Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 24 April 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Implementation of National Mitigation Plan: Discussion
We are now in public session. 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. Any submission or opening statements witnesses have made to the committee will be published on the committee's 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 put them into flight mode.
I welcome our witnesses today. I propose that the main witnesses will speak for no more than five minutes. Those who are sharing time might please indicate this to me at the outset. The presentations will be followed by a questions-and-answers session with the committee members. I invite Mr. Brian Carroll, assistant secretary at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to make his opening statement.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I thank the Chair and members. I am accompanied by colleagues from the Department. Mr. Frank Maughan is head of climate mitigation and awareness, Mr. Eamonn Confrey is head of electricity policy division and Ms. Rebecca Minch is head of energy efficiency and affordability division. I also acknowledge our colleagues from the EPA and SEAI.
The Government published its first statutory national mitigation plan, NMP, in July 2017, explicitly recognising that it does not represent a complete roadmap to achieving the objective of transitioning Ireland to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The mitigation plan begins the process of development of medium to long-term options to ensure that we are well positioned to take the necessary actions in the next and future decades. Importantly, the national mitigation plan is a living document that will be updated as ongoing analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate more and more cost-effective sectoral mitigation options. Policy development and implementation will happen in parallel.
Climate mitigation policy requires strong governance and accountability including oversight by the Oireachtas, independent advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council and co-ordination across Government supported by continuing investment and robust technical and analytical input. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 requires relevant Ministers to present an annual transition statement to both Houses of the Oireachtas setting out details of measures and actions, and their effectiveness. A climate action high-level steering committee, chaired by the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and meeting quarterly, drives ongoing policy development and implementation. It has met twice to date. The technical research and modelling group, TRAM, chaired at assistant secretary level and meeting monthly, provides the necessary analytical support. The committee has identified 45 actions as being relevant to its work today. A separate briefing note was provided in advance on progress on these actions and we look forward to engaging with the committee on them.
In terms of ongoing policy implementation and development, and building on the national mitigation plan, it is important to highlight the publication in February of the national development plan, NDP, which will lead to a significant step change in funding available for climate action over the next decade to address the significant climate mitigation challenges that Ireland faces. It provides for a strong focus on strategic investments in the areas of transport, renewable energy, grid development and interconnection, and the built environment. Almost €21 billion, between Exchequer and non-Exchequer resources, will be directed to addressing the transition to a low-carbon society. In addition, the NDP allocated a further €8.6 billion for investments in sustainable mobility. This capital investment will enable us to deliver a significant reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions over the period to 2030.
Preparation of the national energy and climate plan, NECP, which is an EU requirement, is at an early stage, with a draft to be finalised by the end of 2018 and the final plan to be developed by end-2019. In terms of climate mitigation policy, the NECP will need to align with and, where possible, build on the NMP and the NDP. Given the significant investment priorities already identified in the NDP, the NECP is likely to have to look to taxation, regulation and behavioural change actions and measures to further develop mitigation policy at this juncture.
Decarbonisation will involve fundamental societal transformation, as well as ongoing engagement with society through the national dialogue on climate action, NDCA. The central objective of the dialogue is to create awareness, engagement and the motivation to act across society. Under the dialogue, a climate ambassador programme commenced in September 2017, a climate action week took place in October 2017, a green schools expo was held on 22 February 2018, and the EPA hosted a series of lectures on climate action policy. An advisory group has been established by the Minister to input into the organisation of regional and local events that will be piloted shortly.
Dr. Eimear Cotter:
I thank the committee for inviting the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the implementation of the national mitigation plan. I am joined by my colleagues, Dr. Matthew Crowe, director of the office of evidence and assessment, and Dr. Stephen Treacy, a senior scientist. We welcomed the publication of the national mitigation plan and are supporting its implementation through the actions assigned to us and through our broader climate functions and responsibilities, which are listed in our submission. We now see a robust policy framework in place through the national mitigation plan, the national adaptation framework and the national development plan. We can now move to implementation and action as we address climate change.
I will give a high-level overview of greenhouse gas emissions trends before handing over to Dr. Crowe. Overall, greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland are increasing and that is making achievement of our decarbonisation goals ever more difficult. In 2016, the latest year for which we have numbers, our greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.6% and we recorded increases across all the main sectors of the economy. Agriculture, for example, increased by 2.7%, transport by 4.1%, and energy industry emissions - mainly power generation - increased by 6%. When we look out to 2020 and our commitments to the EU effort-sharing decision, we are moving off the pathway and trajectory required to meet those targets. In fact, in 2016 we exceeded our annual binding limits for greenhouse gas emissions. Those figures and the national emissions projections that we publish every year show that we are faced with challenges in terms of meeting those targets and our aspirations under our national policy position. If we are to move on to a sustainable trajectory, we need to implement all of the measures that are in our national mitigation plan.
Dr. Matthew Crowe:
As Dr. Cotter mentioned, implementation of the national mitigation plan, the adaptation framework and the national development plan, which are interlinked, is now key. However, we also need to get the balance right between the urgency of getting on with the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society and making the right decisions for the future.
There are many challenges ahead, but there are also many opportunities for Ireland. If we get this right, Ireland can be a leader in this transition, which we can discuss further later. Many of the EPA actions in the national mitigation plan are in the research area. The committee will be aware that the EPA co-ordinates environmental protection research on behalf of the State, and has been doing so since 1994. It has also been funding climate change research for over a decade. This is helping to build capacity and knowledge foundation in our universities, colleges and institutions that can support this transition. The EPA makes an annual call for proposals in three areas, water, climate and sustainability, the most recent of which was made yesterday in respect of 2018. We have a number of co-ordination committees, involving the funding agencies, Departments and agencies, that help us with our work.
Action 11 is to co-ordinate the production of an annual report on climate change research from the National Climate Research Co-ordination Group. We have also been tasked with developing a periodic assessment of key findings of that research every five years. We are currently scoping out those two reports and we expect the first report will be published in 2019.
Actions 78 and 90, on which we are co-lead with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, are around building our knowledge base on carbon neutrality in an Irish context. In the call announced yesterday, we have called for proposals in this area. Regarding action 8, climate dialogue, the EPA will have a supporting role in establishing and running the national climate dialogue. We are in the process of hiring three staff to establish a secretariat to support the Department and the advisory group in that work. We look forward to our role in the climate dialogue.
Mr. Jim Gannon:
What is important with regard to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland in the context of the national mitigation plan is that it does not encompass all of our activities. We also perform an analysis and design support role to the Department with regard to policies and, separately, SEAI is the statutory body mandated to prepare Ireland's energy statistics and energy projections.
In terms of SEAI's vision, simply put, we would like Irish society to use less electricity and energy generally, to use cleaner energy and also to innovate. Increasingly, we are seeing a convergence of these three activities, particularly around the human in the home, the car and in small businesses.
In terms of the national mitigation plan specifically, we set a tracker for all of the national mitigation plan activities, including those specifically tasked to SEAI as the primary correspondent and those where we could provide support. We examined all of the timelines and, separately, sought activities where we could support other agencies and catalyse an increased or accelerated pathway for their own activities. We see this is a minimum bar for performance as opposed to a limit of our ambition.
