Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
COP21: Discussion (Resumed)
I am delighted to welcome Mr. Jerry Mac Evilly, Trócaire, Dr. Cara Augustenborg, Friends of the Earth, and Professor John Sweeney, An Taisce, climate change committee. As members will recall, in December, representatives from almost 200 nations approved the landmark Paris agreement at COP21. Prior to COP21, we met representatives of Stop Climate Chaos and at the meeting, it was requested that we would invite the representatives back following the conference. Today is the first opportunity we have had to reflect on the outcomes of the decisions made at COP21. We are interested to hear the witnesses' interpretation of the deal, their views on the implementation of the agreement and how they may impact on various sectors both here and abroad. The format of today's meeting is that we will have an opening statement, which will be accompanied by an audiovisual presentation. We will then take questions from members.
I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to ensure that their mobile phones are completely switched off for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even on silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee room. Today's meeting is also being broadcast live across the various media platforms.
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 or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l)of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I call on Mr. Mac Evilly to make his opening statement.
Mr. Jerry Mac Evilly:
I thank the members for the invitation. It was great to meet the committee before Christmas, before the agreement was reached, and to go through some of the main issues. Today we will go through what is in the agreement and some of its implications for Ireland. We will also give a little background as well. With the committee's permission, we will go through the slides, which we will divide between the three of us, very quickly so that we can get on to the question and answer session. Professor Sweeney will kick off the presentation.
Professor John Sweeney:
Good morning Deputies and Senators. I will kick off with a brief introduction to issues where I think there is a very strong linkage between the Paris agreement and issues which are relevant to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I suppose this is our target audience when dealing with these matters. People in the developing countries have a particularly difficult way of life at the moment. Last September, I travelled to Zambia as part of a group from Maynooth. Maynooth University runs a masters programme with some African universities. We were graduating 26 students from Maynooth University, who were all based in Zambia and Malawi. As part of that, I visited some of the people concerned. We were dealing with people at the grassroots level in terms of poverty. They are some of the poorest people in the world. I went there to hear their particular issues which I think are quite relevant. A slide shows their community hall and church where we listened to what they had to say, both the older and younger people. The men and the women had very different issues. When one is dealing with issues of environment and climate, it is important to hear some of the older voices in the community because they will have long memories about extreme events and whether things have changed substantially.
Another slide shows an old man in whom I was especially interested. He told me the hardship he had now begun to experience was because of a fundamental change in the reliability of the rainfall. He said that their seeds withered because the rains had not arrived on time and that their crops were dying in the field because the rains were retreating earlier than had been his experience over many years. Therefore, acute hardships were being felt. Although he did not directly say this to me, the unwritten question was, why is this happening? Who is responsible for these changes? The scientific answer to that would be that it is largely us, in the developed world, who are responsible for what he is experiencing.
I will show the committee two slides that epitomise the problems that are now developing in many part of Africa as a result of climate change. The first slide shows the famous Victoria Falls where the mighty Zambezi tumbles over the escarpment and flows down into Lake Kariba, which is the largest man-made lake in the world. It generates 90% or more of the electricity supply for the country of Zambia and a substantial supply for other countries as well. Members will be able to see quite clearly the problem beginning to emerge. The lack of reliable rainfall and an absence of rainfall mean the rains no longer feed the falls and, in turn, the falls no longer feed the hydropower station on which so much of that country depends. As a consequence, there are all kinds of knock-on effects for the economies and societies in that poorest part of the world.
People can live without heat in tropical Africa but one still needs to cook food and if there is no electricity, then one has to use charcoal. Deforestation is taking place as a consequence and is now emerging as a major problem. One can see that urban dwellers are starting to move large amounts of wood into the cities. Even the poor people who walk on average 11 km a day to collect firewood in that part of the world now find it increasingly difficult to source wood. In the cities, there are 12 hour power cuts, resulting in disinvestment which, in turn, is producing high unemployment and thus hardship in the cities concerned. The impacts of climate change, although we think of them as something alien to us, are really profound in many parts of the developing world. Irish Aid is active in these countries in terms of trying to foster sustainable development.
We know from the climate science conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, that we are on an upward trajectory. In each of the past three decades, the earth has been warmer than in any of the preceding decades since 1850, when reliable records began. We know that for the past 30 years, we have been privileged to live in the warmest 30-year period of the past millennium and a half on this planet. Things have changed, and they are changing quite radically.
It is not simply the developing world that is affected by this situation. There are strong connections back to us here in Ireland. We know that the flooding that we have experienced here in the past few weeks has had a component in it which has intensified its magnitude.
That has rendered that kind of an event likely to occur more frequently as a result of climate change. It is a connection that is universal for all of Ireland.
