Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 July 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Heads of Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013: Discussion
I welcome an tOllamh Peadar Kirby from the University of Limerick. I draw his attention to one or two procedural items before we commence. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person(s) or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
The opening statements and any other documents submitted may be published on the committee's website after proceedings this afternoon.
The committee is currently considering the outline heads of the climate action and low carbon development Bill 2013. It is imperative, from our point of view, that we initiate discussion around this subject with people, so that the report we compile will reflect those views. The object of this exercise is to produce legislation. The heads of the Bill have been published.
As the first legislation of its kind in this country, it is an historic and unique step for the Houses of the Oireachtas. The joint committee is the lead committee in driving forward the agenda and compiling the report. I look forward to the exchange between members and our guests as we seek to tease out their views on how to develop an outline of a Bill into legislation. I invite Professor Kirby to make his presentation.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste as ucht cuireadh agus deis a thabhairt dom teacht i láthair chun cur síos a dhéanamh ar an téama fíorthábhachtach seo.
My submission to the joint committee dealt with five issues, namely, the absence of targets in the outline heads of Bill; allocating overall responsibility for climate change to the Department of the Taoiseach; the conditions written into the outline heads of Bill that may limit the achievement of the goal of decarbonisation; the composition and role of the national expert advisory body; and the need to balance reference to a low carbon economy with reference to a low carbon society. Assuming my submission has been read by all members, I will concentrate on emphasising the urgency of the issues involved and the need for courageous leadership.
I came to the issue of climate change through a career spent examining issues of social, economic and political development in Ireland, Latin America and globally. As I have acquainted myself with the growing scientific evidence on climate change, I have become increasingly concerned both at the enormous, indeed momentous, challenges this poses for society and the disconnect between the evidence of science, which is demanding immediate and urgent action, and the meagre and completely inadequate responses by most sectors of society, including our political leaders. As a professional social scientist, I have not hidden my view that most of what we are teaching in all branches of the social sciences – political science, which is my area, economics and sociology and development studies being those with which I am most acquainted - misses the fundamental challenges we face. We are educating a generation that is ill prepared for the serious challenges of social change with which they will have to cope. It is partly for this reason that I took early retirement last year to devote myself more fully to writing and teaching on the challenges climate change poses for society, including for the ways we teach the social sciences. I am currently writing a book on this subject.
In case members may be less than impressed by this subjective response, in other words, my wish to share my personal experience with the joint committee, I will substantiate my position by citing a most authoritative source, namely, the German government’s high level Advisory Council on Global Change - WGBU are its initials in German - which reports directly to the Chancellor’s office. In its 2011 report entitled, World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability, the advisory council highlights the "drastic change in direction [that] must be accomplished before the end of the current decade in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum by 2050". This "great transformation" as it is described, "encompasses profound changes to infrastructures, production processes, regulation systems and lifestyles, and extends to a new kind of interaction between politics, society, science and the economy". Such a transformation, it continues, is "unique in history" and goes "far beyond technological and technocratic reforms" involving "a new global social contract for a low-carbon and sustainable global economic system".
Interestingly, the report compares the extent of the transformation, which it states "can barely be overestimated", to the Neolithic revolution, namely, the invention and spreading of farming and animal husbandry, and Industrial Revolution. This comparison emphasises the enormity of the challenge we face, which will require a "proactive state, a state that actively sets priorities for this transformation, at the same time increasing the number of ways in which its citizens can participate, and offering the economy choices when it comes to acting with sustainability in mind". Despite actions being taken on climate change, the expert group states "there is a very real danger that the dynamics between change and dogged insistence on the established will lead to a lock-in; the transformation into a low-carbon society could also fail."
Each of our societies faces an unprecedented revolution in production, consumption, mobility, energy and construction, all within the most tight of timeframes. To lead this, a revolution in governance is required with courageous political leadership of a kind we have not seen to date. It must not be afraid to alert society to the realities that face us and must be decisive in facing down powerful vested interests which seek to minimise these realities. President Obama showed the way in a ground-breaking speech he made on climate change on 25 June last. I strongly recommend that members read or view the speech as it is probably the most important speech made by a political leader on the subject. We need similar leadership from the Oireachtas.
I thank Professor Kirby for his presentation and paper. Ireland's economic crisis occurred because powerful capitalist interests played the music while politicians danced a jig. Is there a danger that the dominance of these interests in the western media means they are so powerful that they may prevent a real debate on climate change? Are democratic institutions sufficiently powerful to hold the ring and make a call on climate change that is in the interests of citizens? That is the overall context.
Professor Kirby correctly noted that a number of steps must be taken within a short timeframe. On emissions targets, what is his view on the bottom-up approach under which one asks each sector to produce a plan for carbon reduction? Is it realistic to have such plans? The reason I support the introduction of five year targets is that they would match the term of governments. While I accept that governments do not always last for five years - we had three governments in 18 months at one point - my concern is that longer timeframes could result in us hitting a carbon cliff because a government could decide to kick the can down the road and leave the issue of carbon emissions to its successor. Such an approach would cause the problem to build up and we would hit a carbon cliff at some point. What is Professor Kirby's view? Should emissions targets or carbon budgets be set in five year timeframes?
Professor Kirby cited a report by an advisory body to the German Government. There are different views on achieving change. Some believe one should involve the various stakeholders, while others argue that one should focus on the views of experts. What is Professor Kirby's position? Should we listen to experts such as independent scientists, sociologists and economists who do not have a vested interest in pushing an agenda on behalf of any particular sector and whose interest lies in protecting the environment and humankind?
Moves are afoot in the North to introduce climate change legislation. Is an all-Ireland approach required, particularly given that the two jurisdictions are on one island and climate change clearly will not stop at Hackballscross or Lifford? Should we seek to have some joined up thinking, North and South, on this issue?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
The Deputy asked a series of broad questions. He is correct about the challenge to governance. One of the reasons we are in the current crisis is that the previous governance structures failed when faced with very strong actions by certain private economic interests.
Obviously, the same could happen here. That is why I started by emphasising the absolute importance of political leadership. According to the scientists if we fail on this issue we are making the planet uninhabitable for our children and grandchildren. It is that serious.
We have never faced such a serious challenge in human history. President Obama showed last week that we urgently need radical political leadership. By radical, I mean a political leadership that has the courage to tell its citizens what we are facing into and what actions have to be taken. That is the reason I recommend the committee watch President Obama because he did emphasise the challenge of what scientists are telling us. As political leaders and as societies we just have to face the issue. We cannot continue to kick the ball down the road. That is the first thing I would say on the question about vested interests. However, I will add just one point. Of course, there are strong vested interests that are trying to avoid facing the facts but, ultimately, they are you and me, the citizens, who are finding it very hard to face the changes to the privileged lifestyle we have compared to many other people on the globe that this will entail. We cannot just point the finger at big business, we must also point the finger at all our values and lifestyles. Therefore, leadership has to come in terms of how we live our lives.
Deputy Stanley asked three other specific questions, the first of which was on targets. I agree completely with his view that we need much more immediate targets. Five-year targets are not adequate, we need annual targets. This will be a progressive move towards the progressive reduction of greenhouse gases to reach a target within the next 37 years of reduction to about 90%, if we are serious about the issue. We cannot keep putting this off to 2020 and 2030, we have to start now. I strongly recommend that be part of the climate change Bill. We are failing in the challenge if we do not introduce targets, in fact there are no targets in the Bill as it currently stands. I am not only calling for the inclusion of targets but targets much more immediate than for 2020, 2030 and 2050.
In regard to the expert advisory group, I recommend that it be supplemented by a scientific advisory group but not appointed by Government. I suggest that the task be given to the heads of the seven public universities to appoint that group and that the group would share with the Government and the Minister responsible and, ultimately the Taoiseach, who takes responsibility for action on climate change. I suggest that the advisory group be appointed both by the Government but also by the scientific advisory group. The scientific advisory group would advise on the science. Scientific evidence is changing dramatically, almost year by year, and we need to be up to date on how urgently the science is telling us we need to act. We also need a group to advise on policy. That group could include some scientists but the Deputy rightly said it should also include social scientists because this is, ultimately, a social challenge as much as a challenge of hard science and technology. He also mentioned stakeholders. The key stakeholders in society should be represented. Over and above those comments, I would be willing to discuss how best any member thinks this would be constituted. Members know better than I do how the committees of the House operate but it needs to have these different dimensions.
