Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Interim Report on National Climate Change Policy: Discussion with NESC
The topic for discussion is Towards a New National Climate Change Policy: interim report of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, with representatives of NESC. Is that agreed? Agreed. I welcome Dr. Rory O'Donnell, director, Dr. Larry O'Connell, senior economist, and Mr. Noel Cahill, economist, and thank them for their attendance at the committee this afternoon.
I draw their attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I advise the witnesses their opening statements and any other documents submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Before commencing with the presentation I wish to say a few words. Climate change is a big issue and I know it will feature strongly during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union in 2013. Therefore it is essential we are fully aware of all of the facts which need to be addressed in 2013. We need to meet our 2020 obligations, but according to the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, interim report we need to move beyond a compliance approach and I welcome this positive attitude. Ireland needs to be a world leader in this regard. We need to be at the forefront of promoting clean technology, clean fuel and a clean environment and in this regard I would like the witnesses to comment on a specific issue.
One of the main contributing factors to greenhouse gases is the production of animal waste. As an agricultural country we produce much of this as a by-product. It is not easy to dispose of and it has serious pollution and health and safety hazard implications. However, in its own right this by-product is a valuable resource as a ready source of almost pure methane. Biomass is an alternative to fossil fuels and accordingly can make a valuable contribution to reducing our emissions and reducing the costs of importing fossil fuels. However, it needs to be harnessed. My question is why this is not being done. Why are we not openly pursuing and discussing this? Why have we not acclimatised our minds to this issue? Throughout Europe there are examples of how it can be turned from an ugly problem into something which is very good in terms of emissions, environmental sustainability and sustainable jobs outside large urban centres. Members of the committee are acquainted with very successful projects in other EU member states. I ask the witnesses to refer to this in their address. I call on Dr. O'Donnell to address the committee.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
I think the Cathaoirleach. The secretariat of the National Economic and Social Council is extremely grateful to the committee for the attention it is giving our work and for inviting us to discuss it today. In late 2011, the secretariat of the NESC was asked by the Government to prepare two reports on climate change: an interim report on policy options which could close the gap to Ireland's non-emissions trading scheme, ETS, emissions in the compliance period to 2020, and a final report for the end of this year to develop the basis for the long-term transition to a low carbon economy incorporating the key messages of our first report. These two papers will be part of the Government's programme or road map for the development of a national climate change policy and legislation.
The work of the NESC secretariat over several decades has been to provide background analysis which frames the development of policy rather than making specific recommendations, which is primarily the work of Departments. In addressing the framing of this issue, it is very striking the dominant framing of climate change has focused on seeking a binding global pact on targets and timetables; emissions trading as a central policy instrument; a particular model of the relationship between science and policy; and what we call an information deficit view of the many behavioural and attitudinal issues which everyone recognises are central.
In embarking on this work our secretariat tended to share the assumptions which underpin this dominant set of ideas. However, undertaking the work has forced us to think more critically about these elements. This dominant approach has at times led to a highly dualist and divisive policy debate at international and national level and it has not achieved its central goal. We believe, as we outline in the report, that a significant reframing of the climate change challenge is necessary and is already under way in international policy and thinking. In identifying the pressures on the dominant framing we highlight the challenge which continually confronts the task of achieving global agreement. We suggest we need to take a realistic and fairly hard-headed view of the ability of carbon pricing, emissions trading and existing technologies to address global warming. We suggest organisational capability in firms and State organisations and the rule of consumer demand are often overlooked in the discussion on climate change which tends to reflect the emphasis in the discussion on the actions of states. We suggest it is necessary to move beyond the information deficit view of behaviour change and get deeper into the practices and obstacles which can make it difficult or easy for households, firms, civil society organisations and public authorities to reduce their carbon production or carbon consumption.
Our interim report also highlights the strengths and limits of the very heavy emphasis on targets and timetables which tends to dominate the politics and policy of climate change. More than anything else perhaps, our interim report suggests the balance of attention needs to shift from how much emissions reduction to aim for to how to achieve decarbonisation. Building on this framework our interim report contains detailed chapters on Ireland's existing policy, sectoral profiles and challenges in the areas of energy efficiency, transport, agriculture and land use, which relates to the question the Chairman asked, carbon tax and the possibility of purchasing credits.
