 recovery with its likely impacts on economic and social development as recognised by President Higgins.  Additional work is required to support the application of a just transition approach in Ireland in terms of a dialogue process and identifying policy measures.

Further work by the Secretariat will develop some of these more fully as part of its work programme.

Note to Editors
This work does not represent the views of the Council but is part of an ongoing series of papers produced by the Secretariat. It should be referenced as a working paper from the NESC Secretariat.

For further information, please contact Dr Jeanne Moore, e:, t: 018146366 / 018146332