We will see changes in our agricultural viability and the kinds of pests and diseases that we must cope with in agriculture. We will also see changes in the infrastructural protection that we need in our towns and cities. As with all environmental hazards, we will see them affecting those who are least able to bear them. It is one of the features of environmental hazards of all kinds that they tend to affect the poorer people in society and those who do not have the wherewithal to escape and protect themselves. For example, our small farmers will be particularly at risk. We know the changes will entail considerable costs for them. We have seen a hint of that in the fodder crises from a few years ago and we will see that kind of event more commonly in future.
We know last year was the warmest year globally on record, and before that it was 2014. That was partly contributed to by a major El Niño event but it was also partly brought about by the ongoing loading of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. We know from our own hard experience in Ireland the impact of extremely wet months such as last December, the wettest December since we started reliable measurements in the 1940s or so. It has been an exceptional past few months in Ireland.
Anywhere in Ireland today is a half degree Celsius warmer than it was 30 years ago. Ireland is warming at the same rate as the rest of the world, on average, and as a mid-latitude country that is unsurprising. Every month of the year is roughly a half degree Celsius warmer than it was 30 years ago. Climate change is affecting us and it is under way in Ireland. Our models suggest we will undergo another warming of a half degree Celsius in the next 20 to 25 years. The trend is quite clear and what is happening in the rest of the world is having an impact on us in Ireland in terms of temperature. The models suggest there will be a further and perhaps more severe impact on Ireland in terms of rainfall. The red areas in the map distributed to members indicate areas where in winter we expect substantial increases in rainfall with all the consequent impacts for flooding. We expect drier summers with all the consequent impacts on water supplies for towns, cities and agriculture.
It is quite clear from the fifth assessment report, which the Irish Government has signed up to - as it has with all the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, reports since 1990 - that there is a very strong link between the cumulative amount of carbon we put into the atmosphere and the climate change it induces. In particular, the Paris agreement, which we are discussing today, has as a focus the need to avoid taking the temperature change to levels at which we enter the unknown in climate science, specifically what is unknown about what will happen in Greenland, Antarctica and the gulf stream.
There is an issue I will address before we move on. There is a strong relationship that came from the last IPCC report and although it was alluded to in Paris, it did not form the centrepiece of the negotiations. One suspects that was for political reasons. There is a straight line between how much we have historically put into the atmosphere and how much warming we have experienced. One can see that over the past century or so, we have put in approximately 500,000 million tonnes of carbon and the relationship with temperature is very straightforward, with under a degree Celsius of warming. We can base future carbon emission predictions on that. Taking it forward, if we want to avoid warming of 2° Celsius, we have a certain carbon budget and once we exceed it, we will irrevocably enter dangerous climate change territory. That entry will occur when we exceed an emission of approximately just under 800 billion tonnes of carbon.
That is what we have to work with globally and once we go beyond that as a planet, we will have warming of 2° Celsius come what may. Currently we have emitted 545,000 million tonnes of that 790,000 million tonnes of carbon. What we have left to divvy up among the global community is 245 billion tonnes. That may not sound like much carbon but we are currently putting into the atmosphere approximately 11 billion tonnes every year, meaning we have 24, 25 or 30 years at the most to get that carbon emission sorted out. That is why the IPCC is quite adamant in its conclusion that there are only two decades left before the window closes and we can avoid a dangerous climate change scenario. That will of course impact not just the developing world but also Ireland. That is why it is important that we enter the territory of decarbonisation as soon as we can, not just for the sake of the developing world. I have indicated that it is already experiencing acute stress from climate change but we must also think of our own citizens, who will also in the medium and long term have to face the consequences of quite serious change in climate.
Mr. Jerry Mac Evilly:
I will go through some of the main aspects of what is in the legal agreement or what came from Paris in December. I went through some of the main concepts before Christmas and I will do so briefly again. This process began with the Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and what we have seen in subsequent agreements is a focus on mitigation, such as reducing emissions; adaptation, such as making sure we become more resilient to the impacts, as Professor Sweeney indicated; and an increasing focus on climate finance, or how we can ensure that developing countries in particular can develop their economies in a low carbon fashion and become more resilient.
Why was the Paris event so momentous or different? Over the past five to ten years or so, there was extreme difficulty between countries in coming to a top-down agreement with a common medium-term emissions reduction commitment that would apply to everyone. Paris was different and the basis of the agreement was that each country would make its own pledge. It provides a framework for how these pledges will evolve. These are national plans and in the Irish case, it will be done on an EU-level basis. The EU has a 2030 commitment and we will come back to that. The agreement must be implemented post-2020. The treaty is not a sudden adequate solution but it provides a clear, binding common roadmap that we cannot ignore at an EU or national level.
