Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment

Climate Action Progress: Discussion

5:00 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on 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 or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I advise witnesses that any opening submissions or opening statements they have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode, as they interfere with the sound system.

I welcome all of our witnesses. I propose that the main witnesses speak for five minutes each. If the witnesses wish to share their speaking time, I ask them to indicate that before they speak. I will give an indication when a witness has one minute remaining.

The presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer session, during which each member may ask a question. I ask members to wait until all of the presentations have concluded before putting their questions. Our first witness is Mr. Brian Carroll from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Mr. Brian Carroll:

I thank the Chair and committee members. I am accompanied by Mr. Martin Finucane, head of strategic energy policy at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Ms Laura Behan from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr. John Muldowney, responsible for climate change and bioenergy policy at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Mr. Frank Maughan, head of climate mitigation and awareness at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

I have prepared a presentation, copies of which have been provided to members, and I propose to make a brief opening statement on the Paris Agreement, the EU and Ireland's emissions targets, Ireland's national mitigation plan, the national dialogue on climate action and community aspects of the renewable electricity support scheme, as requested.

The Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in global average temperature from pre-industrial levels to well below 2° Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 ° Celsius. Country pledges made by the 195 parties for 2050 exceed the warming limit of the Paris Agreement, pointing to the need for enhanced global commitment. On behalf of its member states, the EU has committed under the Paris Agreement to a reduction of at least 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, to be achieved by a reduction of 43% in the emission trading scheme, ETS, sector, and a reduction of 30% in the non-ETS sector.

It is in the non-ETS sector that each member state of the EU has legally binding targets. It should be noted that Ireland's non-ETS sector is large relative to the EU as a whole, and that within Ireland's non-ETS sector, agriculture accounts for 46% of emissions, compared with 18% for the EU 28.

The latest Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, projections indicate that Ireland's emissions are to be between 4% and 6% below 2005 levels by 2020, against a 20% reduction target. There are a number of reasons for this, including our limited post-crash public investment capacity. For 2030, Ireland will have a 30% emissions reduction target in the non-ETS sector. This represents a significant challenge. To begin addressing this challenge, the Government published its first statutory national mitigation plan last July. It represents an initial step to set us on a pathway to achieve the level of decarbonisation required. The plan contains 61 measures that are in place and 17 that are under consideration, as well as 106 actions. The Government recognises that this first plan does not provide a complete roadmap to decarbonising by 2050, but begins the process of development of medium to long-term mitigation choices for the next and future decades.

This will be an ongoing process and will include the preparation of the ten-year national development plan and successive national mitigation plans at least every five years, as provided for in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. Decarbonisation will involve fundamental societal transformation, as well as ongoing engagement with society through the national dialogue on climate action. The central objective of the dialogue is to create awareness, engagement and the motivation to act across society.

The green schools national climate change action and awareness programme is already under way and an advisory group has been established by the Minister to input into the organisation of regional and local events that will be piloted in the first half of this year. This recognition of the centrality of communities to changing our societies is fully recognised in the design of new policy measures such as the renewable electricity support scheme. Community participation and community ownership are at its core, and the recent consultation set out a number of policy options to support community involvement.

I look forward to engaging with members.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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We now move on to our second witness, Professor John FitzGerald, chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

Professor John FitzGerald:

I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk to the committee. I will not go through the comments in my written statement concerning the urgency of taking action, but we are heading in the wrong direction on climate change. While taking action can be expensive, there can be co-benefits in respect of health and the environment. The job of the council I chair is to advise on how we can decarbonise Irish society at least cost. There have been wins in respect of renewable electricity whereby the cost of electricity for consumers until 2012 was lower because of the deployment of renewable electricity. Win-wins are available.

Regarding the urgent need to take action, I was asked to say something about the emissions targets. We will miss our target for 2020 by a significant amount. We will miss the 2030 and 2050 targets because we are heading rapidly in the wrong direction. Without major new policy initiatives, and based on business as usual and policy as usual, we are heading in the wrong direction. The nature of the initiatives will require broad support in the Oireachtas if they are to happen. It is not just Government that decides; it is the Oireachtas that decides. That is why I particularly welcome this opportunity to give the committee our advice.

Looking to the future, we need to consider a range of different scenarios because we are uncertain what will happen. The forecasts are based on work I did in 2013 and 2014 on growth over the next decade. In the work I did in 2013 and 2014, we may have been too pessimistic about the economy, and the problems may be greater than we think they are, so we need, and the Department needs, to go back and look at the scenarios. The cost of technologies has fallen more rapidly than expected, so that is an area in respect of which we need to map out a route to the future which will be internally consistent. If we electrify transport but do not deal with the problem of electricity itself, we could lock matters into a bad place.

The council is strongly of the view that we need to reflect the damage emitting carbon does to climate and the world in the price of carbon. We need first of all a carbon tax, and there are three reasons for this. It discourages us from burning fossil fuels and encourages us to switch to alternatives such as renewable electricity. It also results in revenue for the Government, which can be used to cut taxes elsewhere and can be used in investment in climate change. The ESRI published between 1991 and 2014, when I retired, on average one and a half reports a year on why carbon taxes are the right solution. There is nothing new to be said on this issue. One of the key reasons is that Ireland could be better off with a carbon tax because it may reduce the need for taxes elsewhere, so there is a benefit. The third, and probably most important, reason is that business in Ireland and worldwide knows it will make money out of investing in technologies that will be clean if the price of carbon is high. This is what is driving the research in electric cars worldwide: the prospect that carbon will be expensive. This is why we need to reflect the damage done to climate in the price of carbon.

One area we are concerned about is the EU emissions trading scheme. In our first statement, in June 2016, we recommended the Government support the French initiative to put in a carbon price floor, which would have guaranteed a rising and substantial price of carbon and electricity. It would have sent the right signal and obviated the need for subsidies for renewable power because the price would have made it profitable to invest in renewables. This is a much better solution. One thing we need to explore is whether Ireland, along with a range of other countries, should introduce a carbon price floor even if the EU does not do so. The Dutch Government in its most recent programme for Government proposes to do so. These are areas in respect of which we must deal not just with the non-ETS sector, but with the ETS sector as well, electricity in particular.

The council has strongly recommended we stop subsidising peat-fired power generation. The subsidy is €100 million a year to keep a few hundred jobs in place. One could produce real, sustainable jobs which are not damaging society by spending just one year's subsidy. It is right that people who lose out from our tackling climate change should be compensated, and we need to do so. The money is there. To spend €100 million a year on subsidising the emission of 2.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide does not seem wise or sensible. That is important.