Deputy Stanley also mentioned all-Ireland action. Of course all-Ireland action is needed on this issue as is all-Europe action and global action is needed on this but we cannot continue putting it off to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. We also have to face the challenges in each of our societies to deal with these issues. We need the global actions that are taking place through the UNFCCC and actions at national and local level because these are also challenges for local governance.
I believe targets are critical to this legislation. I was disappointed they were not included. Instead sectoral plans were provided and we were told they would constitute our national ambition in this area. We held a meeting with some of the Departments to try and explore the sectoral plans in areas such as agriculture, energy and transport. Following the meeting I was confused as to how these areas dovetail.
It is critically important that the institutional arrangements we put in place are capable of making something more than a document that acts as guidance. In this regard I am interested in what Professor Kirby has said regarding institutional arrangements because it is something we can recommend can be inserted in the Bill to change what is included at present.
Professor Kirby said a low carbon society needs to be given equal weight with a low carbon economy. Perhaps he might elaborate on this. Conflicts arise in this area, even in terms of policy decisions that have been taken. The train has already left the station in that we will not meet our obligations up to 2020. This means that targets extending to 2030 or 2050 will be more difficult to achieve.
Is it possible to disconnect the economy from the targets, given that we probably need a financially more equal society if we are going to deliver on this? Is it suggested that the needs of the economy be ignored in this? For example, reference was made to vested interests. A key area is the national ambition to export agricultural produce, yet this is the area in which we are most challenged. How can this circle be squared, especially in terms of targets?
Reference was made to expertise in regard to the universities, social sciences, Government Departments and so on. I am concerned that the process appears to be internal. If there is to be public engagement and change in attitudes in terms of lifestyle, this process needs to be broader than it is at present. Would Professor Kirby have any suggestions regarding what might be included in the Bill in terms of framing something that would have a broad focus rather than a narrow, expert focus?
If we get a group of experts from the universities they will be talking to each other and advising Government. It is all very internal to government whereas the changes required will mean that every one of us will have to change our lifestyles. Can the institutional process have an external component to it that engages with people on an ongoing basis and becomes a vehicle for change in society or is that something that should even be included in the legislation?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
The focus on the national advisory group is the top level advice to the Government. The Deputy rightly said that is internal. It is internal to the governance process.
I would see the external part - which is vital - as the actions the Government will take on foot of the advice it gets. We need decisive government action in this regard, to bring to the attention of citizens the huge challenges we face. Citizens must be informed these are challenges facing all of us, but it is important these are not framed as a series of awful threats. There are also opportunities here, for example, to clean up our environment and to live less hectic lives. Of course, this involves change to things we take for granted. I agree the message to society is just as important as the message to government, but it is for the Government to act on that. Whether anything can be included in the Bill in this regard is up to you, the legislators. It seems to me it would be possible to make the point somewhere in the Bill regarding government actions for society. I mentioned in my submission the need to balance a low carbon economy with a low carbon society and I mentioned this precisely for these reasons. This is not just a challenge for restructuring the economy, which it is, but also for how any of us live our lives as citizens. Both these dimensions interact with each other and must be taken into account.
On the sectoral plans, these are an interesting way of advancing. These should go hand in hand with targets and should not be seen as a substitute for them. There is a danger, in light of the NESC report, they might be seen as a substitute. I totally agree that we need an emphasis, in terms of our broad plans, on a society of greater equality. In other words, we need to share the burden equally. There is plenty of research, including Irish research, which indicates that the people who suffer most are the people less able to carry the burden. In other words, the costs of climate change are much higher for poorer sectors of the population than for better off sectors. The equality dimension needs to be built into our planning, but as this is a sociological issue we need the involvement of sociological experts.
The final question related to how we can square the circle in terms of our agricultural production. This is a huge challenge for Ireland. In Ireland there are three major areas where we face enormous challenges - construction, mobility and agriculture. The agriculture area poses the most severe challenge. We need to get the agricultural experts to acknowledge that much of the planning that has gone on for agricultural development in this society, the Horizon 2020 plan in particular, is premised upon increasing emissions. Therefore, there is a clash between two areas of public policy. We need to highlight this and to make planners realise that we are dealing with issues of such gravity that we cannot afford to fluff on them. We need to be consistent and must have agricultural planning that is consistent with the roadmap promised in this legislation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
What I say is that what we do is adopt the EULARINET triple C target, rather than bring in targets of our own. This shows less than the national leadership the NESC report calls for. I agree that it is not that there are no targets in the Bill, but the State does not choose to set its own targets in the Bill. The targets that are set are too distant in the future. We need more immediate targets to lead us, with any success, to meet these longer term targets.
Professor Kirby mentioned earlier that we should adopt a year to year target. In the context of decarbonisation, there is no gradual drop year by year. Policy indicates a higher drop towards the end of a policy rather than a year on year target. Is that correct? Is a year-target not too short?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
We are already locked into very high levels of emissions. We need to get wise to the fact that we must start reducing emissions now, with a view to ensuring that over this relatively brief period of 37 years, up to 2050, we meet the swingeing goals of 90% targets. Unfortunately, it seems that in many parts of the world, because we are living through such a severe crisis, many political leaders prefer to postpone action on this in the belief we have the luxury of doing that. However, the scientists tell us we do not.
With regard to the expert advisory board, did Professor Kirby have a chance to look at the fiscal advisory council and its terms of reference? If the expert advisory board was constructed in the same manner as the fiscal advisory council, would that strengthen it? The independence of the Fiscal Advisory Council is recognised in its terms of reference. If the same was the case for the expert advisory board, would that strengthen it adequately? Has Professor Kirby done any comparison between the two?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
No I have not, but that is an interesting idea. The fiscal advisory council is appointed by the Government, is it not? My recommendation is the heads of the universities should appoint the expert group of scientists. I say that because it is very important that the leading experts are on the scientific advisory committee, rather than experts the Government would like to see on it.
The Fiscal Advisory Council was appointed by the Government, but it also gives counter advice to it and does not always go along with Government policy. That is the reason I made my suggestion. If the expert advisory board was strengthened along those lines, it would meet with Professor Kirby's proposal.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
I totally agree that is the record so far with the fiscal advisory group, so perhaps that would be the result with the expert group. I feel this is such an important issue that we need to build in as many safeguards as possible. Some future government facing these swingeing targets and suffering as a result of them might decide to appoint people to such a group who would offer advice that was a bit more conciliatory. We need the leading scientific advice on this most urgent issue. The Bill needs to reflect a mechanism of nomination of those people that will ensure the advisory group is made up of such leading scientists.
Professor Kirby mentioned in his opening paragraph that conditions written into the outline heads of the Bill may limit the achievements of the proposed decarbonisation. What are the limits written in that impede this?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
I quoted from some of them, but I do not have the text in front of me. The heads state the Bill is subservient to goals such as sustainable development, economic impact, securing and safeguarding economic development and competitiveness, taking advantage of economic opportunities, least cost and maximising economic efficiency. I am not arguing that these are not worthy goals, but it seems very short-sighted to build them into law when the most urgent thing we must do is reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If this costs more than we might like to see it cost, if it interferes with economic efficiency, if it leads to a dent in competitiveness, we must face that. We cannot make the achievement of the goal subservient to these other worthy objectives. The tension here needs to be reflected in a more adequate way. One cannot be subservient to the other and it is not wise to write it into law.
Professor Kirby is an expert on this area. If we look at the level of carbon emissions, Ireland is unusual among European countries in regard to our dependency on agriculture. What kind of agricultural industry would we have if we were to achieve a target of 80% reduction in emissions by 2050? There is a sectoral roadmap and emissions in energy and transport are quite low in comparison.
Is Professor Kirby saying that agriculture should be hit by an 80% reduction? He mentioned Food Harvest 2020. They do seem to bang off each other, so to speak.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
I am not an expert in agriculture, so I cannot answer the Deputy's question about what form of agriculture we might have by 2050 that could allow us to meet these targets. I was recently reading an account produced by social scientists in Britain about the form of agriculture that would be required to be a low carbon society by 2050. It is a very different form of agriculture. It is much more diversified and much more low scale. It is not so much geared for export as for provisioning at a local level. Those are issues for experts in agricultural production, which I am not. It just seems to me that, at the moment, we are going in the wrong direction in the way we are planning our agriculture.
At the moment, we would have to drop 11 million tonnes from our current output, which is geared for export. Beef and dairy are pasture driven, and Ireland can produce beef and dairy in the most carbon efficient manner in Europe. If we set targets at an individual level rather than at EU level, because we can produce beef and dairy products with a much lower carbon impact, our targets may be very different from those of Germany, but the overall European figure would be the same. Does the Professor see an element of that arising through negotiations?