What are the key aspects of the agreement? I mentioned some of these key elements before. There is a clear long-term objective to where we are heading and a process for updating and increasing our commitments to reduce emissions. We are not reducing those emissions for the sake of it but to protect human rights with the impacts that climate change will have in that respect. As has been mentioned, there is also the issue of finance to assist developing countries in increasing their resilience so they can develop in a more sustainable fashion. I will address these points in turn.
Members can see in the document bullet points that paraphrase commitments in the agreement. In terms of the long-term objective, it is clear that all states have a responsibility to act but this must be done on the basis of equity. Those who are most responsible must take the lead. That is the framework or guiding principle for the entire agreement and this objective.
What is also very different about the Paris agreement, and members may have seen this in the news, is that there is now a clear reference to 1.5° Celsius. Smaller countries and low-lying states were very insistent that there should be a reference to countries pursuing efforts to limit this global warming increase to 1.5°. This is one of the key benchmarks against which our national pledges, which I mentioned previously, will be judged. There is also a long-term commitment regarding what we are all working towards. The language here is quite cumbersome, but basically our emissions must peak as soon as possible and we must achieve some sort of a balance, that is, the emissions we are producing will have to be balanced out in the second half of the century through, for example, forestry, bio-energy or carbon capture and storage. The use of land to take in emissions in carbon capture and storage poses particular risks and we will come back to that later.
Why do we focus so much on this reference to 1.5° and why was it so important? As Professor Sweeney has pointed out, we are currently on track for a 1° increase, which is already causing significant difficulties. Having 1.5° in the agreement is important, because it is a type of shorthand for a global situation where the impacts of climate change can be managed. However, as a result of the pledges I began with, we are currently on track for a 3° increase, in other words, the very worst impacts of climate change. To prevent that, we need to look closely at the processes for increasing ambition in the agreement.
This ratcheting up of commitments applies directly to this EU pledge for 2030 and to our own national policy-making. What I have laid out here are some of the key aspects of the increasing ambition process that is set out in the agreement. Many NGOs would say this could be an awful lot stronger, but it is clear that countries will have to revise their commitments every five years. All countries are going to come together in 2023 to examine what progress has been made. There is also going to be a meeting in 2018 and in 2016 on our mitigation efforts.
I said previously that the purpose of the agreement is not simply economic. This is a key point. The agreement addresses human rights directly in the preamble. We would have preferred stronger language but there is some very good, clear language in the agreement. It is positive that the right to health, rights of migrants, development, and gender equality must be taken into account when countries take action. Equally, the agreement does not address economic protection of individual industries. For example, when we look at food security, the focus is not simply on producing more food. Experience has shown over the past 30 years or more that poverty is not addressed simply by producing more food. It is a result of inequality. It is an issue of access to food. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, and others have been very positive that food security is also referred to in the agreement, that the focus is on ending hunger and the vulnerabilities of food production to the impacts of climate change, as Professor Sweeney has mentioned, and also that when we are maintaining our food production, this must be in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
There are a range of provisions on climate finance in the agreement. We would have preferred these to be stronger. What is important is that the agreement makes clear that our investments and financial flows have to work in favour of climate action and not against it. This will have implications for financial flows in countries. Developed countries must continue to take the lead. There is a pre-existing commitment that countries will work up to providing €100 billion per annum by 2020. This is interpreted as a floor that countries will come back to after 2020. The important point here is that these climate finance commitments are also going to increase after 2020. There are some gaps. We would have preferred a clearer reference to new, innovative sources. In other words, the onus should not simply be on the Exchequer to provide public funds. Other means should also be used, such as a carbon tax. For us, there is insufficient focus on adaptation and increasing resilience, but this can be addressed at EU and national level, which we will come back to.
I will finish by linking up how this affects EU policy and bringing in this ratcheting process and the EU pledge I mentioned before. It is fundamental that this reference to pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°, reaching a peak as soon as possible and achieving some sort of balance, changes the framework or the ambition at EU level. The EU's pledge is on the basis of reducing emissions by at least 40% by 2030. That is the overall EU commitment. The Paris agreement means that this "at least" aspect of the commitment must be operationalised, that is, we must have efforts that go above and beyond the 40%. In terms of how we will reduce emissions, what we need to see at EU level is a commitment to revise existing and proposed legislation in light of Paris and to enhance our 2020 reduction efforts. Members might not know that the EU is, overall, already on track to meet its 2020 commitments and, in light of that and the Paris agreement, the EU needs to go beyond that. There needs to be a focus on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and addressing land emissions effectively. That means that if we take in carbon through forestry, for example, that should not mean we do less in energy or in transport. Making a link to climate finance, subsidies that go to support fossil fuels need to phased out. There needs to be a focus on grants for adaptation and increasing resilience and these moneys need to be new and additional. I will leave it at that for Dr. Augustenborg to go through some of the recommendations at an Irish level.