Drawing together our analysis of these various sectors and challenges we argue that in formulating a new climate change strategy Ireland needs to keep three precepts in view at the same time. The first is economic prosperity. Actions on carbon must be consistent with economic recovery, employment, fiscal correction and longer-term prosperity. The second is decarbonisation. The goal is gradual, permanent, widespread decarbonisation of the economy rather than compliance with specific targets and timetables. The third is time. Many of the actions, technologies and practices which can achieve decarbonisation take considerable time to make themselves felt. This suggests Ireland is confronting very severe challenges and some opportunities. In current conditions cost-effective actions for CO2 reductions on a predictable timescale in areas such as energy efficiency, transport, renewables and agriculture face significant constraints in policy design, human resources in the public system, public finance, the limited availability of credit in the private sector and the widespread deleveraging in the household and business sectors. At the same time it is equally true that some of the measures, particularly energy efficiency measures, for addressing climate change can promote recovery and employment in the coming years. Many of the measures we want to take mesh with long-term economic development.
Overall we suggest a pragmatic approach with action on three tracks simultaneously. Track one is to design and implement measures which makes sense and are feasible in the coming years on energy efficiency, taxation, transport and agriculture. Track two, which we label "explore and experiment", is to use organisational networks to test and scale policy possibilities in a range of areas such as electrification of heating and transport, the smart grid, biomass, transport and agriculture. This track reflects our finding that action on climate change usually occurs when the ball is given to an agency or organisation which has the ability to run with it.
Examples include the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, in energy efficiency, the ESB in electric vehicles, Bord na Móna in biomass and many others.
The third track is strategic and institutional and is concerned with framing and developing Ireland's strategic approach in three areas. First, what institutional design and process for policy analysis, policy decision and policy development is necessary? In our final chapter we suggest that, in considering institutional issues, it is important to address a number of aspects, not all of which have received sufficient attention in the debates to date, for example, the need to achieve an effective combination of high level central government decision making with effective front-line action in the types of agency to which I have referred; the need to achieve a stronger link or links between Ireland's out-facing carbon accounting, in which we have established a reputation, and our in-facing government and societal project of addressing climate change and decarbonisation; and the challenge of finding an agenda combining green enterprise, employment recovery and green growth that motivates policy and political and societal actors rather than climate or emissions reductions alone.
Second is the challenge of framing Ireland's engagement with the EU. This should include the purchase of credits internationally if that proves necessary. Ireland must have a role as an advocate of reform of the EU climate policy process so that it might be richer in policy review and mutual learning.
Third, we are addressing a challenge in our second report for the end of this year, namely, finding an Irish logic and motivation for a low-carbon economy, including the possibility that Ireland could be a global leader in the agricultural and food aspects of climate change.
These three tracks are summarised in a short handout that we will supply to the committee. It sets out our framework for considering the institutional challenge facing our system. On this basis, we are happy to answer the committee's questions to the best of our abilities.
I thank Dr. O'Donnell for his presentation. Some countries, for example Denmark, have made significant moves towards the widespread use of electric cars. I need not tell our guests of the well-established benefits of this, but how near is Ireland to the widespread use or embracing of electric cars? Some companies are more proactive than others and the ESB has tried to encourage knowledge, awareness and usage.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
We are some distance from achieving the target of 10% penetration. Although that target was the subject of heated debate in terms of whether it was realistic or sensible and whether the provision of generous subsidies was feasible or wise, our instinct is that we will look back on what we are currently doing as having been wise and prescient. The ESB has been given a significantly entrepreneurial role in developing its capacity in terms of the softer technologies of charging, albeit not the motor vehicles themselves. This type of development is a wise move for Ireland, in that it will have a limited role in the motor industry and that there will be a diffusion in time, albeit not within the target period. Ireland may gain some leadership in terms of the softer technologies of electric vehicles, the ICT as it were. My colleagues may have more to contribute on this matter.
