Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Environmental Pillar
I welcome Mr. Oisín Coghlan, Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith, Mr. Andrew St. Ledger, Ms Cliona Sharkey and Professor John Sweeney of the Environmental Pillar.
Before we commence proceedings, I will begin with some formalities. I advise the witnesses that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they 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 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 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.
Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We will publish all the witnesses' opening statements to our website but if they could try to keep their contributions to five minutes, I would appreciate it. We will get more benefit from the back and forth questioning. We will start with Mr. Oisín Coghlan. I invite him to make his opening statement.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
We are very grateful for the opportunity to present to the committee at the start of its deliberations on Ireland's next steps on climate action.
The organisations we represent were keen observers at the Citizens' Assembly process. We welcome the establishment of the members' committee and wish them well in their important, urgent work.
Our civil society delegation includes members of both the Environmental Pillar, the national advocacy coalition of 26 environmental non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and Stop Climate Chaos, the coalition of 28 overseas aid, youth, faith and environment organisations campaigning for Ireland to do its fair share to tackle climate change.
These hearings are very timely: Irish climate policy is at a crucial crossroads. Three paths converge here, namely, the increasing impacts of climate change, Ireland’s track record on climate action and the emerging all-party consensus that new policies and measures are required.
Our presentation will briefly address the three paths that converge here, namely the increasing impacts of climate change, Ireland's track record on climate action and the all-party consensus that new policies and measures are required. We want to look briefly at those areas before scouting the path ahead, which the committee is charged with mapping. We are seeing the increasing impact of climate change in Ireland through an increase in extreme weather events that have economic and social impacts such as the fodder crisis and flooding. The global picture is even more stark, as evidenced in our written submission, which demonstrates that floods, droughts, wildfires and extreme temperature events are on the increase. UN Secretary General, António Guterres, described climate change as a global emergency and told the world, "It is time to get off the path of suicidal emissions", in a major speech in New York last Monday.
How does Ireland stand in the face of this existential challenge? To borrow a phrase, I would not start from here. Our written submission contains graphs which show that Ireland has the third highest greenhouse gas emissions per person among the EU 28 and the eighth highest in the OCED. Ireland is one of only two EU countries that will miss the 2020 targets. The current projections from the EPA show our emissions increasing and suggest they will be 30% above 1990 levels in 2030, notwithstanding the fact that our 2050 target is to be between 80% and 95% below the 1990 level. In two studies in the past year, Ireland placed last or second last in the EU in the context of climate performance. No one is asking Ireland to do more than its fair share. Ireland is being asked just to do its fair share and to live up to the targets we have set ourselves.
The big development this year, which is positive, is that the Government has conceded frankly that current policies and measures are not working and that we need a reset. The significance of these admissions is that they clear the decks for the work of this committee. Government Deputies and Senators need no longer feel honour bound to defend the current plan while Opposition Deputies and Senators no longer have an incentive to score points against it. It is back to the drawing board and the committee's work can shape the outcome in that regard. Like the all-party committees on the eighth amendment and health care, respectively, the committee has a historic opportunity to forge a climate action plan for the next decade that puts Ireland on track to do its fair share to meet the Paris commitments.
What we lack in Ireland is the road map of agreed policies and measures to put us on the right path and get us to our destination on time. The most damning critique of the 2017 climate action plan - the national mitigation plan - comes from Professor John FitzGerald, with whom the committee engaged this morning. He said it contains many bright ideas but no new decisions. The national energy and climate plan the committee is shaping is the first step towards putting that right. If members take one thing away from our presentation, it should be this. To build on the promise of the Citizens’ Assembly and to maintain credibility in this process, the committee's final report must recommend new decisions that reduce emissions. It cannot simply recommend more research, analysis and consideration. As Al Gore, quoting Winston Churchill from 1936, has put it:
The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.
In the face of the global emergency, as the UN Secretary General called it, and Ireland's baffling procrastination, the committee's role is to usher in an era of action. We are not lost. The report of the Citizens' Assembly and the modest proposals in the joint submission to the assembly of the Environmental Pillar and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition give the committee all the tools it needs to set Ireland in the right direction. We look forward to discussing those and other proposals with the members in this session. My colleagues and I will touch on various sectoral areas in that regard. Our written submission mentions energy. We need to put energy efficiency first, phase out fossil fuels, establish a just-transition commission to move off peak now and kick start community ownership of renewable energy with a price for solar which allows schools, farms and community buildings to get involved in energy resolution.
In my final few minutes, I will focus on the policy architecture needed to ensure action and accountability, as envisaged by recommendation 1 of the Citizens' Assembly which is to "ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making in Ireland, as a matter of urgency". No doubt when it comes to specific sectors and measures, differing perspectives and priorities will be expressed in the committee's hearings. I hope, however, we all agree on the urgency of designing and implementing a policy architecture that puts climate change consistently at the centre of policymaking. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 was a step in that direction and we campaigned for it for eight years. However, the failure of the national mitigation plan has demonstrated the weakness of the legislation. Comparing this Act to similar laws in other countries makes the gaps clear. First, the 2050 target should be in the legislation. Analysis of the UK legislation indicates that inclusion is the cornerstone of the effectiveness of the law in that jurisdiction in driving policy change. Second, a provision is required to ensure that all new Government policies and plans are audited for their emissions impact before they are approved. While such a provision was discussed in the context of previous Bills, it did not make it into the Act. It is clear now that this provision is necessary. Crucially, and our central point having regard to the overall architecture, the statutory requirement for five-year carbon budgets, adopted by parliament for the entire economy, drives action across all departments in the UK. These five-year emissions envelopes are adopted 12 years in advance on foot of the advice of the UK climate change committee.
We consistently argued for those carbon budgets in the Irish law but they did not make the final Bill. We had one for the Kyoto period, from 2008 to 2012. We need them now on a five-year basis for the 2020-25 period. They need to be adopted by Parliament, not just by the Government. We believe that will help us move in the right direction.
If one looks at the carbon budget outline from this joint committee, one will see that non-agricultural emissions must go down by 5% every year from now until 2050 to meet our own national targets, even before they are amended for Paris. I refer not to EU or other externally imposed targets but to our own target of an 80% reduction by 2050. The task of this committee is to identify policies and measures that will reduce Irish emissions by 5% in 2020 and every year thereafter until 2050.
I will hand over to my colleagues to address some of those policy areas. Our message is that it is up to the committee members to choose the measures. We want to reinforce the idea that we have agreed to targets that are just about getting us towards our fair share of the Paris commitment. This committee's challenge is to actually choose the measures that deliver those reductions.
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
I am going to speak to a few of the recommendations. On recommendation 4, the vulnerability assessment, we agree this is a necessary requirement and there needs to be serious public participation in the design of the process. The assessment should be down to the level of individual structures such as individual dams or rail lines.
On recommendation 7, ending subsidies for peat, Mr. Coghlan has already talked about this and argued there should be a means of transitioning and using the money from the PSA to do so. I note, however, there currently is no sustainable biomass in the world to run Moneypoint and the peat stations. It does not exist. We do need more interconnectors to Europe, an issue which is not talked about enough. Modern forecasting methods are leading to better control of wind and solar generation. This means that the need for base-load generation, which is normally provided by Moneypoint and other peat stations, is actually dropping. It is becoming increasingly possible to run the grid much more actively than is currently the case. The other side that is not taken into account and does have a climate change effect is the extraction and export of millions of tonnes of horticultural and other peat products. This needs to be counted in our overall emissions. While we argue that the bogs should be rewetted, the arterial drainage scheme - started in 1945 when none of this was important - must be reviewed. We are currently draining high-carbon soil and this is producing around 5% to 10% of agricultural emissions. Any farming affected by this needs to be compensated, of course. However, it is a huge cause of agricultural emissions.
Moving on to recommendation 8 on bus lanes, cycle lanes and park and ride, the national planning framework understands the need for walkable communities and encourages investment in the provision of public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure. However, the national development plan, NDP - which is the money to be spent on that - is very different. A huge amount of it is going on motorways and the second runway at Dublin Airport. The Government make great claims that one fifth of the NDP is specifically for climate action, which is very positive and very true. Unfortunately, however, much of the other four fifths is counter-productive. A two thirds share of the transport budget for walking and cycling would be needed to drive the necessary behavioural change.
On the transition to electric vehicles, we believe the first priority should be to move away from car ownership altogether and towards public transport, car pooling, and shared electric car schemes such as those we see on the street now. Then should come the move towards electric cars. They should be supported not just through fiscal encouragements but also fiscal discouragements as the continuation of petrol and diesel engine cars must be stopped.
A date for banning petrol and diesel cars in urban areas must be set to the same as other European cities.
The conversion of public transport to clean, electric power is a no-brainer; it just makes sense. It will improve the inbuilt air quality. Dublin's air quality is okay but it still leads to the death of a considerable number of people. Nitrogen oxides are a cause of huge health problems.
The Climate Change Advisory Council considered the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and recommended that carbon tax be raised to €30 per tonne in general, rising to €80 per tonne by 2030. The Environmental Pillar feels that should start at €70 per tonne in 2019 and rise by €5 thereafter. Half of that should be given straight back to the people of Ireland in a carbon dividend shared to every adult. We do not want to introduce harm and hurt to people. They should be compensated all around the country. The other half should go to the Just Transition Fund, the climate action fund I have talked about.
A carbon tax of agricultural emissions should be similar to the polluter pays principle on the grounds of equity. A new report by Teagasc states that €50 per tonne is required to enable climate mitigation efforts in the sector. Teagasc has also stated that by far the largest driver of agricultural greenhouse gases is cattle numbers.
Ammonia emissions are another cause for concern in the agricultural area. They are harmful to health and add to carbon emissions. Ireland is definitely above the UN norms, if not the European norms, in ammonia emissions.
Ireland needs to ensure that the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, is reformed so that it can move from intensive ruminant-based farming to high nature value farming that provides more environmental protection. This would be particularly beneficial to the farmers in the west who really need the support.
On recommendation 12 on food waste, the Environmental Pillar believes that reporting of food waste at every stage will begin to encourage initiatives to address food waste at the start of the food supply chain, including farms.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
I thank the Chair and the committee for the opportunity to speak here today.
Regarding calls for resilience of public lands, recommendation No. 2, I would like to talk about Coillte, which was originally set up as the Irish Forestry Board. It is in charge of the largest public land bank in the country, comprising approximately 7% of the land mass. We believe it is neither managing this land to ensure climate resilience nor is it delivering full public goods. In 2010, the McCarthy report into State assets found that approximately 500,000 acres of the public estate was not commercially viable. Mr. McCarthy also found that the annual return from the forest business was 0.4%, which he called economically unacceptable. The Environmental Pillar would like to see an independent review and sustainability audit of Coillte's forest business and other activities. The 1988 Forestry Act created Coillte with a commercial timber production and primacy of profit mandate. The Act predates the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, where the concept of sustainable development stemmed from and when the world realised that climate change and other issues were threatening our collective future. The 1988 Act is not fit for purpose.
