copy the linklink copied!1. Ireland’s global efforts for sustainable development


This chapter looks at Ireland’s global leadership on issues important to developing countries. It explores Ireland’s efforts to ensure that its domestic policies are coherent and in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its work to raise awareness of global development issues at home.

The chapter first reviews Ireland’s efforts to support global sustainable development, assessing its engagement and leadership on global public goods and challenges such as international peace and security, and in promoting global frameworks. It then examines whether Ireland’s own policies are coherent with sustainable development in developing countries. The chapter concludes by looking at Ireland’s promotion of global awareness of development and citizenship at home.

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In brief

Ireland is a successful influencer of global policies on sustainable development, with the ambition to continue playing a significant role in global debates. The international community has adopted important global frameworks thanks to Ireland’s effective facilitation. Ireland actively engages in the follow-up to the 2030 agenda. It has clearly defined foreign policy priorities and advocates these effectively.

Ireland is making serious efforts to address policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD). It has made progress on tax, engages on health worker migration and has consistently supported United Nations peacekeeping operations. But challenges remain, first and foremost in terms of the fight against climate change. Ireland has opportunities to move from ad hoc approaches to PCSD to more systematic assessment, monitoring, and political debate and arbitration. It could make its commitment to PCSD more explicit and use the next national strategy on the Sustainable Development Goals to adopt a structured, cross-government approach.

The Irish population is very supportive of sustainable development, and the government and its partners are well placed to sustain and deepen this support. The government promotes whole-of-society contributions to sustainable development through consultation, outreach and partnerships, in particular with non-governmental organisations. Greater knowledge of global development issues could maintain popular support for sustainable development and co-operation over the long term, as well as building global citizenship. In this regard, increased spending on development awareness would enable Ireland to further reap the benefits of its strong approach to development education. Its new narrative for international development also gives Ireland an opportunity to strengthen its communications on development co-operation.

copy the linklink copied!Efforts to support global sustainable development

Ireland is a successful influencer of global policies on sustainable development

The international community has adopted important global frameworks thanks to Ireland’s effective facilitation. Ireland co-facilitated, with Kenya, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It co-facilitated, with Jordan, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which paved the way for the adoption of the Global Compacts on migration and refugees. Also noteworthy is Ireland’s support to enable the participation of representatives from least developed countries (LDCs) in global framework discussions, particularly in negotiations on the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change and meetings of the Scaling Up Nutrition network and the Commission on the Status of Women.

Ireland intends to continue playing a significant role in global debates. In 2018, Ireland adopted a strategy whereby it aims to double the scope and impact of its global footprint by 2025 (Government of Ireland, 2018[1]), increasing its presence, deepening foreign relations and promoting its values. In its statement on foreign policy, Global Island, Ireland identifies as priority values for its foreign policy human rights, peace, and the fight against poverty and hunger (Government of Ireland, 2015[2]).

Ireland actively engages in the follow-up to the 2030 Agenda, integrating domestic and global engagement. Ireland has established monitoring and implementation mechanisms. Its first Voluntary National Review in 2018 also set out a reporting plan until 2030 (Government of Ireland, 2018[3]). In addition, Ireland’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) National Implementation Plan 2018-2020 assigns Government departments for each of the 169 SDG targets (with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade leading on SDG 17) and indicates how key national policies relate to the SDGs (Government of Ireland, 2018[4]). This plan will lay the groundwork for a new national sustainable development strategy that integrates the SDGs.

Ireland advocates successfully on its foreign policy priorities. This advocacy has manifested in Irish leadership at the international level on women, peace and security (Box 1.1 and Chapter 7). Ireland has championed the fight against gender-based violence in humanitarian settings.1 It is a persistent voice for disarmament and, together with a core group of UN member states, promoted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, again focusing on gender equality.2 It also spearheaded the adoption of Human Rights Council resolutions on civil society and continuously promotes civic space (Chapter 2).

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Box 1.1. Strategic approach to women, peace and security

Ireland’s national action plans on women, peace and security are good examples of a strategic approach to addressing a global challenge. In 2011, Ireland adopted its first national action plan to follow-up on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) and subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security. It adopted a second national action plan in 2015 and the third in 2019 (Government of Ireland, 2019[5]). The plan was elaborated in a broad consultation. Among its features are:

  • Cross-government engagement. Led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Irish engagement also mobilises the Defence Forces to ensure gender-sensitivity in peacekeeping and the Department of Justice and An Garda Siochana (national police) to fight trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse.