Finally, we need to define what neutrality is in agriculture. We need to take the win-wins. Agriculture will have to change significantly, particularly in the context of land use. Changes to land use could make a big difference, taking carbon out of the atmosphere rather than pumping it into it.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I call the president of the IFA, Mr. Joe Healy.

Mr. Joe Healy:

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting the IFA to address the committee. The agrifood sector is Ireland's largest indigenous productive sector, exporting food, drink and forest products worth over €13.5 billion in 2017 and providing employment to more than 300,000 people directly and indirectly. It has been a key driver in Ireland's economic recovery and is the backbone of economic activity across the rural economy.

Regarding climate, there are a number of facts that are often unheard in the climate and climate response debate. Since the established base year of 1990, agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 3.5%, while Ireland's national emissions have increased by 10.4%, driven mainly by the transport sector, where emissions have increased by 139%. Emissions from energy industries have increased by 10%. European and international leaders speak with one voice about agriculture's climate response. Agriculture's role must be considered in the context of the additional demands on food, fuel and energy production in addition to environmental enhancement. That said, Ireland has a responsibility to act, and within this context agriculture has an important role to play, while respecting the need to safeguard food production.

Ireland is taking a leading position by targeting European funding through the Common Agricultural Policy to areas that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the sector. Almost 90% of the measures in Ireland's rural development programme involve climate-reducing elements. These measures include the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which promotes the retention of soil carbon stocks through the encouragement of climate-friendly agricultural practices such as minimum tillage, green-cover establishment and low-emission manure spreading techniques. GLAS is oversubscribed, with a high level of farmer interest in participating. I strongly encourage the Government to reopen the scheme and allow maximum participation. Other programmes include the beef data and genomics programme and the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, better known as TAMS, which assist farmers to reduce emissions and increase productive efficiency.

Emissions intensity as a proportion of output is the most appropriate climate measure of agriculture, particularly if we accept the position of the EU heads of Government and the international Paris Agreement of December 2015.

Research completed by the European Commission's science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre, demonstrates that Ireland has an emission-efficient model of food production. Ireland's dairy farmers have the lowest carbon footprint in the EU for milk production and our beef farmers are in the top five. This is not surprising given our natural grass-based model of food production and our temperate climate, with 90% of our agricultural lands being carbon sequestering grasslands. These facts around Irish farmers' emission-efficient model of food production are welcomed but they still provide no room for complacency.

Ireland is the only country in the world that monitors, measures and manages carbon from farm to fork. For example, 90% of beef exports are now in an audit and carbon foot printing programme and 100% of milk production is entering into a carbon auditing cycle. In addition, over 137,000 carbon assessments have been completed on farms to date as part of Bord Bia’s Origin Green sustainability programme. In the IFA, we are leading a voluntary initiative called Smart Farming with the Environmental Protection Agency. This aims to address the dual challenges of improving farm incomes while reducing environmental impact. In 2017, the average cost savings identified by participating farmers was €8,700, with average emissions reductions of 10%.

Under the renewable energy directive, Ireland has a mandatory target to produce at least 16% of all energy consumed by 2020 from renewable sources. This is to be met by 40% from renewable electricity, 12% from renewable heat and 10% from the renewable transport sector. Agencies such as the Institute of International and European Affairs estimate that Ireland is likely to be hit with a bill of €610 million by 2020 for breaching the targets. The IFA believes this money should instead be diverted into a climate activation programme, focused on policy measures including the re-opening of the green low carbon agri-environment scheme; the announcement of a farm-based and community electricity tariff for renewable projects; the scaling up of on-farm emission reduction programmes; and the development of a national network of producer organisations to support the mobilisation of the private forestry.

Professor John Sweeney:

I thank the committee for inviting me to appear before it. I recall being here or hereabouts almost 30 years ago, in 1990, for the first national climate change strategy, which is still the best. Like all the others, it has failed miserably to deliver.

The first point to make is that Ireland is already encountering climate change. Everywhere in the country today is 0.5° Celsius warmer than it was 30 years ago. We are on target for the kinds of changes in climate that the rest of the world is experiencing and will continue to experience. We know from our modelling work that over the next 20 years or so we will warm by a further 0.5° and perhaps even by as much as 1° over the next 30 years. That will not be crucial for Ireland. It will extend our growing season and cause complications for our biodiversity but the real climate change impacts in Ireland will come from rainfall changes and increased winter rainfall in the west of Ireland in particular. There will be decreased summer rainfall in the east, where our people are located and public water supply will become a growing concern.

One of the consequences of change of this nature is that the extremes will change much more quickly and radically than the mean. It is part of the consequence when we examine the distribution of climate variables. In many respects we have seen in Ireland over the past few years some of those extremes beginning to manifest themselves. We cannot label individual extremes confidently yet to climate change but, increasingly, the science is enabling us to assess the contribution made by anthropogenic climate change to them. We know from work done in Maynooth that the winter of 2013 to 2014 was the stormiest winter both in Ireland and the UK for at least the past 143 years. That is an extreme event. We know the winter of 2015 to 2016 was the wettest winter on record over large parts or even much of Ireland.

We saw extremes more recently in Donegal in August, where it had approximately half the amount of rain that Dublin had in the entire winter of December, January and February in six hours. More recently, we saw floods in Mountmellick and members are aware of the more recent floods in Galway. All of those are extreme events. The once in a century event is, to some extent, a concept that has really passed its sell-by date.

The Paris obligations have been mentioned and the key phrase as far as I am concerned is that countries must act with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, with developed countries taking the lead. The responsibility for doing most comes to those countries that are better off than other countries and which have historically contributed most to the problem. We know the pathway means the world will have to decarbonise by 50% within the next 20 years, which is quite a tall order. It means there is no time and space for promises or what we might do; there must be urgency in doing what we can now.

There are a number of studies indicating where we should be going. The Stockholm climate equity calculator demonstrates that in the middle of the 2020s we will have crossed the line of equity and be in debt to the developing world with our large amounts of carbon emissions. We are therefore part of the problem rather than the solution. There is a certain revisionism going on with respect to the 2020 obligations, which were accepted by all parties. Members can see in the documentation the extent to which they were endorsed by all parties at the time they were made. Ireland, as we now know, is a laggard, as the Taoiseach said last month. It is the worst performing country in Europe when it comes to climate performance. The national policy position is over and above the climate change Act. In Ireland and without any pressure, we have already endorsed where we should be going. There should be an aggregate reduction of at least 80% compared with 1990 levels across the three key sectors.