Professor Peader Kirby:
One of the means by which we can meet our objective is through carbon sequestration, so the extent to which we can find ways - afforestation and so on - of sequestering more of the carbon, or methane in the case of cows, is an issue for experts. The Deputy also seems to be asking me whether I believe we can balance our targets across Europe so that we might be allowed to have higher emissions in agriculture and other countries would have lower emissions. Those are issues for diplomatic negotiation. The European Union is committed to reductions of up to 90% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That does not allow for much leeway for any sector of the European economy to be emitting any substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
We are committed at this stage to the Kyoto Agreement and a 20% reduction by 2020 in the heads of this Bill. There are further negotiations in 2015, which will likely tie us to a target of a 40% reduction for 2030. Due to what happened after the Second World War, Europe has a real concern about food security. Does it not make sense to negotiate across the European Union as a body, rather than single entities within it?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
That is what happens at the moment, but each country ultimately is responsible for meeting national targets within the overall target. After all, under Kyoto we had the right to increase our emissions, whereas other countries had to reduce their emissions. That took into account our levels of development at that time. Whenever a successor to Kyoto is brought into the European Union, Ireland will not be as leniently treated as we were back in the 1990s.
I thank Professor Kirby for his thought provoking presentation. It certainly provides food for thought, no pun intended. Is there a need for balance here in Ireland? We should take into consideration our size as a nation, our impact globally and our ability to produce food. We should look at the global situation, particularly countries in south-east Asia and even eastern Europe that are driving clouds of emissions to the skies on a daily basis, and the significant impact that has when compared with what we have to do. I know we have to play our part, but surely there is a balance so that we do not strangle ourselves with further bureaucratic restrictions and directives on our ability to produce food at a time when half the world is starving. We have to decide whether food security, food safety and the provision of food is more important than the world we live in.
I am interested in Professor Kirby's statement that scientific evidence changes on an ongoing basis. There are scientists who tell us that no matter what we do on climate change, it will have very little effect and that this happens in cycles, be it every hundred years or over centuries. We can get carried away with this and with people like the professor and the so-called experts to whom he refers. I would be interested to know his definition of an expert. We have had experts in the financial sector like Mr. Fingleton or Mr. Dunne in construction. Are these the sort of people to whom the professor refers when he talks about experts? The ordinary people are probably the most educated of all, yet there seems to be no room for their thoughts to be taken into consideration.
I put it to Professor Kirby that the effect we have in Ireland is minuscule, no matter what we do. We can do ourselves damage ultimately. Most speakers have spoken about agriculture. Agriculture is the only industry that has saved this country in times of trouble, because 98% of what we produce in agriculture is exported. We are the closest to organic production of food in the world, because we produce our food in natural conditions. Compare that with the factory farming carried on in places like the Netherlands on the seashore, where animals never see daylight. We have to place more significance on what we have and then look at climate change from a different light. I am concerned to get this balance right. I did not hear Professor Kirby speak about balance today. He is very passionate about what he is proposing. We can work on that, but we should work on it on the basis that it does us least damage, that we are able to reach our food production targets and that we place more emphasis on the people who are starving in the world.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
I find this astonishing. In his address last Tuesday, President Obama said that 97% of the world's scientists have reached this remarkable consensus on the serious nature of what we are facing and it is due, by and large, to our human activities on the environment. When I talk about experts, I am talking about hundreds of the world's leading scientists who work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which will produce its seventh report later this year. I am not talking about the Michael Fingletons of this world, so let us not minimise the weight of the scientific advice we are getting. The Deputy noted that I said the scientific advice is changing. It is changing because the scientists are learning more and more that the very complex activities of the global climate are changing in worse ways than they predicted as recently as 2007. Things are getting worse at a faster rate than they would have predicted.
I do not know what "balance" means in this planetary emergency, which is what scientists now call it. The idea that we are small contributors takes away from the fact that we have the seventh largest global footprint of the 200 or so countries that exist in the world. We are a major contributor. We are, of course, a small country, so overall we do not contribute an awful lot, but the way in which we produce goods and services and live our lives is at the worst end of what is unsustainable in today's world. If we talk about balance and about giving our agriculture the chance to continue, then we are basically abdicating responsibility. Any country in the world can say this. Every country has its own individual challenges If the Deputy read the report of the World Bank published last November, entitled Turn Down the Heat, he would know that it was about the effect on food supply in the world if the sort of development that is happening is allowed to continue. It is absolutely devastating.
Moreover, it will be devastating within the lifetime of our children. We need to be serious about food security and dealing with the problem of carbon emissions. Calling for balance given this absolutely urgent and immediate situation is simply abdicating responsibility.
Before the vote is called in the Dáil I will call Senators Mac Conghail and Keane together. Senator Mac Conghail will be first and then Senator Keane. Dr. Ó Gallachóir is waiting for us after the suspension.
I will be quick because some of the questions have already been answered. I thank Professor Kirby for his passionate presentation. I enjoyed his last book, written with Mary Murphy. It was very incisive.
I will not go near targets because they are clear, but I wish to pick up on a point Deputy Humphreys made about section 10 under head 5. Professor Kirby would take much of it out. He said it was laudatory and wonderful but his view was that it misses the overall point. I read his submission and I wish to tease out one of his recommendations. It stated that no conditions should be included which appeared to make the achievement or the objectives of the Bill subservient to economic growth and development. That is a rather radical and explosive statement. Will Professor Kirby respond on that? Will he elaborate on his final recommendation? He referred to the need to give equal weight to the achievement of a low carbon society and a low carbon economy. He does not elaborate on that greatly in his submission. Will he address that point, because there is, perhaps, a possibility that this could be included in the Bill?
Cuirim fíorfáilte roimh Professor Peadar Kirby le haghaidh díospóireachta ar cheann de na hábhair is tábhachtaí sa domhain. This is one of the most important subjects we are debating. We have a major challenge and indeed the world has a major challenge and we recognise that. Some of the points I was going to raise have been mentioned already, including the limitations to which Deputy Humphreys referred. We will be grappling with the issue of targets, the footprint, mapping and how we do all of that.
Our decisions will have to be evidence-based and policy-based. I wish to draw the topic out a little. Professor Kirby stated that we need to disconnect the economic section of the Bill. Agricultural production amounts to 7% of our GDP. Realistically, we will not get rid of all the cows in Ireland overnight. As policymakers we are faced with ensuring we have realistic and achievable targets. We would all love to set idealistic targets but I want to get something else from this. I recognise Professor Kirby as an expert in the field. How can we set realistic achievable targets? I am unsure whether Professor Kirby used the word "disconnect" but we need to ensure there is employment in the economic sectors and that we continue to have farmers and so on. As politicians, we need to consider the seriousness of this and recognise what we need to do, but it must be based on evidence and on what is achievable. This is where Professor Kirby comes in. Could he, for example, recommend three things that should be done? He stated that every year we should set a target. The transport sector has been weak here in setting and achieving targets. The heat sector has been very weak as well. We must ensure we work on that sector.
Let us get back to the expert. This is what this committee is supposed to be about. We need to hear expert views to ensure we get our information from all sectors of society. We have one of the best expert groups in UCC in Cork. It is developing a mapping system. Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir will be in next. There is a recognition that there is evidence in Ireland but we need to recognise that, as politicians, we work on evidence that has realistic targets. I could ask the witness a good deal more but, as the Chairman said, we must finish before the vote.
I am somewhat inspired to respond to the discussion between Professor Kirby and Deputy Coonan because it is at the crux of, and impacts on, what we achieve and do not achieve. In a general sense we must answer what Deputy Coonan has said because this is what is on people's minds as a result of all the pressure on them relating to carbon taxes, changing systems and so on. We need to answer their concerns. Senator Keane said that the targets must be achievable and must make sense. They must make sense in a democratic sense as well in that they must be accepted by the people when we try to implement policy.
The urgency and passion with which Professor Kirby speaks indicates that the issue is urgent, but in terms of the western world and the USA, we are fundamentally consumer-driven societies. Until we tackle that, the problems will remain. The consumer sector of our economy is down but we have seen celebrations in the United States because the sector there is up. Where are the people there getting the raw materials from? They are getting them from the places, to which Deputy Coonan referred, where they are sending plumes of carbon into the sky. We buy the stuff. That is what we want and that is what people demand. They feel hard done by if they cannot get another new this, that or the other. I am not trying to denigrate people who are just getting by, but it is hard and it is, as it were, a chip in people now. If we try to change that, we are fundamentally changing what even developing countries want to work towards. They want people to be able to shop until they drop.