  • Multi-level approach. By linking domestic action, Ireland’s engagement abroad (development, humanitarian and peace), and its international advocacy in the UN and the European Union (EU), the plan maximises expertise building within Ireland and makes Irish advocacy more compelling.

  • Comprehensive approach. The plan relies on the four pillars of prevention, participation, protection and promotion and recognises in particular that more of a focus on prevention is needed.

  • Results-orientation. While previous plans underwent a mid-term and final review, the third action plan features a detailed monitoring framework with objectives and performance indicators to ensure effective follow-up, steered by an independently chaired oversight group.

Source: (Government of Ireland, 2019[5]), Women, Peace and Security: Ireland's Third National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and Related Resolutions 2019-2024,

copy the linklink copied!Policy coherence for sustainable development

Ireland is making serious efforts to address challenges to policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD). Ireland has made progress on the sensitive issue of taxation, engages on health worker migration and sends many troops to UN peacekeeping operations. But challenges remain. While its domestic policies alone may often not have a sizeable effect on developing countries, Ireland’s constructive participation in global frameworks can enhance the effectiveness of those policies and, in turn, influence the behaviour of other states.

Tax and finance. Ireland deserves credit for having undertaken a spill-over analysis in this critical area for its economy and, albeit with a long transition period slowly, phasing out loopholes as part of the OECD and Group of Twenty work on base erosion and profit shifting. It is fully compliant with global tax transparency standards (OECD, 2017[6]), has recently achieved compliance status on anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism (Financial Action Task Force, 2019[7]), and has made progress on implementing the OECD anti-bribery convention (OECD, 2018[8]). Ireland has signed and ratified the multilateral convention to implement tax treaty-related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) and adopted its principal anti-abuse provision.3 It is also implementing the BEPS treaty related to minimum standards on treaty shopping. Building on the spill-over analysis, Ireland could continue to monitor the effects of its tax policies on revenue collection in developing countries.

Trade and investment. Ireland is increasingly engaging its private sector on responsible business conduct. While implementation of a national action plan on business and human rights (Government of Ireland, 2017[9]) is slow, a baseline study provides useful information on possible areas for improvement, including following other countries in legislating mandatory human rights due diligence in international business transactions (ReganStein, 2019[10]). Ireland could consider strengthening the role of the OECD National Contact Point for responsible business conduct, whose capacity is limited compared to those in other OECD countries (OECD, 2019[11]).

Security: Ireland is the biggest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping operations as a proportion of its population among all Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries and has an unbroken record of UN peacekeeping service since 1958. Its arms exports are very limited (Wezeman et al., 2019[12]). There is significant demand for export licenses for dual use goods, including to countries engaged in armed conflicts, and the government controls and sometimes denies these (Government of Ireland, 2019[13]).

Health worker migration: Ireland continues to be highly dependent on foreign-trained health professionals, although it trains numerous students (OECD, 2019[14]). These include doctors trained in developing countries such as Pakistan and Sudan that are themselves experiencing shortages of health professionals. To respond to this, Ireland has instituted a training partnership with Pakistan and a more comprehensive partnership with Sudan that reflect health migration between both countries as a whole. Ireland also promotes global collaboration on health worker migration.4 However, for a high number of foreign-trained junior doctors, Ireland does not provide a career path – leaving them in posts without further training possibilities – despite its commitment to the World Health Organization Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel (OECD, 2019[14]).5

Forced displacement: In December 2019, Ireland announced to expand its national resettlement programme from 2020 to 2023. A community sponsorship programme launched in 2018 enables private citizens to sponsor resettled refugees. These are welcome steps as Ireland hosts fewer refugees per capita than many DAC members.6

Climate change: Ireland is taking steps to step up its contribution in the fight against climate change. A new 2019 climate action plan sets out detailed actions and ambitious emission goals across key policy areas (Government of Ireland, 2019[15]). A proposed Climate Action (Amendment) Bill would legally require the government to set five-year carbon budgets and annual targets for each sector. The government has also announced an increase of the carbon tax, to EUR 26 per tonne, in line with its planned trajectory from EUR 20 in 2019 to EUR 80 in 2030. At present, Ireland is projected to miss its 2020 EU emission targets by a wider margin than almost all other EU member states and, based on mid-2019 projections, it also will not meet its 2030 targets (Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland, 2019[16]). The government estimates that, Ireland will need to buy carbon credits for EUR 6 - 13 million to comply with the 2020 targets. Agriculture is the single most important sector, responsible for one third of emissions. This is mainly due to dairy and beef production; the latter is heavily dependent on commodity-specific support from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (Climate Change Advisory Council, 2019[17]), (OECD, 2019[18]) that is partially paid by Irish citizens as net contributors to the EU. As Ireland aims to further develop this export-oriented industry, significantly reducing emissions in the sector will be particularly challenging.7