The Environmental Pillar wants to see the transition of this, the largest public land bank, to mixed native woodlands and forests that ensure sustainable management of this natural resource for long-term benefits in climate mitigation and adaptation, in line with international best practice. The Environmental Pillar is looking for a very different type of management to what is going on.
Under recommendation 13, diversification with focus on planting forests and encouraging organic farming, at the outset we need to differentiate and move from the industrial tree farming forest model that was adopted in this country to a close-to-nature system focused on native species, which is proven to have multiple benefits. We have serious concerns regarding the viability and validity of the current State forestry policy, which I reiterate is an industrial tree-farming model, especially in respect of the climate change mitigation claims and other co-benefits made for this forest industry. The State has spent approximately €2.5 billion in the past ten years on a forestry programme. That is not a good use of public money and is not delivering the multiple public goods it should.
The sustainability of the current model is predicated on increased annual harvests of 35 to 50 year old trees, combined with at least 15,000 ha of new planting, to maintain a balance. This is what is known as the "sustained yield". We now see younger trees are being harvested and Ireland has averaged only 6,000 ha in afforestation or new planting in the past ten years. It is predicted that this year only 4,000 ha will be planted in new planting. Meanwhile harvesting of a younger age profile is increasing. That will lead to possible deforestation.
Between 2012 and 2018, there was only a 0.2% increase in tree cover, which is already low. When this poor planting is combined with ongoing higher harvesting rates, we are looking at deforestation. The current forest policy may be making climate change worse. This forestry model also ranks as the second greatest threat to designated habitats and species in Ireland after agriculture. Almost 40% of designated habitats and 20% of species designated under the habitats directive have forestry as a direct pressure or threat. At a species level, over 20% of species designated under this directive have forestry as a threat.
There is an urgent need to change the direction of forest policy in line with the 2013 forest policy review, one of the main recommendations of which was to separate commercial timber production from the environmental and social objectives of what is known as sustainable forest management, that is, to ensure that the forest policy can deliver climate change mitigation and resilience, as well as other multiple environmental and social benefits which also are tied in to climate resilience. The pillar believes this can be achieved by the creation of a forestry task force as a component of the independent body to ensure climate change at the centre of policy making in Ireland, in line with recommendation 1 of the Citizens Assembly.
There is a need for a task force which operates between the Forest Service, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Heritage Council, the environmental sector and other stakeholders to knock heads and pull together a more co-ordinated, more beneficial policy transition. It is in line with the need for an acceptable global forestry model focused on native trees and woodlands, which are the richest land-based habitats for biodiversity and are still the life-support system for many indigenous peoples and for us all. These future forests must be created for longer-term multiple environmental and social objectives, allowing the trees to grow old to absorb more carbon and to bank it long term and develop invaluable complex ecosystem services. The current model is short term. It is 25 to 30 years long. They are cutting the trees down far too early and are not allowing them to develop or to give the multiple benefits that could accrue.
I refer to recommendations 11 and 13, reward farmers for carbon storage and land diversification. It is linked to what Mr. Stanley-Smith stated earlier. The pillar would like to see options and rewards for diverse agroforestry systems, that is, to integrate different smarter-type forestry into farming. I note farming came originally from forests.
The recommendation from the 1896 recess committee set up by Horace Plunkett was the integration of forestry and farming. We have moved well away from that. Native trees on farms can also alleviate flooding - by reducing the flow of water from land to river channels - and reduce soil-quality depletion. It also protects soil fertility which is very important. Riparian and ecological corridor planting would increase our low tree cover, focus on our native species, collect runoff from pollution by nitrates, etc., and be a win-win for farms.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
That is basically it. If only 5% of our farms were planted with specific small copses of native trees, it could increase our low tree cover by 4% and provide multiple benefits that include stopping the land abandonment in the west of Ireland and encourage younger people to get involved in farming.
Professor Sweeney has been a highly influential scientific adviser to various Oireachtas committees on the climate issue over the years. Mr. Oisín Coghlan said we should stitch the 2050 targets into legislation. I would be nervous about such an approach because I believe our targets might not be sufficiently ambitious. Today, the President of the European Commission, Mr. Junker, has come out strongly saying that we need to increase Europe's contribution to the Paris Agreement, which, in turn, would lead to us having to review our target. Our target is complex because it calls for an 80% reduction across energy transport. It also calls for carbon neutrality; I am uncertain as to what that means. I am nervous about the 80% because it leads to every Department looking to be the 20% that does not have to do its bit and expecting all the other Departments to cover for it.
Have Stop Climate Chaos and An Taisce done any assessment or has the environmental pillar done any review of our likely final climate target within the Paris Agreement if it stays? What would our target need to be if we wanted to achieve a reduction of 1.5° Celsius? Is there any background research or analysis? When is the European Union target likely to be more clearly outlined?
Professor John Sweeney:
The next meeting of the conference of parties to the UNFCCC will take place in Poland in December. The sole purpose of this meeting is to fix a rule book for the Paris Agreement. It has become quite clear that countries have made pledges which are, to some extent, aspirational but which now need to be tied down with a common methodology. Hopefully the conference will agree a common rule book with which all parties will be required to comply.
In the lead-up to that, the European Union has been very active over the summer months in positioning Europe to resume, hopefully, a position of leadership in respect of this problem. Two quite important directives have been passed - one on renewable energy and one on energy of efficiency - both of which call for reductions or improvements of the order of 32%. Coupled with that is the 2030 effort-sharing decision, as we used to call it, to which Ireland was party.
As a result of all of this, the positioning of Europe internationally is such that there is a probability that at Katowice in December Europe will make a new pitch for a higher and more ambitious target of probably approximately 45%.
In fact, 14 countries have called for stronger EU climate action over the past few months. Sadly, Ireland was not in a position to join those 14 countries calling for stronger EU climate action, which is a source of regret.
What we are now seeing is that the net is tightening around the kind of pledges we made in the past, which were almost in spirit rather than in practice, and we have seen in the Irish case that we failed to deliver on those. With the next stage of European policies bringing together those three strands of energy, efficiency of renewable energy and emissions, there is now a requirement on countries to produce an integrated - that is the important word - climate and energy plan, a draft of which has to be produced by the end of December. There is a template for that in circulation which countries will be required to adhere to, and that template will stop countries making aspirational claims which may not be delivered on. It means that we in Ireland will have to come clean on what we are going to do, how we are going to do it, what our targets will be and how we will comply with annual limit values commencing in the early 2020s. Failure to comply with those will have automatic penalties, which are built in. Of necessity, this will mean hard choices have to be made and, of course, it is the job of this committee to make those hard choices. Politics is about setting priorities, and I believe the priorities that are set will have to be set within that envelope. Of course, that envelope will extend beyond 2030 up to 2050.
The indications are that decarbonisation of the global economy cannot wait until 2050 if we are to avoid the dangerous climate change scenario. The IPCC will publish in the next few weeks an important report on the 1.5° Celsius issue with regard to what are our chances and what steps we need to take to comply with the Paris objective of doing everything we can to avoid a 1.5° Celsius warming. I can tell the committee now, without breaking any confidence, that it will say it is going to be extremely difficult unless we accelerate the rate of decarbonisation of all economies, especially the economies in the developing world, but also that we take more stringent steps in the developed world, where we have a historical responsibility to bear the burden of immediate short-term reductions. The current consensus is that 2050 is too far away and that 2040 will be the required target for decarbonisation. To do that, we will have to go on an accelerating trend of emissions reductions.
For us in Ireland, effectively, the longer we put off making those hard choices, the steeper the fall off the cliff will be in the next ten to 20 years. If we want to have any kind of equity with the next generation, or any kind of phased adjustment to decarbonisation, those hard choices have to be made now. This committee is in the very important position of being able to make those hard choices. They are unpopular choices, which will cause disruption and a great deal of angst in some sectors. That is why we will have to try to take them in an orderly and in an equitable way, as Mr. Stanley-Smith said, in order to protect vulnerable people and vulnerable assets, where possible, by a reallocation of resources.
To answer the question, the time for procrastination is gone. The signs are that we are now seeing a climate change system which is changing more quickly than we thought. We are getting much more confident about attribution of human activities to individual extreme events. We know of the heatwave this summer and we can attribute a probability that this will occur twice as often in the future, and the study that said this was carried out in July before we had the drought. We are facing a situation where extreme events are going to become more frequent, and the cost of coping and adapting will become even greater as we move through the timescales.
I have a second question. Ms Cliona Sharkey might be interested in answering this as well because she represents an agency with a global perspective. In some of the arguments and discussions we have had about land use and the area of agriculture, the message we have heard is that Irish farming and agriculture are low-carbon relative to that of other jurisdictions, that we have an obligation to feed the world, 10 billion people, and that we should be able to meet our Food Harvest 2020 plan targets as well as the targets of our climate plans. Is there a scientific or, indeed, a global perspective on this? It is a global argument, I suppose, in the sense that our beef is lower-carbon than Belgian beef or Brazilian beef, perhaps. What cognisance do the witnesses think we should take of these arguments? How do we assess them?
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
I had a discussion about this with Joe Healy the other day. Yes, we believe that the production of Irish beef is probably less carbon-intensive than that of many other countries, but that argument only works if someone is prepared to go and talk to the Belgians, the Brazilians or whoever else and say, "The Irish are so good at this that you should let them produce all the beef in the world and you should stop." Otherwise, what will happen is that we will continue producing beef and so will the other countries and the argument of Ireland being so much better than anyone else will just fail because both countries will carry on producing beef.
Ms Cliona Sharkey:
Yes. To build a little on that point, we certainly recognise the relative efficiency of Irish agriculture. We do not work in Irish agriculture, as the committee knows quite well, but we have been working on global food security and hunger in some of the poorest countries in the world for a number of decades. In the context of climate change, we are very conscious that globally, the food system will have to transform. Agriculture in all countries will have to transform, no more so than in the countries where we work. We believe strongly that the policies for the agricultural sector in every country need to be just, ambitious and managed to support farmers and rural communities in order to deliver a resilient, low-carbon and profitable rural economy that can contribute to local economies and to the national economy. However, we also wish to be very clear, because there is often a lot of confusion around this discussion, that hunger is caused by poverty. Food insecurity is caused by poverty rather than inadequate food supply. We know that the world currently provides enough food in theory for the global population, but lack of access to resources or the ability to produce that food means that almost 800 million people between 2014 and 2016 were unable to access sufficient food. What we know, therefore, is that increasing food supply globally will not solve hunger, but increasing emissions will certainly exacerbate it.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
Yes. I am sure members have already heard a great deal on the point about efficiency and carbon intensity and I am sure they will hear a great deal more about it. From an atmospheric point of view, however, it is an irrelevant term. The atmosphere does not recognise efficiency or intensity. All it recognises is absolute emissions. Those are what count. Therefore, if one wants to increase overall emissions, that is a choice one must make at the expense of something else. For example, according to the CSO, there were 6.67 million cattle in Ireland at the end of December. This represents 750,000 more than there were at the end of December 2011. That is a choice one must make if one wants to continue down that path, but it will have to be at the expense of something else, and it is for the committee to decide on those priorities.