In terms of the specific activities allocated to us, they are all on track, bar one. The only deviation from that one is that we determined with external expertise and with the Department that a lower than anticipated sample size was required for the warmth and wellbeing scheme. I will outline some of the highlights. With regard to the warmth and wellbeing pilot scheme, which looks at the co-benefits of energy efficiency, we are working with the HSE, the Department of Health and our line Department to determine what health benefits there may be from energy efficiency upgrades. With regard to the excellence in energy efficiency design, EXEED, programme, a building was launched last week by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, which moved from a C1 energy rating to an A2 energy rating, resulting in 60% to 65% savings. With regard to the behavioural economics unit, its first report will be published in May. These analyses over 100 different interventions worldwide in sustainable energy with empirical results and will provide recommendations to a variety of Departments and other bodies in Ireland on how we could engage behavioural economics in the design of our policy. We have also started engaging more with the OPW, the Department of Education and Skills, and public sector bodies to show that leadership role.
The key messages with regard to the national mitigation plan activities is that they are all achieved or on track and, separately, we see it as a minimum bar of performance as opposed to a target. I am sure that throughout our discussion I will elaborate further on some of the activities we have done in addition to this minimum bar that will touch on a lot of the points raised at the Citizens' Assembly, for example, and in respect of other activities on which we work with other Departments.
Before calling members I would like to put some questions to witnesses, commencing with the Department officials. The climate change advisory council published a report last December in which it criticised the plan and stated that it is not sufficient to put Ireland on a pathway to achieving its 2020 targets or long-term decarbonisation objective. Do the officials accept that criticism and, if so, what steps are they taking in that regard?
I thank the SEAI for its presentation. I think the authority is doing well in terms of completing its tasks. I have a particular interest in the retrofit pilot. During previous appearances before the committee the SEAI outlined the expense involved in relation to the pilot. I note from today's presentation that SEAI hopes to have a further 100 homes completed this year. Perhaps Mr. Gannon would explain the reason for the small scale of the project and why only a further 100 homes are expected to be completed this year.
In regard to the EPA, I am interested in the issue of methane emissions, particularly from livestock. Is the agency aware of the Canadian and Australian research by James Cook University of Queensland and James Cook University Australia in particular which found that the addition of a less than 2% dried seaweed to a cow's diet could reduce methane emissions by as much as 99% and if Teagasc or any other body is working on that research? It seems too good to be true but I would welcome the witnesses' views on the issue.
I will invite Deputy Stanley and Deputy Dooley to put their questions at this point, following which the witnesses can respond to all three sets of questions.
I thank the delegations for their presentations. My first question is to the Department officials. Sinn Féin believes that the national mitigation plan is not fit-for-purpose and lacks specific actions to bring us on the journey on which we need to go over the next two years, 12 years and 32 years up to 2050, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Does the Department have specific plans to immediately revise the plan? According to the EPA, and all the other bodies involved in this area, we will over-shoot our 2020 targets. What specific actions are being planned by the Department to accelerate a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions?
In regard to the SEAI, leaving aside waste generation, power generation is where the lion's share of our emissions come from. In terms of the move from large-scale generation to micro-generation from renewable sources such as solar, prices in Ireland are the fourth highest in the EU. I brought forward a Bill dealing with micro-generation, which I am sure the witnesses have reviewed. I would be interested in hearing their views on the Bill and on how households and small businesses can become involved in generating electricity, which is common practice in other countries. While some people in the industry would say that the cost of transitioning will be high, as I said, prices here are already the fourth highest in the EU and we have not yet started the journey of transitioning to renewable fuels. Perhaps the witnesses would comment.
Competition in the market is around switching rather than the cost of electricity.
The EPA representatives said in their presentations that greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase. What recent proposals or specific plans are going forward from Government to help to reduce emissions? Specifically, I want to refer the question back to the Department. From what we can see, the national mitigation plan is lacking in specific actions. I argued the point at this committee four or five years ago when we were dealing with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development legislation. The fact that the Act did not have binding sectoral targets was a fatal flaw. What is the EPA view on setting specific sectoral targets for the electricity production, heat and transport industries? Do we need to do that? It is worth pointing out that our biofuel usage has decreased by 8% and in some ways we are going backwards. At this point do we need to set specific sectoral targets to move on? Much of this is coming from the generation of power and we need to start taking action in that area.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I will address the Climate Change Advisory Council view that we will not meet our 2020 targets. The Department accepts that in terms of the latest Environmental Protection Agency emissions projections, which have been outlined. We are going to be between 4% and 6% below 2005 levels as against the target of 20% below 2005 levels. There are reasons for this, including reduced investment capacity over the period of the economic downturn.
It is worth making several points about the national mitigation plan and some of the criticism that is being levelled against it. The document was published in July 2017. It is a direct and honest document. It quite clearly stated the scale of the problem. It recognised that we would not meet our 2020 target. It also set down measures that we have in place and measures under consideration. It was a real statement. It also recognised its own inadequacy in terms of not setting out a complete pathway to decarbonise by 2050. Given the challenge to decarbonise by 2050, not to mind 2020 or 2030 targets, and the way technology changes so rapidly, it would not be possible to set out a clear pathway all the way to 2050. What the national mitigation plan said was that it would become a living document, a first step. It was not the case that the plan was in place and set in stone and that we could move to implementation. We are implementing but we are constantly developing policy at the same time.
It may be unfair to say that there is a lack of specific detail in the mitigation plan. There are 106 actions, some of them very important in terms of enabling us to move forward with climate mitigation policy. A total of 61 sectoral measures were in place and 17 sectoral measures were under consideration.
The national development plan makes good on the promise that mitigation policy will be developed on an ongoing basis or that the national mitigation plan will become a living document. In the national development plan, €22 billion is earmarked for climate mitigation investment. Some €8 billion of this is Exchequer investment while €14 billion is non-Exchequer. That investment will make a significant impact in decarbonising in the period to 2030, but we will still continue to develop policy on an ongoing basis.
I will set out a flavour of some of the things in the national development plan. There is an objective to have 500,000 electronic vehicles on the road by 2030. From 2030 onwards fossil-fuelled cars will not be allowed to be sold in Ireland and from 2045 there will be no NCT certificates issued for such cars. The plan aims to increase the retrofitting of houses to 45,000 per annum to BER B rating, which is a deep level of retrofitting. We know that 500,000 houses are remote from the gas grid and largely reliant on fossil fuels for heating. The plan is for 170,000 of these to be transitioned to sustainable heating by 2030.
The national mitigation plan was the first step. We said we would continue to develop policy. The national development plan is the next iteration, within the climate priority, of the development of mitigation policy. There is an EU requirement to develop a national energy and climate plan. Again, that will give us further opportunity to bring forward new policy, possibly looking at the areas of taxation and regulation.
I hear what Mr. Carroll is saying about where we want to get to and how the national mitigation plan identifies the problem. The point I am trying to raise is that we are not even going to go a quarter of the distance we need to go in reducing greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2020. According to the EPA, and the Department agreed with the appraisal today, at best we will reach 4% to 6% of the targeted reduction, whereas in fact we should be at 20% of it.
Every time we raise the point, we hear about what is planned and the €21 billion and so on. The problem is the slow pace. We are not even off the blocks on solar power. We have not even got into offshore wind yet. We are still messing around with public transport. I heard the ambitious figures for electric cars but, my God, we are making a slow start with it. That is the point I am making. This needs to be actioned and accelerated, taking on board the point that we are only one quarter of the way there.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
Deputy Stanley is correct. We are only going to get about a quarter of the way to the 2020 target. We had reduced investment capacity over the period of the economic downturn. We need to start moving faster and accelerating policy. The national mitigation plan, the national development plan and the national energy and climate plan, which is forthcoming, are part of that process. We need to start looking out to 2030. We need to ensure we are in a position to meet our 2030 target and try our best to exceed that target. What is in the national development plan represents a step change and it is a commitment to significant additional investment.