Dr. Cara Augustenborg:
I thank members for coming today. I am just going to finish with a few slides on what Ireland's response is and needs to be as a result of the Paris agreement. To set this in an international context, this week the World Economic Forum wrote a report on global risks. It gathered more than 700 experts and identified failure to adapt and mitigate for climate change as one of the top three greatest potential threats to society. Some more specific impacts that are related to climate change, such as impacts on water resources, migration and severe weather, were also identified as significant threats to society at the moment.
Ireland's response to the EU regarding doing its fair share in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions reduction to date has generally been to argue that we are a special case. One could say that every country has its special cases. For example, Poland produces lots of coal and could also argue for a special case. If we do that, none of us will achieve the targets set out in the Paris agreement. We argue that Ireland should now be saying what we can do and what we are doing to meet that agreement, particularly since we are now accepting money from the EU to address flooding, which is related to climate change. In a national context, we did achieve our Kyoto Agreement targets, primarily due to the recession, but we have not had a climate strategy since 2012.
It is now well overdue. We are at the bottom of the pack in our response to meeting our 2020 commitments. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has said that without serious policy implementation we will continue to struggle to meet our emission targets. There are fines for non-compliance, so in addition to not doing our fair share, we face severe penalties for not doing it.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 was passed in December and this set us on a trajectory to begin finally to make some action plans. One of the powerful tools within the Act is the formation of a national advisory committee which was modelled on the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. This committee could allow us to ensure any climate action plans we propose do in fact meet the Paris agreement. The advisory committee was formed officially yesterday. Our concern is that periodic reviews from that advisory council are only set to take place every 18 months. We are expecting a national climate plan early in 2016 and we believe the advisory committee needs to advise the Government before a draft climate plan is put forward. We urge the joint committee members to consider requesting a periodic review from the advisory committee now that it is officially formed. Otherwise that advisory committee is essentially producing submissions after a draft is released and does not have as much power as it should exercise.
All Government policy, such as policy on transport and agriculture, and county development plans now needs to be reviewed in light of the fact that we are a party to the very ambitious goals of the Paris agreement. We also need to ensure our mitigation plans, once the climate adaptation plan is officially approved, are not left on the long finger. We need to begin immediately to meet this ambitious goal.
The energy sector is probably the most ambitious sector from which we could get the fastest wins in terms of reducing emissions. A White Paper was published in December which sets out a good vision for decarbonising our energy sector, ideally by 2050. The action that would yield the fastest results is to look at retrofitting our homes and our building stock to make them more energy efficient. There is nothing to stop us saying that our energy standards will rise from the average of D1 to B1 by 2030. Community ownership and co-ownership is key to the success of any strategies to reducing emissions and energy consumption. We need a community energy strategy to bring on board community ownership. We also desperately need a price for solar energy. At present there is no pathway for communities, schools, farmers to sell solar energy to the national electricity grid. Without that we cannot use alternative renewable energy such as solar energy in decarbonising the national grid. We need to phase out fossil fuel use immediately. This includes stopping the burning of coal at Moneypoint, and ceasing the subsidy on peat burning stations. We have to stop the exploration for oil. We also have to ban fracking. To comply with the Paris agreement we simply cannot do these things any more.
This joint committee has a mandate to look at policy coherence and how our national policies match up with our goals in terms of overseas development. I know Irish Aid is supposed to provide a report which this committee is supposed to review. Climate change is one of the issues on which we need to ensure what we do nationally is coherent with what we do internationally. One example of a risk to that is in the bioenergy sector. We simply do not have enough land to produce the amount of biomass to meet bioenergy targets and therefore there is a risk that we will import biomass such as palm oil from other countries to meet the obligation. Importing that kind of biomass has significant ecological impacts, such as deforestation, on other countries and it also threatens food security for those countries by taking land that is available for agriculture from those countries. This committee needs to consider how our policies around climate action match up with our Irish Aid objectives.
Mr. Mac Evilly addressed the climate finance issue from a global perspective, but members may be aware that Ireland has only contributed €2 million this year to the green climate fund as part of the Paris agreement. When one views that contribution in terms of a per capitafigure, it is equivalent to about 57 cent per capitafrom Ireland compared with the average of €12per capita. What we are offering is internationally embarrassing. We need to offer a figure in the range of €20 million to match the contribution of a country of our size, when one considers that Ireland produces some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capitain Europe and the world. We desperately need to increase our contribution to the green climate fund. We were told that a policy document on this would be brought to Cabinet in December and those of us who were in Paris and met the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, were also told that, as soon as he returned from Paris, he would be making an announcement on increasing our contribution to the green climate fund. Neither of those things has happened. This contribution is well overdue and we are at risk of international embarrassment if we do not address it soon.