As for the leakage argument, unfortunately, national sovereign governments are the units which must operate in this field.
It would be nice if we had sectoral allocations globally but unfortunately that is not going to happen. If we wanted to use the argument that we are more efficient at producing beef the Germans would use the argument they are more efficient at producing cars and the Italians would use the argument they are more efficient at producing olive oil. We would end up in a very difficult situation. This reminds us that we have to take responsibility for our own actions.
In addition to the number of cattle, we are exceeding our national emissions ceiling for ammonia. How long we will be allowed to do that by the Commission is not clear, but that is a choice the committee has to make in terms of where it wants to take the country. I remind committee members there is an envelope that must be maintained, which is the absolute amount of emissions and not intensity efficiency or anything else. It is the amount of emissions with which we can meet our obligations.
Ms Cliona Sharkey:
Deputy Ryan asked about research and figures. There is so much research out there, as members can imagine, on these issues. I have information from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization from 2016. It produced a report, The State of Food and Agriculture, that focused on climate change, agriculture and food security. The report states:
The effects of climate change on agricultural production and livelihoods are expected to intensify over time, and to vary across countries and regions. Beyond 2030, the negative impacts of climate change on the productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry will become increasingly severe in all regions.
Productivity declines would have serious implications for food security. Food supply shortfalls would lead to major increases in food prices, while increased climate variability would accentuate price volatility.
We agree with the fact that agriculture has to be treated differently. It is not just an emissions or economic sector, it is the means by which we feed ourselves as a species so it has to be treated as a special case.
Our primary concern as an organisation is for the people who are struggling with the level of impact of climate change today. They are already unable to produce enough food to feed themselves because of increasingly frequent and intense disasters. This is a global issue of which Ireland must be cognisant. Perhaps the committee could engage with the Department in the coming weeks to ask about the implications for Ireland's food security down the line in a situation where we do not deliver on the 1.5° or well below 2° temperature limits set in the Paris Agreement. There are some scenarios we should consider.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
To return to Deputy Ryan's comments on how targets might change and the role of the committee, I agree with everything said by Professor Sweeney. To bring it back to the work of the committee, the existing EU objective for 2050 is 80% to 95% in all emissions reduction compared to 1990.
If I remember correctly the fifth assessment report, AR5, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this means Europe's share would give us a 50:50 chance of staying below 2°. The target adopted in 2014 by the Irish Government in the national policy position on climate action was the lower 80% target. Carbon neutrality means net zero. In mathematical terms, never mind how it is achieved, that means the whole economy of Ireland would reduce 1990 levels by 80% by 2050. The very next year, in 2015, we adopted the Energy White Paper, which has a target for all CO2 emissions, encompassing everything bar agriculture, of 80% to 95%. That is State policy in the White Paper. This echoes the EU objective. If everyone in Europe does this it will give us a 50:50 chance of staying below 2°. At the same time as the White Paper was adopted the Paris Agreement was adopted. This sets a much more challenging climate temperature target. It states 2° is too dangerous and that we need to be well below 2°, ideally as close to 1.5° as possible. All existing targets have to be revised in the context of the Paris Agreement. They will all get more challenging.
Essentially, Ireland faces a net 80% reduction target by 2050. There might be talk of a global net 0% by 2050. As Professor Sweeney said, it will be at least net 0% in Europe by 2040, which is only 22 years away. From 1998 to 2020 will only have been 22 years. That is a short time to get to net 0% emissions if we are to do our fair share under the Paris Agreement.
While it is worth being cognisant of that fact, when Ireland is so far off track in reaching our existing targets according to all independent assessments, the committee's focus should be on what measures to take. I have suggested putting the cap into law. In the production of the national mitigation plan, every Department kept its cards close to its chest and offered as little as possible. There was no legal backstop, to borrow a phrase, to force us to share out the emissions within a limit.
More important than any given target for 2050 in the law is the five-year budgeting process. Although I do not like using the analogy of the troika, we really had to stick to our budget limit for five years or more. All negotiations were on how to divvy that up, what the priorities were - in this case, the priority is pollution - and where the greatest savings could be made. When making such decisions, we should bear in mind the economics of what is the most efficient, but also issues of fairness, justice and protection of the weakest. All of this would happen underneath a hard limit on emissions rather than an aspirational target that does not require action.
I will make a related point, as what I have just said sounds negative. As Professor Sweeney stated, we face disruption in taking climate action but, as Ms Sharkey mentioned, we face disruption and change regardless of what happens next or whether we like it. The only question is whether to take hold of the situation and manage the change so that we make the most of the innovations and possibilities of the transition or sit back and hope that someone will solve the problem for us, in which case we are much more likely to face the sort of abrupt adjustment we got when the bubble burst ten years ago and Lehman Brothers collapsed. We do not want the latter. We want the managed, just and prosperous transition, which we can get by taking action now.
This is not a rural-urban divide issue. Irish farmers are already suffering from climate change. We saw it this summer. If we have a long, cold winter, agriculture will be in deep trouble. Urban or rural, we all realise that. We must help our farming community.
Mr. St. Ledger set out a new model for a close-to-nature forestry. He does not have to answer now, but is there any paper he could share with us that sets out how much that would cost, where it would be done and, as Professor FitzGerald asked earlier, how we could get farmers to switch into it? What would be the incentives and mechanisms to deliver it? I agree with the different vision of forestry that he set out, but is there a good paper on this matter to which he could refer us? Where could we look to see the real nuts and bolts - I am sorry for using the wrong metaphor, as I should have said "branches and twigs" - of how that would be delivered?
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
Regarding evidence for the model of agroforestry and integrating trees into farms, there is a link in the Environmental Pillar's submission to a United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, and World Agroforestry Centre paper. It is not as specific as what the Deputy is seeking and is global rather than focused on Ireland. However, Ireland has one of the best climates in the world for growing, particularly for hardwoods. It has ideal conditions. That is the reason for our timber production model, with fast-growing non-native trees. That model served a purpose when we had low forest cover, but it is time to move away from it.
Bangor University in Wales, which is not too far away, has been working with a group of hill farmers in similar conditions to Ireland's.
It has researched and shown amazing results by having only 5% specifically targeted small groups of trees on a 1,000 ha model area. This research, which is ongoing, is applicable to Ireland. In terms of forest policy in general, there would be papers from Austria and Switzerland on close-to-nature, continuous cover, longer term mixture coppicing and standards for timber, which allows for continued timber production but with multiple benefits. The model we have chosen provides only a timber benefit, which is economically good for the pension funds and the bigger players but not the small contractors. They are not getting a good deal because they are being paid by weight and, having invested in expensive machinery, they are struggling, which, again, is damaging to our environment They need to be helped transition away from this model. There is research out there on the multiple benefits of a different model, but specific to Ireland, not so much because we follow a different model, which is an industrial fast-growing model.
I thank the witnesses for being here. We are where we are. We all know where we are and why we are where we are. We probably should have had this meeting decades ago. However, we are here now. The committee is seeking guidance on what positive actions can be taken, the starting point being the Citizens' Assembly recommendations which the witnesses have referenced and quoted. This is only the second hearing on this issue. I can almost rhyme off the targets in respect of where we need to be by 2020, 2030 and 2040. In terms of the committee's work, I would like to hear more about where we should start and what should be prioritised because these are the issues on which we will need to make decisions. We are a country dependent on agriculture, which some say is carbon efficient and others say is not but in the absence of it being carbon neutral, there is a problem. We have to incorporate where we are into the solution. We have to consider the 300,000 employed, directly or indirectly, by the agriculture industry. Afforestation of all agricultural land will result in job losses, which will have a knock-on effect on the economy in terms of tax take, which would lead us to square -1 in that we will not have the resources do many of the things that are desired or requested.
On Coillte, I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. St. Ledger that it leaves a lot to be desired. In regard to afforestation, when balancing the books on emissions versus sequestration or mitigation, is only the 7% Coillte registered land taken into consideration or are all hedgerows, sporadic trees, forts and overgrown areas on practically every farm taken into consideration? Has any analysis been done of the average size farm in Ireland, including hedgerows, taking into account the method of farming, or are we, when speaking about trees, speaking about officially recorded forests? Generally speaking, are we not seeing the forest for the trees?
To prioritise, if the witnesses were on this side of the room as legislators, where would they start with the jigsaw? We are so far behind that this is a jigsaw and we are trying to alter the motion of a moving vehicle, if the witnesses and members know what I mean.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
I thank Senator Paul Daly for the question. I will say a few words about the bit I skipped over in my presentation. There is real scope in energy, in particular, for win-win-wins. I am sure the committee has heard this already. In some senses it is the least sexy of them all but the area where the most difference can be made is in energy efficiency by not using as much energy in our homes. The European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Mr. Miguel Arias Cañete, said that the dollar of energy not used is the best one of all.
We built one third of our housing stock during the boom and not to the highest standards. We have to retrofit at least 1 million homes and probably more over the next 12 years but we get significant benefits when we do that. In a funny way we do not have to talk about it being a climate thing. We get a much more stable climate inside a house when heat pumps are used compared with old fashioned up and down with boilers. The air is cleaner, the homes are healthier, the fuel bills are lower as are the emissions. Perhaps Mr. Stanley-Smith might speak about this as he had a deep retrofit done by the Tipperary Energy Agency. It is a transformative experience for a house but it is a big deal. It is not only a grant that is needed but also project management support to help choose the right contractor etc.
We have to do that at a scale of a million homes. That is at least 100,000 homes a year for the next decade. It is good that the national development plan referred to resources for this but the question is what mechanism gets people engaged. I am not stuck on this but as a thought experiment, I have used the analogy of something like the special savings incentive account, SSIA. First, if it is €2 billion per year for the next ten years, that is not all going to be State money. We have to get household investment involved and we also must think about households in fuel poverty, as well as low-income households and give them more support. For the majority of households it needs to be a scheme that gets them spending their own money while also getting some State help. What has done that the most in the last 20 years is the SSIA scheme.