Over 50% of transport emissions come from private journeys. Having 500,000 electric vehicles on the road will make a big impact on that. We need investment in public transport in our cities for modal shift. Public passenger transport accounts for approximately 4% of transport emissions. My colleague from the electricity policy division may wish to come in with a comment on the electricity sector.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
Deputy Stanley mentioned two specific things around microgeneration. I know the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland will probably want to come in on this point. The Minister announced in January his proposal for a microgeneration scheme in the summer, which will be a first phase. That will start at the domestic level for domestic consumption only.
Deputy Stanley has published draft legislation. Some of my colleagues have been talking to Deputy Stanley's team on the outline of the Bill. There are many good points in that Bill that the Minister is keen to try to facilitate where we can do so.
We are working closely with SEAI on gathering the evidence and the appetite among the public for the take-up of domestic microgeneration. Our sense is that there is a good deal of enthusiasm, but we want to do it on a phased basis to ensure we get it right. We want to ensure that we do not necessarily make some of the mistakes that we have seen in other jurisdictions. That is very much the plan at the domestic level.
More broadly, solar photovoltaics technology has been assessed as part of the new renewable electricity support scheme. Again, Deputy Stanley probably will be aware that we undertook a major consultation in this area and a second and final consultation late last year. The Minister's intention is to go to Government for approval of the overall scheme design shortly.
Thereafter, we will begin the formal state aid notification process.
According to international analysis, the costs of solar PV have decreased dramatically over the past six or seven years and the indications from the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, and others suggest that costs still have a way to travel in terms of reductions. This is good because while electricity support schemes do not have a direct Exchequer impact since they are funded through the PSO levy, we are keen to ensure that we do not lock in too high in respect of some of these technologies. The indications are that solar PV costs will continue to fall, which is good, and that it will have a role over the next decade and out to 2030 because, as Mr. Carroll mentioned, the targets are challenging in all sectors.
The cost trajectory for offshore wind energy generation is positive. Costs continue to fall and there is renewed interest in a number of projects, particularly on the east coast, among developers who would like to take the projects forward. Offshore wind has also been assessed as part of the new support scheme. We are encouraged by the trajectory of prices and we are working closely with colleagues in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the necessary legislation for future offshore renewable energy because of the licensing and consenting process that will be needed. The Minister will be going to Government shortly in respect of the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS.
The other issue related to biofuels. Last Friday, the Minister announced his intention to increase the biofuels obligation to 10% by volume as of 1 January 2019 and to increase it again to 11% from 1 January 2020. A policy document was published by the Department on that front on Friday evening.
Mr. Jim Gannon:
I will reply to the Chairman's question first. With regard to the 100 homes and our deep retrofit pilot scheme - as opposed to the more commoditised schemes under which we have, over the past few years, decarbonised the offering and upped the performance level required in tens of thousands of homes annually - this will build an evidence base for policy decision-making. We are establishing the level of performance required in the housing stock by 2050 to meet our carbon goals and then we are looking at the different home types within that - be they apartments, rural cottages or semi-detached houses in Dublin - and asking which technology solution gives the best return on investment for either the Exchequer or the individual, whether the supply chain is robust enough to deliver that solution, what an individual will think about the value of that and whether he or she can finance it. We are interacting with the European Investment Bank and high-street banks to establish how we get finance to individuals if not through a grant or tax incentive scheme. We need to do a small number of tests and to go deeper for that. That is why the numbers appear low for the scheme but it is targeted.
On Deputy Stanley's queries, it is inevitable that we will see an electrification of heating and transport in people's homes in particular. The cost curves of technologies are helping that to happen. Solar PV costs have reduced by 85% in the past five years while the cost of electric vehicles, although incentivised, is narrowing and will continue to do so. What is telling in that industry is that the manufacturers are sending the same signals as governments regarding the fact that they will stop making diesel and petrol engine cars over time. They will lead the consumer because we are all consumers and we are convinced sometimes that a mobile phone is worth $1,000 because we are told that is the case. If the products we are offered move in the direction of electric vehicles, we will buy them.
In addition to this cost curve and consumer offering, the EU brought out a clean energy package prior to Christmas 2016 which articulated three principles, namely: people should have a right to generate electricity in their home; a right to export; and a right to a market price. It is not clear how that will come about down the line but it is coming. Part of the tests we will run when we satisfy the request from the Department to run a solar PV grant scheme for homes will examine that. For example, if a human was to receive a payment from the grid or have an electric vehicle in their home or a battery in their home how that would that work? Our focus will be on having people deal with their homes first before turning them into a business. They should examine their consumption and how to improve that. That will be knitted into our general programme. We will also work with companies such as the ESB to ensure that transformers on estates will be able to deal with that demand and to research the cost of that because the electricity system will be used in a way that it has not been previously. We need to make sure the balance of costs, if we give individuals this opportunity, is appropriate and does not increase prices too much.
I will now deal with the cost of electricity, large-scale renewables and auction systems internationally. We currently have a feed-in tariff system. The auction systems force private sector companies to bid against one another in a competitive process to provide a renewable electricity service. The premium Ireland should have to pay for that should continue to decrease for the consumer such that the loading on to the consumer will discontinue. However, that will take time to catch on. Ireland is a costly country in which to do business. Our licensing and consenting schemes are complex and there is uncertainty about timelines, particularly in the offshore sphere. The work being done by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department under whose aegis we sit is, therefore, important and timely. There is increasing interest in projects off the eastern and western coasts on the part of not only technology developers but of finance houses that do not generally care where they put their money to work. It is important that the opportunity is recognised in Ireland and that we leverage from that.
Switching rates comes under the remit of the CRU. Its officials are doing work with the PRICE Lab on that and how to make it easy and clear for people to switch. We are supporting them in that work through our behavioural economics unit and will continue to do so.
Dr. Matthew Crowe:
I will deal with the agriculture question. There is no silver bullet. My understanding is that that was discovered on a farm close to the coast. The cattle were grazing on a particular type of seaweed and then the farmer noticed differences in them. Work is ongoing. There is a possibility of an additive that could be fed to animals being developed at some point. However, additives have many downsides, including the possibility of trace elements being left. There are food supply issues which have to be thought through in this regard as well . Ireland's agriculture system is extensive. The animals are outside eating grass most of the year. This type of thing might be applicable in Ireland but it may be more applicable in systems where animals are indoors most of the time and fed in a different way. The issue for the EPA in respect of agriculture in the context of the plan is the policy statement states, "Developing an approach to carbon neutrality for agriculture and land use, including forestry, that does not compromise sustainable food production". That is a complex sentence. What we want to see - and we will work with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc and others - is the approach figured out sooner rather than later. This will get us into the issue of the balance between the way the land is used for agriculture and forestry and how peatlands are used and getting a much better understanding of how our land performs overall in terms of carbon. Depending on how it is managed, land can absorb carbon and be a sink for it or it can release carbon into the atmosphere.
We need to become a lot more knowledgeable on this issue in order that we can start to plan for carbon neutrality, where land in Ireland is managed in a way that it will be a net sink for carbon as opposed, in some cases, to being a source, as it is currently, particularly in the case of peatlands and the manner in which they are managed. We would like to see the plan developed sooner rather than later.
Dr. Eimear Cotter:
The Chairman referenced our greenhouse gas emission projections. They were published last year and showed a shortfall in meeting our 2020 targets. We are working on updating the numbers, but the overall message remains relevant. On what we would like to see happen to bridge the gap to our targets, what is required is full implementation of the national mitigation plan and delivery on the ambitions and commitments contained in it. As policies and measures are developed and elaborated on by Departments, we are reliant on them to give us the detail in order that we can work them into our projections and analyses and thus determine how we are doing in following the trajectory to meeting our 2020 targets and outwards. We are here to talk about overall implementation of the national mitigation plan.