The proposals under discussion go beyond setting out that it is raining more here and that we will have difficulty getting food. It is a major ask in terms of the psyche of people, who are simply living from day to day or a few years ahead, to approach things in the way Professor Kirby has called for. Professor Kirby cannot dismiss what Deputy Coonan has said on that basis. This is bigger than agriculture.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
If I had the answers to any of these problems then I would have won the Nobel Prize. Deputy Mulherin has stated it exactly. These are the challenges. It is fine to discuss realistic and achievable targets. At the moment our governments are negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Its purpose is to try to take seriously what the scientists are telling us about the targets we must achieve. Anyone could say these are completely unrealistic or unachievable targets.
Last Tuesday, President Obama pledged the leadership of the United States to ensure that robust targets would be set. Then it becomes the challenge for governments to be able to translate these into the changes required. This is why I said that we need to put an emphasis in the Bill on a low-carbon society, because it is not only the economy that needs to be changed. If we are to take seriously the German experts who have said that this is akin to a transformation similar to the Industrial Revolution or the Neolithic revolution, we must concentre our minds on the fact that the way we do things now is not the way we will be able to do things in 30 or 40 years time.
We will have to go through a revolution in the way in which we produce food. A great deal of emphasis at the meeting has been put on food, and rightly so, but let us we consider the entire structure of Irish agriculture. When I go to Cloughjordan to buy my fruit and vegetables, most are imported. Why can we not re-balance our agriculture such that we produce food for local consumption? The effort to reduce carbon emissions will necessitate far fewer carbon miles in our food and drink production. In other words, we must source more locally. This will immediately change the conditions or incentives for the way in which any of our economic sectors operate, including agriculture. We need to be imaginative, think big and realise that we are truly facing the most swingeing and radical changes. Only by working together can we begin to explore and find answers to them. One of the essential answers must come from those in political leadership. They must not kick the ball down the road. They need to realise that we are facing momentous changes ahead.
I will just say one word. Agriculture is so important to Ireland. I recall one point of information that we got from the last expert who spoke to us on the beef sector. The carbon footprint of the beef sector in Ireland is the lowest in Europe, along with that of Austria. We must recognise where good is good but we must recognise that the challenge is to educate society as well.
Wind energy is very important because we import 80% of our fossil fuel. Last weekend I organised a conference in Dublin Castle. There was a protest outside the castle which was covered by the media but there was nothing at all about the benefits of wind energy and how we should be educating people and society about the need for a massive change in society. We as politicians have to ensure we bring society around to a different way of thinking. We need to go forward with new methods. To do that we need help from everyone else, including the media and scientists, to get the facts across about what will happen if we do not do something. We must ensure as politicians that we achieve this realistically because we cannot shut down the economy and say we are going to do A, B and C, which may be ideal, if we cannot pay the mortgage. We have to be balanced. I am not saying this because I do not want to do it. I would love to do it in the morning but we have to be realistic.
I have a brief question about the targets. The EU Green Paper suggests a 40% reduction by 2030. I am aware that this is only a proposal and that negotiations do not start until 2015. How does Professor Kirby view that 40%? It cannot be done like a switch. A carbon neutral society will be phased in. Does Professor Kirby regard this as a reasonable target to get us moving along those lines?
Professor Peadar Kirby:
Absolutely. If we are saying that we must get down to 90% by 2050, then by 2030 we must be down to 40%. There was some ambition at the time of the Kyoto meeting to make the target for Kyoto 30% rather than 20%. Had we done that we might be closer to where we are going. All of this emphasises the need for much more immediate targets.
That ties in with the Bill because the heads of the Bill tie us into the negotiations. I know Professor Kirby is saying we should have individual targets as a nation but if we are going to tie ourselves into the negotiated targets of 40% after 2015, if that ends up being Ireland's target for 2030 and legally binding through an international agreement, is that a reasonable stepping stone?
I agree with Professor Kirby about the annual targets. I was talking specifically about five year budgets in connection with reporting to the Dáil and it being able to make value judgments on what is happening. We are two days away from six and half years from 2020. Where does Professor Kirby think we will be in 2020 if we keep going at the current rate? What are the three big things for which we as Members of the Dáil should push immediately? I recognise that the timeframe is very short. I share Professor Kirby's concerns about the overall analysis of where we are going and the difficulties we face. What are the three things we need to do within the next six to 12 months?
Would Professor Kirby comment on the need for a cumulative approach? Do we have a better chance of reaching the 40% by 2030 if we make the right kind of choices now? It seems to me that some of the things we are doing are going backwards, for example, the reduction in subvention for public transport is influencing the more extensive use of private cars, our population settlement strategy has not changed radically and the pay as you save scheme for the energy sector is at best a pedestrian approach to reaching the point where people take that up in the kind of numbers that are needed. I presume Professor Kirby thinks we would have to make that kind of choice. This is radically different from the choice we might make by getting to 2020 and missing the target and having to buy our way out of this. I presume Professor Kirby and I are on the same page in regard to that kind of approach.
Professor Peadar Kirby:
That is where we are going now. We are not going to meet our Kyoto targets by 2020 and we will have to buy credits to be able to meet them. We are failing on that score. Deputy Stanley asked me for three big things. The first big thing, and I am asking for it here, is that responsibility for climate change be given to the Taoiseach. That is essential because it signals that this is central to Government policy. That will have to happen internationally with whatever is the successor treaty to Kyoto. There would have to be a unit established for poverty proofing or equality proofing policies. We have to climate change proof policies. As Deputy Murphy says, there are many contradictions in the incentives that we are setting, and climate change objectives do not seem to be getting the importance they warrant. Those are two things. We need much more leadership from public figures, including ourselves as academics. We need to talk much more about this. The media has been a great failure in this regard too. We need leadership at all levels in society to educate our population. I was shocked that I did not see any mention in the Irish media of President Obama's climate change talk in Georgetown University on Tuesday of last week, despite it being probably the single most important speech by a political leader anywhere in the world on the issue. It is really is worth watching. We need to wise up our media and all our sectoral organisations, such as the employers' and farmers' organisations. They might not like some of this stuff but this is what is coming down the road and the future of our children and our children's children depends on the actions we take now. It is that serious. Let us develop a co-operative spirit. In wartime we have the capacity to develop a co-operative spirit to get through a period where our survival is at stake, and that is akin to what we are facing into. Government needs to put itself on that sort of footing.
Cuireann sin deireadh leis an seisiún seo. Ba mhaith liom ár mbuíochas a ghabháil leis an Ollamh Kirby as an gcúnamh a thug sé dúinn inniu. Is dóigh liom gur fear ó iar-Chorcaigh é. Is rud maith é sin. On behalf of the committee, I thank Professor Kirby most sincerely for his very passionate engagement.
The vote is imminent so I propose that we break now and come back after the vote because if we bring Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir in now, the bells will go midway during his presentation or at least during the first question. With the committee's agreement I propose that we suspend now and go into the House for the vote. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Pléifimid anois ceannteidil an Bhille, an Bille um gníomhaíocht aeráide agus forbairt carbóin íseal. We will discuss the outline heads of the climate action and low carbon development Bill 2013. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Dochtúir Brian Ó Gallachóir, léachtóir in innealtóireacht fuinnimh i gColáiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh,UCC. He is very welcome indeed. Gabhaim buíochas leis as bheith i láthair inniu.
I wish to highlight a couple of procedural things, although Dr. Ó Gallachóir's will have heard them already because of his presence in the Visitors Gallery. I draw his attention to one or two procedural items before we commence. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Dr. Ó Gallachóir's opening statement may be published on the committee's website after proceedings have concluded.
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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We have Dr. Ó Gallachóir's opening statement, which is quite detailed and good, so if he wants to give us his thoughts around it, he is more than welcome to do so. We have heard from Professor Kirby. This is a very important issue for us. Our overarching objective is to produce a report with a view to finessing the legislation. We have the heads of the Bill, so we are very interested in Dr. Ó Gallachóir's views, given his background, on how best we can advance our overall objective in that context.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I thank the Chairman. I am delighted to address the committee. This is a very important topic and is also very urgent. I propose to summarise the opening statement that I have provided to the committee.