We must change the culture of negotiation away from the pattern of returning from Brussels and getting a pat on the back for having got every concession and flexibility possible. We see this very clearly in some of the examples I have given. The 2030 example is best of all, as I have listed a variety of ways in which the Commission's proposals were watered down not solely by Ireland, but by countries, in some cases with Ireland supporting them. It is important we tackle that problem.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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If the witness feels he cannot mention everything, I will give everybody ample opportunity to come in again. Do not feel I have cut you off.

Professor John Sweeney:

I have a few sentences to finish. The window of opportunity is closing very rapidly and increasingly hard choices are down the line. We must start making them very quickly.

Ms Cliona Sharkey:

I express thanks on behalf of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition for the invitation to contribute to the session. Stop Climate Chaos has a set of policy recommendations submitted to the Department during the public consultation on the national mitigation plan and the Citizens' Assembly. We believe, if implemented, these will go a significant way to getting Ireland on track to meeting its own climate action targets, as well as its increasing EU and global climate action mitigation. Today, we will focus our contribution on governance and the crucial role this committee can play in the establishment of an effective policy and accountability cycle for climate action in Ireland.

Weather events across the globe and at home in recent years have seen an increased awareness within Ireland of the reality of climate change and the need for action. We are starting to witness the more visible impacts but in other parts of the world, already increasingly frequent and intense weather events are devastating lives and livelihoods in the poorest countries that have contributed least to the problem and have the fewest resources to cope.

In east Africa today, more than 20 million people are continuing to struggle with persistent drought, and that is with today's level of warming.

Ireland has a proud, long-standing track record for its overseas aid programme. This is a critical contributor to our global reputation. However, it is significantly undermined by our continued poor performance on climate action.

It is important also to recognise that climate change poses more than environmental risks but systemic risks in the context of the failure to curb it in time to deliver on the Paris Agreement. Beyond direct impacts in Ireland, we must be cognisant of spill-over effects of impacts elsewhere in the world, and on European countries, in regard to trade and infrastructure, transport, security and finance, as highlighted by the European Environmental Agency. The risks posed by climate change to the financial system are twofold; the economic and financial implications of the direct physical impacts of climate change, such as the clean-up costs of more frequent and intense disasters, and the risks of failing to curb emissions in a timely manner leading to the prospect of a late, abrupt transition with significant systemic, financial, economic, social and political impacts. That is not some kind of case analysis; these are risks highlighted by an advisory committee to the European Systemic Risk Board, and it has been highlighted publically and repeatedly by the Governor of the Bank of England, Dr. Mark Carney.

The Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 was a major milestone. However, we must be clear that it is not a solution but a call to action. In Paris in 2015, all states recognised the need to increase their action prior to 2020. Furthermore, at its centre, the Paris Agreement contains a ratchet mechanism under which states must submit and report on their ever-increasing emission reductions commitments and actions, beginning in 2020. This is not an externally imposed agenda. The Paris Agreement ratchet mechanism is a recognition at the highest levels of Government, based on the Government-endorsed science, of the fact that there is only one feasible direction of travel, and we must speed up significantly and consistently in our collective interests. Ireland’s support for the weakest or least stringent provisions in EU legislation serves not only to hinder Irish action but EU action as a whole, undermining the progress of all 28 member states to the key goals of the Paris Agreement.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Just to let Ms. Sharkey know, she is over two and a half minutes now.

Ms Cliona Sharkey:

I have just one more sentence. I thank the Chairman. The EU was and remains a critical player in the global fight against climate change. Deliberate undermining of the EU’s ambition should not be taken lightly.

Mr. Oisín Coghlan:

Everyone has acknowledged that Irish emissions are going in the wrong direction and, as a result of that and the analyses that have been offered, our first recommendation is that the national mitigation plan as currently drafted is not fit for purpose. It will not deliver the changes we need.

One piece of analysis that has not been mentioned, as recently reported in the press, is that a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform memorandum from last September has been released under freedom of information. It states: "It would appear that almost no progress has been made on an appraisal-based, prioritised and integrated view of how to meet 2020 and 2030 climate targets". That is a statement made after the mitigation plan was adopted by Government. The advisory council said there is an urgent requirement for new policies, measures and action beyond what is committed to in the national mitigation plan. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said that we need a transformation of our energy, agriculture and transport systems if we are to deliver on our targets. The official view of our mitigation plan, therefore, is that not enough action is being taken.

We take heart from what the Taoiseach said in the European Parliament some weeks ago, that is, that he was not proud of Ireland's record and that we are a laggard. If that admission is the first step towards action, as is so often the case in these kinds of recovery programmes, we welcome it.

We want to outline today what we believe should happen next and we have broken that down into two sections in the presentation: what needs to happen every year and what needs to happen this year in particular. Every year, we need a policy cycle of both planning and accountability that is transparent and effective. The Climate Change Act 2015 establishes an annual policy cycle but there are too many loopholes in the way it is rolled out. We believe this committee has a central role in ensuring parliamentary oversight and accountability. For example, it is good to see representatives from the Climate Change Advisory Council here today and an independent climate scientist. We believe representatives from the EPA should be here. Representatives from the three organisations should come before the committee every January to lay out the state of the climate, so to speak, following which the committee can invite the Ministers who deliver their transition statements to come before it to allow members cross-examine them as necessary on their performance. Representatives from the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, are here but where are the representatives from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport? The Minister, Deputy Ross, has said hardly anything on transport since his elevation to that Ministry. I believe it is the committee's role, in the absence of anyone else, to be like the Committee of Public Accounts for carbon emissions and to bring before it representatives from all the Departments which have a responsibility to act.

In terms of what should happen this year in particular, I will mention two things. This committee should immediately recommend to the Minister that he formally begins a process to revise the national mitigation plan. He has called it a living document and it is time now to put that into practice.

The Oireachtas must treat the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on climate change as seriously as it took its recommendations on the eighth amendment. Given the workload of the committee, we believe it is worth considering whether a new all-party committee with broader representation should be tasked, as happened previously, to come back to the Oireachtas with a consideration of those 18 recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly by the summer.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I must stop Mr. Coghlan but if he or any witness wants to come in at any time, I ask the witness to indicate and I will call him or her. On transport, the committee has done work on the decarbonisation of transport and we will publish a report on that shortly.