On the individual sectors and what we would like to see happen, we have already touched on many of the issues which arise. Heat and transport are the two most difficult sectors. On the heat side, what is required is a combination of energy efficiency, about which we have heard much today, and a ramping up of the scale of energy efficiency in buildings and businesses, while also looking at the use of cleaner renewable energy. The Government has already committed to providing a renewable heat incentive which should help us to make strides on the heating side.
On transport and the ambitions in the use of biofuels, again, a combination of measures is required. Transport is a really difficult sector. It is about the use of alternative fuels and technologies such as electric vehicles and also looking at other issues outside technology, including integrating land use planning and transport investment. Much of our investment has already happened in this space. As we look to the future, we must ensure that where we build houses, businesses and schools we have transport investment such that the reliance on private cars will be reduced. This may include the provision of fiscal incentives. We have seen some success in the rebalancing of VRT and motor tax rates to encourage people to buy cleaner vehicles. It is always going to about be a suite measures. There will never be one solution. These are really difficult sectors in which to achieve progress. Given their dispersed nature, we will need to move on all fronts. The national mitigation plan provides us with the start.
I thank all of the delegations for their presentations. The departmental review of this issue is quite depressing. I direct that view towards the Government rather than the officials present. The Government has not shown the political will needed to address what is now a crisis based on what the EPA had to state. We have known for some time the extent to which we are going to miss our targets. For a while there was a denial at Government level that we would miss them. The expectation was that we would catch up, but it has been known for some time that this is not going to happen.
I have a couple of questions for the departmental officials. Has the cost, in terms of the fines we will have to pay for missing our targets, been estimated. Has there been any advance planning in that regard? When do the officials think we will hit our 2020 targets? Given that we know that we will not do so in 2020, in what year are we likely to hit them? On reading through the material provided by the Department it crossed my mind that, just like the gambling addict, we were putting everything on the next race, namely, the 2030 targets, even though we have not figured out how to address the 2020 targets. The presentation is peppered with ifs, buts and maybes. We know that technology is improving, but 2025 is beyond the cycle of the Government and many of us here. It appears that the Department is in the position of not being able to do anything. It cannot bring forward proposals that would make a serious stab at addressing the crisis; therefore, it is pushing the issue out to the future and hoping for the best. At that time it will be somebody else's problem. If one takes that approach, whoever is in government in 2025 could take the same approach because at that time there will be different technologies and new ways of doing things. That has always been the standard cover for not doing anything and leaving an issue for somebody else to address.
I have considerable sympathy for the departmental officials, given the Government's lack of support for them. There is a lot of talk, as well as a lot of plans, dates and acronyms, but no action. Some work is being done by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, in developing pilot programmes and projects, but I do not get the impression that there is money available to roll them out in a meaningful way. We still have the Government buying diesel buses because, we are told, the alternatives will be cheaper at a later stage. Some 120 diesel buses were purchased recently. We are told that the next fleet of buses will use an alternative fuel or be battery operated and thus be more economical. I have been hearing about 50,000 electric vehicles for a long time, but nothing has materialised. Anybody who takes an interest in this issue and reads the blogs will know that the people who have bought such cars would readily part with them in the morning if they could do so. The reality is that the infrastructure to support fast-charging is not in place. The issue is not range anxiety but range reality because no effort is being made at a central level to support those who have made the shift. We know how behaviour has changed. It is about ensuring the people who make a change will be supported, but those who have bought electric vehicles have not and are not being supported. My eyes glaze over when I hear the Minister make announcements about electric vehicles and the provision of support for their purchase. There was nothing in the budget in that regard. There was talk about benefit-in-kind being eliminated for three or five years, yet in the Finance Act it was only captured for 12 months, with a review promised with a view to it being continued for a further three years, which is ridiculous. Companies that are buying fleets need certainty, but there is not that certainty. All we are getting is lip-service and announcements. The Government is great at doing that, but the people who are attempting to change their behaviour are not being supported.
Perhaps all of the delegations might get together, with a view to identifying three or four steps that they would take that would have a meaningful impact in addressing the 2020 targets. It is not acceptable for the Government to state - again, I am not attributing this to Mr. Carroll, but he is here representing the Minister and the Government - that we are only one quarter of the way there, that there was a downturn and that there is nothing we can do. When will the targets be reached and is there anything the Department can do to fast-track its approach to getting closer to the targets than what is anticipated?
A representative from the SEAI said it was a cornerstone of its strategy that we should reduce the amount of electricity we consumed, for obvious reasons. Wearing another hat, I know that, when completed, the proposed data centre in Athenry will add between 6% and 8% to Ireland's electricity consumption. There were plans - I do not know if they are still in place - to have at least four such centres in Ireland, which, on the face of it, would look like an uplift of between 28% and 35% in our electricity demand. I appreciate that electricity demand differs in that some of it is constant, while there are also peaks and troughs. It appears that IDA Ireland has been pursuing a policy of attracting data centres to Ireland and that it is Government policy, writ large, that Departments seek to attract multinational data industry investment to Ireland.
On the other hand, since we are talking about an increase of 32% or 28% from four centres or plants alone in Ireland, someone seems not to be talking the same language as other people. We have to make up our minds. Do we want data centres in Ireland? Do we want to increase our demand for electricity by that amount? How can we possibly diminish our demand for electricity in the gross while increasing it in four locations in that way? Who is going to call a halt to this plan?
It may very well be the case that some of these international companies would like to have their data centres in Ireland and I do not blame them for that. I have no doubt that it probably makes for good economics and politics to attract them to Ireland by holding out the possibility that they can locate such centres in Ireland. However, if we are going to increase our electricity consumption by the order of 30% for four centres with minimal employment consequences no matter where they are – they are care and maintenance facilities – then surely at some stage we must admit that we can no longer afford to pursue that policy, especially when we are missing all our targets.
I thank the deputations all for the presentations. I assume everyone here accepts the science of climate change. I believe if the deputations were able to be honest – they probably cannot say what I can say – they would agree that the national mitigation plan is rather depressing. It does nothing to get us to where we need to be.
The projection given by the Environmental Protection Agency in the presentation is frightening. I assume that it is scientifically absolutely accurate. Anyway, it is frightening to look at the graph and see how we came from 1990, when we were at a given level of CO2 emissions per tonne. The level went up during the boom and then back down again during the recession. We are beginning to climb again. The last figure we have is for 2016. Where do we need to be by 2050? The target is 5 megatonnes. How the hell are we going to get there when it has been said here today that it is not possible to set out a plan to 2050 and that it is a working document? I can see why it is not possible.
One thing that illustrated this to me above all in recent weeks was the excited announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of a new deal with China for thousands of cattle and thousands of tonnes worth of dairy product. That was followed quickly by the discussion in the Dáil and the debate among farmers on the fodder crisis. We had a fodder crisis because climate change meant that it had rained heavily not only this winter but the previous winter as well. We had a fodder crisis because the big producers bought up all the fodder when the climate responded as it did. Thus family farmers cannot manage to feed their cattle and cattle are dying. Yet, these family farmers have admitted to us that they are coming under increasing pressure all the time from the Department and their own organisations to breed more cattle and dairy cows because the market is dictating the pace.
I can see why the market is attractive. Certainly, it is not attractive to family farmers in this situation but it is attractive to mega-producers. We need a plan whereby Departments speak to each other and whereby the economy has some level of grip on what is happening with climate change.