The most recent assessment report from the IPCC concludes that warming of the climate system is unequivocal. That is its analysis as published in 2007. A more recent report published last month by the International Energy Agency concludes that the world is not on track to meet the target of 2°C agreed as part of the international process on climate change negotiations, the Cancún agreements. According to the scientific analysis, this means we will have more extreme weather events which will become more frequent and intense. I understand the committee has addressed the impacts of flooding as a separate issue. According to the International Energy Agency, we are likely to have a temperature increase of between 3.6°C and 5.3°C compared with pre-industrial levels.
Greenhouse gas emissions are associated with two things: energy on one side and agriculture on the other. What I call energy includes energy used for transport, energy for heating our homes and businesses, energy for industry, and power generation. Energy is at the heart of the challenge. The increase in emissions is largely due to what we have been doing in terms of energy and is also where the solutions lie. The focus of my research is energy modelling to inform policy decisions. We have built the only software model in Ireland that allows us to examine different scenarios in the period to 2050. It is on the basis of that analysis and research that my comments have been generated.
I would like to raise five key points which will, I hope, inform the deliberations of the committee. One is that Ireland has distinct challenges in making the transition to a low-carbon economy. That is not a reason to abnegate our responsibility, but it is a contextual point of which we need to be aware. Second, policy to date has been effective in isolated areas but has been insufficient. Third, growth in beef and dairy farming is not aligned with developing a low carbon economy. Fourth, we should be ambitious and also realistic. Fifth, we need more evidence-based policy.
In the context of the first point, Ireland has distinct challenges. I want to draw the attention of the committee to two of them, which are related to some of the comments made earlier. Our emissions have grown while EU emissions have declined since 1990. When we talk about targets relative to 1990 and 2005, we can have a very different perspective from other countries. Reference was made earlier to the EU low-carbon roadmap, whose target is a 40% reduction in emissions EU-wide by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. That is equivalent to a 36% reduction relative to 2005 levels for the EU, but if we apply a 40% reduction relative to 1990 levels to Ireland it is equivalent to a 52% reduction relative to 2005 levels. If we simply apply the EU low-carbon targets for 2030 to Ireland we end up in a very different situation compared to the rest of the EU.
The second point in regard to our distinct challenges is agriculture, which has been discussed. Essentially, 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, whereas 10% come from agriculture in the EU as a whole. This does not mean we are bad at reducing emissions from agriculture; rather, it reflects the fact that a significant portion of our agricultural output is exported. The emissions are calculated based on production rather than consumption. The fact that cows are belching here means they contribute to our emissions even though the resulting steaks and milk are consumed elsewhere. About 80% of our beef and dairy sector output is exported. That raises a key challenge, a point to which I will return.
The second key point is that policy to date has been effective in isolated areas but has been insufficient. I used two examples in my submission. One is the fact that in 2000 we started to take wind energy deployment seriously and moved from a situation in which wind energy represented 1% of our electricity generation to one in which it represented 16% of the total, in 2011. That is a very significant achievement and was delivered through policy. It was largely the work of the renewable energy strategy group in 2000, which effectively transformed wind energy from a peripheral policy issue to one which achieved almost full stakeholder support. That is not to say that wind energy does not face challenges, but it is a success story.
The second issue relates to the purchasing of new cars. We changed our car taxation system in July 2008. The emissions performance of new cars purchased in Ireland has significantly improved. In 2008 every kilometre travelled by car resulted in the emission of around 166 g of CO2 per kilometre, but now the weighted average for new cars is 130 g of CO2 per kilometre.
These successes are in isolated areas. Problems arise in the energy system as a whole and we have not been successful in dealing with that. There are areas of the energy system that we have neglected and, as a result, despite these successes, our energy system continues to be dominated by fossil fuels with high import dependency. We need a plan for the full energy system - that is, energy used for power, electricity and transport, and in buildings.
The third key point is that growth in beef and dairy farming is not aligned with developing a low-carbon economy. This presents a huge challenge for us. As I mentioned, our beef and dairy farming has a low carbon intensity but we export a lot of our output. Beef and dairy farming make a significant contribution to emissions. The decision Ireland has to make is whether to stop or continue with beef and dairy farming in the context of moving to a low-carbon economy. If we stop it, the chances are that beef and dairy products will be produced elsewhere, resulting in greater emissions. We are working with Teagasc, but based on my analysis, a reasonable target for the agricultural sector would be to have zero growth in emissions from agriculture between 2020 and 2050. That would allow for growth in agricultural activity, coupled with an improvement in the emissions performance of agriculture. If we combine that with an 80% reduction in the remaining emissions from the energy system, we end up with a target for 2050 of 50% below 1990 levels. That does not sound ambitious in the context of goals of 80% to 95%, but they are the figures we need if we want to keep the beef and dairy sector going.
That ties into my fourth point, namely, that we should be ambitious and yet realistic. The 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions comprising 0% growth on the agriculture side relative to 2020, protected levels until 2020 and an 80% reduction in energy emissions relative to 1990 levels are ambitious but realistic challenges.
We explored the idea of going further in the energy system, such as achieving a reduction of up to 95% in emissions by 2050. We found the marginal abatement costs - that is, the cost to squeeze out the last tonne of carbon dioxide in 2050 - increased fivefold when one moved from a goal of 80% to one of 95%.
More evidence-based policy is required. Mitigation strategies for deep cuts in emissions require significant financial investment. The development of strategies based on poor information and analysis will be expensive and wasteful. This is needed for two reasons: to develop national policy in an informed and considered way, and to strengthen our negotiating position at EU level. I have cited one example in my presentation in which our research suggests that the non-ETS target for Ireland was based on flawed analysis and that the cost of the misinformation is approximating to between €3 billion and €4 billion. Our negotiating effort at the time was diminished because we did not have modelling tools such as the one we have developed. We have that tool now so we can have a more informed negotiating effort and, I hope, negotiate a better result in the future.
I refer to eight recommendations which I submitted to the committee. In order to allow time for discussion and questions, I do not propose to read them now.
New Zealand is a similar country to Ireland. It has an agricultural economy with a low population density. Can we use New Zealand's experience with regard to legislation on climate action and low-carbon development? The agricultural sector is a significant factor in this debate because it represents the biggest challenge. We have signed up to the Kyoto agreement and other international obligations. Should we regard those obligations as targets when formulating legislation?
I refer to the model for abatement costs suggested by Dr. Ó Gallachóir. It seems a little on the low side, vis-à-vis GDP, in my view. Is he satisfied that this model is robust? What are the possible economic costs of directly substituting the purchase of carbon credits? There may be an argument for investing in better public transport if the model is shown to be cost-neutral. I refer to the implications of Harvest 2020 for other sectors. Emissions are increasing and we hope to achieve our targets under Harvest 2020. What are the costs for the other sectors such as transport and energy? They will have to pick up the slack in order to neutralise the increase in emissions.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I equate Kyoto and other obligations with targets. Kyoto is an international agreement and there are also targets from the EU non-ETS burden-sharing agreements. I equate those with targets in that they are mandatory once we have agreed to them. I am not familiar with the New Zealand legislation. My expertise is in energy rather than in agriculture. I study the consequences for the energy system of not being able to achieve targets in agriculture, based on other people's analysis of what is feasible in agriculture. That touches on the implications of Harvest 2020 in the short term.
Ireland's short-term target is to achieve a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the non-ETS sectors relative to 2005 levels by 2020. Our analysis shows that the targets of Harvest 2020 mean that the energy system will have to deliver a reduction of more than 30% in greenhouse gas emissions in the non-ETS sectors. The non-ETS sectors in energy are the most difficult ones in which to achieve reductions, and these are the ones that have been neglected. The focus of the energy policy has been on electricity. Electricity will not help us to meet our non-ETS targets because it is part of the ETS grouping. Transportation and the heating of buildings, homes, shops and offices are the key areas of the energy portion of non-ETS emissions. Because Harvest 2020 has been agreed, the consequence is that if the energy system delivers the overall required reductions to achieve the 20% target, the marginal abatement cost is four times higher than it would have been if the targets had been allocated sectorally - that is, if everyone had to give a 20% reduction.
The Deputy said that the costs were on the low side vis-à-visGDP. We have produced marginal abatement costs. It is quite a crude calculation in terms of the cost of meeting a target. We have divided it by GDP. Our model is driven by GDP activity, which produces the requirement for energy. We do not currently have feedback when we start creating scenarios in which we impose climate targets on our energy system. It is a work in progress. We are working with ESRI to improve that. The costs are on the low side. In our scenarios we get in the order of 1% to 2% of GDP associated with our emissions reduction scenarios by 2050 but we need to do further work to improve those results.