I thank Dr. Augustenborg for her very comprehensive report on the agreement and Ireland's response. At our meeting before Christmas members had the opportunity to state their opinions, so in the interest of getting the most out of this meeting, I ask members to confine their contributions to questions.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. The key issue is fossil fuel, a topic on which the leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan, and others have spoken, and the fact that 80% of the oil that we know exists in the world today must remain in the ground. What I have not seen from all the commitments that have been made is the commitment from the oil industry to allow that. Ultimately profit is king. Governments can make pledges but companies can continue to extract oil from the ground. At present oil is cheap and there is no reason that companies will not continue to do that. In essence no target will be met. If we continue to burn fossil fuel, and there is no reason that it will not continue, then we will not meet the target in any shape or form. Did the oil industry make any commitment to the Paris agreement?
On a related question, the price of oil is falling rapidly. Inevitably this means that there will be less research into alternatives and alternative energy sources become relatively much more expensive. Much of this has happened since the Paris meeting. All the indications are that oil will get cheaper. What effect will this have on all the figures and the target? Does it make what has been agreed almost irrelevant at this stage or is this a temporary phenomenon? The indications are that it is not a temporary blip but a long-term phenomenon that oil prices will be low indefinitely.
Were the witnesses surprised by the agreement that came out of the Paris meeting? There had been suggestions that no leadership would be shown. Do they think that the chairing of the meetings by the French was helpful?
We have seen some of the disastrous consequences of climate change, such as the flooding in Ireland, but that pales in comparison with what is happening in less developed countries. During our visit to Tanzania we visited a project in which Irish Aid was involved in training local people to train other local people to use less water and other resources when growing rice.
The impressive point was that the rice output in some of those areas doubled. Would the witnesses see that type of leadership - namely, getting local people to teach local people - as a role for Irish Aid in the future?
It is widely accepted that the State will not reach the EU’s 20-20-20 targets of a 20% reduction in emissions from the non-emissions-trading sectors. What does the State need to do on this? I am critical of this whole idea of developed states using the allowances of the least developed countries, LDCs, and trading emissions. It is not doing anything for the planet and we are just codding ourselves. Where do the witnesses see leadership coming from in the future after the Paris conference? Would they be concerned about some of the outbursts from some of the US presidential candidates on global warming? Several elections ago in this country, all political parties promised to be carbon-neutral, but we do not talk about that any more. Is there a need for more awareness about this among the general public?
Community energy projects are part of the answer, but people have to buy into them. We have not been good at this. What is the next step and what do we need to be doing over the next five and ten years on this? Everyone is in favour of wind energy but no one wants a wind farm beside them. Should we be locating these out at sea rather than beside people’s homes?
Fracking was also referred to. One of the reasons oil prices are cheap is that it is an attempt to stop the development of this energy source. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, is coming down the tracks, along with the investor state dispute settlement, ISDS, process which will allow companies to take on countries. Is this a concern, particularly with fracking? For example, Lone Pine Resources is aiming to sue the Canadian Government for $250 million in response to a moratorium placed on fracking in Quebec.
Everyone is in favour of reforestation, but some of the regulations from the EU make it difficult for Coillte engage in it. Is there a need for changes to the regulations?
I thank the delegates for their contributions, which were detailed and in many ways scary. Are we going to meet these heavy demands? For example, will we be able to phase out fracking and oil and gas exploration? One hears people arguing that we need to bring in as much oil as we can. The Government is attacked for not issuing enough exploration licences.
It is ironic that when Dublin City Council argued that it required additional water sources from the Shannon to secure the water supply to the city of Dublin, people campaigned against the proposal. The reason I am highlighting that is that the delegates highlighted the fact that our summers are getting hotter and, therefore, continuity of water supply is vital. Is there any argument against surplus waters being diverted from the Shannon to catchment areas, such as artificial lakes on the bogs of Offaly?
Ireland is sensitive about agricultural production as it is a large sector in the economy. We hear about the damaging environmental role that beef production plays in emissions. Is there an argument that we can offset this? There are balances between food and water security - the basics of life - and emissions. Could intensive reforestation compensate for the negative aspects of cattle ranching?
Obviously, human rights must be respected. The development of gender equality, women’s empowerment and intergenerational equality are important human rights issues. How does the debate about climate change potentially impact gender equality, for example?
Climate change is the biggest challenge facing us. If we do not get that right, we will see increasing poverty and hunger. What would the delegates identify as the most significant decision that came out of the Paris conference? What was the most disappointing decision? What decision, if it had been included, would have made the most difference?
