Introduction The context for this year's Budget differs sharply from most of those in the past decade and a half. The global economy has been buffeted by crises in financial markets. Oil prices, even after recent falls, are at very high levels. Furthermore, the sharp decline in housing activity in Ireland carries negative implications both for employment and for tax revenues. A consequence of the changed situation is that the date of the 2009 Budget has been brought forward by eight weeks. This year's Budget Perspectives Conference, co-hosted by The Economic and Social Research Institute and the Foundation for Fiscal Studies, provides several inputs to inform macroeconomic decision making in these challenging times. In addition, two longer-term issues are addressed. The first of these deals with the policy framework for climate change, an issue that has risen rapidly on the Irish policy horizon in recent years. The second issue is the effectiveness of public spending in achieving its objectives in the area of sport, which is now recognised as an important contributor to health and quality of life in modern society. Developments in the global economy are of particular importance to Ireland, given the importance of trade in both goods and services to the Irish economy. In the first paper, Ray Barrell and Simon Kirby, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) in London, provides an overview of the shocks which are besetting the global economy at present. After a long period of stability, the world economy is currently going through a period of financial turmoil, as banks face the consequences of poor lending decisions in a context of inadequate global regulation. At the same time, oil prices have risen to unprecedented levels. In a number of countries, and especially in Ireland, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, these factors are compounded by developments in the housing market. House prices that were buoyed by a credit boom in many countries over a number of years have now started to fall. The impacts on consumption and on housing investment are leading these economies into recession. Risk premia have risen in many markets, and investment is faltering as a consequence. Budget deficits have increased as a result of the unexpected slowdown in economic growth. While some of this is cyclical, trend growth has also been significantly reduced by factors such as the oil price rise and the increase in risk premia. While public policy can seek to smooth over the cyclical element, public spending plans will have to be reined back to remain in line with trend growth, if tax rates are not to rise significantly. International Situation The implications of these global factors for the Irish economy, and of domestic factors such as the slowdown in housing activity, are dealt with in a presentation by Alan Barrett, Ide Kearney, Jean Goggin and Martin O'Brien based on the ESRI's Autumn Quarterly Economic Commentary. As this is to be published on the day of the conference, details are not available at the time of writing. The Commentary and the presentation will give particular attention to the state of the public finances, and the appropriate stance for fiscal policy in 2009. Outlook for Ireland One issue that is of central importance in the Irish economy today is the appropriate size of the budget deficit for 2009. Four speakers will contribute to a roundtable on this issue: Ray Barrell (NIESR), Joe Durkan (UCD), Patrick Honohan (TCD) and Philip Lane (TCD). These papers and/or presentations will be available on the ESRI website. Climate Change In their paper, Lisa Ryan (Comhar), Frank Convery (UCD) and Noel Casserly (Comhar) point out that Irish policy on climate change is substantially shaped at EU level, with national targets and some key mechanisms coming to us from the European Union. For example, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has created scarcity in the market place for the power and heavy industry sectors, and they face a price signal per tonne of CO2 'allowance' that tells them that reduction at a cost per tonne below the market price will be profitable, and that increased emissions will incur a heavy cost penalty. Ryan, Convery and Casserly argue that auctioning of allowances - not present in the current system, but included in proposals to revise the system post-2012 - would represent an improvement in the efficiency of the policy. There is, however, some freedom of action open to Ireland in responding to new and demanding targets (to be achieved by 2020) proposed by the EU for sectors not covered by the ETS (agriculture, transport, waste, heat and process related emissions from residential, commerce and industry not in the trading scheme). Ryan, Convery and Casserly argue that a central element of policy in this area should be the introduction of a carbon levy to reach the level of the allowance price in the EU ETS They also suggest that if costs of reducing carbon emissions are substantially higher in the non-ETS sector, efficiency in achieving the overall target would require some flexibility between the ETS and the non-ETS sectors; this would require a decision at European Commission level. Sports Expenditure: Hitting the Target? Achieving value for money in public expenditure is another key issue, whatever the state of the economic cycle. Its importance is even more marked in the present situation. In order to attain this, we must have a clear idea of the objectives of particular expenditure programmes, and of the extent to which the expenditures contribute to these objectives. This is the approach taken by Pete Lunn (ESRI) in assessing the economic returns to public investment in sport, which have increased very substantially over the past decade. The stated aims of Irish sports policy emphasise improvements in health and quality of life. There is, indeed, considerable empirical support for the view that there are significant health and social benefits to be had from participation in sport. However, the analysis challenges the way current policy addresses three trade-offs in the allocation of resources: the balance between "elite" and "grassroots" sport; the trade-off between investment in sporting facilities (physical capital) and participation programmes (human and social capital); and the allocation of public money across the range of different sporting activities. In each case, the evidence base suggests that the aims of policy could be better served by a reallocation of sports investment which takes recent research findings on sports participation into account.