I come from the left and therefore I have more interest in a planned economy that does not allow the free market to reign supreme. I believe that at some point the free marketeers are going to have to sit up and take notice. Otherwise they are going to destroy the planet and bring us to the point where there is no return from climate change. That is why I am keen to see a Minister and Department that scream at other Ministers and Departments to stop doing this and explain we need to talk to one another, join the dots and plan this out together. I realise the deputations must be extraordinarily frustrated and angry that this is not happening because they are all scientists and they all know what is going on.
I wish to put some specific questions to the Department. Why does the national policy position not mention industry, manufacturing, waste and other types of energy emissions? Why are these left out altogether? I am not going to make any assumptions about it. Can the Department representatives expand on the point a little?
I am keen for the discussion about transport to be teased out a little. I hear other Deputies referring to the need for non-diesel buses. To be honest, however, the real problem is the amount of private cars on the road. The level of emissions from private transport is far higher than emissions from public transport. If we could reduce private use of cars on the road to a fraction of what it is at present, we would be doing ourselves a major favour in respect of our emissions. One need only be on the M50 early in the morning to see gridlock on a four-lane motorway in both directions and then understand that the private use of cars is far out of proportion. The reason is bad planning. When industry, homes and estates are built it is clear planners and developers do not take into account the need for transport hubs to be nearby. Such considerations may be in the development plans of county councils – when I was a county councillor I recall working out the plans for transport hubs - but the plans are never implemented in a reasonable way that takes private cars off the road in large numbers. Will the EPA representatives and others comment on that point? Perhaps they do not see it as the role of the agency to comment.
I know it might be seen as a gesture but would the organisations represented here, including the Department, support the Bill on climate emergency measures to leave fossil fuels in the ground? The Bill will be before the committee in July. Does the Department see that as a positive measure in contributing to reducing CO2 emissions and sending out a signal that we need to wake up, smell the coffee and take this seriously? There is nothing in the plan to show us that we are plotting and managing what has gone off the radar in terms of our emissions. The EPA graph says it all. Everyone should look at it because it is startling.
Yes. I will continue with the aforementioned graph because it tells us a great deal. First, it shows that one can reduce emissions. Reducing emissions plummeted from 2008 to 2011. We were on our way to our targets. What happened between 2008 and 2011? Half of the cause was the recession but I remember the EPA analysis published in 2012 suggested that half of the reduction was because of political commitment in government at the time and a range of different measures that were introduced. That was my experience. It is possible to do it. It is good for the economy. It is the new economy. It is where the jobs and opportunities are.
I utterly refute Mr. Carroll's argument that we are not good at climate because we have had an investment shortage for the past ten years. I have heard Ministers trot out the argument time and again. What investment shortage is behind our increasing emissions? What particular investment was the Government unable to provide in the past seven years that is the cause of our shameful climate record in the past seven years? I do not believe that argument. The reason is because of a lack of commitment in the public service and the political system to do what has to be done. There has been no sense that this is a priority. When we went to Europe the priority was to use all our political capital to try to get out of climate commitments. We pleaded to save Irish agriculture and to be allowed to sell as much cheap beef to the Chinese as we could. That is why our figures are so poor.
The graph is dramatic because it shows the possibility of more ambitious targets. I do not see how we can have any emissions in 2050 at the level of 5 million tonnes. That holds even if we accept the unambitious Government target, as Deputy Smith put it, of 800,000 tonnes per annum. The latest EPA figures show that the energy, built environment and transport sectors are growing. Instead of shrinking by 800,000 tonnes, the level is increasing by 1.8 million tonnes in these sectors. That is the scale of the problem. I am certain that the 2017 figures will show a further increase of 1.2 million tonnes. We are further away. We have to make a bigger jump or leap. I trust the EPA figures.
The series of reports presented to us, including last year's update in terms of where we are heading, even with additional measures such as shutting down Moneypoint, project an increase of 34% by 2035, including 5% in residential emissions and an increase in transport emissions. This is in spite of all the additional plans. We, therefore, have a problem and serious change is needed. It is a political and public administration problem in that we have all these plans and structures but emissions are increasing. Does the EPA agree that if we were serious about emissions, the State would stop peat extraction immediately? How many million tonnes would that save? If the officials cannot give me the figure now, perhaps they can write to me separately. If all peat extraction was stopped, how many million tonnes would that save us in the jump we have to make? How much might the State get paid under the new Paris Agreement climate commitments? How much would we benefit by showing what we have done internationally to make significant cutbacks?
There are many energy-related questions but I will go back to the process. We have a national climate dialogue, climate advisory committee, national mitigation plan, and a new European climate and energy plan, all of which are iterative processes. The best analysis was presented by the Citizens' Assembly. Its members recognised the scale and pinpointed the problem. They said it is a lack of political leadership. It is not that Irish people are bad at this; it is that there is no leadership. They came up with strong, positive suggestions such as ending peat extraction, reversing the transport budget ratio from 2:1 in favour of roads to public transport, which we need to do anyway or else our cities will be gridlocked, and adopting a proper national land use strategy under which forestry is taken seriously. None of these is mentioned in any of the national plans. We must take this issue seriously. As a committee, we will have to consider the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. What should we do with them? How will we get the public administration and political systems to realise we must do something about this now and not, as the Taoiseach has said, by 2030 or 2045?
Mr. Carroll's submission said the new national energy and climate action plan, "will revert to taxation, regulation and behavioural change actions". What will be the taxation measure? We introduced the carbon tax during our time in government and I am proud to have done it but taxation will not be the key change. Regulation and Government decisions to dramatically invest in retrofitting will be key and not just putting in €8 billion. The Government should aim to have every house on an A rating. Why stop at a B rating? Why will the Government not introduce regulations tomorrow to ban fossil fuels? Why are fossil fuel heating systems being installed in 67% of new houses when there is a brilliant heat pump alternative? Those buildings would work for heat pumps because they are properly insulated under improved building standards but we need to stop Fine Gael gutting them all the time. That scale of political commitment and pulling everyone together because it will be a new economy and it is what the country will be good at, is required. We would benefit in many ways, including a lower fuel import bill and not being shamed internationally, with Irish people feeling good about themselves by helping to prevent a fundamental crisis. The problem is a lack of political will.
How do we as a committee turn that around and instill that in our consideration of the Citizens' Assembly's work? Currently, there is lots of effort and gazillions of plans but our emissions are increasing by between 3.5% and 6% per annum in different sectors. I bet the figures for 2017 and 2018 will not be different. I am sure our emissions will increase by 5% again this year, which will push us further away from our targets, while nothing is happening, 67% of new homes are burning fossil fuels and peat is being dug up as if that is clever. Our agriculture policy is to increase emissions as if that is clever and the Government is taking a negative stance according to the European files on all the climate and energy packages. At an informal Council meeting last week, all the leading member states, including Denmark and Portugal, said they want a higher renewables target. If the Government parties were serious about climate change and our economy, they would have supported this call.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I will begin with Deputy Dooley's questions and some of Deputy Ryan's initial comments. There is little that we can do between now and 2020 to alter the fact that we will be between -4% and -6% against a target of -20%. The end of 2020 is approximately two and a half years away. Deputy Dooley asked how much this would cost. It is important in understanding this to recognise the difference between complying with an EU architecture and decarbonising. Deputy Ryan talked about us decarbonising and emissions falling from 2008 and starting to rise again. That pattern has tracked the economic downturn and the pickup in economic activity having come out of the downturn.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
With regard to how much this will cost, over the compliance period, we had an annual emissions ceiling below which we had to remain. For a number of years, we were below the ceiling because of the economic downturn. We can bank that as credit for years we exceed the ceiling. The combination of being under it for an extended period and exceeding it now means that we have to purchase few allowances to ensure compliance by 2020. We have banked the amount under the ceilings which offsets us being over it, and there is a few years for which we will have to purchase allowances. We do not know yet how much they will cost. It will depend on supply and demand but we anticipate a surplus of allowances will be available and the cost of purchasing compliance will be relatively low.