There was much disappointment that the recent climate Bill did not go far enough. What do we need to do to bring it a stage further?
At the centre of everything is policy coherence. We are not paying enough attention to that because we are giving with one hand and taking with the other. I attended a recent event at Trinity College Dublin looking at the aftermath of the Paris conference. There is a need for rolling out that kind of meeting across Ireland. We think climate change belongs to somebody else and that it does not affect us. We do not see the implications of decisions we are making here on other places. Are the various groups planning to come together to have that sort of awareness campaign throughout the country?
What will be the effects of the outcome of the Paris conference on animal and plant life?
Professor John Sweeney:
It is difficult to know where to start. There have been so many questions that it would occupy a full college course on the topic. I will do my best, however.
The build-up to the Paris conference was the key to its success. I attended the abortive 2009 Copenhagen conference but came away from it disillusioned, realising that it set us all back by seven years. To get back on track for where we hoped to be after Copenhagen, there was a sense in the world community that it could not happen again that way in Paris in 2015. Several matters conspired in getting the choreography right before Paris actually happened. The first was the effort by the US President, Barack Obama, to forge an agreement with China. That agreement was forged in the later stages of his presidency but it was one that took much of the sting out of any agreement that might be reached for the rest of the world.
The second factor was the efforts of the Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, who has worked tirelessly over the past few years to bring world leaders together in the build up to Paris to ensure that an agreement was reached. There were several summit meetings at the United Nations and he travelled throughout the world to meet on a one-to-one basis with many leaders to get them on side before Paris.
The third factor was the efforts of the French diplomatic system. We were blessed here in Ireland by having a very active French ambassador who was himself a negotiator at Kyoto in his earlier days and who also worked actively behind the scenes within the Irish system here. As part of a large scale effort in the global sense, the French diplomatic system worked very hard. President Hollande visited most of the key people at least once over the course of the previous year.
The fourth factor, which was quite influential behind the scenes, was the Papal Encyclical, Luadato si'. Here was something which was written in plain English, which was not overburdened by theology but which could actually bring the message home to people in a very effective way. It has had a profound background effect on many of the political figures around the world since its publication in June.
All of this set the scene for a conference which one sensed would be different right away when one arrived in Paris. The mood was different from all the other COPs I have attended. There was a feeling that an agreement would emerge and so it did. After the third day of the second week, the optimism dissipated briefly when things went down on paper and negotiators did not see their pet projects appearing, but the process was resurrected and quite a considerable framework agreement was achieved. That is the important point today. It is a framework agreement which puts the ball back in countries' courts. It is up to countries now to live up to the obligations they made.
I can address a couple of the other points briefly. The point Deputy Eric Bryne raised about the River Shannon was a very valid one. It brings home to us the consequences at a local level of what is happening at a global level. To provide a snippet of scientific research published by the UK Met Office in December, it estimated that the probability of a ten-day extreme rainfall event such as the UK had experienced had increased seven-fold as a result of the loading of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. The research was based on a very comprehensive modelling effort. It brings home to us the fact that we face a greatly increased hazard. There are adaptation responses we can make to that. The Deputy is right that we can with judicious planting reduce flood hazard in some places. With judicious planting of forest, we can gain some sequestration of carbon which will help us with our obligations in the future. We have to be very careful where we plant new forests, however. If we plant them in carbon rich soils and remove the carbon from that soil as a consequence, we are actually undoing some of the benefits we would otherwise achieve. It has to be done with a very careful policy in mind.
In terms of farming, the farmers of Ireland are among those I admire most in the country. They are excellent farmers and stewards of the landscape. We have to face the idea of rewarding them by putting some of the single farm payment towards farmers who are willing to let lands close to the Shannon flood in the winter time to allow that reservoir of water to be stored for a while rather than to run down the river to flood high amenity urban land elsewhere. We need thinking out of the box on how we manage the area around the Shannon. It has been a bugbear as we know for almost a century at this stage, but there are options available.
In terms of what we should be doing and what we would we do not like about the Paris agreement, the most significant decision was the ratcheting effect. That is the effect whereby every five years a country must come back with increased efforts. That may not sound all that bad now but if it is implemented and one multiplies it by ten, 15 or 20 years, it will mean getting to grips with the problem.
The most disappointing thing for me was the absence of shipping and aviation from the agreement. Those very powerful interest groups managed to get themselves excluded. If one adds up the emissions from shipping and aviation globally, they account today for the combined emissions of the UK and Germany. It is a very substantial loss. We hope that the aspirations and commitments they made to tighten up their emissions and avoid burning high sulphur and heavy fuel oil where it is unnecessary will begin to produce results in that area.