There is a resource implication for future development. Is Dr. Ó Gallachóir modelling the projected growth in GDP based on that? Is he making any assumptions about what level of growth is sustainable?
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
No. Our focus is on the energy system, so we work with ESRI, which produces economic growth scenarios for us. Those growth scenarios are based more on economic factors. We are working on developing feedback so that when we impose a climate target we get some feedback mechanism to assess the impacts on the economy more robustly, but that is not in place yet.
I thank Dr. Ó Gallachóir for his presentation and for his attendance. He stated that significant ETS emission reductions may be achieved through electrification of heating and increased bio-fuel use in transport. I refer to the use of arable land for production of bio-fuel crops and the target in Harvest 2020 to increase production by 50% by 2020. This will put increased pressure on arable land to be used for food crops.
According to Teagasc, agriculture is responsible for producing 32% of our greenhouse gas emissions and we must try to reduce this while we are also trying to meet the Food Harvest 2020 targets. How can we reconcile these two? Ireland is, apparently, better than New Zealand in the context of the amount of greenhouse gases produced by agriculture. Again according to Teagasc, the emissions figure for agriculture in New Zealand is slightly higher than that which obtains here. We have reduced our emissions by just over 17% from their peak in 1998. Perhaps it is possible that there are ways in which they might be reduced further. Will our guests indicate how they see the contradictions in this regard being dealt with and how matters are going to play out?
In the context of the energy sector, one of the matters about which I have been concerned for some time is the fact that we have not yet even begun to address the issue of hydropower. This is despite the fact that the country experiences significant levels of rainfall. The potential for hydropower projects to be exploited exists at a significant number of sites throughout the country. In previous centuries, such sites were exploited in this way. In the context of public policy, this matter has not registered on the radar since the project at Ardnacrusha in 1928. The approach that was adopted in the wake of the latter was that we had done enough and there was no need to do anything else. However, there is potential to put in place throughout the country a number of small-scale projects similar to that at Ardnacrusha. Will our guests indicate how we might kick-start a move towards exploiting hydropower, which is a carbon-neutral way of producing energy.
My final point relates to waste energy. I have visited a few pilot projects in this regard but I am not aware of very many others. Nothing significant seems to have happened in this area or if it did, perhaps I missed it. I certainly have not seen much evidence of such projects. Flares are used at landfill sites to burn off methane gas, which, for want of a better word, is mad. A huge shift in policy will be required because we will be obliged to target all of these small sources. We cannot replicate what was done at Ardnacrusha or Poulaphouca 20 times over throughout the country. However, there are many small sources of energy which can be harnessed. To a large extent, we have left it to private enterprise to develop projects in this area and that has not really worked. Will our guests indicate how they see the policy shift to which I refer and which would reflect the same kind of national or Free State vision which obtained in the 1920s in the context of gearing up the ESB, Ardnacrusha, Bord na Móna, etc., coming into play? We need to make it our mission to tap into the other sources of energy that exist. As stated, in many instances the methane gas produced at landfill sites is actually being burned off.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
The Deputy raised a number of interesting points. He referred to a significant conflict which I did not bring up in the context of what we should do about agriculture and its impact on the energy system. One of our sets of results shows that if we continue as we are with the beef and dairy industry and if we want to meet more stringent targets, then the energy system must do more. Part of the solution in this regard relates to bioenergy. Immediately a further conflict arises in respect of agriculture in the context of competition for land use. This is another issue with which we must grapple and there is no easy answer in respect of it.
In terms of hydropower, we have actually exploited our best sites. There are some smaller sites which could be exploited but they would not contribute a significant amount in the context of our overall energy requirements. When Ardnacrusha was developed, the grid was developed around it. At that time, effectively 100% of our electricity came from the renewable source of hydropower. At present, approximately 2% of our electricity comes from it. Electricity represents less than 20% of our overall energy use, which is a very small proportion. Our analysis suggests that the biggest opportunity in terms of meeting our emissions reduction target at least cost relates to wind energy and bioenergy. In the context of bioenergy, the use of biogas has been neglected. It is possible to anaerobically digest the organic fraction of waste to generate biogas and one can also grow crops to generate it. One of the best crops, in the context of land use and energy output per hectare, is grass. Of course we have expertise in this area. Essentially, we could foresee a situation whereby grass could be used in anaerobic digesters to generate biogas. The latter could be then fed into the national gas grid and used to meet our heating and transport requirements. The latter would be done through the adoption of compressed natural gas, CNG, vehicles. Some activity is happening in this area in Ireland but the pace is very slow. As with many things in the energy space, a significant boost will be necessary if we are to make the transition we require.
On producing energy from waste, a number of the larger landfill sites have electricity generation plants. However, there are others where, as the Deputy stated, the gas is flared off. My view on the production of energy from waste is that we should seek to generate biogas and feed that into the gas grid by upgrading it to biomethane.
I apologise for missing Dr. Ó Gallachóir's opening statement. He may well have addressed some of the points to which I am going to refer. I draw his attention to recommendation No. 5 which states, "As we enter negotiations regarding Ireland’s contribution to 2030 and 2050 EU targets for energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate mitigation, this modelling tool [I presume this refers to The Irish Times' modelling tool] provides the capacity to improve both our negotiating position". From what Dr. Ó Gallachóir stated, I presume including unilateral targets in primary legislation is arguably less important than adopting an evidence-based approach to future negotiations on international targets and obligations as the relevant processes evolve.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
It is interesting to consider the UK's approach in this regard. The UK has legislated based on a target and it has five-yearly carbon budgets, with annual reporting in respect of these. In that respect, the UK authorities can take account of changes as they occur and then readjust their strategy to achieve the overall goal.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
Yes. I suggest that a similar model would be very useful here. Reference was made earlier to the need to have scientific input into advisory committees. A constant re-examination of where we stand and where we are heading will assist us in making adjustments in order that we will not develop a low-carbon roadmap which will be set in stone. Technologies will change, as was the case with photovoltaic generation. Significant changes, which would need to be taken into account to proceed in a more considered and efficient manner, can occur.
I thank Dr. Ó Gallachóir for his presentation. As we proceed, it will be difficult to avoid a conflict between the energy and agriculture sectors. Dr. Ó Gallachóir put it mildly when he stated that there is a contradiction between Food Harvest 2020 and the targets we have set ourselves in terms of reducing emissions. I wish to tease out the position regarding what he refers to as the ambitious but achievable goal of reducing the target by 50% by 2020 through zero growth in emissions from agriculture.
Has he teased out the matter or done so with fellow social scientists, economists or agricultural economists? What is the reality? The other great challenge that we face is investing in electrification and continued electrification, particularly for heat. How can this be achieved in the short-term? Clearly, Government policy on economic development, particularly in the energy sector, is not in tune with the EU targets.
On a philosophical level, Dr. Ó Gallachóir seems a little more pragmatic than Professor Peadar Kirby and is not as aggressive about achieving a target within a timeframe, with claims there is a trajectory by which we will achieve it at a certain point. I would like Dr. Ó Gallachóir to comment on the matter.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
As the Senator has said, there is tension between what is happening in energy and what is happening in agriculture on a number of fronts. If we have an overarching target and agriculture does not deliver then energy must do more. Conversely, if energy must do more then more land is required. There is feedback in terms of conflict.
The 2020 timeframe is not an issue in the short-term. An analysis has been carried out on the amount of land required and what land remains. It is more of an issue post-2020.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
Yes. The Senator made a second point about the 50% reduction by 2050 being relative to 1990 levels. In some of the work we did previously we examined the EU low-carbon roadmap, which indicated that in the EU one can get a 50% reduction in emissions in agriculture. However, we are not experts in agriculture, so we just applied the roadmap in order to see what the consequences were for the energy system. We concluded that if one could get a 50% reduction in agriculture and a 95% reduction in the energy system then one could achieve the overall 80% goal. We have talked to people in Teagasc and other experts in agriculture and realise that achieving a 50% emissions reduction in agriculture in Ireland is not feasible because agriculture in Ireland is very different from agriculture in the rest of the EU. Ireland's emissions are dominated by activities associated with grazing. Crops and housed animals give other mitigation options that Ireland does not have.