Ireland has opportunities to move towards more systematic assessment, monitoring, and political debate and arbitration of policy coherence issues

Ireland needs to make its commitment to PCSD more explicit. Both the new international development policy, A Better World (Government of Ireland, 2019[19]), and the SDG National Implementation Plan contain a commitment to coherent government action in development co-operation and in efforts to achieve the SDGs. However, these documents leave open whether this commitment extends to the coherence of Irish domestic policies with sustainable development abroad and in particular in developing countries. Additionally, further work is needed as to where Ireland sees coherence challenges.

Ireland could establish a specific mechanism for monitoring and assessing transboundary effects of domestic policies. The Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment and DFAT are joint leads for policy coherence. Terms of reference of interdepartmental bodies for SDG follow-up and international co-operation8 could usefully include PCSD to ensure these bodies discuss specific coherence challenges. The national SDG stakeholder forum could enable contributions on policy coherence from a broad range of stakeholders. The government could submit progress reports on Policy Coherence for Development to the parliament, as it had committed to do under its previous development co-operation policy, One World, One Future.

Ireland could seize opportunities for a structured cross-government approach. The 2014 peer review and a 2018 parliamentary review (Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2018[20]) recommended that Ireland develop a cross-government plan to address PCSD. Such a plan could identify critical coherence challenges, ensure monitoring of policies, and promote political and societal debate that is necessary for adjustments in sensitive policy areas. A new initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency on SDG interaction, for example, could provide useful information on transboundary effects, and DFAT is also exploring a research project. Encouraging diplomatic missions and embassies to report policy coherence challenges could also result in useful feedback on views in developing countries.

copy the linklink copied!Global awareness

The Irish population is very supportive of sustainable development, and the government and its partners are well placed to sustain and deepen this support

The Irish population has a positive attitude towards development co-operation and acts in support of sustainable development. A higher proportion of people in Ireland than in other EU countries consider it very important to help people in developing countries – 49% compared to 36% across all EU member states (TNS Opinion & Social, 2019[21]) and there is broad, cross-party support for development co-operation. Most Irish respondents to a 2018 Eurobarometer survey said they think they can play a role as an individual in addressing poverty in developing countries (74% versus 53% in the EU) (TNS Opinion & Social, 2018[22]). In a related finding, the share of those giving to charity is much higher than in the EU on average (40% versus 22%). Ireland has a very large fair trade retail market relative to the size of its economy (Fairtrade International, 2018[23]), and volunteering is a strong Irish tradition.

Greater knowledge of global development issues could maintain popular support for sustainable development and co-operation over the long term. The 2015 Global Education Network Europe peer review highlighted that “knowledge about the causes of issues of global poverty and injustice remains sketchy at best” (Global Education Network Europe, 2015[24]). Moreover, only 36% of Irish people responding to a 2017 Eurobarometer poll reported having heard of the SDGs, lower than the EU average (TNS Opinion & Social, 2017[25]). The government deems low awareness of the SDGs in Ireland as a challenge to its policy objectives9 (Government of Ireland, 2018[3]). Greater knowledge and awareness would likely not only help in making the case for increased official development assistance (Chapter 3). It also could support discussions on policy coherence given thatclimate change, tax policies and health worker migration are issues of great relevance to the Irish population.

Mobilising more funds for development education would allow Ireland to reap the benefits of its strong approach to promoting global citizenship. Ireland has received international recognition for its development education strategies. Actions under the Irish Aid Development Education Strategy 2017-2023 (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017[26]) cover both formal education (by targeting children and students) and non-formal education (by targeting the public at large) (Box 1.2). Awareness-raising activities across children’s school careers have an impressive reach.10 However, without additional investment, Ireland cannot seize the opportunity to help turn development-aware children into development-aware adults who could then contribute in their communities, as consumers, or in politics. For instance, internal performance reporting for 2017 indicates that 6 600 persons were reached through non-formal education, or approximately 1 of every 700 Irish people. New partnerships should help expand reach. While Ireland remains an average DAC funder of development awareness,11 it commits in A Better World to mobilising more resources. This responds as well to strong calls by Irish civil society for greater resources for this.

