The United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC), which has a focus on sustainable development projects, has showcased the MaREI Dingle Peninsula 2030 project.

The aim of the project, MaREI said, is to “build a flourishing community, fostering a vibrant and diverse ecosystem of stakeholders to facilitate the creation and maintenance of well-paid, year-round jobs on the Dingle peninsula”.

Established in 2018, Dingle Peninsula 2030 is made up of the Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub, ESB Networks, North East and West Kerry Development – a community development organisation – and the MaREI Centre, the research centre for energy, climate and the marine.

Its aim is to work with the local community and transport and farming sectors to help the peninsula become more sustainable and meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

‘Climate Hacks’

So far, the partnership’s work has included: establishing the Dingle Sustainable Energy Community; developing an education and outreach programme and associated website; running ‘Climate Hacks’ in local secondary schools; initiating a pilot Farm Ambassador Programme, using soil and water monitors to ensure that the impact from the spreading of fertilisers is minimised; delivering community meetings on the peninsula to give residents an opportunity to voice their concerns and priorities on sustainability, and improving sustainable transport links.

The initial motivation behind the project was to improve climate action and explore clean energy alternatives. However, as the project has developed, it has broadened its understanding of sustainability.

“Our mission is to build a flourishing community, fostering a vibrant and diverse ecosystem of stakeholders to facilitate the creation and maintenance of well-paid, year-round jobs on the Dingle peninsula”, said Deirdre de Bhailís, manager, Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub.

Climate Action and Community Development

Tourism contributes about 30% of the economic activity in the area. While the it brings many opportunities, it also creates challenges, such as a heavy reliance on seasonal employment and a lack of availability of long-term housing leases (due to many short-term rentals).

This has led to a reduced number of young people returning to the area post university. As a result, the community’s population becomes older, making it more difficult to look after and support isolated and vulnerable members of the society.

According to Connor McGookin, PhD researcher, MaREI Centre: “Climate action and community development are inseparable, particularly in rural areas. We will not have a transition to a low carbon energy system if we do not have healthy, vibrant communities.”

Sustainable development and community wellbeing

Sustainable development, then, means not only addressing environmental concerns, but also strengthening community wellbeing and building local capacity and capability for innovation.

For the area to flourish, it is essential that the local environment supports local entrepreneurship and provides facilities for employment opportunities for young families looking to settle on the peninsula.

“One of the key challenges for rural communities is to develop the ecosystem and set of networks that can support sustainable businesses that can provide well-paid, fulfilling, diverse jobs that can help sustain the local communities as they transition to a low carbon future”, said Brendan Touhy, board member, Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub.

Engaged research is central to many of the projects. Through an ongoing monitoring and reflection process, the lessons learnt during the project have been captured in order to help inform similar initiatives elsewhere within Ireland and abroad.