I will take a number of questions, which I ask the witnesses to bank and if there is a particular question a witness wants to speak on, even if the question is not directed to them, please feel free to indicate. I will start with the Department. Regarding its comprehensive presentation, the committee would be interested to hear about major initiatives the Department is considering. For example, the retrofitting of public buildings would not only reduce our emissions but would be a major initiative to lead the way in that regard. What are the Department's plans regarding targets, dates and actions on reducing emissions? Also, are there are plans for increased multi-annual budgets to help households in terms of retrofitting? Last week, the committee heard that if one wants to have a complete retrofit of one's household, it would cost up to €40,000. Is the Department considering measures that would encourage households in terms of such retrofitting?

My next question is for Professor FitzGerald. I do not disagree about having to increase our carbon tax but if we move away from dirty energy, we need to encourage people to use alternative clean energy and I am not sure we are there yet. Professor FitzGerald might expand on that and how we need to proceed in that area.

My next question is for Mr. Joe Healy of the IFA. Can he explain why the green, low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, payments are so popular with the farming community? He said it is over-subscribed. He might expand on that issue. I ask the witnesses to bank those questions. I will call Deputy Stanley and then Deputy Dooley, who indicated.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses for their attendance. It is good to have a broad range of organisations represented, many of whose members we have met in the past. As for the Department, it is clear that not alone is there slippage but we are not even keeping apace. If it were not for the crash of the economy between 2008 and 2013 and 2014, we would be galloping further ahead in terms of missing our targets. Do the witnesses believe now that the issue of binding sectoral targets should be inserted in legislation? Some of us sought that when the climate action legislation was before the Dáil and in the forerunner of this committee of which I was a member. While some areas have made a good deal of progress, others have not. I refer to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in particular.

I welcome Professor John FitzGerald's contribution. His comment that not alone have we missed the 2020 target but that he projects we will overshoot the 2030 and 2050 targets was interesting. I recall discussing in this very room the fact that we will hit carbon cliffs, although I did not believe in 2013 that it would come as quickly as it has come.

I refer to the economics of converting to biomass as we hear different views to the effect that it is not possible to do it on a large scale. Obviously, we do not want land that is being used for producing food to produce biomass crops. A balance must be achieved in that regard. My party, Sinn Féin, has produced a paper on biogas, a copy of which I am happy to give the representatives of the groups. We would welcome their views on that.

I thank Mr. Joe Healy from the IFA for his presentation, which I read with great interest. In his statement he said farmers are reducing emissions but the Climate Change Advisory Council referred to increases in respect of agriculture. Mr. Healy might address that and deal with the biomass question in terms of land use.

Also, regarding sugar beet, Mr. Healy will be aware that a meeting was held the other night in Bunclody on restarting the sugar beet industry. Some experts reckon that has a role to play both in biodiversity and as a carbon sink because as Mr. Healy and I know, beet is a covering crop; in other words, it covers the ground with green leaves for about four or five months of the year.

What are the views of the witnesses on restarting it to address our greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce our huge dependency on beef and dairy?

As for the Stop Climate Chaos presentation, it was mentioned that we have the third highest level per person in the European Union. This is alarming.

What is the single most important thing we can do with regard to electric vehicles? We have fewer than 2,000 electric vehicles according to figures I was given recently. There is uncertainty at present with regard to the charging system and its infrastructure because of the decision of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, that it should not stay with the ESB. What should happen here? What should we do to change this quickly?

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I will not go back over what has been said. The witnesses have all made very important presentations. It is clear from everybody around the table that there is a crisis in terms of our lack of ability as an Oireachtas and a Government to address this issue. Things are getting worse and worse. It is very clear when we look at the graph provided by the Department, which sets out how Ireland compares within the EU, just how far we are behind everybody else. My first question to the Department is does it think this issue has reached a crisis point? Does the Department identify and does the Minister indicate that this is a crisis that needs to be addressed? All that flows from this can be helpful.

It is always good to get a perspective of where we are at, where we are not at, how we are doing and how we are not doing and it is very clear it is not working. What we then need is concrete advice and things we can do. Professor FitzGerald spoke about a carbon tax. This is obviously an item we must look at. The carbon price floor has been examined. This is an action item we can look at. We can stop the subsidy to peat fire stations. These are three concrete things we have to take on board but there must be more. Mention was made of transport and heat. We need to get direction from the witnesses, as experts, as to what will have a meaningful impact on our emissions and what we can do. There are things we cannot do. There is an issue with agriculture, no doubt about it, but if we were to halve the national herd overnight we would have a crisis in terms of being able to feed people, so this is not an option. There are other measures that can be supported and I thank Mr. Healy for outlining them.

With regard to electric vehicles, people in my constituency tell me they bought into the idea of climate change and got an electric vehicle but while there are three charging points in Ennis none of them are working, and this goes on for weeks. I think I am answering my previous question for Mr. Carroll because if it was a crisis for the Department, these issues would be to the fore and action would be taken. We showed as a country and a Legislature the capacity to deal with a financial crisis. We took really tough decisions that impacted massively on the lifestyle and lives of people. Some people suffered electorally for that but it really was the right thing to do regardless of the political consequences that some suffered. We are heading in the same direction. There is a crisis of equal proportion but nobody is addressing it because it is not real and substantial in terms of the impact on a daily basis.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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I thank our contributors for the useful and informative submissions they have made. The one factor everybody has mentioned is the extent and magnitude of the problem and the urgent necessity to find short-term, interim and long-term solutions. It is easy to identify the problem but it is much more difficult to identify alternatives and how they would be operated.

Professor FitzGerald mentioned land use change. Will he elaborate on what suggestions he has, what changes he is speaking about and what changes he would recommend? With regard to peat power generation and stopping the subsidy, our difficulty in Tipperary and the midlands is that communities have been built around it and there are jobs at stake. It would be important that somebody would identify what are the alternatives for usage of our bogland. People will accept change if there is an alternative that creates employment. This is the difficulty. One cannot just stop without doing some research and development work on alternatives.

Mr. Healy recommends reopening the GLAS programme. What is the number of participants in GLAS? How efficient and cost-effective is it? What is the return for the economy? I am a supporter of GLAS and it should be reopened but it is important to elaborate and state the case for it.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Many questions have been asked and the witnesses should feel free to indicate. Some of the questions were directed at individual witnesses. I will start with the Department to try to deal with those questions.