It was in a sense like taking off value added tax, VAT. For every €4 invested, there was a €1 return after five years. It was the simplicity of the offer that attracted people. We need something like an SSIA scheme for insulation where for every €4 a householder invests in a deep retrofit, he or she gets a €1 subsidy from the State. I refer to something that is this simple to understand and which is rolled out at a scale that allows us to get to 100,000 houses a year. I know from the small bits of home improvements I have done that project management is the other side of that coin. Getting something done to the outside of a house is one thing but when the fabric of the home is being reworked inside, the householder needs to trust the contractor. He or she needs to know what is happening and needs guidance.
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland schemes do not offer that level of support at present whereas the Tipperary Energy Agency deep retrofit scheme - now a kind of national pilot scheme - does give that type of support. It does the assessment with the householder and then offers two or three contractors that the householder knows are up to the job. That makes it so much easier. It is essentially like accompaniment by a supportive agency through the process. Mr. Stanley-Smith might talk more about the experience. That is one side.
The second is renewables. We are often critical of Government policy in my job but we have welcomed the renewable electricity support scheme. It is a genuine attempt to operationalise the commitments to renewables and community involvement in the White Paper. There is, however, one crucial bit missing for real public engagement. I mentioned it in passing and that is the idea of a payment for solar electricity that can be spilled to the grid from a solar panel. There is a small grant now for putting a solar panel on a house as a householder but we think that community buildings and farm buildings are the real front line. I want every school in the country to be not just a green school but a solar school with a solar panel on the roof. That is not just because schools can save on their energy bills and then spend more on whiteboards and education because fuel bills are currently paid for from capitation. It is because it is a real way to engage the community in energy. On a sunny day, the meter in the lobby of the school would be going backwards. There would be real possibilities for engagement. Perhaps some fundraising might be done to put the panels on.
They could get a real gain from it. It involves the State giving a payment for the solar energy they spill onto the grid, as schools are not used at weekends or during the summer. If they cannot be paid for it, as is the case currently, it does not become economically viable. Equally, for GAA clubs, parish and community halls and farm buildings, it is a real way to get the vast majority of communities involved. We know that is at the community level where Ireland shows that it is best; it takes in the Tidy Towns competition, GAA clubs and parish groups. That is where the real action is. If we can harness that energy to help us to engage in the transition, the game will change. There would also be a stream of revenue for rural communities, in particular. It is not purely about megawatts as that will not resolve our issues in meeting overall targets. It will, however, change the discussion. We will get past the discussion we have had about big corporate wind energy projects for the past ten years into a real societal project involving transition and transformation. These two elements would make a big physical difference to people's lives and the conversation.
Mr. Stanley-Smith and I mentioned peat in passing. Peatlands are our Amazon. We are burning them in order to produce electricity, which is very inefficient. Peat gives us 9% of our electricity but 23% of the pollution caused by electricity generation. We must stop using it. We were first told to stop 20 years ago by consultants hired by the Government to tell us how to meet our targets. We need to do it in a just transition and cannot just abandon the workers. I have used the analogy before that when a US company pulls out, overnight a task force will be set up by the Minister and the Taoiseach, with all of the agencies, employers, the trade unions and local groups. We need that now for the peat sector in the midlands, with a target date to come off peat of two, three or four years. It should involve the community and the sector should ask what kind of future it wants. We should use the subsidy that currently goes to the sector and some of the revenue from the carbon tax to fund the transition and ensure the workers and communities will have the opportunities to envisage a sustainable and prosperous future.
Professor John Sweeney:
Mr. Coghlan has dealt with the energy issue and many of the arguments are quite similar in the case of agriculture. It is very important that we also have a just transition in agriculture.
With regard to suggestions, we have seen the renegotiation of the Common Agricultural Policy, where our negotiators were putting the stress almost exclusively on Pillar 1, the single farm payment, and not emphasising enough the Commission's proposals under Pillar 2 which were in very admirable areas such as rural development, having an ecological focus and so on. These are the very areas where a just transition will be required, especially in the west. If we think of where forestry can go in Ireland, we will not grow huge forests on the very rich soils in the east or in ecologically sensitive upland peatland areas. The real target areas will be the wet soils in the west. Therefore, we must have a just transition. We must ensure people will not be disadvantaged by the policies we are making elsewhere.
We must look at the way in which we can support smaller farmers, beef farmers, if necessary, but particularly farmers who have an important role to play in keeping rural communities together. This is something for which the Common Agricultural Policy was designed originally; perhaps we have lost a bit of vision in that sense. Let us look at how we can reward farmers who look after biodiversity. We could reward farmers who look after flood control. These are the areas that can enable the fabric of rural society in the west, with which I am quite familiar, to be held together much better in this transition. We must not go down the road of simply encouraging a monoculture ethos, with a single farm payment and nothing else, leading to intensification and all of the consequences, not just for our emissions but also for the quality of waters and so on. We can do it if we make those choices and encourage our negotiators to do so. Who knows what is their brief currently when they attend the sessions either on climate change or agriculture? We could encourage them to prioritise the just transition mentality.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
I will respond on the matter of hedgerows and other woodlands. It includes scrub.
In 2014, the EPA produced a report that calculated there were more than 440,000 ha of hedgerows, scrub and random areas of woodland which have not been linked to our carbon footprint. The EPA has suggested that one hectare could sequester 3.3 tonnes of carbon. Multiplying 440,000 ha by 3.3 tonnes equals a substantial amount of carbon.
The hedgerow system is an example of agri-forestry that takes place in Ireland. Farmers in France and Austria have formed co-operatives to manage hedgerows, small woods and copses to supply local biomass for combined heat and power systems that are used in schools and communities located in public buildings. Such work is sustainable and provides farmers with an income in the wintertime, which is welcome. At the moment these areas of woodland are not included in carbon calculations but should be.
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
As Mr. Coghlan has indicated, I had my house deep retrofitted by the Tipperary Energy Agency a couple of years ago. I highly recommend deep retrofitting but one must employ a trusted agency to do the work. Let us remember that houses vary and, therefore, have different requirements. Representatives of the Tipperary Energy Agency approached my wife and me and told us what our house and type of living required. They told us that they would organise the right contractors, which they did, and the contractors were asked for quotes for the work. The agency handled the quotes and grants. One week about 12 people came to house to do different jobs such as fit solar panels and fit the walls. Within one working week the whole job was done. All that my wife and I had to do was to go through a list of options with the Tipperary Energy Agency, identify whether they met our requirements, sign the contract and pay the cheque.
My wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to pay for the work ourselves but there are options available if people require a bank loan. The agency had gone to the local bank and explained to it that if anybody came in, the work was all bona fide stuff and hence it was reasonable and made sense for the bank to grant a loan. I confirm that my wife and I have saved between €1,500 and €2,000 each winter for the past couple of winters. We are very much on track to recoup the cost in about seven or eight years, which is very good. If people want to visit Tipperary, I can show them my house and give a longer introduction.
I want to outline another thing that needs to be done in terms of a national planning framework. What a lot of people do not understand or realise is that it has been estimated that the population in this country will rise by 1 million by 2040. That means there will be more climate change because each person is responsible for a certain amount. Therefore, we must be able to deal with the current population and the estimated rise in the population. I seriously recommend the national planning framework. It is a seriously good idea. As I have said before, I am 95% in agreement with the national planning framework. There is very little in it that I think is wrong. The key thing is that people must live in smaller communities that one does not have to drive to. The problems that are caused at the minute by urban sprawl and people having to drive for hours each day are not just climate change problems but social problems as well. We must change the way we live today and provide support that enables people to live in communities located in towns, villages and cities. Villages are the support lungs of rural Ireland. I live in a village in County Tipperary so I know what it means to the rural area and, therefore, recommend very much that the national planning framework is absolutely followed.
I have a problem with the national development plan, which is that the money meant to support the national planning framework does not always match up. Undoubtedly, there is a requirement to improve the road between Limerick and Cork, but do we need to spend €1 billion on a motorway? Would we not be better off spending €500 million on doing up the road, as it undoubtedly needs work, and then spend the other €500 million on other initiatives to improve life in that area? Why must we have a motorway? Let us have a decent road and spend the other half of the money on supporting that area of Ireland. It is similar elsewhere. We do not need motorways everywhere. By all means, there should be better roads.
To conserve time I will let the Deputies and Senators select the witness they wish to answer their question. It might be a more efficient use of time rather than everybody on the panel answering all the questions. Perhaps they will keep that in mind when asking their questions. I invite Ms Sharkey to respond.
Ms Cliona Sharkey:
I thank the Senator for the specific question and I thank the committee for inviting us to the meeting to share these ideas. Trócaire is engaged on this issue because we are deeply concerned about the current impacts on the people with whom we are working. We can see that people are struggling with today's level of warming and we know that will increase over the coming years. We are deeply concerned about the prospects for them if we fail to deliver on the temperature limits set out in the Paris Agreement. That is the reason we are here. We are doing what we can to provide a humanitarian response to support people to develop their resilience, but there is a point beyond which they cannot adapt and survive. We must avoid reaching that point.
As Mr. Oisín Coghlan said, and as the ESRI said last week, there will be disruption. There is no way to get away from the disruption in all sectors of society, but the impact of inadequate or delayed action will be even more disruptive. We believe it is important to have these processes so everybody's views are heard and to ensure the actions and outcomes are fair and equitable.
As regards the outcomes from this committee in terms of the societal vision and transformation we need, the message that comes from it will be incredibly important. We hope to see a clear, consistently communicated cross-party message that climate action at the level needed to realistically deliver on the Paris Agreement is in the overwhelming public interest. It is essential if we are to have a habitable planet on which to pursue all our other social goals. This committee can play an important part in making it clear to the public and private sectors, the media, investors and everybody else that there is a firm consensus that all parties and elected representatives are resolutely committed to this. The outcome of this committee must be the starting point of that clear, consistent and explicitly cross-party communication. It is up to the committee to decide on the specifics across the various sectors but there must be resolute, cross-party commitment to meeting them.
To return to Mr. Coghlan's original intervention in respect of the overarching framework, the five-year carbon budgets under which we agree to act across the various sectors are a clear starting point to ensure we plan together.
I thank the witnesses for attending the meeting. I will watch the rest of the contributions later. Mr. Coghlan raised a point that I am interested in, which is trying to invert the carbon model we have and a localised exporting model into the grid. That is very exciting. Perhaps he will outline what other countries are doing to try to facilitate that or what is happening in terms of pipeline solar technology. I read Jeremy Rifkin's book recently on inverting the entire economic model and how that will transform society. If we are not at the forefront of that, our economic model will disintegrate anyway.
In general, I do not mind who answers. What has been said here shows that people have interesting and useful perspectives. We are trying to drill down to find actions for how to proceed. I do not agree with my colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan.