Teagasc is working on projections up to 2050 and we are using a zero-percent target as an interim measure. The target suggests that if we want agricultural activity to grow then it needs to find mitigation to reach a zero sum. We have made a crude assumption which is not based on evidence from agriculture. Clearly, if we want the beef and dairy sector to continue then the target would be in that vein. Obviously, if the country chooses not to continue, then we can apply a different target. As I said, our focus is more on how an 80% target could be delivered in the energy system.
The Senator also mentioned the electrification of heat. Our model generated certain results in the context of the 2020 targets because we must meet an ambitious non-ETS target, and Food Harvest 2020 has other knock-on effects. As I mentioned, emissions generated in electricity are associated with ETS. If we use electricity for heat or transport then we will shift them from the non-ETS to the ETS sector, an option that is open to us. I have two things to say about the electrification of heat. First, we have about 1.6 million permanently occupied dwellings in Ireland and nearly half of them have oil-fired heating. The amount of oil we use is unusual when compared with other EU member states, but it is the result of our housing stock being spread out. I will outline one of the measures we could examine. We could analyse how many of the 700,000 dwellings with oil-fired hearing are located close to the natural gas grid, and a sensible move in the short term would be to connect them to natural gas. The initiative would immediately lead to improved efficiency and reduced emissions. In the long-term, feeding biogas into the gas grid means that housing stock can access renewable gas.
We are examining the possibility of attaching an air source heat pump for houses located away from the gas grid. Therefore, the electricity requirement would be drawn from the ambient air temperature. That would be a sensible way to electrify heat in the residential stock. We are carrying out a further analysis with other modelling tools that focus more closely on the power system and on housing and residential energy use to see which houses might be suitable. One could adopt a strategy of aiming for larger and more inefficient houses, upgrade them to reduce their energy consumption and then electrify their heat use to see what kind of incremental gains could be obtained from energy efficiency and electrification. That means the electrification of heat plus the gasification of heat, which is often overlooked.
Achieving the ambitious target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050 would require electrification of heat and transport and increasing our electricity usage from 20% to 30%. It would mean the remaining 70% would not be electricity-based but largely biomass-based. In some areas, such as aviation, kerosene is still being used. Electrification is only part of the story but it is an important part.
I have a supplementary question. I do not know if Dr. Ó Gallachóir heard Professor Kirby's response to the heads of the Bill and how aware Dr. Ó Gallachóir is of the Bill. I would like to hear Dr. Ó Gallachóir's view on the matter, particularly as he has examined agriculture's energy and natural resources. What is the natural Department to hold responsibility for delivering the targets? Has he considered the matter?
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I have not considered it in detail but I did listen to Professor Kirby's presentation earlier. Given that different Departments are responsible for different emissions and different parts of the economy, it makes sense that the Department of the Taoiseach become the overarching Department.
I thank the delegations for their submissions. I congratulate Dr. Ó Gallachóir on the IT tool that he developed in Cork. It will enable him to read and acquire scientifically based information on how we will change and perform up to 2050. We want results now, so can Dr. Ó Gallachóir give us some good news? Obviously we need a long-term plan. The climate is changing. Sea levels have risen 3.2 mm and the temperature is rising in the Mediterranean area.
At present we are talking about agriculture and food production. Obviously, food security will also be important to the European Union. Scientists have predicted that the Mediterranean countries will no longer be able to be as agriculture-based as they are currently, so it will fall on the prime agricultural countries to provide food security in Europe.
Dr. Ó Gallachóir mentioned the land mass and trying to strike a balance between energy and food production.
Our ocean mass is ten times the size of our land mass but we are not putting enough effort into ocean-based wind production. Wind energy production has increased to 16% from the low base of 1% but if we are to ensure that we reach our renewable energy targets, we will have to make recommendations. Does Dr. Ó Gallachóir have to incentivise ocean energy production - wind farms at sea - because we have seen how difficult it is to get a wind farm project off the ground, and community considerations must be taken into account also?
Dr. Ó Gallachóir said we are getting more efficient in terms of wind energy and as a result of the tax measures on cars. In the European Union this week, we saw that the efficiency in terms of car emissions is reducing every day. It is hoped that we will soon reach the point where we will have cars with zero emissions. Our car tax is based on emissions. If we are looking to get funding from somewhere to put into renewable energy, including wind energy, an additional 1.5% of the market price of large, 500 hp diesel cars costing €100,000 would not be much for people who can afford that. The Fiat Panda is becoming more energy efficient yet the tax is higher on that. If we eventually reach zero emissions in cars, obviously we will have no tax revenue.
I would like to hear much more about anaerobic digestion and the capability inherent in our land based agriculture to ensure that we use more anaerobic digestion. It is a subject that gets a good deal of mention in our waste policy document but I would like to see a recommendation coming from the scientists on the way we could ensure more emphasis on anaerobic digestion.
Dr. Ó Gallachóir said that mapping a system is fine but that we could make a recommendation on a yearly analysis of how we are coping. I said in a previous discussion that realistic targets are important. We would all love to reach the 2050 target. The United Kingdom is aiming for 80% by 2050, and France has 75%. We do not have that but if we got from where we are now to where we could be in 2050, we could make recommendations. I will return to realistic recommendations later.
On the question of the Department this area should come under, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would be the obvious Department but transport and energy are two huge sectors. The advisory council, which co-ordinates all the Departments-----
Is the expertise in the Department of the Taoiseach or would all the expertise have to be transferred? Currently, the climate change expertise would be focused in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. New staff will not be recruited, therefore, so will all of the staff have to be transferred from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to ensure we have the expertise in the Department of the Taoiseach? We have to be realistic when we recommend that over-arching measure. Obviously, it will all have to be pulled together but wheresoever the expertise is located it will have to be used. I thank Dr. Ó Gallachóir for his input. We need more scientific information.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I thank the Senator. There is a lot to address. First, our model has the capacity to focus on the long term but we do analysis on the short term as well because it is important. I agree with the Senator on the need to keep a long-term perspective but to take actions now in the short term. We would make a number of specific recommendations in terms of incentivising renewable heat, anaerobic digestion and degeneration of biogas for heat and transport. In terms of retrofitting of buildings, the point I made earlier about electrifying and gasifying residential homes are all short-term policy measures that can help us in the transition to the long term
The Senator mentioned the ocean. She is correct. We have a significant resource in that regard and our results do harness that, particularly offshore wind energy, but the model adopts a least cost approach. Essentially, the model will choose the onshore resources first because they are cheaper but it will then look to the offshore wind energy. The Senator is right that for that to happen, it needs policy support. Otherwise, it will not happen because it is more expensive.
In terms of cars, there was some political lobbying at a European level to dilute the improvements in the targets for car performance. I do not see it as a problem. In terms of tax revenue, the Senator is right that we generate revenue from tax but if we have appropriate mechanisms in place people will change their purchasing decisions, and we have low tax associated with cars. The focus in terms of tax should be on the more polluting cars. The more polluting the car, the higher the tax. If we transition to a low carbon economy, challenges will arise in certain areas regarding revenue but I would suggest the Government continues to positively differentiate towards low emissions cars.
I agree with the Senator that more anaerobic digestion needs to be happening. One of my colleagues in University College Cork, Jerry Murphy, has done a lot of research in this area. Scientific evidence is available but, currently, it does not have the policy support.
In terms of realistic targets, setting a zero per cent target for agriculture and an 80% target for the energy system, resulting in an overall goal for Ireland of 50% emissions reduction by 2050, is what I would consider to be a realistic goal if we want to keep the beef and dairy sector in operation.
The Senator is right that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has the expertise. She mentioned transport and energy but the other one is agriculture. The challenge is to find a mechanism by which it is co-ordinated, be it in the Department of the Taoiseach or the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Taoiseach's Department would have the over-arching control element but, as the Senator pointed out, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has the expertise. I am not fixed on one or the other but both of those need to be addressed.
I apologise for missing the earlier part of Dr. Ó Gallachóir's presentation. I had to attend another meeting.
Regarding the challenges around the storing of energy, one of the challenges with wind energy is what happens when the wind drops and how do we store it. How does Dr. Ó Gallachóir see that being resolved because it is clear we will have to rely to some extent on our existing means of generating energy with gas or some form of fossil fuel also? I would like to hear Dr. Ó Gallachóir's views on that.
Dr. Ó Gallachóir spoke about incentivising renewable heat. Would radiant heating be an aspect of that?
Regarding the onshore generation of energy, there is a major debate in the midlands about the memorandum of understanding Ireland has signed with England. While many communities have had a positive experience in terms of wind generation in their area, I do not believe people are ready yet to make that leap in terms of the number of turbines that would be needed and their location. I do not believe the public has accepted that yet. From where does Dr. Ó Gallachóir see public information campaigns emanating?