Mr. Brian Carroll:

There is quite a bit there. I will begin with the issue of sectoral targets, and then call on my colleague, Mr. Finucane, to deal with energy efficiency. I will start by addressing the 2020 targets. When setting targets for climate mitigation, it is very important that any target signed up to is technically achievable, considerations of cost efficiency have been factored in and there is fairness in how the burden is shared among all countries. We are one of three countries that had the highest mitigation target for 2020 in the EU set-up, which was a 20% reduction. It is true that at best, we will have a 4% to 6% reduction against that 20% reduction target. There are some reasons for this. Some of it is due to our limited post-crash public investment capacity. Emissions growth has been coupled with economic growth from 2015, so our emissions have worsened. There are certain structural constraints in terms of a very large agricultural sector, with 46% of our non-emissions trading system, ETS, emissions coming from agriculture. This compares with 18% in the EU 28, and there is limited mitigation potential.

In terms of transport, the bulk of our emissions come from private car journeys and freight and we have a dispersed settlement pattern. In terms of 2030, it has been suggested that Ireland sought every concession and every flexibility. In fact, when the Commission published its effort-sharing regulation proposal, Ireland largely supported the proposal as published. That is factual. In terms of how we now address the 2030 target of a 30% reduction and the best way to deal with it, we will have to consider further policies, actions and measures. It will involve Exchequer investment, private sector investment, regulation, tax measures, information provision and changes in the behaviour of individuals. Many of these have been mentioned already. Deputy Dooley asked whether the Department and the Minister recognise the scale of the problem and the answer is "yes". The answer to whether we recognise the urgency of action is also "yes".

A comment was made on a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform memorandum from September, which highlighted the inadequacy of the appraisal system. That agreed with the diagnosis made in July in the national mitigation plan that the appraisal system was not fit for purpose.

There is an action in the national mitigation plan, which is to be completed in 2018, to address that and that work is under way. The September memorandum referred to, therefore, is simply confirming something that is explicitly recognised in the national mitigation plan, with an action to address it in 2018, and that will be done.

The last comment was about the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, seeing the need for further actions. Further action is absolutely needed.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Did Mr. Finucane want to come in?

Mr. Martin Finucane:

Yes, just to address some of the questions on the energy perspective. The Chairman asked about energy efficiency. The Department operates its energy efficiency schemes through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. Currently, on average, 20,000 to 25,000 houses per annum are grant aided to increase energy efficiency. During the period 2009 to 2017, 210,000 homes received energy efficiency grants. The challenge we have in the future is that many of those homes have been retrofitted with certain measures, but we need to retrofit at a much deeper level which will require additional funding. The Department, and the Minister, have made significant cases to the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of the upcoming capital plan, and we expect to see significant funding made available in this area in the future.

We might also point out that regarding this year's budget, the overall capital budget for the SEAI was increased by approximately 50%, from about €100 million capital to €150 million capital, the significant portion of that being grant aids, not just for energy efficiency on homes but also in respect of commercial activity as well.

The Chairman asked specifically about public buildings. The SEAI works very closely with the public sector and with the Office of Public Works, OPW, in terms of both retrofitting the existing building stock across the public sector and also working with the OPW to ensure that the new fleet coming in, either built by the OPW or hired by the OPW for use by the public sector, meet significantly higher standards from an energy perspective than they would have previously. There is a good deal of action going on in respect of those two areas.

Several comments were made regarding subsidies for peat. There are three peat stations in Ireland, one of which no longer receives a subsidy from the public service obligation, PSO. The two remaining peat stations that do receive a subsidy are due to come out of support from the public service obligation in 2019. Therefore, they will not be receiving support for burning peat beyond that period. The likelihood is that they will increase. Currently, increasing amounts of biomass are being burned in one of the plants and the likelihood is that from a strategic perspective that will increase and probably extend to the other two, but that is a commercial issue for the companies themselves.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I might call Professor John FitzGerald at this point as a number of questions were asked. If he wants to comment on anything else, he may do so.

Professor John FitzGerald:

I will try to group them logically. The Chairman asked about alternative clean energy. One option is that we electrify heating but we do not know whether that is the right answer until we know about electricity, and that is one of the areas we need to explore. Also, we are failing in our renewable heating obligation, more in rural areas than urban areas, and biomass may be an option, but as I indicated, much depends on the relative prices.

Deputy Stanley asked about converting to biomass. I agree with him. On a large scale that does not makes sense. However, in rural areas, a wood chip burner rather than oil may well make sense. There are different ways of using biomass but I disagree with the Department on converting the peat stations to burning biomass. Even if they burn 30% biomass, they will still be emitting more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than anything else in Ireland.

I did a study on large-scale biomass with ESB International, Teagasc and another company 20 years ago. In terms of the issue of biomass, it did not look as if burning it on a large scale made sense. It is in the smaller scale usage. It comes back to the point raised by Deputy Lowry about land use change, and here things fit together. Farmers were making very little out of beef, and they are still making very little out of beef. However, the study showed that if farmers switched from beef production, particularly on drumlin soils, to growing pollarded willow or whatever as biomass, less methane would be emitted from the cattle, the farmers would potentially make more money out of the biomass if there was a market, and the timber would suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. It would be a potential win-win. There are possibilities here in terms of changing land use where agriculture can take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Another policy which is very bad in a different context is draining the swamp. Draining the swamp is also very bad in terms of peatlands because peatlands absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. They suck it out and make the climate better. In terms of providing incentives to make better use of lands, I do not have the answers. Land use change can make a big difference.

In terms of electric vehicles and transport, investing in public transport makes huge sense, in particular combined with the national planning framework. We need to live much more densely. A study done by the University of Limerick showed that people living in Limerick emitted much less carbon dioxide per head than people in surrounding villages because the people from the surrounding villages were commuting into Limerick. We need to reduce commuting, which will be a win-win for everybody.

