Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Climate Change Advisory Council
I remind members and those who are watching the proceedings of the meeting on Oireachtas TV that this is the second public session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action.
Members, witnesses and people in the Public Gallery should please switch off their mobile phones or put them in flight mode as they interfere with the broadcast. On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to Professor John FitzGerald, Ms Laura Burke and Mr. Phillip O'Brien from the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC.
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.
I call Professor John FitzGerald to make his opening statement.
Professor John FitzGerald:
My fellow Climate Change Advisory Council member, Ms Laura Burke, and I would like to thank the committee for this invitation to discuss how the challenges on climate change faced by Ireland and the rest of the world can best be tackled.
Climate change is here, it is caused by humans, and it is affecting us all. The increased frequency of extreme weather events, flooding and drought are manifestations of what will be a growing trend, unfortunately, until the world halts the momentum of climate change. Without urgent action, we are facing a global climate disaster.
Ireland has a moral imperative to play its part in helping to address the problem of climate change. As a result, we have set ourselves a binding target to decarbonise Irish society by 2050, with key milestones along the way. Failure to reach these milestones will have multiple adverse consequences. The task of the CCAC is to provide independent advice on policy. The council considers that it is critical to assess how Ireland can best meet this challenge at least cost and to identify other benefits, such as improved air quality or health outcomes, to which I will return.
Unfortunately the very limited policy actions so far means that we are going backwards. Emissions are rising not falling. Improved economic performance will make this even worse because greenhouse gas emissions remain strongly coupled to economic growth. We have, therefore, a really big problem.
The council believes that Ireland needs a suite of new policy initiatives to make a real difference. There is potential for progress in particular through the national planning framework and the national development plan, but also the national mitigation plan and the upcoming national climate and energy plan. We need to move these plans forward into concrete action and implementation with monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of delivery. We have commented on this in terms of the national mitigation plan in that it needs concrete actions to put it into effect.
This is a task not just for the Government, but also for the Oireachtas. Without broad-based support in the Oireachtas for serious new measures Ireland will continue to move ever further from its targets.
We know from a very wide range of research in Ireland and elsewhere that changing incentives can help us to change our behaviour. That is why one of the key messages from the council, identified in our first report in 2017 and repeated in all subsequent reports, is that we need to reflect the potential damage done by emitting greenhouse gases in the price of those emissions. Without a full reflection of the cost of emitting greenhouse gases it will not be possible to effect or deal with the problem of climate change. The wide range of other measures and policies that are needed - a whole suite of additional policies is needed - to bring about decarbonisation will be undermined if emitting greenhouse gases remains the cheap option. It must no longer be the cheap option if we are to go anywhere.
The carbon tax in Ireland, and the carbon price in the EU emissions trading system, are too low and do not reflect the costs of climate change. This is a key factor in our failure so far to make progress on tackling the problem.
There are three key reasons pricing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is important: it discourages use of fossil fuels and encourages us to switch to alternatives such as renewables thus making it comparatively cheaper and more attractive to use electric cars, upgrade our homes and buy A-rated appliances and, equally, pricing emissions appropriately means that business and Government would also find that eliminating greenhouse gas emissions saves money, for example, by purchasing and operating high emissions buses needs to be much more expensive than zero emissions buses; second, carbon pricing, and especially the carbon tax, provides the Government with revenue which it can use to compensate or support those who are on low incomes who would be affected by the rise in the price and can be used in the budget to reduce other taxes or increase expenditure - an issue that came up last week - as research shows that shifting from taxes on labour to taxes on carbon can actually increase employment - it is possible to take action on climate change which actually improves things in terms of the economy rather than making things worse as well as playing a crucial role in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases; and, finally, the most important effect of appropriately pricing emissions is to incentivise business to invest in new technologies, which will allow us to continue to enjoy a high standard of living while eliminating emissions of greenhouse gases.