Looking beyond that, the focus is very much on 2030. I will move on to Deputy Bríd Smith's questions and then return to other issues. She asked about the issue of industry and so on. Ireland's legally binding obligations arise in the non-ETS sector. Agriculture accounts for 45% of our non-ETS emissions. When transport emissions are added, that brings us up to 73%. When the built environment is then included, we are dealing with the bulk of the emissions. There are emissions from a variety of sources relating to manufacturing combustion and industrial processes and they are in the main regulated under the EU ETS system. That is a cap and trade system and, therefore, there is no legal obligation on the State. It is up to the installations to manage their emissions and to buy and sell allowances.
I will address Deputy Ryan's question and after that I will hand over to colleagues to address the question on data centres.
Reference was made to the national mitigation plan and the follow-on of the national development plan. I believe there is a significant commitment in the national development plan. The Exchequer and the fiscal arrangements are relevant. One thing we had to comply with as a result of the bail-out meant that the Exchequer's capacity to spend or borrow was limited over a period. We are coming out of that period now. The additional investment in the national development plan largely kicks in from 2021 onwards. There is a serious commitment. Over half of transport emissions come from private journeys. There will be a total of 500,000 vehicles by 2030 with additional charging infrastructure. There is a commitment to no non-zero emissions private cars to be sold in Ireland post 2030. There is a commitment to issuing no NCT certificates for non-zero emissions cars post 2045.
The cycling budget in Dublin was halved last year. The OECD recommends we should spend 20% of our transport budget on active travel measures. We are spending 1% or 2%. That is the reality of what is happening today.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
Again, the national development plan commits to a step-up in sustainable travel measures, including a comprehensive cycling and walking network for metropolitan areas and expanded greenways. That is in the national development plan.
The transition to low-emissions buses includes electric buses for the urban public bus fleet. A commitment to no diesel-only buses to be purchased from 1 July 2019 is in the national development plan. Decarbonising our public transport is important in cities for air quality reasons and to bring about the necessary modal shift. The scale of the challenges are relevant since 4% of our transport emissions come from public passenger journeys while over 50% come from private car journeys. That is a where one big issue lies.
I fully agree with Deputy Ryan on retro-fitting of houses. The figure of 45,000 per annum from 2021 to 2030 represents approximately one third of the stock of existing houses. Clearly, it is not all about Exchequer spend. Taxation has a role as does regulation, but we have an existing stock of houses that are going to exist for a long time and they need to be dealt with. Earlier I referred to 500,000 one-off houses that are remote from the gas network and that burn fossil fuels for heat. Some 170,000 of these are to be transitioned over the decade. That represents one third of the one-off houses that are remote from the grid.
I believe these are significant commitments and step-ups in the national development plan. Earlier, I referred to the national energy and climate plan – I accept that we have a series of different plans, but the nature of mitigation policy is that as time passes and technologies change, we have to constantly add to policy. That is not going to change.
One thing raised by one of the Deputies was the need for Departments to be talking to one another. We have the structure in place now through the high-level steering group chaired by the Minister that brings all the Departments together. Sitting under that we have the technical research and modelling group. This is a research group that brings in Departments agencies and the likes of the universities to give the sort of analysis we need to choose cost-effective and appropriate policies. I will pass over to my colleague to address the question on data centres.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
I will go back sequentially on some of the questions. Deputy Dooley asked about fines. I can set out the position on the outline costs on the renewable energy side. The expectation is that we will be several percentage points short of the 16% binding target to be met for renewables by 2020. We will probably be in the range of between 2% and 3% short by 2020. Work undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland some years ago indicated that the cost per percentage point of not meeting a renewable target would be in the range of €65 million to €130 million for each percentage point.
The 2009 renewable directive provides that member states who may not meet their 2020 targets can purchase what are called statistical transfers to allow them to achieve compliance. In 2017 Luxembourg was one of the first member states to sign a co-operation agreement with Lithuania and Estonia to provide for statistical transfers. Our estimation of what that deal meant is that the costs for Ireland could be below the lower end of the range that SEAI indicated some years ago. I suppose it is a market and it will certainly depend on market conditions if and when those purchases come to be made. We have already begun some informal discussions with several member states that we believe may be in surplus and that Ireland may end up having to purchase from. From an Exchequer point of view, any potential shortfall would be spread over several years. The cumulative costs would not be known until 2021 because that is when the final accounts for 2020 are put together. Certainly, we are keeping Government apprised of the potential exposure on that side.
In the meantime, our focus is very much around bringing forward the different schemes that have been mentioned. For example, the support scheme for renewable heat will hopefully open later this year or early next year. That will certainly target facilities in the commercial and non-domestic sector, in other words, the commercial and industrial sectors. One of the Deputies asked what we were doing on that side. I believe that will have a significant impact, especially given the renewable heat challenge that we face. It is challenging for reasons of our settlement patterns and so on. They make it especially challenging on the heat side.
I already mentioned renewable electricity and the new renewable electricity support scheme. The expectation is that the Government would approve the scheme in the coming months. That would certainly open for auctions in 2019. Jim Gannon made a point earlier on this. It will represent a change from the fixed tariffs that we have had to this point. It will be very much arranged on a competitive basis. I hope we will be reaping the benefit and reward of those lower technology costs that I mentioned earlier, especially around technologies on solar, offshore wind and onshore wind, which remains one of the cheaper forms of technology that we have successfully connected to our system in large numbers.
Senator McDowell asked about data centres. He mentioned a particular development in Athenry. I will outline what the Government has been doing in the meantime. All the relevant Department and agencies, including IDA Ireland and EirGrid, have been meeting since last autumn to bring together a strategic response. What does that mean? There have been amendments under way to the planning Acts to try to designate data centres as strategic infrastructure.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
I was going to deal with electricity demand. Senator McDowell is right. The EirGrid analysis, through the tomorrow's energy scenario reporting, suggests that if all the data centres in the pipeline, as it were, were to come on-stream, then it would lead to a trebling of demand. That is a significant impact on the electricity system.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
That EirGrid analysis is being fed in to Departments, including our Department and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The answer, from our perspective, is not that we are going to allow all these to be developed willy-nilly because that would be irresponsible in terms of policy-making.
We have to be cognisant of its impact on electricity demand and on security of supply. The difficulty we have is that many data centres wish to connect in the greater Dublin region and there is already tight supply in Dublin. We want to move to a plan-led approach involving more balanced regional development, rather than a developer-driven approach. The Government is trying to respond effectively to that. The benefit of taking some of the demand out of the Dublin region would be that it could be moved to other regional locations and, ideally, to areas that already have a grid footprint and fibre connectivity.
I follow that, but that is not the issue I am raising. I understand transmission system constraints like security of supply and the need to spread it around the country. I am asking a more fundamental question. Is it, or is it not, the policy of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment that it is okay to increase the demand for Irish electricity by approximately 30%, regardless of where these four centres are built in Ireland? Is the Department in favour of this happening?
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
Those concerned with renewable energy in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment are trying to articulate the challenges associated with further data centre deployment. It is not all negative, in fairness. There could be options for offshore and renewable energy to provide some of the energy needed for data centres. This would ensure the demand on the Dublin area is not as significant. The Senator mentioned the peaks and troughs that are experienced as part of load management. Data centres can assist with more balanced load management because they are run on a 24-hour basis. The further decarbonisation of the transport sector will also be of assistance in this regard because electric vehicles can be charged at night. I do not disagree with the thesis that data centres present a challenge for the electricity system. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation is trying to formulate a broader Government response that ensures we do not walk in blindly and allow those involved with these centres to locate them in the locations they want. Instead, we will encourage them to locate in places that are more preferable from our point of view.