The Chairman and another member raised the issue of heating and supporting vulnerable households in that she talked about the cost of retrofit. The State cannot subsidise that. It should be profitable for people to retrofit their homes. There is the problem of the divorce index. Myself and my wife decided that we had to make changes. She wanted to go ahead immediately and we did. She won. We had to re-plumb the entire house to put in a really efficient boiler and at the same time we insulated the house. It was chaos. We did not divorce, but it is about the behavioural problems of households. Our heating bills are 70% of what they were previously so it made eminent economic sense but with households, we are dealing with much more complex issues. There are rural households where the people are elderly, poor and using solid fuels. It would make sense for the State to go in but if someone knocks on the door of a house up a valley in Kerry and says, "We are here to turn your house upside down and make you comfortable", will that work? In the area of households, we need, first, to target the very vulnerable households if we are going to spend State money and then, second, work out how to do that. It is not just about price or subsidies. It is how we get people to change who are scared and will be disrupted. It is a more complex issue. It is not just about price. There are other issues.

Regarding peat, Deputy Lowry said that jobs are at stake but it would have been better if the €100 million being spent this year had been spent on creating a lot of jobs. We need to make a change in that regard and, as I said, I do not believe biomass is part of the solution. I have not answered all the questions but I have tried to do so.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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There were questions asked of Mr. Joe Healy from the Irish Farmers Association.

Mr. Joe Healy:

There were a few questions asked. I will answer the one on the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and Tom Short and Thomas Ryan might take the ones on emissions and the beet aspect.

I will deal with the two questions on the GLAS payments. A value for money review was done on the reason the scheme is so popular. It is oversubscribed. Many more farmers have come into the scheme. On the previous occasion, as soon as it was opened it was again oversubscribed. There are two issues in this regard. It is a rural development scheme. There is money out of it for farmers to do the right thing, and it covers their costs.

Regarding carbon sequestration, over the five years of GLAS the target will be 90,000 ha of crop cover delivering 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide savings per year.

Minimum tillage is being used across 30,000 ha with the potential to sequester 10,000 tonnes of carbon per year, and 1.4 million m of new hedgerows has the potential to sequester 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

To respond to Deputy Lowry's point on value, first, it helps to maintain that money in rural areas. It is a long way short of the rural environment protection, REP, scheme what was in place in terms of the money accruing from it, but it helps to maintain rural areas. It is probably difficult enough to quantify the value in it but it helps to maintain schools and businesses. Agriculture has a turnover of €26 billion per year but €24 billion of that is retained within the economy and three quarters of all inputs into agriculture are sourced locally. That highlights the importance of agriculture in rural areas to keep businesses and rural areas alive. We can talk about willow and there is a place for it but we must remember that willow will not keep schools open in rural areas. A willow branch will not play full back on the Ballyragget hurling team. It will not keep teams alive. There is a follow-on.

With the work farmers do through GLAS there is such a huge knock-on effect that is very often missed in terms of tourism in the most vulnerable rural areas. The committee members did not need me to come into this room this evening to tell them that either. That is the value to it. When we talk about production, and I mentioned it in my presentation, what frustrates farmers is the fact that we are four times more efficient from a carbon point of view at beef production than the likes of Brazil. In Brazil 80 kg of CO2 is produced to produce a kilo of beef. Across Europe the average is 19 kg, yet the Commissioner for Trade, Commissioner Malmström, as recently as today said she is very anxious to do a trade deal with Brazil that will allow Brazil access to export a lot more beef into Europe. On the one hand we have politicians in Europe telling us to do what we should do to improve the environment, which we want to do, yet they are willing to do a trade deal with countries that are not nearly as efficient as us. Projections indicate that the world population will grow by 2 billion to 9 billion over the next 25 years. All those people will have to be fed. If the food is not produced in Ireland or Europe, it will be produced in countries that are not nearly as carbon efficient as we are. We are the most carbon efficient producers of dairy product in Europe and we are in the top five most carbon efficient producers of beef in Europe.

Mr. Thomas Ryan:

In response to Deputy Stanley, the figures quoted in the presentation were published by the EPA in December 2017 based on greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 up to 2016. The discussion on the amount - how much - clouds the real need for action in terms of how to. The data are the data and the figures are the figures. The president referred in his presentation to the need for the reopening of GLAS. Farmers are actors in the rural community.

There is a need for farm-scale, community and rooftop renewables, be they solar, micro or wind. The energy White Paper published in 2015 by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment speaks to an energy citizen, but to be honest, as rural communities we have yet to see the policy measures put in place to empower rural communities to take on renewable energy production in a sustainable way to ensure we do not have a similar bad experience as happened in 2008 where the policy support measures were not in place. There is a need for a tariff premium outside of the auction system proposed by the Department for farm-scale, community projects and for roof-mounted renewable projects such as solar. In addition, there is a need to scale up programmes such as the carbon navigator and smart farming which are addressing the challenge. They are speaking to the dual challenges of improving farm incomes while enhancing the environment.

Reference was also made to biomass. I hope we are about to have a second start at a biomass programme. The lack of development of a supply chain and of supply centres meant that we had a false start a number of years ago. If we are serious about moving from focusing on "how to" rather than "how much" in terms of the figures, we must focus on biomass, farm-scale, community renewables and scaling up existing mitigation programmes such as carbon navigator and smart farming in addition to the reopening of GLAS. That is where the discussion needs to go in terms of putting in place the necessary policy measures.

Mr. Tom Short:

As chairman of the IFA's renewables project team, it is very heartening to hear the good debate here. Farmers will not be found wanting in terms of willingness to engage and to renew some of the crops that we have, but as my colleague has just said, we have to be very careful. We put our toe in the water eight or ten years ago and farmers got particularly badly burnt. That cannot be repeated.

Deputy Stanley made a point about the renewal of the sugar industry. We had a very successful sugar beet industry and it was talked down. Our concern is that if farmers have to put their hands in their pockets to the tune of approximately €220 million, they will be able to get a long-term return on it. Sugar is not what it used to be given that it is often viewed now as the new tobacco. We must be very careful what type of industry we get. There would not be too many farmers with in excess of €100,000 in capital to invest.

Professor John Sweeney:

I think there is a risk here that we are mixing up efficiency with emissions. There is a great deal of emphasis on efficiency in agriculture, and while I welcome that and think it is a very important thing to progress, the atmosphere does not recognise efficiency in any way. What matters is the absolute emissions. Yes, we can tinker around with 50,000 tonnes a year here and there, but agricultural emissions are 19 million tonnes per year, so something more radical is required than some of the schemes we have been hearing about. It is the disruption of the existing agricultural model that is required ultimately. That is where I think we have to face facts here. We are not going to solve this problem by tinkering with it. We have 1 million extra cattle on the land in the past three years. That is 1 million extra mouths to feed. No wonder we have a fodder crisis.