Dr. Larry O'Connell:
I echo Dr. O'Donnell's comments. I might connect the issue with the question on animal waste. The solution to the latter can be somewhat similar, that is, entrepreneurial activity led by agencies to try to figure out what to do. When one examines the economics, using animal waste to reduce emissions is more costly than other options within the agricultural sector. This alone tends to knock it out of contention when one considers the marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, carried out for us by Teagasc. However, using animal waste is a good idea in terms of its impact on emissions, the environment, landfill and job creation potential, but we need to work with agencies to figure out how to do it in a cost effective way. For example, the desk analysis implies the need for a centralised large anaerobic digestion plant. It is interesting that companies such as Bord Gáis are considering how to produce bio-methane gas from animal waste. If anyone will figure out how to do it in a cost-effective way, it will be at that level.
I thank Dr. O'Connell. Before I open the discussion to members, I remind everyone that another delegation is waiting outside and I urge members to ask questions and be succinct. If they make Second Stage speeches, we will be here all afternoon and we will not glean the information desired.
There is an opportunity. We have just considered the report of the credit union movement on people's concerns about the cost of energy. We are acutely aware that there is an issue at a household level. It is essential that we link energy security and climate change by way of legislation and achieve returns by meeting our targets.
We will discuss local government later. Some London boroughs are meeting targets and drawing in community groups in a way that engages people more directly than, for example, asking the ESB to do some work. Do our guests agree that we need to change people's mindsets in respect of transport and their homes? According to the report, our homes produce 47% more CO2 than the average dwelling in the UK. It is at this level we need to start engaging people. At what point will we reach that stage? I am concerned that we will have good policy and legislation, but that the public response will be behind the curve. The public could be engaged earlier. What can be done in this regard in the meantime?
Ireland has a supply of 28 days of fossil fuel. Given the recent economic earthquake, our attention has been drawn to our exposure to the lack of a longer period of energy security.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
The Deputy has touched on some critical issues. The report, as well as emphasising the role of key agencies on specific issues such as the role of the ESB in regard to electric vehicles and SEAI on energy efficiency, supports the view of SEAI that although retrofit appears to make good sense, in terms of payback for a household, there is no guarantee that is what will happen. There are a range of obstacles to this, some of which might be overcome through more collective approaches such as, for example, estimation of possible retrofit if carried out on a house by house basis, the cost of which would be higher than that of a group or collective scheme. In the long run, progress on these issues will depend on a high level of engagement. Ireland, as we know, has a vibrant community life although to a lesser extent in the area of energy than in many other areas such as culture and so on. A theme of the report, one which is emerging internationally, is the need to get beyond information campaigns to engaging households and communities more actively in ways that address the obstacles.
The Deputy asked about energy security. It is a matter for our end of year report, which includes the energy sector proper and the emissions trading large-scale energy sector. The figure in this regard will be included in our end of year report rather than in our interim report.
I thank the witnesses for attending today and for their presentation. Do they have any suggestions on what individuals, families and small organisations can do at no cost to them? While people would like to do something, the perception is that doing so generally costs them in the long term.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
It depends on what front the Deputy is thinking. Schemes which we strongly endorse, such as the green schools initiative, can only work if they involve communities. While there is a cost involved, significant amounts of public money are not required. The major action is that to which I referred earlier, namely, retrofit, in respect of which we all face a tricky challenge. The public system has relied on a grant based scheme to incentivise retrofit and it has delivered significantly. However, the current public finance crisis dictates a different approach now. No one knows exactly what will be achieved through a pay-as-you-save scheme, which would require no upfront money from the household but would still yield the savings, energy and otherwise. That is the key idea everyone is keen to explore. Nobody is foolish enough to claim that they have cracked what that looks like. The Government has announced its intention to explore this vigorously in the next year. Our progress in retrofit will slow down dramatically in the next year or so given the switch from a funded to a private regime.
I welcome the delegation and the report, which I believe will be of assistance in helping Ireland to devise a roadmap to deal with its carbon emissions. In the witnesses' view, how important is it to engage stakeholders directly in this process, including implementation, design and so on? Some organisations are of the view that we should develop policy and legislation first, following which everything else will fall into place. In my view, stakeholders should be involved from the outset. We need to encourage buy-in and understanding if we are going to effect real change. I am interested to hear the witnesses view on this.