We have to recognise there is an urban-rural divide because a lot of what we talk about needing to be done will affect rural areas. More will be required of people in rural Ireland, in respect of how they live, land use and so on, than will be required of people in the cities. For example, there will be an issue if the peat-fired power stations are closed down. I know people acknowledge there is an issue but this involves an urban-rural divide. There will be an issue with the fallout from what people are being asked to do in terms of the local economy and so on. It is a similar case with regard to farmers. It is not much consolation to hear that our farmers are the most carbon efficient in the dairy sector and the fifth most efficient in the beef sector. It does not really matter because of the actions of the Germans. I do not think they are a good example in terms of their credentials in respect of the environmental aspects of cars, especially those of one particular brand.
We need to say that food is different. We need to be fed. If it is desired to set a standard or a bar and we set it, other countries involved in farming need to recognise that. I get that farmers in Belgium will not roll over and let Ireland do as we like; we have a market going on here. I am for setting the standard if we get recognition that this is the way to farm and that this the most carbon efficient way to farm. If we are setting the standard, there should be some recognition for it. I do not find it very satisfying to hear in the general discussion that there are all these different sectors and that farming will just have to step up to the plate the same as everyone else. One cannot modify a cow in the way one can modify a car. There are certain issues and certain realities involved. We have to eat. Wind farms are not being built and transmission lines are not being put up in the middle of cities. One does not hear of all these protests. Sometimes it is literally like representing a whole different country in respect of some of the issues that are really pertinent to rural Ireland.
If the peat-burning power station is removed, one then runs into the issue of what other investment can be made there to support work, jobs and investment and into this issue of critical mass. It is said that an area does not have a critical mass. The case for extending the Luas in the city is always better than our case. It then becomes a vicious circle. We lose population and we lose young people because of the way the economy is run. We might achieve some nice desires, such as building a community centre or a football pitch, but more than that is required. We need a tipping point to make rural Ireland sustainable environmentally but also sustainable from an economic point of view.
Mr. Stanley-Smith pointed out the problem with draining high-carbon lands but not being able to drain goes back to farmers again. I assume it also applies to Coillte if it is doing drainage works for forestry, which we are encouraging though I know there is a dispute over what the nature of the trees should be. To go back again, we have the habitats and birds directives. Farmers are crippled. Some 55% of lands in my county are designated. Farmers are severely restricted. I met a farmer who was asking to fence off a drain near his land. He was told by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to go downstream and to put in a sump on a stream to protect freshwater pearl mussels on adjoining lands that were not even his.
It is not just that. The road from Galway to Clifden is running into difficulties on account of running partly through a special area of conservation, SAC. We have had serious difficulties in upgrading one of our national primary roads in Mayo, the N26, because of freshwater pearl mussels and whooper swans. I am talking about upgrading and realigning roads that are already there. A whole area in which there is already settlement is an SAC. It is an SAC even though there is already significant settlements of human beings in the area. There is no recognition of this. It is the same in Glenisland. We got money to build a bridge but it cannot be built because it is a designated area for freshwater pearl mussels. As I said at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, wild mushrooms are rarer than freshwater pearl mussels in Mayo. I am not being facetious but we have to get the balance right. Whatever we do, we must recognise the additional burden on people in rural Ireland in terms of infrastructure and restricting their lifestyles.
Farmers were encouraged to invest in the dairy and other sectors to achieve our food production targets under Food Wise 2025. Are the delegates now making the point that we should scale back on the level of food production and decrease the size of the national herd because of the level of carbon emissions?
Moneypoint is a coal-fired power station which is proposed to be converted. I understand there is a similar coal-burning power plant in Wales which has been partially modified for the use of biomass. The point has been made that there is no sustainable biomass supply in Ireland to decommission the coal-fired power station completely. What can we learn from the experience of the Welsh power plant?
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
As I said, I live in rural County Tipperary. As such, I am aware of many of the problems of rural life in the county. Because I am a member of the local area Leader committee I am also aware that people are very good at actually coming up with ways and means to help themselves and innovative solutions if given the funding. I will not discuss the Leader projects because the programme suffered many problems in the start-up phase, but it is now beginning to get in swing. There are people, including farmers, who, if given sufficient help through the Leader programme, are quite able to start up new businesses in the locality.
Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to freshwater pearl mussels. One of the issues at which we have to look is the failure to meet the terms of the water framework directive, for which we are facing severe fines. The freshwater pearl mussel is an indicator of the purity of water. Currently, high status water levels are very low. The idea that we ensure freshwater pearl mussels are protected helps us to ensure we will meet the water framework directive targets.
On food security and exports, Food Wise 2025 came from Food Harvest 2020 which was an industry driven project which the Government expanded into Food Harvest 2025. We have mentioned that it is up to the Government to work out whether agricultural production should be increased to export products. In order to be able to export, we need to increase the number of cattle. Unfortunately, increasing the number of cattle increases the level of greenhouse gases. We make the point that it is up to the Government to make a decision on whether it is better for the country to increase the amount of agricultural exports knowing that it will increase the level of carbon emissions. This is a decision the Government and Parliament will have to make.
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
A mistake was made in the days of the Kyoto Protocol that biomass was zero carbon. That mistake has permeated into European law. In our opinion it is wrong. The power station at Drax in the United Kingdom which is being converted to run on biomass is running on biomass imported from the United States and obtained in the cutting down of virgin forests.
No attempt is being made to regrow those forests, which would get the thing back. Mr. St. Ledger has spoken about the whole business of how long it takes to recover the carbon by regrowing the trees. In eastern Europe, virgin forests are being cut down to provide so-called biomass. If there is any sustainable biomass in the world, it is already being burnt locally. There is none left for any other country to buy on the world market.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
To be clear, Moneypoint will simply be closing and ceasing to burn coal before 2025. I think this is the Government's position too. All the advice being received by the Government is that even if we had lots of biomass, it would not make sense to burn it in Moneypoint. Apart from all the issues that have just been raised by Mr. Stanley-Smith, it would be a bad use of biomass. We would be better off using biomass for combined heat and power in situ in places that use a lot of heat, rather than burning it for electricity in the peat stations or in Moneypoint. The development of the grid, of the existing gas-fired power stations and of renewables means we will not need Moneypoint. We could close Moneypoint well before 2025 without compromising our security of supply or our grid stability. There is a simply a transition out of coal but not into biomass. The advice 20 years ago was to switch to gas, but I do not think that advice makes sense now. We have built other gas stations in the meantime.
I would like to add to what Mr. Stanley-Smith has said on agriculture. Any sovereign state can make a democratic decision on how to balance its emissions. This State has already made a decision. Perhaps it was not subject to that much debate. A democratically elected Government decided to give agriculture a much easier target than the rest of the economy. The target reduction for the rest of the economy is 80%. If we look at the maths of the carbon neutrality target that has been set for the agriculture sector, we can see that by using the agricultural forestry techniques that have been discussed here and by looking at the Teagasc research, we can get between 4 million tonnes and 9 million tonnes of offset from our forests each year. It might be pushing it to get 9 million tonnes, but we can achieve something between 4 million tonnes and 9 million tonnes. If that is achieved and all of it is credited to agriculture, it will mean that agriculture will only have a 50% reduction target between now and 2050, compared to reduction targets of between 80% and 95% across the rest of the economy. This sovereign State has made a democratic decision. Obviously, we are still talking about a reduction requirement. It is up to the Government and the farming sector to determine how that can be achieved. We can shift the emissions around between sectors, but we cannot change the overall envelope. That is where we do not have wriggle room if we want a liveable climate.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
Reference has been made to the fencing issue and to the problems faced by people living with restrictions. I think there needs to be flexibility and more understanding. There also needs to be more joined-up thinking between agencies. That is another problem for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the forest service. It is linked to the call for a forestry task force.
In order to comply with the nitrates directive, some 16,000 km of fencing is being paid for under GLAS to keep cattle away from watercourses. If it had been decided that this fencing should be set 3 m or 4 m back - this can still be done as part of an approach that features joined-up thinking - such areas could be planted with mixed native trees which have deep root systems that give them the ability to absorb runoff. This would help the situation while also creating a resource for farmers. It has been mentioned that we are not really doing anything with the 400,000 km of hedgerow and scrub in this country. We are not valuing it. People are cutting it. It is being heaped up in piles to be burnt, with no benefit to anybody. In Austria and France, farmers are working co-operatively to manage hedgerow resources and collect all of this material to use locally. This feeds into local economic resilience.
There is a need to start looking at problems and finding solutions. For example, 16,000 km of fencing being funded to satisfy a nitrates directive is a knee-jerk reaction. Rather, we should consider using that money to create linear woodlands or ecological corridors. As I indicated to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, at a forest policy group meeting, such ecological corridors linking rivers which have to be protected in any event would be of benefit in terms of biodiversity, climate and carbon. It has been scientifically proven that our native trees have natural abilities which can be managed by and become a resource for farmers when they have been given some training. Rather than it being a problem of having to fence the rivers, that solution would confer a benefit and help local economies. We need to be look at more flexible arrangements such as that.
It is lovely to hear Mr. St. Ledger talk about the circular economy and how things could be done properly. There is little of that sort of joined-up thinking in Ireland.
We are here on foot of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly regarding how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. It is a barometer of public opinion. In light of the repeal of the eighth amendment following the relevant recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, its recommendations on climate change are very far-reaching and illustrate how distant is the Government from the will of the people.
All of our guests have been working in this area for many years. What is inhibiting Ireland? On many occasions, Mr. Coghlan has called Ireland the laggard in terms of climate change. What are the barriers? What is the resistance? The witnesses have indicated the measures we can take in terms of energy efficiency, renewables and a just transition, but why is that not being done? What is the problem? It is definitely a major problem that Ireland is seen as a serious laggard in the international context. The measures at which we are looking show that we are way behind. What is stopping us taking the necessary steps?
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
I will try to keep it brief because we need to look at where we go next. To be fair, it is a difficult problem in a number of respects. The gas is invisible. Until recently, we thought the effects would be remote from Ireland, either geographically or in time. It cuts across all sectors. It is not like the Montreal Protocol, which sought to solve the problem of ozone holes and involved one specific technology being replaced by another. In that case, a company in the United States was going to make money as a result and, therefore, the US was on board and the protocol was implemented. It takes a while for the effects to become evident. The Kyoto Protocol was modelled on the Montreal Protocol but this is a far more wicked problem and involves all sectors. We are all involved in the pollution in this instance.