To go back to Deputy Dooley's comments, no one is talking about culling the herd by half. We are talking about a sustainable agricultural system where emissions are brought down. At the moment, Teagasc is estimating that agricultural emissions will rise to at least 2025 and beyond. That will put the burden on the taxpayer. That will put the burden not just on the rural community but on the general taxpayer. We should not mix up the agricultural community with the whole community because the Citizens' Assembly was representative of the whole community and its outcome was 89% in favour of there being a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. There is no way that we should allow a sector to have a free pass. We should reward those farmers who take the initiative and try to prepare themselves for the future in terms of land use change. I am very supportive of farmers. We have the best farmers in Europe but we cannot allow one sector simply to derail the whole national economy for the future in terms of this vital strategic interest.

Mr. Oisín Coghlan:

Deputy Dooley asked the Department whether we have reached a crisis point and asked us all what concrete things could be done to address the situation. Deputy Stanley specifically asked Friends of the Earth about electric vehicles.

As to what we should do about the crisis, my advice is that Ireland, its politicians and media should start to treat climate change the way we treat Brexit, namely, as an external threat that is only beginning and will unfold over decades, one which poses risks to all parts of society, requires immediate and sustained action from all sectors of the economy and needs co-ordination across all Departments as well as political leadership from the Taoiseach and all parties in the Dáil. We have seen such a response to Brexit but we have not seen a similar systematic response on climate.

As to what we do in terms of concrete recommendations, Friends of the Earth and Stop Planet Chaos have many recommendations, of which I will mention one or two. As I noted at the end of my opening statement, a significant deliberative process was undertaken by 99 citizens at the Citizens' Assembly under the chair of Ms Justice Laffoy. It was fascinating to listen to the discussions over four days. When citizens were given time, space and information and had experts only speaking to them, rather than organisations such as Friends of the Earth or the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, they produced a highly progressive and radical set of recommendations across all sectors that challenge all of us. The first step we should take is give these recommendations due consideration. The recommendations have been published and the report of the Citizens' Assembly will be formally presented to the Oireachtas shortly. Members will then have to decide how to respond to the report. There is plenty to work with in it and it will offer a good departure point for a revision of the national mitigation plan.

To address some of the issues raised, the IFA has stolen most of my lines on community energy and solar. Friends of the Earth and the IFA are very much at one that while the Government's proposal on an official renewable electricity scheme is relatively good in terms of providing some supports for community ownership and community led developments and placing an obligation on developers to share equity in developer led projects, it is bad on solar power. The reason this is important is that solar is the area in which many people could become involved. This could become a societal project rather than one involving only highly organised commercial or community organisations. For example, I would like every green school to become a solar school. Currently, they cannot sell electricity back to the grid. This is not just about the megawatts involved, which would be limited in number, but hearts and minds and a sense of ownership of this project. Although the official renewable energy scheme, RES, did not feature solar power at micro or rooftop level, officials and the Minister have since stated they are committed to introducing a scheme for rooftop solar at the same pace as they introduced the official larger scheme for renewable electricity. I hope this scheme will be delivered this year in order that we can all begin to take part in it.

On the issue of transport, electric vehicles and recharging infrastructure are important. The market is moving at a faster pace than politicians and bureaucracy are ready for. In other countries, take-up of electric vehicles is speeding up and people are looking for this option. The issue must be resolved. However, Friends of the Earth's view, which is shared by Professor Fitzgerald, is that electric vehicles are only one part of the solution. The Citizens' Assembly, for example, recommended that we reverse the proportion of investment allocated to roads and public transport, respectively. This would mean spending two thirds of transport investment in public transport and one third in roads. Real gains can also be made in cycling and walking, two areas which also deliver co-benefits in terms of health and human connectivity.

We must clarify an issue on peat. If I understand the views expressed by Professor Fitzgerald and the Citizens' Assembly correctly, we should not only end subsidies for peat but also stop burning peat within perhaps five years. It is not acceptable, therefore, for the Department to state that once peat subsidies have been removed, the decision as to whether to burn peat will be a commercial one. The ESB and Bord na Móna, two semi-State companies, are agreeing to continue to burn peat until 2030, which is just not good enough. Moreover, it is not good enough to cross-subsidise peat burning through subsidies for the co-firing of biomass. Until recently, the biomass used here was palm kernels from palm oils, the production of which is devastating habitats and livelihoods in the global south.

We must start the firing gun on withdrawing from peat burning. In this regard, I will make a quick analogy. When a US multinational company pulls out of Ireland, the Minister brings the relevant agencies, including IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, together overnight, appoints a task force and promises to use the factory to be vacated and seek as many supports as possible to assist the affected workers and communities to come out the other side. It is easier, if not easy, when someone else starts the firing gun and the decision is taken by faceless people in a boardroom in Silicon Valley. In this case, however, we must start the firing gun and eliminate peat production in five years. This will mean establishing a transition task force and using current expenditure on peat from the public service obligation levy to help communities to determine what their community will be like in ten years, help workers retrain and so on. We cannot allow the ESB and Bord na Móna to decide they will not stop burning peat until 2030 because at that stage, we will have bust all the carbon budgets for agriculture and everything else and given them all to the peat sector. That makes no sense for anybody.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Muldowney from the Department has indicated he wishes to make a point. If any of the other witnesses wishes to make a contribution before I invite Senator Lombard to comment, he or she should indicate.

Mr. John Muldowney:

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I will make a number of points on agriculture and land use. Professor Fitzgerald stated the agriculture sector needed to define carbon neutrality. This is acknowledged in the national mitigation plan in which we set this out as a priority action. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency put a research call out to tender but no applications were received. We hope the research call will be relaunched this year in order that we can try to address how we define carbon neutrality.

We pitched the discussion on the approach to carbon neutrality in the national mitigation plan on the basis of a three-legged stool. The three areas are: abatement of non-CO2 emissions, namely, methane and nitrous oxide; trying to increase sequestration in terms of forests and soils; and trying to contribute to the energy discussion in terms of contributing to renewable energy supply and improving energy efficiency at farm level. We fully acknowledge the role agriculture has to play in contributing to the national targets. We acknowledge it is a significant component of the national emissions profile and we have put significant funding around abatement options in the rural development programme, which the IFA mentioned. We are doing considerable work on this issue.