I agree with Deputy Murphy that we need to change attitudes towards energy efficiency. The SEAI must be complimented on some of the schemes it has operated to date. How do we go about supplementing those schemes? The SEAI is currently running a community scheme, in respect of which it invited submissions from local authorities and community groups, which is very successful. However, what we need now is information on the outcome of schemes, including on savings achieved and reductions in carbon emissions. The pay-as-you-save scheme was mentioned. We need to see more details on that scheme also.
To what extent has the report addressed issues such as co-ordination between public authorities in terms of achieving a reduction in carbon emissions? If institutions of the State are not addressing this matter in a co-ordinated, consistent fashion, how then can we expect citizens to do so? We need to start with facilities in respect of which the State has facilities management, including public buildings such as schools, institutions, Garda stations, Leinster House and so on. We need to show where the real reductions in carbon emissions are being achieved by way of new technologies and so on. There are some measures of this type in place. The SEAI, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills, recently launched a new website for schools in relation to energy conservation and reducing carbon emissions. However, we need to go beyond this. Does the report detail how this type of action could be co-ordinated at public sector level prior to engagement at citizenship level?
In my view, many of the schemes previously introduced were priced way above what was possible for ordinary people, in particular in rural Ireland. Elderly people do not understand geothermal renewable schemes and certainly cannot afford them. I do not understand why we do not incentivise the replacement of an open fire, which is approximately 20% efficient, with a solid fuel stove, which is almost 75% efficient. This would allow people to ensure proper heating of their homes at a much reduced cost. I believe people would buy into this type of scheme, thus reducing our carbon emissions.
On the point made by Deputy Coffey in relation to public buildings, the committee has received correspondence from Friends of the Earth and other interested parties on that issue. A scheme has been introduced in Denmark which commits to the upgrading, by way of insulation and so on, every year of 3% of state buildings. Is Ireland taking this route in terms of energy saving schemes for State buildings, including Leinster House, local authority buildings, hospitals, schools and so on? This is a critical issue in terms of the State being the largest landlord in the country. Are we falling down in this regard?
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
On Deputy Coffey's first question, the fourth slide sets out the framework for addressing institutional and policy challenges. That framework is consistent, if not identical, with the point made by Deputy Coffey, namely, that, to date the discussion around whether there is an institutional problem in terms of making and delivering climate policy has very much focused on if we need something different or extra at the level of central government strategy. That is an important question, which is addressed in the final chapter of the report, although not in a definitive way. We were anxious to make the point that low level policy, which includes agencies, communities, schools and so on, is as important as high level policy. An intelligent discussion on the institutional challenge needs to focus on high and low level policy rather than on what killer advice agency could be invented.
My colleagues may have something to say with regard to energy efficiency in the public sector. We are coming from behind in Ireland but it is now very much in the picture as a significant area of potential financial savings through energy consumption efficiency. I know the Government is focused on this but there is a cost in investment for a return.
Mr. Noel Cahill:
The main opportunity we identify in the report is to make use of the idea of the energy service company model. This means a third party would become involved that has expertise in energy. There are different models in how this can work. It would seem an attractive idea for the public sector to engage with a third party that would initially undertake the investment, which would be repaid using subsequent energy savings.
We identified the need for the State to help with the legal structures and develop a clear legal model to have standardised procedures and facilitate this taking place in both the public and private sector. There is a role for the State in renewable heating and it can try to lead the market in that regard. It would be desirable to open public procurement to renewable heating, which can be an attractive option in some parts of the country. It is hard for renewable heating, with biomass as the main option, to be competitive with gas but parts of the country are not on the gas network and there may be a reasonably high demand for energy. In those cases it can be a competitive option and there should be more consideration of it from the public sector.