The government promotes whole-of-society contributions to sustainable development. A National SDG Stakeholder Forum meets regularly to discuss progress on specific goals. DFAT also regularly consults a broad range of stakeholders on its policies, with a prime example being the broad consultation around the development of A Better World (Box 2.1). Partnerships with civil society are particularly close (Chapter 5), including on development awareness. However, a new Charities Governance Code aims to improve the governance of all charities in Ireland, including those that seek to promote sustainable development in Ireland and abroad. Regular monitoring and dialogue would enable Ireland to ascertain whether the code strikes the right balance between quality requirements and administrative burden, in particular for smaller organisations. The government’s engagement with the private sector on human rights and corporate social responsibility (Chapters 2 and 3) has not yet translated into wider private sector engagement on the SDGs.12 DFAT also intends to collaborate more with academic institutions (Chapter 5). Outreach to Irish local authorities is still limited.

Its new narrative for international development gives Ireland an opportunity to communicate more effectively on development co-operation. In A Better World, Ireland presents a convincing narrative that builds on its history, values and interests (Box 2.1). This resonates with the Irish public, as many Irish people feel that development assistance is in Ireland’s self-interest as well as a moral obligation (TNS Opinion & Social, 2018[22]). Ireland now intends to integrate this new narrative in all its communications efforts. This will require close collaboration with civil society partners, as they are central actors in the communication with the Irish public. A new communications strategy will also need to reflect how to add to existing communications and media relations skills in DFAT by building dedicated DFAT capacity for developing content that fits the new narrative. This will also require putting in place mechanisms to encourage and enable missions and units to easily deliver content back to the Communications Unit.

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Box 1.2. Ireland’s approach to development education

The 2015 Global Education Network Europe peer review praised Ireland as a leader in Europe (Global Education Network Europe, 2015[24]). Ireland used the peer review findings to further improve its strategic approach in its 2017-223 Development Education Strategy (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017[26]). Some of the key features of Ireland’s approach to development education include:

  • Addressing both formal and non-formal education at all ages - Ireland pursues a universal approach, recognising that continuous outreach at various stages of a person’s life is much more likely to lead to sustained behaviour change. Curricula in Ireland now reflect development education in various subjects from primary school to the final post-primary exams. Ireland currently works to also raise development awareness in pre-school education. Non-formal education aims to reach youth and adults.

  • Investing in partnerships - The Department of Education and Skills (DES) is indispensable in adapting formal education. While there is no single integrated government strategy, increasingly close collaboration ensures that DFAT-funded activities and DES actions work well together. Other key partners are civil society, community organisations such as the National Youth Council and local authorities. Ireland aims to build capacity of partners and incentivises collaboration among organisations through additional funding. The Irish Development Education Association brings together all stakeholders and promotes knowledge exchange and good practices.

  • Focusing on results - The development education strategy’s detailed performance framework includes outcomes on increased knowledge and behaviour change (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland, 2017[27]). DFAT monitors progress annually. The DES Strategy underwent a mid-term review in 2018 (Department of Education and Skills, Ireland, 2018[28]). A specific research project will assess how different messaging affects the attitudes of diverse audiences in order to track progress and adapt actions.

Source: (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017[26]).


[17] Climate Change Advisory Council (2019), Annual Review 2019,

[28] Department of Education and Skills, Ireland (2018), Education for Sustainability - The National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development in Ireland: Report of Interim Review and Action Plan for Q4 2018-Q4 2020,

[32] Department of Finance, Ireland (2018), Reservations and Notifications under the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[27] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland (2017), Irish Aid Development Education Strategy 2017-2023: Performance Measurement Framework, (accessed on 7 November 2019).

[26] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I. (2017), Irish Aid Development Education Strategy 2017-2023, (accessed on 7 November 2019).

[16] Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland (2019), Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections: 2018-2040, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[23] Fairtrade International (2018), Working Together for Fair and Sustainable Trade: Annual Report 2017-2018, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[7] Financial Action Task Force (2019), “Outcomes FATF Plenary, 16-18 October 2019 (webpage)”, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[24] Global Education Network Europe (2015), Global Education in Ireland, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[19] Government of Ireland (2019), A Better World: Ireland’s Policy for International Development,

[15] Government of Ireland (2019), Climate Action Plan 2019: To Tackle Climate Breakdown, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[13] Government of Ireland (2019), Report Under the Control of Exports Act 2008, Covering the Period 1st January-31st December 2018, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[5] Government of Ireland (2019), Women, Peace and Security: Ireland’s Third National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and Related Resolutions, 2019-2024,

[1] Government of Ireland (2018), Global Ireland: Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025,

[3] Government of Ireland (2018), Ireland: Voluntary National Review 2018,

[4] Government of Ireland (2018), The Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020,

[9] Government of Ireland (2017), National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[2] Government of Ireland (2015), The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World,