We also have a significant research programme examining the research needs of agriculture and what are the options around methane and nitrous oxide. The most recent projects, AGRI-I and SUDEN, which were completed last year, contributed to an updating of the national inventory of nitrous oxide emission factors from the soil. AGRI-I also identified a very successful new fertiliser formulation with stabilised urea that reduces ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions. We will see how well the new fertiliser is adopted by farmers. We also have significant animal breeding programmes which seek to ensure the emissions intensity of livestock is reduced.

On livestock numbers, I do not know from where Professor Sweeney obtained the growth figure of 1 million head. The figures I have for the dairy sector are for a 22% growth in dairy cow numbers, which would suggest an increase in numbers of approximately 200,000 rather than 1 million.

Professor John Sweeney:

The 1 million figure is from the Central Statistics Office numbers for total cattle.

Mr. John Muldowney:

In terms of average, the national population is not growing by a significant amount. Last year's state of the environment report by the EPA indicated that livestock numbers had declined by 1 million while the human population had increased by 1 million. We have to take this in the context of where we can contribute to these targets.

On alternative land uses, the Department funded a biomass support scheme. This must be considered in terms of the demand side for renewable energies. We cannot have one side without the other in terms of working together and collaborating. The Department is trying to work with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on how we look at renewable energy technologies.

The most significant abatement option is our afforestation policy. Since 1990, we have afforested in excess of 300,000 ha., contributing significantly to increasing the carbon pool available to Ireland.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the contributions to this debate which have been very positive. I am interested in the electric car initiatives such as the one in Cork a few years ago called Drive4Zero, which promoted electric car use particularly in the city centre. Is the roll-out of electric cars moving ahead of the infrastructure?

Do the witnesses think there is a rural-urban divide in respect of climate action? This has been a unique debate. We have spoken about a carbon tax. Who will be most affected by that, young or old people? What would its effect be on them? We have spoken of moving from beef to wood. How would the rural economy survive by forestry? Would rural Ireland become a walking way or playground instead of active farmland? Will our society become more urban off the back of such policies?

We have heard people say that the ratio of investment should be two thirds in public transport and one third in roads. The biggest issue in rural Ireland is the lack of roads. Will that be our new approach? Climate action is a unique challenge but how do we bring the people, rural and urban, with us? That is the biggest issue I have seen in this debate. There have been many proposals but there is great fear in the farming community that the targets in Food Wise 2025 will impinge on the environment and they will be pulled back. There has been a real change in dairy numbers, more so than in beef numbers because it has been profitable and rural communities have survived on it. When this debate is over will the rural-urban divide be wider? Will the changes affect rural people more than urban?

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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One of the five year objectives of the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, is to deliver 1.4 million m of new hedgerow which have the potential to sequester almost 5,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. I can see how many hedgerows have gone from the fields around my home. It is the same in every part of the country. I asked one person why they were taking it out and they told me they were cleaning it up. I said it did not look dirty. A hedgerow is not dirty. I never figured out what the person was talking about. The concern is that while that scheme exists, hedgerows are being bulldozed at the moment. I am not sure why because it is not good from a farmer's point of view because not alone are they removing the sequestering value, as a carbon sink, but also a barrier for shelter and drainage because a good strong ditch soaks up the water. Why are farmers persisting in cutting them down to the scut? We are not as bad in this part of the world as up the road in the Bible belt.

I welcome the progress made with GLAS and that the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, has rowed in behind it. I can see its value but damage is being done while we improve things. Cuttings from hedgerows around the country are lying in drains. Can we not between us figure out some way of gathering that up and, instead of setting fire to it in the corner of a field when it is dry, use it for some type of biomass to fire something or other? Does the IFA have any views on that?

Mr. Joe Healy:

On the last point, hedgerows are protected under the basic payment scheme. Planning permission or some sort of permission is necessary to remove them and they have to be replaced. The target is 1.4 million m to be planted over the next few years.

We are opposed to another carbon tax because history shows that the carbon tax introduced in 2011 made no impact and carbon emissions increased. In those arguments, it is very important that we do not pluck figures out of the air. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures show that the cattle numbers in the past three years went from 6.9 million in 2015 to 7.2 million in 2016 and 7.3 million in 2017. That increase is a long way short of 1 million head.

Ms Cliona Sharkey:

Based on Trócaire's experience, I want to make the distinction between food supply and food security from a global perspective. People's ability to access food is complex, and it is mainly an economic and poverty issue rather than the presence of food in the world. This is particularly the case in the developing world where the population is set to grow the most and the areas where food insecurity is a chronic issue and affected significantly by climate change.

The food and agricultural organisation of the United Nations produces reports on a regular basis on the issue of climate change and food security. The recommendations are there for all to see, on the need to transform production practices, consumption and to tackle access.

Professor John FitzGerald:

Mr. Joe Healy is wrong. Carbon taxes did make a difference and the research shows that. They would have made even more difference if they had been higher. That is our recommendation.

In respect of who is affected, the divide is not rural-urban. Research done as long ago as 1992 by Sue Scott in the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and more recent research by the ESRI shows that people on low incomes are most affected. The Government needs the revenue to compensate. It needs approximately 30% of the revenue from the carbon tax to compensate those on low incomes who would be worse off because they spend a higher share of their incomes on electricity. Commuters would also be affected.

The point of electric vehicles is that the owners will not pay carbon tax. The Government gets €5 billion in revenue from motor vehicles. The Department of Finance is considering this and may have to move to charging for road use in which case people in rural areas driving electric cars could end up spending much less than they do at present whereas people in congested urban areas could end up paying much more because they are causing congestion. This is not a rural-urban issue. It is people on a low income and the rest of the population.

On electric cars and infrastructure, the point to consider is not just whether there are two charging points in Glenties village, rather it is that people will charge their cars at home. The problem is if three neighbours think it is a great idea to have an electric car, they will blow the local system if they all try to charge together. These are complex issues. It is coming down the track quite rapidly, as Mr. Coghlan said. That is part of its success.

To respond to Senator Lombard's point that forestry would result in fewer jobs in rural areas, research done 20 years ago by Brendan Kearney and Bob O'Connor showed that more people would be employed in rural areas if there was forestry rather than beef.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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If anyone wants to reply to the questions, we would appreciate if they could make a written submission to us which we will circulate to the members. I thank all the witnesses for coming here this evening. We will publish all the witnesses' presentations on our website. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 February 2018.