Although the long term is getting shorter, this seemed like a long-term challenge at the time of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. As we know, politicians, operate in, at most, five-year electoral cycles and 24-hour news cycles so it is challenging to address what are seen as long-term issues. In addition, the actions required to reduce emissions benefit everybody in a relatively dispersed way such that most people do not notice those benefits, which may be the absence of something happening or, if direct, are unknown. However, the impact of actions to reduce emissions directly impact on well-organised, very vocal vested interests. I do not use the term "vested interests" in a prejudicial manner but, rather, to refer to those who have money at stake and who are plugged into policy-making. Politicians are facing a decision matrix with a large swathe of silent beneficiaries and a smaller concentrated swathe of active opposers of action and that has been the downfall of many proposals over the past 20 years. To give a brief example, 14 years ago Charlie McCreevy ran a consultation on whether to have a carbon tax.
The question was "Would you like a carbon tax?" Oddly enough, most of the people who answered that question said "No thank you very much." For a start, it was the wrong question to ask. At the time, the calculations were showing that Ireland would be facing multimillion euro bills if it did not meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The question should have been posed as a choice: Ireland faces this challenge so we can either have a carbon tax and reduce the amount of fines we are to pay on the polluter pays basis, which is the more one pollutes, the more one pays, or we can have higher fines and the money to pay the fines would be taken from PAYE. This was the actual question, but it was not asked.
Much of it comes down to the framing of the debate with the public. It also comes down to trying to engage in a balanced way not only with those who are fearful of the short-term challenges of change but also with the vast majority people who are busy with their lives in terms of every aspect of childcare, healthcare and caring for elderly parents and who are not focused on the threat that appears to be in the distance. The threat is now hoving more into view and we need to engage those people and have a balanced discussion on the transition we need to make.
I agree that there is a task to communicate properly and that we are failing in this regard. We have failed in this in recent years and that is why we have the problems with which we are faced.
Mr. Coghlan referred to retrofitting. A CSO infographic I have in my possession highlights the fact that between 2015 and this year the heating market in new builds has remained dominated by gas, and that there is little evidence of a shift towards passive house standards, despite the opportunity presented by significant house construction. What are we going to do? There has been retrofitting, but it seems that this involved the installation of gas heaters in many instances. Does this mean more retrofitting into the future? Mr. Stanley-Smith referred to the retrofitting of his house and the energy efficiency improvements he has made. During the summer, I looked at the Tipperary Energy Agency. Demand on it is so great at present that it cannot provide services to the numbers of people who are requesting the type of retrofitting Mr. Stanley-Smith had carried out. What will we do in that regard? We have this huge problem whereby the agency is doing the right thing but it does not have the resources. We are seeing all these barriers obstructing initiatives of this nature.
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
I cannot say enough good about the Tipperary Energy Agency. The fact that I come from Tipperary obviously helps. We need trusted agencies, and not just in the context of retrofitting houses. There is also a need to consider the best ways to not use gas and so on. If we are to discuss putting solar panels on the roofs of schools or farms, we need somebody in a town to whom people can go for advice on the best way to do these things and on the best solar panels or other materials to use. We need to clone the Tipperary Energy Agency right across the State. Citizen information bureaus are in almost every town. We should have a climate change and energy advice bureau in every town where citizens can get advice for themselves. Everybody has different requirements and different needs. A trusted agency of that sort operating throughout the country would make a huge difference in facilitating retrofits and community energy initiatives.
I acknowledge the evidence the witnesses provided. Both sessions have been very informative and it has been extremely helpful for members to get the required information.
I want to start by asking about the agricultural sector and where we believe it is going to go, not just in Ireland but globally. By 2050, the date we are all talking about, there are expected to be two billion more people living in this world. How do the witnesses believe that number of people can be suitably fed? Some are taking land away from forestry. Do the witnesses believe that genetically modified, GM, food will be part of the solution? How will we find solutions so that we will have sustainable quantities of food for the entire population? There will be 9.7 billion people living in this world by 2050. Where do the witnesses see those figures going?
From the figures stated here this morning, there seems to be a conflict in terms of how many bovines there are in Ireland. The Environmental Protection Agency was here this morning and said that there are the same amount of bovines here today as there were in 1990. I believe there has been a slight contradiction in the evidence given here today. Will the witnesses provide clarity?
Will Professor Sweeney talk about methane in more detail? We had another discussion about it this morning when it was said that methane remains in the atmosphere for 14 years and should be considered on a different level compared with other greenhouse gases. What is Professor Sweeney's view on that statement? Where does he believe methane fits in the discussion around emissions, the carbon footprint and ancillary issues?
I agree totally with Mr. St. Ledger's statement on forestry, in particular the issue of buffer zones around green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, payments. It is probably the simplest way to bring forestry into Ireland. Some communities feel that forestry has been forced upon them because of the poor quality of the land, but if we all took a share of the burden it would be an appropriate way to achieve the level of forestry required. If we all played our part, it has been suggested that we could increase forestry by over 4% very quickly. We have to look at it in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. The policy has to focus on forestry. That incentive could be a game-changer for it. There would be knock-on effects for good quality land and bad quality land. It does not matter when the linear length is being discussed, but it is something that could be worked into the actual working platform of most farms.
Where do the witnesses believe digesters fit in, particularly in terms of agricultural waste? The large number of dairy cows we have at the moment, and dealing with the knock-on effect of the waste produced by them, has to be taken into account. How could we put that into the system? Who should be the main driver of it? My view is that the co-ops should be involved at a very basic level because they have the financial force behind them to drive this idea, but I would like to hear the views of the witnesses. Do they feel it could be part of the solution? I also include, along with digesters, solar farms, wind turbine farms and whatever is used to cool milk. Can those things be made more energy efficient and be included in a smart farming project?
The final issue I want to raise is the planning of our towns and cities. Do the witnesses see heat distribution centres as having a role to play? Perhaps a biomass plant could be attached to a village or town, meaning that steam could power the heat systems. Does that have a place in Ireland? Should it be fitted into Ireland's planning framework? Where could that be initiated, and what is the starting point for it?
Professor John Sweeney:
Food security is a real issue for Ireland because we are a net food importer, not a net food exporter. We import more food calories than we export. When Ban Ki-moon came to Dublin a few years ago, he made a very important statement in which he said that it is not enough to be a champion against hunger, but that one must be a champion of climate change. The two are inseparably linked.
As far as Ireland is concerned, we certainly produce and export food. Some 74% of our exports, however, go to developed countries. We do not supply food to the developing world on any great scale and I do not believe there is any intention in the future to do so. Irish Aid, however, as part of its programme has a policy of trying to encourage breastfeeding in underdeveloped parts of Africa and trying to discourage the use of powdered milk, for example. At the same time, we export to and try to encourage the use of powdered milk in the Chinese market on a large scale. We certainly have to face dichotomies in this regard.
As to our incomes, the Teagasc farm income figures indicate that one third of dairy farmers earned more than €100,000 last year, which is quite a substantial increase on previous years. There is certainly scope for some farmers to share a little more of that income with some of the poorer farmers, about whom we talked earlier, in the west and in the beef sector, for example.
The other aspect of methane is quite important because methane has been recognised increasingly over the past three IPCC assessment reports as having a more important and significant effect on warming than hitherto recognised. For example, although methane lasts in the atmosphere for a decade or so, if one is continually putting it into the atmosphere year upon year, one is keeping that effect going. In the fourth assessment report, methane over a century-long period was considered to have 25 times as important a radiative effect as CO2 .or in other words, a tonne of methane would be responsible for 25 times as much warming as a tonne of CO2 over that century scale. In the fifth assessment report, however, this figure was increased to 33 times. Our emissions inventory from the EPA, for example, recognises this. A tonne of methane is 33 times more potent than a tonne of CO2 over a century scale. As has been correctly pointed out, because it does not typically last in the atmosphere for a century, it is not really appropriate to consider it over a century scale. If we take the 20-year spectrum or horizon, one tonne of methane is 85 times more potent than one tonne of CO2. That is a measure of how important this gas is, in terms of its impact on warming.
As for the national herd, we have seen that methane per cow has increased considerably since 1990. The more we feed cattle, the more intensive the production system, the more methane they produce. Although we may have the same cattle numbers even as 1990, prior to BSE and so on, we still have considerably more methane emissions to cope with today. It is not a gas that we can by any means dismiss. It is a gas where the move scientifically is towards looking upon it as a more important gas in the shorter timescale, and increasing the radiative effectiveness that it has. There is no way that we can eliminate it.
Our negotiators in Europe - maybe not our negotiators but a very strong agricultural lobby in Europe - got methane completely eliminated from the national emissions ceiling directive revision. To my mind this was very poor and I would love to know what was the logic. It is not counted, for example, as part of our national emissions ceiling. It is solely counted now as part of our greenhouse gas emissions. It is a gas that we certainly cannot ignore. As regards the 11-year cycle, if we stopped we would have no methane in the atmosphere after 11 years. Are we really going to stop emitting methane? If we are not and if we are increasing our herd, year upon year, we are increasing that contribution as time goes on and making its radiative effect even more substantial.
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
I am equally bemused, as Senator Lombard is, by the lack of anaerobic digesters in this country. There is a very big opportunity there. I have talked to Teagasc and to some people in the IFA and I gather there are some problems about how one ensures the end product, the distillate, is safe to deal with.
There seem to be many technical problems that I thought one could get over. There seems to be a problem with how they are funded and the opportunity for farmers or whoever wants to do it to get funding for it. In general, I am as bemused as the Senator as to why there is not so much of it.
Recently something occurred which I find strange. An organisation - I cannot remember which - is looking for 10 million tonnes of silage to put into anaerobic digesters now, at a time we all know there is a problem. There is a difference between carrying out AD on slurry and other things. Growing silage has the problem of requiring inputs of fertiliser to grow which again have a climate-change problem. That seems a bit different and somewhat off the wall. However, I cannot understand why it is not happening for dealing with problems at a local level, a co-op level, that kind of thing.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
Some 60% of the suite of measures available for member states to select under the RDP are concerned with sustainable forest management of agroforestry and the type of forestry model we should be pursuing. We have chosen to pick from the 40% of measures that are strongly agricultural. Funding is available within the RDP. In our design of the next RDP we could incorporate more of those measures. One problem is that I believe only 80% of funding is available towards forestry under the RDP. Most European states get their forest funding under the RDP. We have chosen not to; we are funding forestry using public funding. Under EU rules. only 80% of a grant can be paid and the forest service here is claiming that without a 100% grant there would be no uptake whatsoever. There must be a solution to that, perhaps by making up to 20% or so. We are missing out on a huge suite of measures.
Linked to food security and the increased population, the World Agroforestry Centre report from 2009 proposes how integrating forests and farming can help with sequestration. We are inclined to forget that trees are a huge source of food globally. Fruit, nuts, coffee, chocolate and tea all come from trees. Food does not just come from crops. We need to consider the integration of agroforestry.