[20] Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, A. (2018), Review of the Irish Aid Programme, Houses of the Oireachtas, Dublin, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[18] OECD (2019), Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation 2019, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[11] OECD (2019), Progress Report on National Contact Points for Responsible Business Conduct, OECD Publishing, Paris, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[14] OECD (2019), Recent Trends in International Migration of Doctors, Nurses and Medical Students, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[8] OECD (2018), Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention - Phase 1bis Report: Ireland, OECD Publishing, Paris, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[6] OECD (2017), Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes: Ireland 2017 (Second Round) - Peer Review Report on the Exchange of Information on Request, Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[29] Popplewell, C. (2017), “Taking the SDGs to where people have fun: Ireland’s Electric Picnic Festival”, The SDG Communicator blog,

[10] ReganStein (2019), National Plan on Business and Human Rights: Baseline Assessment of Legislative and Regulatory Framework, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dublin, (accessed on 6 November 2019).

[21] TNS Opinion & Social (2019), Eurobarometer 494: EU Citizens and Development Cooperation,

[22] TNS Opinion & Social (2018), Special Eurobarometer 476: EU Citizens and Development Cooperation, European Commission, Brussels,

[25] TNS Opinion & Social (2017), Special Eurobarometer 455: EU Citizens’ Views on Development, Cooperation and Aid, European Commission, Brussels,

[30] UNHCR (2018), Population Statistics - Mid-Year Statistics (database), UN Refugee Agency, Geneva, (accessed on 6 May 2019).

[12] Wezeman, P. et al. (2019), Trends in International Arms Transfers, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Solna, Sweden, (accessed on 9 April 2019).

[31] World Bank (2019), World Development Indicators (database), (accessed on 25 April 2019).


← 1. Ireland has done so as chair of the Committee on the Status of Women and as donor lead of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

← 2. Ireland successfully advocated for the reflection of gender equality in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and, with Namibia, co-chairs the International Gender Champions Disarmament Impact Group.

← 3. It should be noted that the convention will only apply with respect to bilateral treaties where both parties have signed the convention and listed the treaty. Ireland has not adopted all of the convention’s anti-abuse provisions. For instance, Ireland made a reservation to not apply Article 12, which contains the provision that changes the permanent establishment definition and addresses commissionaire arrangements and similar strategies (Department of Finance, Ireland, 2018[32]).

← 4. In 2017, Ireland hosted the fourth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health.

← 5. If adopted, a proposed Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2019 would allow foreign doctors to be included in a national professional training scheme.

← 6. At the end of 2018, Ireland hosted 0.12% refugees per capita, while for example Italy hosted 0.31%, Finland 0.40% and Austria 1.46%.The per capita figure is the author’s calculation, based on UNHCR statistics for the end of 2018 (UNHCR, 2018[30]) at, and population data from the World Development Indicators (World Bank, 2019[31]).

← 7. The Climate Change Advisory Council stated in its 2019 annual review: “Emissions in Agriculture are projected to continue increasing to 2030 due to growing cattle numbers, increased fertiliser use and ongoing carbon losses from land. If allowed to proceed unchecked, this would seriously undermine our ability to meet our 2030 target for a reduction in national emissions” (Climate Change Advisory Council, 2019[17]). Under the Climate Action Plan, Ireland foresees to cut emissions in the agriculture sector by 10-15% by 2030, a much lower target than in electricity, transport or built environment (ranging between 40% and 55%) (Government of Ireland, 2019[15]).

← 8. An inter-departmental, senior officials group and an inter-departmental working group on the SDGs, and an inter-departmental committee on development co-operation.

← 9. In an example of efforts to inform new audiences of the SDGs, Irish Aid presented the SDGs at a large music festival. For more details, see (Popplewell, 2017[29]) at

← 10. In 2017, awareness-raising efforts reached 34% of primary schools, 59% of post-primary schools and 85% of higher education institutions, according to unpublished DFAT data (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland, 2017[27]). The Global Education Network Europe awarded Ireland with one of its 2018 innovation awards for the initiative WorldWise Global Passport. The passport is given to Irish schools in recognition of their engagement on citizenship education.

← 11. Ireland spends roughly USD 1 per capita on development awareness (i.e. a total of USD 5 million in 2018). Some DAC members report either significantly higher or significantly lower per capita spending on this. It should be noted that Ireland mobilised much higher funding in the past, but that spending dropped sharply from USD 7.9 million in 2009 and USD 6.7 million in 2013 and to USD 4.2 million in 2015.

← 12. For instance, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, the Irish apex body for businesses, has a campaign on climate change but otherwise does not advocate for sustainable development or the SDGs.

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