Should it come from the Government, from universities or from the companies that are trying to develop? From my own experience, I can discern a big deficit in this regard at present.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
On the Deputy's first question regarding storage, I mentioned earlier that we foresee wind energy making a significant contribution in the future. However, it is not the only thing there and there are other options such as, for example, natural gas with carbon capture and storage one could have coal with carbon capture and storage. As wind energy is variable and has other issues associated with inertia it will need to be supplemented. Our analysis suggests that were we to go down the route of using such options to complement wind, one option is to use the depleted Kinsale gas fields as a storage location for carbon dioxide and essentially to add carbon capture onto the new gas power plants in the Cork Harbour area. Storage is another option and certainly is part of the mix.
Interconnection is another part of the option because we can benefit from it. The Danes have benefited significantly from this in their development of wind energy. However, at present our electricity represents less than 20% of our energy use and the focus of discussion in respect of energy policy is dominated too much by electricity. While it certainly is an important part of the issue, a bigger part pertains to what is to be done with transport and heating, which collectively represent more than 80% of energy use. I am not quite certain what the Deputy meant by radiant heat and perhaps she might come back on that.
As for the midlands, I mentioned wind energy as a success story. Ireland has not had the same experience as the United Kingdom in this regard where they have had difficulties in developing onshore wind energy. They have had significant campaigns against wind energy and as a result, they have been obliged to move offshore more quickly. This is partly from where this midlands project stems, in that for the United Kingdom, the option is to build wind capacity offshore or import it directly from onshore wind in Ireland. I agree with the Deputy that the scale of the developments proposed is something new and it is unclear how this will be received in the heel of the hunt. Another issue with the midlands wind proposal is that if this wind energy is being used to meet the United Kingdom's targets, at a certain point in the future we will need it to meet our own targets or if we do not, we might end up with more expensive wind energy. Consequently, in the context of our own needs, I am unsure for how long that contract will be negotiated. Certainly, in the short term it is envisaged that the amount of wind energy available there will be surplus to what Ireland's system can accommodate but that situation is likely to change over time.
As for public information, there are a number of areas from which public information should come. The Deputy mentioned the Government and the universities and in the energy space, there is the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, the energy agency. Similarly, public information also is provided by EirGrid, the transmission system operator and there is certainly a number of sources from which public information is and should continue to be provided.
To revert to the question regarding radiant heat, I read about a particular type of heater, called a radiant heater, that is being used in Europe. I am not an expert on this subject but I ask someone in SEAI about it because I thought we should be trying to get people to think differently about heating. However, the point that was made was that because energy is so expensive here, this type of heating, while it would be a good type of heating to which to transition, is not feasible at present. Is Dr. Ó Gallachóir familiar with this particular type of heater? Apparently they are much better to use, even from a health perspective. Has he come across them previously?
I thank Dr. Ó Gallachóir and certainly, I learned from the documentation he submitted. As for the Irish TIMES model, I had thought The Irish Times was something one read every day, rather than a model for measurement. Dr. Ó Gallachóir introduced something that is relatively new to me, although it has been discussed quite extensively in United Kingdom, namely, the carbon capture model. People there were advocating the use of the North Sea as a carbon sink for the United Kingdom. When the Kinsale gas field runs out, is it possible that it could be used as a significant carbon sink for Ireland?
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
We have. While essentially it is a work in progress, we have been considering its use. Some recent natural gas-fired power stations have been built in the Cork Harbour area, which would have a high efficiency relative to many of the power plants on the system. The idea would be to take the carbon dioxide from them, capture it and pump it into the Kinsale gas field. The Kinsale gas field is composed of different parts and we are considering precisely the issue raised by the Deputy, namely, the scale in terms of the number of years for which we could do that. In addition, we are considering what are the associated engineering challenges as obviously, one would wish to make sure that if it is stored there, it does not seep out and actually is sequestered. Consequently, it is very much a work in progress but essentially is to try to address this question as to what in the power system, if wind energy is there, will complement it in the future. Natural gas carbon capture and storage, CCS, is one option. Biomass of course is another but this brings one back to the land-use question. Should we use biomass for power generation, for heat or for transport? How much land should be allocated for biomass and if there is a constraint on land use, what is the most effective way of using that biomass? We are considering a number of options and in our model at present, we do not have biomass CCS as a technology because coal CCS and natural gas CCS are at much more developed, albeit stalled, stage of development. However, biomass CCS would give us the prospect of having negative emissions, which would be a very nice scenario towards which to move.
Has Dr. Ó Gallachóir undertaken the modelling that would ascertain what kind of percentage impact it would have on reaching the targets? I acknowledge the science changes all the time and it probably is difficult.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
EirGrid is considering the idea of wind energy on an instantaneous basis, that is, trying to move towards being able to accommodate 70% wind energy on an instantaneous basis. It is being looked at in the context of the remaining 30% on an instantaneous basis and what that will mean in 2050. Depending on the scenarios regarding electrification, it will be more or less and then there will be consequences in terms of what is feasible. Clearly the Kinsale gas field is just one example but it looks like the most promising. The SEAI and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, have done some studies on sites for carbon capture and storage around the country and that one looks to be the most promising. However, that is a very early stage result.
I revert to the heads of the Bill and the place of the targets. One target contained in the heads of the Bill, on which Dr. Ó Gallachóir touched, is the 20% reduction in emissions from 2005 by 2020 or basically, the terms of the Kyoto agreement. Has Dr. Ó Gallachóir done any modelling on the hitting of the first target, if one calls it that, contained in the heads of the Bill?
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
We come at it a different way in the sense that we look at the target, we impose it and we see what is required to deliver it. Comparing that to where we are heading, we are far away from it. As I stated earlier, it is particularly in these areas of heat and transport because our focus has been on electricity in the policy space. We get electrification of heat which helps, but the remainder of the requirements relate to improving energy efficiency in buildings, using biogas and biomass for heating, and increased use of bioenergy in the transport system. It is quite different from the trajectory on which we are currently.
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
All of the national projections show us falling short of the target. The national projections take into account matters, to which we have committed such as renewable energy targets but some of which do not have associated policies. It is already a challenge to meet the national projections. It is a more significant challenge to go beyond that and meet the 2020 target. From where we are today, I do not think we will meet the 2020 target. We can meet it but it requires a significant increase in a policy focus.
I note the way the figures change. In the Bill, we tie ourselves to anything that is negotiated in 2015 for 2030. We switch then, from a figure of emissions reduction from 2005 of 20% back to the 1990 figure. Dr. Ó Gallachóir stated it would jump, for us, as a 52% reduction. Those figures are correct. There would be a very steep curve going in tandem with these heads of the Bill.
It is associated with the question that has been asked. I cannot see how we will make the 2020 targets. If we miss them, it will become much more challenging because we will be playing catch-up to achieve the 2030 ones. Will Dr. Ó Gallachóir highlight the matters that we could address in the legislation or provisions we could provide for in the legislation, not only for the 2020 targets but to improve the prospects of getting to 2030?
On a related point, Dr. Ó Gallachóir might clarify Ireland's inability to meet the targets under current circumstances. I assume what he is saying is that we have less chance of meeting those targets in the absence of legislation and that at least when the legislation and the sectoral roadmaps are introduced, we will have a better chance of meeting them? Can he clarify that?
Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir:
It raises a good point. The size of the challenge is such that we need everything we can get.
The other point is there are no silver bullets. Sometimes we tend to focus on individual technologies, and that has been the problem. As I said, in terms of policy we have been successful in certain areas but we have missed the bigger picture.
In terms of legislating for 2020, the 2020 target is already legally binding because it is part of an EU legally-binding agreement. We have a legally-binding target and we are not on track to meet it. Returning to the question of what we can do in the legislation to improve the prospects of getting to the 2030 targets, it requires a firmed-up commitment. We have these targets. We need a policy that looks at the whole picture and ensures that the individual elements add up. If they do not add up, we will not meet the target. That is where we are at currently. If they add up or if we look for where the gaps and change elements so that they add up, then we have a better chance of meeting the targets.
As to whether we have a lesser change in the absence of firm targets, the targets provide a useful goal in aiming for something. We need a roadmap to show us how to get there. Which comes first is less important in the sense that if we develop a roadmap, then we have a target at the end at which to aim, or if we start with a target, we will develop a roadmap. Essentially, we need both.