I thank the witnesses for coming in this afternoon. How realistic are the 2020 emissions targets? The witnesses made a comment about agriculture and food production and how we could be world leaders in efficiencies in the sector. Will they expand a little on what could be deliverable in that regard? I notice there is no mention of flood alleviation. I live in Laois-Offaly and the Shannon frequently floods in the area. It has been accepted that this happens every year but the effects of climate change have been felt this year more than most. Flood alleviation should be a major part of the strategy in dealing with the effects of climate change. What is the opinion of the witnesses?
Mr. Noel Cahill:
The targets are very challenging. If we continue existing policies there will be a substantial gap in meeting our targets, and it is projected that non-emissions trading scheme emissions, which are a national responsibility, will fall by 3% rather than 20%. The Environmental Protection Agency has another scenario with additional measures, which is based on achieving stated Government policies and targets. It assumes we will achieve fully the national energy efficiency plan and the renewable action plan. If those can be achieved, emissions would fall by 11%. That would bring us close to the target. In the early years of the period there are set targets and we could be below them, meaning credits could be carried forward. If the additional measures could be implemented, we would come very close to meeting the targets. Nevertheless, it would be very challenging to implement all of them.
The more likely outcome is there will be some gap. If all the cost-effective opportunities could be implemented, we would be able to meet our targets. There is also an option of buying credits. We should initially seek to go as far as we can to meet these targets and there are options to make up a shortfall.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
The Deputy asked an important question about the possibility of Ireland achieving a world leadership position on the food aspects of climate and environment issues. Ireland has, by international standards, relatively low carbon production of food, even if within our own national emissions agriculture accounts for a very significant proportion of that. There are parallel developments in mind for that. One is that over time it is possible - although not certain - that the international accounting framework for agriculture and land use, which is already evolving, will develop in a way suited to Ireland's interests. Irish experts in the international accounting community are very active in that space but any kind of leadership position in food aspects of environment and climate depend on us doing to the highest possible standard what we claim to do. There is a real connection between any case we make internationally about the way accounting might evolve and achieving the diffusion of the practices identified by Teagasc, which involve the lowest possible forms of carbon footprint in different kinds of agriculture.
This is an example of a link between the out-facing and in-facing aspects of the issue. The out-facing aspects include Ireland's position in this evolving UN and EU accounting system, which is changing substantially attitudes to land, forestry and perhaps, in time, agriculture. Ireland's position in that space is only credible if there is a rigorous sign-up by all actors to the kind of standards and quality that Teagasc and Bord Bia identify at present.
What about flood alleviation?
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
A request to us from the Department is primarily about abatement rather than adaptation to climate change. Our work so far has been primarily about that but there is a strong reason to believe the incidence of extreme weather events is connected to climate change and there is no question that that involves new forms of adaptation. Our work so far has not gone into great depth on the challenge of adaption to climate change, and our work between now and the end of the year will probably not do so.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
There are two levels to the Deputy's question. One is whether, in the overall strategy, the balance between abatement and adaptation should be different. I am loath to say something on that without thinking about it more but clearly the sharp end of it, such as the severe flooding that has occurred in recent years, is bringing to the surface water management issues in Ireland and there is no way we can avoid responding to them.
This is a comprehensive report. I apologise for coming in late. For me, one of the major challenges the House faces over the coming months and year is to develop legislation. I found the area of fuel poverty in the report very interesting. The report refers to increasing the grant from €3,000 to €8,000 for retrofitting. The pay-as-you-save scheme is about to be introduced, although it has been piloted. The uptake may not be great because people are concerned about budgetary constraints. Would it be a good idea to ring-fence some of the carbon tax income for grants to retrofit buildings?
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
It is a difficult question for us to pronounce on. In general, there is a strong view internationally that carbon taxes at the level they tend to be set are doing more work raising revenue than dramatically changing the use of fossil fuels and that part of that revenue is a resource to address climate change through other means, whether by supporting research and development on clean energy or by doing the kinds of things the Deputy referred to. In general, there is a kind of logic in that but, at the same time, we are aware of how sensitive the issue of hypothecation of taxes seems to be within the system. We would be reluctant to make a firm statement on that because there are so many other calls. As I said, in a general sense, there is a logic in seeing revenue from such sources as a resource to address the problems, but I am reluctant to take a strong view on hypothecation.