Mr. Jim Gannon:
In responding to questions that were directed specifically at the SEAI, I will try not to repeat what others have already said. Deputy Dooley spoke about how we can increase our budget, our ambition and our activity in a short timeframe. We find it quite positive that a good proportion of the €22 billion which has been provided for the next ten years has been attributed to climate action. In the past 20 months, since my appointment, our budget has increased from €75 million to €150 million. Demand for our generic capital schemes with businesses and home owners has increased in line with the increase in our budget. The challenge has been to ensure there is robustness in the supply chain, for example among the contractors who are going to deliver the work on the ground. Many of our efforts involve working with those involved in the supply chain to increase quality and volume, to give them confidence that there will be a demand for these services over time and to assure them that when we come to the end of this period of high-profile activity, there will be something to blend down at the tail end, although we would be lucky to be set with that challenge.
With regard to Deputy Dooley's comments about electric vehicles, it is worth noting that sales of such vehicles increased by 50% last year and have increased by 50% again in the first quarter of this year. If one tries to order an electric vehicle now, one will be waiting between eight and ten months because of a shortage of supply. The demand is there. I do not see people parking them on the side of the road. The purchase of second-hand electric vehicles is a significant growth area. People are buying such vehicles on the domestic market and importing them. This shows that people in all segments of the market, and not just new car buyers, are able and willing to go out and buy electric vehicles. It is likely that the type of person who is buying a second-hand vehicle already drives an older car. We are doing more to incentivise people and to inform them of their options in this regard. The initiative in this area that we launched last week is not a public awareness programme; it is designed to inform consumers about these matters. Separately, when we took over the provision of support for domestic chargers in January, we made a change to enable someone who wants to buy a second-hand electric car to apply for support for a domestic charger. Prior to this, support was provided to those buying new electric vehicles only. We are working hard with the Department to put procurement in place in respect of the fast-charging network. We expect to be able to go to the market in the third quarter of this year and the fast-charging will follow soon after that. This dovetails with the decision-making process in the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the ESB regarding the existing infrastructure.
I would like to return to a point Deputy Bríd Smith made earlier and with which I do not particularly disagree. I suppose transport planning, at its root, is a spatial planning challenge with socioeconomic considerations. By the time there is a discussion on switching from diesel or petrol to electricity, the wrong question is being asked. The question that should be asked relates to the number of people who are having to drive in a car to a place. I was very thankful for and heartened by the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly with regard to switching towards public transport from roads infrastructure. There is a tendency in that direction. We have to acknowledge that the capital development plan looked at more sustainable forms of transport and at a modal shift away from cars. By the time these issues get to my door, we are answering the wrong question and we are mitigating a symptom as opposed to anything else.
I would like to pick up on some other specific points that were made. I sympathise with some of the views expressed by Senator McDowell. As far as I can see, work is ongoing. We face a certain challenge. Just as there is a perceived conflict, if not an actual conflict, between some of our agricultural policy and our climate policy, there is a similar conflict between our business and enterprise policy and our climate policy. We will continue to face such challenges. It is important to ask questions about the methods used to address those challenges and the infrastructure used to face them.
Mr. Jim Gannon:
I would appreciate it if the Senator would do so. I am nearly at the end. I will respond to one or two of Deputy Eamon Ryan's comments. Certain activities are under way in response to the work of the Citizens' Assembly and in response to some signals that were sent. They were under way by the time the report came out. The Deputy mentioned the assembly's recommendations relating to land use, public infrastructure and peat. I have gone through the specific recommendations made by the assembly in respect of electric vehicles. Community ownership with regard to renewable electricity is embedded in the new renewable electricity support scheme. I spoke about grid electricity from a microgeneration payment earlier in response to Deputy Stanley. It is up to us to design that into a grant scheme and see how we can make that valuable as the clean energy package comes down the line.
Deputy Ryan also asked about public sector leadership. We work with all public sector bodies, including Departments and the bodies under their aegis, to look at their commitments and achievements. There was a significant tonal shift at the start of last year when the public sector energy efficiency action plan moved from making people responsible for reporting to making sure they are accountable to perform. I think that was quite important. We experienced an upsurge in the level of interest in the technical and grant-giving supports we can provide. We have provided a number of million euro over the past couple of years. We have worked with the OPW and the Department of Education and Skills to look at the leadership roles they can play in communities, for example by upgrading their business beyond what would be considered to be a normal energy upgrade. I will give a separate example. Hearteningly, the HSE recently tested the use of electric vehicles in a rural environment, as opposed to an urban environment. Local taxi fleets were regularly being used in County Donegal to bring patients on dialysis in County Donegal in and out. We have shifted them towards electric vehicles to see whether that could or should work. If it works, the HSE may be in a position to roll such a service out across other areas. I think part of that is coming in as well. I think I have covered the questions that were directed at the SEAI.
I thank Mr. Gannon. Dr. Crowe wants to make a couple of comments on behalf of the EPA, after which I will bring Mr. Confrey back in because I cut him off earlier when he had more questions to answer.
Dr. Matthew Crowe:
I would like to answer the questions asked by Deputy Bríd Smith. I am glad she referred to our graph. We consider it to be a particularly important graph because it is stark. It shows the scale of the challenge. It also shows the reversal of the trend that existed, for whatever reason, in the period before the current period. The point I want to make is that the EPA will continue to report annually on the emissions inventories and the projections. As Dr. Cotter mentioned, we will use verifiable information when we are developing the projections. It is absolutely crucial for the things that are set out in the plan and in the national development plan to be implemented.
As those plans start to evolve and develop, they will then find their way into our projections. Obviously, the obverse, if they do not happen, is that they will not find their way into our projections and the projections will continue to portray the kind of picture that is presented in that figure.
We are required by the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 to produce a state of the environment report every four years. The most recent report was in 2016. We have started work on the next one which will be for 2020. In the 2016 report, we looked in some detail at energy, transport and agriculture. We included in the submission to the committee a summary of the key messages from those chapters for those three particular sectors. In terms of the provision of a roadmap for where to go with all this, those chapters provide good information as to what we need to do in Ireland to head in the right direction here.
Collaboration is hugely important in this area. It is significant that all the State agencies are collaborating and working together on this. We do work in other areas, for example, the Water Framework Directive, which is only looking at water. It is complex enough to get everybody to collaborate in such a space. This is covering the entire economy and society and it is very complex. The collaborative structures are being put in place. They take time to bed down. It is about building the structures that enable the different Departments and agencies to work together on a common goal.
Deputy Dooley asked what we can do in the shorter term in this regard. It is difficult to see what can be done up to 2020 that will make a major impact by 2020 merely because it is now the middle of 2018 and it is not that far away. The type of things we all need to focus on are, for example, changing the way that we make electricity. If one looks at the key message for energy in our submission, currently, fossil fuels provide approximately 90% of Ireland's energy. That is for everything, including electricity for housing and for transport - the entire energy system. We have a long way to go to get to the point where we have a decarbonised system but if we can figure out how to make electricity in a different way that is not dependent on fossil fuels, that then opens the door for a lot of other things. For example, if we all bought electric cars, which we would plug in, the electricity charging those cars would not be generated by fossil fuels whereas at present a significant proportion of it is. That is centrally important to getting the transition right.
The second point, which Deputy Eamon Ryan mentioned and with which we would agree with, is about doing as much as we can, and more if we can, in the area of improving the efficiency of our homes because we all live in a home. Everybody lives somewhere.