What impact has climate change had on countries with which Ms Sharkey works through Trócaire? I ask her to describe the situation that faces the people in those countries where they are forced to migrate.
Given the type of migration we are witnessing at the moment across the Mediterranean Sea, we need to ask if climate change is contributing to that, as well as to economic issues and wars. In her experience with Trócaire, what is Ms Sharkey's view of what is happening in that regard? Does she believe migration is related to climate change?
Ms Cliona Sharkey:
I thank the Deputy for the question. Unfortunately, I could stay here all day and talk to her about what is happening in the countries where we work. Climate change came onto our agenda about 15 years ago and it came very much from the ground up and through the partners we were working with. People were struggling to produce sufficient food because of the increasingly unpredictable nature of the rain on which they were depending, and that has spiralled over the past decade. Significant drought, for example, in southern and eastern Africa now occurs once every two years rather than once every five or eight years. We are shifting from long-term development to a cyclical humanitarian response. As an agency that provides a humanitarian response but seeks to enable people to move out of the poverty trap, this is a deep concern and this is why we are so engaged on this issue.
To give a sense of what it is like for people on the ground, members will have seen in recent years the news of significant droughts hitting the headlines such as in east Africa but by that time families have been struggling for months if not years with the impact. They have been doing everything they can to try to cope, including selling off their assets, including farm tools, animals and so on - the equivalent of their savings. They have taken their children out of school to send them to work. They have cut down on the number of meals per day. People have migrated, often the men, leaving the women and children to try to manage the home while they go to earn income, which is resulting in family breakdown. When we see the media headlines, the human impacts have been rolling on for months and years ahead of that.
What we are seeing is that each time these incidents happen, it becomes harder and harder for people to bounce back and there is a downward spiral of poverty and vulnerability. That is why we are so engaged in this issue, given we can see how precarious everything is on the ground. We simply cannot fathom a situation where we fail to deliver on the Paris Agreement. We know what that means but we cannot allow ourselves to imagine what it would mean for the people we work with.
Migration is an incredibly complex issue and there is a variety of push and pull factors. Certainly, we are seeing increasing conflict in some countries we work in, whether local or regional, because of natural resource scarcity and tensions. Natural resource issues were part of the Syrian conflict, so it is definitely in there among the issues. We also see seasonal and other periodic migration at a local level due to each of these impacts.
I thank Senator Lombard for his question on global food security, which is an issue we are concerned with. An important angle we hope to bring to that part of the discussion is that it is not just a question of increasing food production to meet the demands of an increasing population. We know that we currently produce enough food to feed the population on the planet yet, in the past few years, almost 800 million people did not have access to enough food. We know the increases in population will primarily be in the low income countries. The important point is that while increasing production will not solve global hunger, increasing emissions will certainly exacerbate it. We are conscious this is a complicated issue but, as I mentioned earlier, agricultural and forestry land use will have to be transformed not just in Ireland but globally. It is something we are looking at in the countries where we work. We will all have to change how we produce, consume and distribute food if we are to feed ourselves in the future.
I am not sure whether anyone else touched on genetic modification, GM. I do not have an analysis of it in respect of Ireland specifically, but it is an issue that arises frequently in a number of the countries where we work. For the people with whom we work, who are, as members can imagine, small farmers, GM results in challenges. Because these are patented seeds, it can affect their ability to save seeds, which is a core part of how they manage from year to year, but it can also require external inputs which are not affordable to them on an ongoing basis, and in some cases it can also undermine the fertility and resilience of the soil and the other natural resources on which they rely. We therefore focus more on diversified farming and rural incomes writ large to support diversity and resilience, working with local circumstances and the agroecological conditions.
I wanted to ask Mr. St. Ledger about the 400,000 km of hedgerow and scrub to which he referred when he said we are not utilising them sufficiently and that other countries are making better use of it. Will he give me examples of what they are doing?
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
The examples to which I was referring are EU-funded pilot projects which are up and running. The farmers have formed local co-operatives and are managing the resource, not clear-felling. They are sustainably managing the hedgerows and the small pockets of woodland dotted around their farms. In Europe there is more of a tradition of integrated farming and forestry. We lost the forest culture here with the loss of our forests and with the historical events that occurred here, whereas in Europe they continue to understand that farming and forestry are linked. In eastern Europe, for instance, there is a system called shredding, whereby, come wintertime, they take the tops off the mature trees they have on the farms and dry them and that becomes fodder.
Coming back to food, in ancient Ireland, ash would have been a tree used for fodder. There are also references to cattle and pigs being fed on acorns in the Annals of the Four Masters. Again, farming and forestry in ancient Ireland were agroforestry. The cattle were grazing in among the mixed woodlands. This improved the quality of the butter and other dairy products. Tacitus, I think, in the first or second century described the wonderful Irish butter. The Romans were waiting for a shipment to come. We were exporting butter and it tasted wonderful. Why did it taste wonderful? The wild cattle, the woodland browsers, were like deer. The idea of just a field of grass, the monoculture, is not the natural origin of a cow. Our forestry model is like a guitar we are playing that has just one string. We are missing all the other strings. Instead of this one note we should have a symphony of benefits.
I ask the committee to look at hedgerow management. We have a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that wants to increase food production and wants more grass. There is in the same Department the forest service, which is charged with increasing our forest cover, and there is the one playing against the other because the Department was penalising farmers on the basic payments for removing scrub. Scrub is the first part of the forest coming back. Scrub is what is called a natural succession of species. Again, we have lost sight of this. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is having scrub removed. It is again a case of just grubbing it all out. One sees it piled up. I live in the hills of east Clare. One sees the farmers grubbing it out and no one getting any benefit from it.
It is heaped up and either allowed to rot down or burned. It is the same with hedgerows. A serious amount of biomass is involved. Let us consider the idea of using nets to collect what a farmer cuts. Somebody should be collecting it because it is embodied sun energy, even if it is only 1 cm in diameter.
The first recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly was to resource a new or existing independent body and enable it to penalise the State for not meeting its targets. What are the views of the witnesses on this? Professor Fitzgerald and his colleagues were against it and did not think it would work very well. I asked them whether we should take a whole-of-Government or whole-of-society approach with cross-departmental and cross-sectoral responsibility. I referred to the Healthy Ireland agenda, which uses this model. I asked whether it was something we should look at from the Department of the Taoiseach all the way to communities, whereby we get information out on the actions on climate change rather than having another agency using a stick to whip everybody into line.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
I had the good fortune to sit at the back of the hall as the Citizens' Assembly went through its four days of discussion, deliberation and decision-making. My sense of this recommendation was that it came out of frustration at a lack of action, which committee members have heard us express at times. The assembly was reaching for tools that could be used to ensure action, and the committee discussed this with Ms Justice Laffoy when she came before it. When many of us in this delegation were involved over the course of eight years in seeking to influence the design of the climate law, the focus of Friends of the Earth was not on judicial accountability for action or inaction but on parliamentary accountability. For us in particular it was about independent evidence, timely planning and a cycle of accountability underpinned by the legal target. We did not get everything we wanted in the law to drive policy in the sense of legal targets and carbon budgets. The accountability cycle is there, if not quite in the way we would have liked it to be. It is not as tight as we would like. In this context, we saw the Citizens' Assembly reach for the next step, which is bringing the Government to court. This is not the space in which Friends of the Earth operates but over the years other environmental organisations have sought legal redress from Irish or European courts as a last resort for forcing compliance and action. If we want to avoid this, we have to put in place stronger measures to ensure action in the first place. As in most cases, everyone would prefer if we did not have to go to court to get something done if it could be done some other way.
Other colleagues might like to comment more directly on this proposal in terms of whether it should involve new or existing agencies. We have the Climate Change Advisory Council, which is only just up and running with regard to its existing remit. There is a discussion about whether it is the right body to have the legal backstop of last resort. The first step is to put in place a tighter carbon budget over a five-year period and a tighter policy planning regime, and then hopefully we would not need judicial review as a last resort. Judicial review is always there, and in case it is not known, the existing national mitigation plan is being taken to court by Friends of the Irish Environment on the basis that it does not comply with the existing law. It will be a very interesting test case in January, albeit rendered politically moot by the fact the mitigation plan will be revised. It will be very interesting to see whether the plan passes muster legally.
If nothing else, we know that it has not passed muster in terms of its impact.
Others may wish to comment.
Professor John Sweeney:
I will also reply to Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
There are 170 cases of litigation on climate grounds active in the world. It has become an increasing trend. I would prefer to see litigation not being resorted to because I would rather see the issue of climate change depoliticised as much as possible. One of the exercises we undertook in the build-up to the climate change Bill was making people accountable to the Department of the Taoiseach on the issue. It is clear that some of the frustrations Mr. Coghlan discussed resulted from a failure to break down silos. The Secretaries General will appear before the committee during its next module. It is important for the committee to find out from them why their Departments were dragging their feet on this issue and not delivering as promised. If the silos could be broken down institutionally by providing for accountability to either the Taoiseach or a body, it would help. My preference would be for Government administration to work internally in the first instance, but I suspect that there will always be a resort to litigation. The important Urgenda case will be going through the Dutch courts in the next four weeks. It will be a landmark decision for Europe on the basis of intergenerational equity for the young people who are pursuing the litigation.
To respond to the Deputy's first question, I will add to what Ms Sharkey stated. Based on my experience in Malawi, Zambia and other parts of central Africa, climate change issues are causing Ireland reputational damage there. We must face up to the fact that, while this is a country that had a tremendous reputation in the developing world, we are now undoing it. When a farmer asks what Ireland is doing about its emissions to help those countries and we say we are increasing them, it is unconscionable, given the emergency to which the UN Secretary General referred this week. This is an important consideration for the committee. Accountability to people elsewhere will become increasingly important for Ireland. We cannot shirk it by saying we will, first and foremost, look after ourselves. That would be a narrow, self-defined road to take.
Yes. Regarding the recommendation on communicating the need for climate action to the general public, does Professor Sweeney have a view on whether the national dialogue on climate action will be effective? It appears to have got off to a great start, but I would like to hear his view. Does Met Éireann have a greater role to play in communicating climate change issues to the general public? That is one of the goals of its current strategy. Globally, other meteorological services are doing innovative work in this area. Are Met Éireann and RTÉ realising their potential in that regard?
Professor John Sweeney:
The national dialogue on climate action is off to a good start, but it is not making progress as rapidly as I was hoping for. It suffered changes in its chairmanship early on and has only had two meetings, one of which was held in Athlone and successful in sensitising people. It is important that the general public be involved in this issue as much as possible because we must bring it along in any of the decisions made at the end of the road.