Oil prices are a problem as Deputy Olivia Mitchell was saying. It is a two-edged problem. As oil prices fall, fertilizer costs for the developing world will also fall so that some farmers in developing countries will benefit considerably from their ability to farm more efficiently. For some of the large developing countries like India and Brazil, it may be more of a problem and it may well be that they would prefer higher oil prices. We have to think about how we are going to spend the taxation from energy in that situation of falling oil prices. Should we ring-fence more of it towards encouraging renewable energy for example?
I was asked what I would change in the climate legislation. The awareness issue raised by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is very important. The budget for climate awareness in the last five years has been very small indeed and not much has been spent to enhance climate awareness in Ireland apart from initiatives like the encouragement of the green schools system. I would like to see more of that. Responsibility and policy coherence are critical here. I would have hoped that responsibility for the climate change Bill would have been taken by the Department of the Taoiseach rather than left to individual silos to fight their corners individually. That has been a bugbear which has affected progress on mitigation over the last few years.
I was asked about animals and plants. We tend to forget about biodiversity. The person who asked the question was right. The Papal encyclical was actually very strong on the point that we share the planet with other organisms and have no right to render them extinct to suit our own needs. It is a very valid ethical point which we have to take cognisance of.
I have talked enough and should pass on to someone else at this point.
Mr. Jerry Mac Evilly:
I thought Professor Sweeney was going quite well. I will just go through a few questions. Senator Daly made the point that oil needed to stay in the ground. Obviously, it does. We need to see more from the companies involved, but ultimately the obligations that are there are on states. As such, the question is how we move beyond that. States need to examine their own investments in fossil fuel companies. This issue of subsidies for fossil fuels also needs to be addressed and we need more incentives for renewable energies. Similarly, fossil fuel companies will have less opportunity to operate where choices for renewable energy are made. It links back in with some of the recommendations Cara made.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, is another big concern for Trócaire. There is a concern that fracking of gas in the United States in combination with the TTIP agreement could lead to an increase in gas exports to the EU and, similarly, to an increase in fossil fuel use. The two other main concerns in regard to the TTIP, without getting too technical, involve first, a dispute mechanism to arbitrate decisions under the TTIP which explicitly excludes states and national judicial systems. There is an element of disenfranchisement there in that states would not have a role in arbitrating on those agreements. Similarly, the TTIP will also impact on the ability of countries to incentivise their own indigenous industries. That is of particular concern in regard to renewables.
I was also asked about the potential for forestry to be used to offset some of our emissions. I know there are already plans to significantly increase forestry in Ireland. It is important to clarify that although such an approach would be worthwhile, it would not be a silver bullet. It would not entirely offset the increases that are going on at the moment. Reductions in emissions across all sectors, including energy, transport, agriculture and housing, would still be required. Reductions would need to take place even with an increase in forestry. Such an increase would be worthwhile nonetheless.
Deputy Eric Byrne asked about the impact on human rights and on food security. Obviously, in the national context we are concerned about Irish exports. We would make the point that Irish meat and dairy products are not providing food security in the developing world because they are aimed at middle-class customers. Regarding the human rights impacts of climate change, I will explain in a little detail why we would see the effects of climate as only being human in nature. Some 2.8 million people in Malawi are currently in need of food. One of the main effects of climate change in the developing world is a reduction in crop yields. This is where the whole food security issue comes into play. We need to consider how we can support small-scale farmers to produce food in a more resilient fashion. I noted quite a long list of human rights protections in the agreement. I will explain why they are important by taking the issue of gender as an example. It is widely shown that women are more likely to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. It affects their efforts to grow and produce food, for example. Intergenerational equity is also an issue. The point is well made in the encyclical that future generations will bear the brunt of this to a greater extent than current generations.
I will conclude by responding to a couple of other points. I would say the commitment to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5° is the most significant thing in the agreement. It means that the analysis being done by the advisory committee, and the policies coming out of the mitigation plan in the Bill, must be directed towards meeting the goal set out in the Paris agreement. We could point out a variety of shortcomings within the agreement, but we would say it provides a start. I fully support Deputy O'Sullivan's point about the need for some sort of climate gathering to be broadened out throughout the country. The only way to get more buy-in is to ensure communities become more engaged. We would make the same point with regard to the election. While it can be difficult for citizens and candidates to raise the issue of climate change, they can express support for sustainable policies and policies that have co-benefits, such as the retrofitting of houses, which was mentioned by Dr. Augustenborg.