Dr. Matthew Crowe:
Except the homeless. I thank the Deputy for that. People can understand that the home they live in can be more energy efficient. Of course, the heating issue comes back to the type of fuel that is being used to heat the home. There is an opportunity there to do something which can engage almost the entire country which is worth considering.
Deputy Eamon Ryan mentioned the Citizens' Assembly. I wanted to make a couple of observations about that. I was fortunate to be able to sit in on the first day of the discussions on climate change. It was a superb process. There is a great deal that we can learn from the process as well as from the report that was published in the past few days. As the climate dialogue is evolving, there are many lessons to be learned from the way it was done, and the fact that one had 99 citizens in a room discussing a fairly complex topic such as climate change over two weekends, being given the information in a dispassionate way by a bunch of different people from different organisations, and then discussing it themselves and coming up with the conclusions they did. It is incredibly powerful. There is a lot of richness in that report and we can all benefit from looking at that, working through the report and seeing how we can best evolve it. In terms of engaging citizens, there is a lot to be learned just from the process of how the Citizens' Assembly was run.
Dr. Eimear Cotter:
I will pick up two points to add to what Dr. Crowe stated. First, on the data centres, I cannot add anything in terms of the nub of the question and the overall national position. However, from the EPA's perspective, I can tell the committee that we continue to provide the evidence on Ireland's future emissions. In looking out to 2020 and beyond, we work in the impact of data centres. I would make the point that our national emission projections include the impact of data centres. Many of those data centres fall within our environmental regulatory regimes, such as the EU emissions trading system, ETS, that regulates CO2 emissions, albeit with a very low price signal at present, and more recently, within the Medium Combustion Plant Directive. That is by way of supporting information. I recognise it is not getting to the nub of the question.
On the peat question, we have been consistent. Our director general spoke at the Citizens' Assembly. We have mentioned in the state of the environment report that we need to move away from fossil fuels and we need to do that with a greater sense of urgency. As we have heard, over 90% of our energy consumption comes from fossil fuels. That includes, of course, carbon intensive and inefficient fuels, such as peat. We can come back with more detailed information on the impact of that.
I will hand over to Mr. Treacy, who has been going through our large national inventory report to give some estimate of the impact of peat extraction and combustion currently. They will be rough figures and we can come back to the committee later with more information.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
We will need to come back to the committee with the full picture in terms of soil emissions, etc. In terms of energy, it is approximately 2.6 million tonnes, residential is approximately 0.8 million tonnes and horticulture extraction is 0.5 million tonnes. We are talking about at least over 4 million tonnes, just on extraction and burning. As I stated, I would like to come back with a more detailed response to give the committee the full information.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
In response to Senator McDowell, I will close off on the data centres point. I mentioned earlier all the work and the analysis in terms of the Departments and agencies that have been around the table. Colleagues in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation will shortly be bringing a policy statement on data centres to Government for its approval. It will try to balance those arguments in terms of the opportunities but also the challenges. For our part, on the energy side of the equation, we are definitely articulating and working on the analysis from EirGrid in terms of what it will mean for electricity demand.
I am sorry if I pushed Mr. Confrey on that. I am really talking to them through him. It is all very well for them to bring a memorandum to Cabinet but I hope Mr. Confrey has a good memorandum on the issue as well.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
I understand. The other point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan was in regard to the recent informal meeting of EU Energy Ministers in Sofia and on the clean energy package more generally. To answer the Deputy's question, Ireland is supportive of the EU ambition across energy efficiency and across renewables. I suppose the point is we certainly have been articulating the need for some flexibility around some of the sectoral areas.
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
We are certainly supportive of higher EU ambition.
We certainly need to do it cost effectively. We are not yet at the point where we have outlying higher targets on the table. In December, by way of a general approach, the energy council signed off on at least 27% on renewables. All the expectations are that is going to go higher. In respect of energy efficiency it will be at 30%. We are inching towards the June council where I expect Ministers will be asked to agree on the overall package. However, as I said, we are broadly supportive of the EU ambition across the clean energy perspective. We need to see that Ireland can achieve its contribution to what will be an EU-wide target and that it can be done cost effectively. The work that Mr. Carroll mentioned earlier in respect of both the TRAM analysis, and indeed the SEAI modelling that is under way, will inform the policies and measures that we as a collective are going to have to put together as part of the first national energy and climate plan. I ask Ms Minch to comment on the built environment and the public sector.
Ms Rebecca Minch:
I have a couple of brief points. It is clear there is a strong understanding in the room of what has to be done and the sheer scale of it. We are working hard on understanding how that should be done. We are mindful, as are the Deputies and Senators, that ultimately it is about people deciding to act. It is not just about the technical measures we put in place to be carried out. I refer to the capacity we build among different sections of the economy and society to make that decision to act. Then there will be the opportunity to undertake work in our homes and our businesses.
That is why we are seeing a really important shift occurring in how incentives are designed. I will give one example of how this is tapping into the level of demand people have rightly pointed out is needed. I refer to the warmth and well-being scheme we got going in 2016. It is a joint policy initiative between our Department and the Department of Health to provide comprehensive energy efficiency upgrades to the homes of people at risk of energy poverty but also suffering from chronic respiratory problems. We put together the criteria for the scheme in co-operation with the Department of Health and on the advice of the HSE. It is jointly delivered by SEAI and the HSE, hence the importance of the supply chain as Mr. Gannon pointed out. The critical lesson being learned - and this is an important issue for all of us to remember - is the importance of supporting people in their decisionmaking. I refer to supporting the client then on his or her journey through what can be quite a significant undertaking, particularly in their own homes.
To be frank, while that might sound quite soft, it is proving to be the catalyst that could really unlock this. When we put those measures in place - those kinds of supports for warmth and well-being - that is been carried out in a relatively small geographical area among a very specific cohort of people. By the end of this year, we will have upgraded a thousand homes. We are on course to spend €20 million over the three years of the pilot programme. When people hear about this through intermediaries they trust and see as independent, and they are supported by the SEAI and the HSE on the journey, the response is there. That tells us much about how we need to go about this. Providing that kind of support is obviously demanding on the system.
I will briefly address the public sector. There is no basis for complacency but it is important to note that, based on the robust data gathered and analysed by the SEAI, we know the public sector has improved its energy efficiency by 20% since the baseline of 2009. That is the national target. It has achieved that already. It shows the importance of the public sector getting out in front. The emphasis in the public sector has been a great deal on the built environment. There is no doubt that there are huge opportunities in transport with public sector fleets. That is something we know we need to get at and we are working closely with colleagues in transport. That is definitely going to be the next chapter in that work.
This might not be possible now but it might be something the EPA might come back on. I refer to its report of April 2017. It estimated that the commercial and public services sector would see an increase, with all of the additional measures, of 19.6% in emissions between 2020 and 2035. Can the EPA break that down between the public services sector and the commercial sector? I do not doubt that people in the public sector are doing things around energy efficiency and have a real commitment to it. However, we see figures where the EPA says that emissions are going to increase by 20% when they should be reducing by 80%.
Dr. Eimear Cotter:
It is a question of timing. It is a bit of a boring answer in that we produce our projections in a certain point in time. We can take into account policies and measures developed to a certain extent. Where something is newer or at a pilot phase, the impact of that is more difficult to work into the numbers and analysis. As policies and measures we have heard about, such as the warmth and well-being scheme, become more developed and embedded we can work the impact of those into the projections. It is a technical answer to the issue.
I thank Dr. Cotter and all of our witnesses for coming in for this excellent engagement today. I propose the committee publish the opening statements received on the committee website. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will suspend to allow the witnesses to leave and resume in private session after.