No room for complacency

Minister Cullen ©Maxwell PA

Note 26 April: This article was written by Minister Cullen to set out the issues in advance of the 2004 OECD Environment Ministerial meeting which he chaired. For the chair's summary of the meeting, please click here. See end of article for other references.

Ireland, despite its position of being “an island off an island off the continent of Europe” has always maintained strong ties with the heart of Europe. Our history has meant that these ties were not always formal ones, and at times, physical and political isolation have weakened them. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, through our participation in the European Union, the OECD and other organisations, Ireland has renewed and strengthened its historic connection with the broader European experience.

Ireland’s recent development has been marked by comprehensive engagement with the process of globalisation. Through the pursuit of progressive economic policies, such as those long advocated by the OECD, Ireland has seen unprecedented economic growth, greater interaction with the global marketplace and a reversal of many negative trends in terms of unemployment and emigration. Ireland now welcomes to our shores people from all around Europe and further afield, who search for employment in our revitalised island nation.

However, many of the issues that concern me reflect the potential impact of that economic advance on our environment. The first OECD Environmental Performance Review of Ireland (2000) showed that, while the quality of our environment is good, the challenges are increasing and intensified action is required.

In the first half of 2004, Ireland holds the presidency of the EU. The overall theme of the presidency, Europeans – Working Together, will be most visibly realised on 1 May 2004 with the accession to the Union of ten new member states from central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, so leaving behind a past of, at times, painful conflicts and divisions.

Shortly before then, I will have the honour of chairing the OECD Environment Ministers Meeting (20-21 April 2004). This will be an important opportunity for member countries, in the context of the OECD Environmental Strategy, to take stock of where we all stand in terms of ensuring that economic development does not take place at the expense of the natural resource base on which it ultimately depends.

As I see it, good progress is being made by OECD member countries in developing and implementing environmental policies in key areas, such as action to address climate change, reductions in local air pollution, better management of freshwater resources and improved energy efficiency. There is, however, no room for complacency: further action is needed urgently. For example, we need to continue to work together to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, better manage transport demand (particularly in urban areas), promote greater use of renewable energy sources, and more comprehensively address the problems presented by unsustainable patterns of consumption.

In facing up to these challenges, we must work to avoid simplistic “economy or environment” choices: we can – and we must – have both. Making the market work for the environment is crucial here and is an approach that we need to exploit much more. We must be imaginative; for example, in Ireland we recently introduced a very successful levy on plastic shopping bags (a major litter nuisance) which dramatically cut their use while raising resources for environmental purposes. This demonstrated to the public how small changes can make a big difference. On a much higher level, CO2 emissions trading across the EU, which will start soon, will help achieve cost-efficient emission reductions.

We environment ministers need to get the message across that progressive environmental policies present significant economic and social opportunities. For example, in developing clean technologies we can protect the environment, while also contributing to economic growth, competitiveness and employment. Indeed, such technologies also have a key role in achieving internationally agreed development and environmental goals. We must foster greater collaboration with developing countries in this regard.

On the broad international agenda, there is, I feel, a real sense that the poorest countries have generally been left behind by increasing globalisation and, even in countries that have benefited, the gains have not reached significant segments of the population. The challenge, particularly for OECD countries, is to make globalisation work for sustainable development and to work to ensure that the benefits are shared more equitably and responsibly.

Our meeting in Paris in April will coincide with CSD 12 (see references) in New York, where the focus will be on water, sanitation and human settlements. I hope that there will be good synergies between the two processes, and out of them will come confirmation of the international commitment to the common pursuit of a high quality environment and sustainable development.

*The OECD Environment Policy Committee Ministerial meeting takes place in Paris, 20-21 April 2004. For more, please see www.oecd.org/envmin2004

References

The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Ireland, see www.environ.ie

Irish Presidency of the EU, see www.eu2004.ie

Brende, B. (2004), "Sustained action," Interview with the chair of CSD 12, in OECD Observer No 242, March. Available here.

©OECD Observer, No 242, March 2004 




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Unemployment
Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016