Met Éireann has a prescribed climate change function. While it is true that it has not communicated as part and parcel of that function as publicly as other meteorological agencies, there are signs that this is changing. There was an important article in The Irish Timesa week or so ago in which some of the extreme events this summer were attributed to climate change. We are seeing some changes taking place. In Maynooth we work quite closely with Met Éireann which is a professional and good body with which to work.
I would urge it to have a more public approach than it has to climate change. I recognise that it has limitations. Forecasters tend to work to shorter timescales than climatologists, which this has to be recognised. Met Éireann is involved in European projects that are dealing with climate change and I am hopeful that this will, over time, enable it to feel more confident about communicating the issues publicly.
Ms Cliona Sharkey:
Yes. My apologies for coming back in on this but we have been watching and engaging in the national dialogue from the outset. The participatory development is something we believe in. It is the approach we take in all of the countries where we work supporting people to engage in local decision making and planning.
In terms of climate change, for lots of reasons talking to people is incredibly important. It gives them an opportunity to engage and shape decisions, especially if it is to be owned by people and to produce outcomes and actions that are fair and equitable. What was clear from the Citizens' Assembly's first recommendation which the Deputy mentioned was the sense of frustration at the lack of action to date and the call for political leadership. We think there needs to be an increase in public participation and an expansion and continuation of that dialogue but this needs to be met with a clear, consistent commitment from the Oireachtas around the role it will play. In terms of concrete outcomes of this committee, we would like to see the report exemplify a clear message and the start of the clear persistent public communication, explicitly cross-party, that the Oireachtas is resolutely committed to ensuring we meet our targets going forward, and that each time the plans and budgets come up the debate will be had about the how and the what in this regard. There must be a cross-party determined resolute commitment to ensuring we meet our targets and this must be a persistent public communications exercise. This is needed if we are to win the hearts and minds and to ensure that everyone realises that this is the overwhelming public interest to enable us to pursue all of our social goals.
Mr. Coghlan mentioned the vision of having all buildings generating their own energy through solar and so on. Is the renewable energy support scheme effective in this regard? It would be marvellous if all public buildings, including school buildings, community halls and so on, could generate electricity for themselves and for sale into the national grid. Does Mr. Coghlan believe this particular scheme will effect that type of change?
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
I will start with this question and then return to the question on communication. We welcomed the renewable energy scheme, RES. It was a long time in the pipeline. It is one of the most significant things this Government has done in the energy sector in terms of climate change. It is a really positive development, particularly at community level but not at the scale the Deputy mentioned. At the bigger scale it is good. It is good in that as it is rolled out it will have a specific community pot for community led projects such as the Templederry community wind farm, which is the only community-owned wind farm in Ireland, which took ten years to complete. Hopefully this type of scheme, solar or wind, will become easier in the future because there will be a specific pot for them. On the issue raised by Mr. Stanley-Smith, as stated in the NESC report on wind and public acceptance of a few years ago, we need trusted intermediaries and support agencies to help communities gear up to do this. As I said, the scheme is a really positive development. Equally positive in the RES is the provision that up to 20% of the share equity of developer-led schemes must be offered for purchase by the local community to buy. How much of that will be taken up and how much can be afforded by local communities is questionable but the offering changes the conversation because this means the renewable transition is not something being done to a community by large companies.
It is felt that it is something one is able to participate in either by leading something oneself or in partnership with a business. The RES is really positive in that way. What it lacks is measures at what we would call micro-generation level, which is more what I was talking about and being asked about. They basically said they could not deal with that in this scheme. They had to get on with the scheme and they would come back to micro-gen. The first nod in that direction is the household-focused grant for solar PV but it is only for households. While that is laudable and useful, as I said earlier the real opportunity for solar is on a community and small-business scale, that is, schools, sports clubs, community halls and farm buildings, which is on a smaller scale than RES. We have seen how we may differ from an analysis with the agricultural lobby sector so far. In this case I can say, and I do not think it will mind me saying it as I have said it already on a number of occasions, we are one and the same with the IFA. We think there needs to be a payment for electricity that is spilled onto the grid from solar from community-owned micro-generation, whether that is schools, sports clubs or farm buildings. That is what would really open up mass participation, not just of individual households but of that community spirit, but it is not yet provided for either by the RES or the solar grant. It is a gap which the Minister has said he is keen to address but as yet there is no sign that is happening. The European Renewable Energy Directive which was made this year says that ultimately, although it does not give a specific date, electricity that is spilled to the grid will have to be paid for. We do not have to wait for that to roll out and we should start the process now of designing that scheme in a way that is fair for everyone.
For the information of Mr. Stanley-Smith, we resolved earlier that we would visit the Tipperary Energy Agency and the Cloughjordan Ecovillage as part of our thinking here.
On methane, are the witnesses aware of any methods of methane sequestration that would be practical and useful, based on the fact that methane per cow is increasing according the figures given earlier? Are they aware of anything in that regard?
Another question is on the growth of plants that have high levels of protein. We were talking about having to move from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, and a mix of whatever. I understand from the previous report that we did on the agriculture committee that we import a huge number of protein plants for animal feed. Are the witnesses aware of the potential that may or may not be there?
The other question is on the generation of ethanol from the use of sugar beet. As we know, we had a strong tradition of growing sugar beet in this country. It now appears sugar beet is a good opportunity to generate ethanol.
On the task force to fund the transition for the midlands, I am from Offaly and energy generation is very much part of our DNA through ESB and Bord na Móna and the massive employment it provided for generations. We experienced some emigration but certainly not anything like what was experienced in other counties over the years. Practically, how would that be done? One is looking at mostly men who are highly skilled in a particular area. How will they be retrained to work in something new or whatever? We need to do this but we are trying to figure out how we can do this in a way that makes the transition as smooth and pain-free as possible. We do not want the message to go out that we want to close them all down and they will all be unemployed. Nobody wants that.
It is for us to try to figure out how we can do this in a way that helps us to do what we want, which is to reduce our emissions, and ensure that, as previous speakers have said, we carefully manage rural people who are living and working in what I consider to be vibrant rural economies.
Mr. Charles Stanley-Smith:
The BBC last week decided that because climate change is real, it no longer has to have climate change deniers on its programmes for balance. That is of great importance both for the committee and the wider world. The BBC has accepted that climate change is real. RTÉ should consider implementing a similar policy.
On retrofitting, fitting solar panels or heat pumps is quite a technical job. When my house was being renovated, there was a specific team to fit the solar panels and another to fit the heat pump. The level of training required to fit a heat pump is equivalent to that which people such as those referred to by Deputy Corcoran Kennedy already have. Obviously, they would have to be retrained but that is not a significant obstacle. There is a lot of work available in retrofits. A point that has not been mentioned is that we need approximately 100,000 retrofits a year in order to be able to achieve what our target. It is not currently being met and there is a huge opportunity for more people to get involved in doing retrofits and bring us to that target.
Mr. Oisín Coghlan:
I will address the issue of the midlands, which has two or three prongs, and leave the question on methane to my colleagues. The issue of the current workers in fossil fuel plants is one matter and there is also the broader community development aspect. In regard to the issue of the workers, which Ms Sharkey and I were just discussing, one must ask them their view rather than presume to know what they want. I agree with Mr. Stanley-Smith that there is a lot of work available in retrofitting but one must engage with the workers rather than presume to know what they may want to do if their employment ceases in three or four years time.
Although it is not quite the same situation, an abrupt decision - at least from the point of view of the workers - was made to close the Littleton briquette factory last year. Coincidentally, a conference on just transition involving the Minister, the head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others took place a few days after the announcement and facilitated an engagement between the Minister, the ICTU and local unions. That led to a relatively productive and successful process, firstly between the company and the unions. State agencies became involved and were able to offer the workers training opportunities and assistance to transition to other jobs. That took place fewer than 18 months ago.
We must not take too long to reduce the usage of peat but we will have sufficient time if we start now. I earlier drew an analogy involving US companies. In the case of the Littleton briquette factory, it was somewhat easier to get worker engagement as someone else fired the starting gun, that is, a nasty, faceless chief executive in the US decided those jobs were going and then we all rallied around. In the case of peat, someone here must fire the starting gun and state that this is going to happen, which is why no one is doing it. Everyone is shying away from it.
The process must be somewhat openended. We do not know exactly what the outcome will be in terms of the training opportunities, etc., but we should first have round-table talks involving the just transition commission, the company, unions, State agencies and local stakeholders such as Irish Rural Link and others because the broader question is it is not about those particular workers and plants or factories but, rather, the broader community development support that is needed to allow the community to envisage what a fossil-free future looks like. That is what climate dialogue is about, in a way, and it has a very specific usefulness and resonance in a place such as the midlands in determining what our communities will look like in five or ten years if we no longer depend on fossil fuel jobs or fossil fuels to heat our homes, etc.
I mentioned Templederry earlier. It is worth noting that that did not start with the idea of doing something about renewable energy. It started as a community development project with an open-ended discussion about what can be done in the community to provide jobs and futures for families. After a process of a number of years, they came up with the idea of a community-owned wind farm. In the video my colleague made, John Fogarty, the chairman, stands in front of it and says that it is his child's college fund.
We need to engage with the workers and the communities and their representatives and work with them and support them to forge the future that they want and we all need.
Professor John Sweeney:
I cannot help the committee too much with methane sequestration. Many years ago, when we were trying to get the split between tier 1 and tier 2 on the reporting of methane, we sent cattle with nosebags around the place to capture methane but it is not really feasible to try to capture methane for grass-fed cattle that are out in the open. There may be some test cases of doing so in barns or in milking parlours, but I am not aware of any substantial efforts in this area. I may be mistaken.
Ethanol is a great fuel if we can produce it commercially. Brazil is the market leader in this area and powers a lot of its transport with ethanol from sugar cane. I do not think we have the resources in Ireland to do that without using up valuable land which would otherwise be producing food.
Similarly there are bio-diesel plants in Hungary at the moment. They are not in Ireland and I think the same issue exists as to what kind of feed stock we would use for them. I cannot help the committee too much, I am afraid.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
There is a possible link with recommendation No. 2 and the resilience of public lands because Bord na Móna is also managing a public land resource. The re-generation of mixed birch and willow and all its woodlands has been a by-product of what Bord na Móna has been doing over the years. NewERA was set up to look into a merger of Coillte and Bord na Móna but I believe it was looking at large-scale, industrial applications which is the wrong way to go. We seem always to be thinking of huge scale, industrial processes. I am afraid that, if Bord na Móna is left to its own devices, it will be encouraged to do clear-felling of these sites for pellets as greenwashing and a pretence of supplying green energy. The way to go with that resource is to look at small-scale coppice management with trained local teams. The value of that resource could then be kept in local communities. It could provide alternative employment for people who were engaged in peat production.