Page 246 of the report states: "[L]evying a carbon tax is more supportive of economic growth and employment than increasing income tax". That is a fairly definite statement. Would it be it progressive, in looking at a levying a carbon tax, to ring-fence that and target it directly at people experiencing fuel poverty and at retrofitting many of our buildings and homes which were built in the 1950s and 1960s to very low standards to reduce their energy consumption?
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
There is a strong case for that. Fuel poverty has been a key part of policy and of the work of, say, the SEAI, and it absolutely has to be. We know the reluctance to extend the carbon tax to coal and peat reflected, in part, that distributive concern. Our view would be that were the tax to be extended to those fuels, the distributive effect would have to be addressed through other means.
If we increased the grant from €3,000 to €8,000, which the report states, we could possibly do that. The plastic bag levy was effective for environmental reasons and in terms of how that money was spent. If we took part of the carbon tax and targeted it towards retrofitting, increasing the insulation of homes would reduce our carbon footprint effectively.
Mr. Noel Cahill:
In talking about an increase from €3,000 to €8,000, we are talking about the investment. That is the average investment we would like to see. We were not proposing a grant at that level. We took account of the current policy direction which has signalled that mainstream grants for energy efficiency are to be phased out. The plan is that they would end next year and be partially replaced with a pay-as-you-save scheme. That is the type of investment we would like to see supported. Given the public finance constraints, we are not advocating a straight grant at that level.
The report predicted that Ireland's 2020 targets would be reached. Does this include the forestry sink? There has been a fall-off in forestry planting. At what stage is that element? The forestry sink is allowed under the Kyoto targets but not under the EU 2020 targets. Will Mr. Cahill explain his thinking on that?
Mr. Noel Cahill:
Our focus in this report was on looking at ways in which our 2020 targets could be met. It is something of a quirk of the approach that forestry is not counted, or land use change is not counted, in defining those 2020 targets. In the figures we discussed, we did not factor in the savings one would get from forestry. Clearly, from a long-term perspective, we should go beyond thinking purely in terms of compliance. There is a significant effect in terms of forestry and it needs to be part of longer-term policy.
We did not go into it for the purposes of this report.
The possibility of bioethanol being produced by the sugar beet industry has been covered in the media. I appreciate that inputs like fertilisers are not considered when the measurements are taken. Do the officials think there is an argument for a sustainable sugar beet industry in Ireland, with this as a by-product? Their report touches on the possibility of reducing fuel imports as a means of working towards carbon-neutral status. I would be interested in hearing their views on the reintroduction of the Irish sugar beet industry with a different focus.
I thank the officials for their informative presentation, some aspects of which are feasible and make sense. It mentions the possibility of a gradual increase in the carbon tax up to 2020. We know that any increase in the carbon tax will lead to increased public transport costs. Bus Éireann and Irish Rail are cutting back on services due to higher costs. It is affecting many areas. We should be designing schemes that encourage people to use public transport. It is very difficult to encourage people to use a system from which services have been withdrawn. In the case of the railway line between Dublin and Sligo, two trains have been terminated.
We should be encouraging people to use public transport. Any gradual increase in carbon tax will push up the cost of school transport and affect industry and agriculture. We all know that trials and pilot schemes with regard to biomass and bioenergy crops were in operation over recent years. They were monitored by the Department. Generous grants were offered to encourage people to participate in these trials. When the crops failed, farmers who were participating in pilot schemes were badly hit. It has left a very sour taste in people's mouths. Many people are reluctant to move into this area again. I would welcome the officials' comments on that. Reference has also been made to the possibility of revising the car bands. That has happened over recent years. Maybe those present will elaborate a little further on that. Three or four bands are already in place. The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government revised the bands three or four years ago.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
I will respond to the first matter raised by the Deputy. Perhaps Dr. O'Connell will respond to the other issues. I understand the point the Deputy has made about the carbon tax. I would like to clarify our approach to the carbon tax and the role of the carbon tax in climate change policy. In other countries, the willingness and ability to impose carbon taxes and-or heavy emissions trading caps has historically been closely linked to the availability of alternatives. The strategy we are talking about does not involve forcing the transport sector, for example, into change through the heavy imposition of taxes. We are saying that a gradual increase in the tax needs to be accompanied by measures which make the alternatives more available and attractive. For example, we can take vigorous action to encourage gas to be used in vehicle transport. The strategy is not based on increasing prices heavily to force people to make changes. Gradual tax increases, which can act as a disincentive to certain kinds of activity, must be combined with action to make alternatives available.