Dr. Cara Augustenborg:
I will try to sweep up the questions that have not been addressed. A question was asked about leadership at the Paris conference. The most surprising thing for me was the leadership shown by China in securing the agreement. Many people have credited China with making it happen at the 11th hour. When I have given public talks since I came back from Paris, I have said that we are in a unique situation as a transition generation. Just as we have witnessed the transition from paper to the Internet, we are now witnessing part of the transition from the fossil fuel-driven society that started with the industrial revolution to a society that relies completely on renewable energy. This provides an opportunity for leadership to be shown by everyone, including governmental and community interests. I see leadership happening at a number of levels. I see it as a big election issue, as suggested by Deputy Crowe. I know that Eamon Ryan has proposed a potential debate on this specific issue. This would allow people to show leadership on it.
The targets that will have to be met seem highly ambitious and in some ways impossible. We are making a lot of strides in energy, as I explained previously. Community ownership is part of that. We know that bioenergy is best used when combined heat and power plants are locally owned. People in places like Cloughjordan have demonstrated this by buying wood chip from local farmers, thereby keeping the money in the local economy, keeping the system closed and ensuring there is no dependence on foreign imports. There are opportunities we can build on. We can grow and expand out. There are opportunities for creative financing through credit unions. Communities could come together to invest in solar panels, etc.
I did not talk about transport because the transport sector has really not addressed greenhouse gas emission reductions. It has focused instead on reducing congestion. The development of the Grand Canal cycle path, which was led by the National Transport Authority, is an example of best practice. It shows where we should be going with cycling in this country. We need to get people out of their cars and onto safe cycle paths. We can also look at places like Sweden, which is replacing its entire bus fleet with vehicles powered by biofuels from ethanol. We could look at replacing our own bus fleet. I am aware that Dr. Jerry Murphy of University College Cork has done a great deal of research into how Ireland could replace its bus fleet with buses powered by livestock waste from slaughterhouses, etc. We have opportunities to look at examples of such changes.
It is much harder to reduce emissions from agriculture. The recent flooding showed that being narrowly focused on one sector of industry, such as beef or dairy, is putting farmers at risk with respect to future climate. It is going to get harder for them to do those kinds of things. We need to look at diversifying to protect us from those risks. I will give some examples. Opportunities exist in the agri-forestry sector, which allows farmers to plant trees while continuing to farm in other ways between those trees. We should encourage farmers to start contributing to the renewable energy market through solar and biomass schemes. This would give farmers an opportunity to diversify their income sources. A fantastic study, Green Plan Ireland, which has been published by Professor David Connolly in Denmark, shows that we could completely decarbonise our society by 2050 and create 100,000 new jobs in this country as a result. There are a number of co-benefits to making that transition too.
I will put my scientist's hat on for a minute while I reply to Deputy O'Sullivan's comments regarding the impacts on animal and plant life.
Dr. Cara Augustenborg:
Excuse me. Basically, there will be winners and losers with respect to impacts. We can expect to see an overall species loss as the planet warms. Some species will do better than others. Potentially, there will be more jellyfish but less cod in the sea. I will conclude on that note. I thank the committee for its attention.
I apologise for not being here earlier. I was delayed due to weather conditions. I wish to respond to what was said about the need for farmers to diversify. Our grass-based system makes dairy and beef our primary outputs. It is not that easy to diversify while still making an income. I think it is often lost in the debate that we have very sustainable food production systems. If food production in Ireland or in Europe was to be significantly reduced, food would be brought in from less sustainable systems elsewhere. This would add to the whole emissions problem. I think our approach to livestock, dairy and beef gives us particular advantages in this area. I understand why farmers are reluctant to diversify away from that approach.
Professor John Sweeney:
It is true that we can grow grass better than most countries in the world. It is also true that our farmers engage in efficient and good stewardship of the land. We need to consider whether the business model being employed is the most sustainable one for the future. We are putting all our eggs in the basket of powdered milk for China at present. That might not be too wise from an ethical perspective or in terms of our future economic potential.
As Dr. Augustenborg was saying, we must examine opportunities for diversification and moving up the value chain in agriculture rather than simply moving up the volume chain. We must recognise that all sectors of society will have to bear their share of the cost of tackling climate change. Some sectors bear more than others at present but all sectors will ultimately have to bear their share. With agriculture currently accounting for approximately one third of our non-ETS emissions, it will be recognised that further intensification and expansion of the herd can only be achieved at the cost of applying the polluter-pays principle in some shape or form.
We have increased value in the production system big-time and not just volume. It is a credit to the farmers and agrifood industry. We have diversified the range of products we export, to 161 countries worldwide. We cannot take away from the success of the industry, despite the considerable challenges. Diversification is necessary.
We will take on board the views of the Deputy since he is an expert and former Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I am sure there are views on both sides.
I thank the delegates for their very comprehensive presentation this morning on the agreement. It is a presentation members can use themselves. This meeting was very useful for us. I am sure the next Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade will be dealing with this matter in a more substantial way. Since this committee is coming to the end of its term, it will be a matter for the new committee. I am sure it will be at the top of the agenda.