Dr. Larry O'Connell:
We are aware of the difficulties that occurred under the last biomass scheme. We met representatives of the IFA when we were preparing our report. We are conscious that the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources are working to ensure a new scheme can be designed. We would welcome that because there are big opportunities in this area. Any new scheme has to be right if farmers are to be encouraged to participate in it. We spoke on our way to this meeting to a representative of Bord na Móna. It is encouraging that activity is taking place at that level, for example in terms of sitting down and working with farmers. We know there is a demand within Bord na Móna for willow to be grown. We just have to figure out how we can ensure the incentive structure is right, the scheme can develop and the product can be supplied. I remind Deputy Bannon that 92% of all cars that are purchased fall within the first two of the seven bands. In a sense, five of the bands are not doing much work. If we believe they are too clustered, we will have to look at a new system that will provide for greater variety in terms of the way we classify cars. The success of the last system led to the clustering of all the cars.
I have two questions, the first of which relates to the NESC document on implementation plans for agricultural measures identified by Teagasc. Could the officials be more specific in that regard? Could they identify the areas that are covered in the document? Mr. Cahill referred to the legally binding emissions reduction target that will have to be met by 2020. Could he be more specific about the interim targets that will be required under the five-year carbon budgets? How can we ensure these targets are met domestically without having to buy offset credits overseas? It was suggested to me that an independent climate change commission, with the power to publish its own reports, should be established to advise the Government. Perhaps Mr. Cahill will comment on that possibility.
Dr. Larry O'Connell:
The work done by Teagasc this summer, in terms of identifying things that can be done in agriculture to reduce emissions, has been very positive. The success of the practices that have been proposed will be determined by whether they are taken up by a high percentage of farmers. It is important for detailed plans to be put in place now. We know it takes time for improvements in the economic breeding index to be seen in the herd. We need to know what will happen in the next two or three years. Rather than waiting until 2020 to come back to this issue, it is important for plans to be put in place for these specific measures. Those plans should cater for the support practices and farm discussion groups, etc. that are required to roll these practices out across more farms.
Mr. Noel Cahill:
Interim targets have been set by the EU as part of the climate package. The annual targets that must be met if the overall target of securing a 20% reduction by 2020 is to be achieved are graphed in the report. I suppose it can be described as a straight-line reduction.
A straight line defines the path of the targets. Each path in that projection is in itself a binding target. Depending on how well we do, for the first year or two our emissions will be lower than the target. There are annual interim targets to be met.
Dr. Rory O'Donnell:
There was also the idea of an independent climate change committee or commission. In our final chapter we discussed the institutional issue. In the interim report we decided that rather than offer a firm view on the solution of whatever institutional problem people think there is, to lay out what we thought were the dimensions of the issue. Our sense was that recommendations for new independent bodies are common and recommendations for redefining departmental boundaries are equally common. Our aim was to try to prompt a discussion among the Departments and the other stakeholders on the issue. To some degree we have found that discussion is happening. People have been coming to us and saying it is very interesting to think about the outfacing and the infacing about the high level of strategic decision making and the front-line action. So far we have remained agnostic on whether an independent commission is needed and whether, if created, it would be effective. There is a widespread sense that the high-level decision making has not been as clear and crisp in this area as it might have been but that there are these other dimensions as well.
Yes. This report is very good and is interesting and would be a reference point. Climate change is not just affecting Ireland, it is an international problem. I suggest an invitation be extended to the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice to appear before the committee to give us an international viewpoint on the issue. It is important that we do not have a narrow vision of what is happening in Ireland but also see what is happening elsewhere. She would be the ideal person to have before the committee.