The prospect of a higher price for carbon is already driving essential innovation, for example, in electrification of transport. The motor industry worldwide would not be investing, or have invested as it has, in new technologies without the prospect of the high price of carbon. Similarly, we also need to drive investment in finding ways of producing low-carbon heating for homes.
The current carbon pricing levels are too low to see these effects reach their potential. The carbon tax should be increased to at least €30 a tonne in the next budget, with a commitment to raise it in subsequent budgets. That is why one Oireachtas cannot commit a future Oireachtas to action but getting broad support from this committee, that raising the tax in this budget will continue into future budgets is important because it will tell people that if we invest in reducing emissions, it will be even more profitable in the future than it is today. Low levels of carbon pricing do not deliver sufficient results. A significant carbon price would not only deliver immediate emissions reductions, but would also put the conditions in place for a longer-term ambitious low carbon transition through improved investment choices.
We face major challenges across a range of areas of the economy - energy, heat, transport, agriculture and industrial emissions.
I want to pick on one example. In the case of heat, we need to upgrade most of our 1.5 million households. Actually, we have 2 million houses. If this is to happen, it needs to be the cheap option and must reflect the appropriate price of polluting. However, that is only the beginning. If Mrs. Murphy, a pensioner living in County Mayo, is to retrofit her house, improve insulation and change to renewable heating, in the first instance we must be able to tell her it will save her money. That is only the beginning, however, because she might not be able to fund such an investment. Even if she can, the need to manage a major building project will probably be a bigger obstacle. She might be concerned that the builders will do a bad job or that they might tip off potential burglars. For these reasons, we need to build a suite of supporting policies to ensure Mrs. Murphy can and will upgrade her house. There would be no point in her going through all this effort if it does not save her money and does not save the planet. If a suitable range of policies is developed so that Mrs. Murphy retrofits her house, this will save her a significant amount of her limited income over the rest of her life. There are substantial potential benefits. She will be much more comfortable. She may well experience enhanced health and life expectancy as a result of these improvements. She will have made her contribution to tackling climate change.
Extensive ESRI research shows that poorer households spend larger portions of their budgets on heating than richer households. While poorer households need to be part of these reforms, they must be protected from the consequences of such reforms for their budgets precisely because they spend significant amounts of their money on energy for heating. Successive studies indicate that this is best dealt with by means of an appropriate increase in social welfare to ensure poorer households are fully compensated. As long ago as 1992, an ESRI study conducted by my then colleague, Sue Scott, indicated that approximately 30% of the revenue from a carbon tax would need to be allocated for this purpose. Support can also be directed to help low-income households to retrofit their houses, thereby reducing the portions of their incomes required for home heating. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has introduced programmes in this regard and this needs to be expanded. The authority is doing good work to assess what works and what does not. There is no single answer. We need to assess various projects. Some projects do not work when they are tried, whereas others are successful.
The State is the largest landlord in the State, with approximately 150,000 tenants in social housing. Like all landlords, the State has a duty to upgrade its housing stock to move to a carbon-neutral world. If it does not do this, how can the other 1.35 million households be expected to do so? Reports suggest that the cost of upgrading a dwelling is between €30,000 and €50,000. If that is the case, the State will need to spend approximately €5 billion on upgrading its housing stock. It is a lot of money. As I said when I spoke about Mrs Murphy, this investment will leave tenants better off, more comfortable and healthier, while also implementing the State’s commitment to decarbonise the economy. I appreciate that €5 billion is a very large sum, especially in the context of the need to build more social housing. It would probably buy 15,000 social houses. The State will need all the help it can get from carbon taxes to fund this transformation.
I have concentrated on how appropriate pricing of carbon is essential if we are to tackle the problem of global warming in the heat sector. The same is true for the other sectors that we need to tackle. We are happy to discuss them in more detail. While it is crucial to get the price of carbon right, as I have illustrated, various other policies are essential if we are to do our job of helping to save the planet. As I have indicated, some of these policies might save us money, as investment in renewable electricity has done. Up to 2012, we had to pay more through the public service obligation for electricity, but the effect of renewables was to reduce the price of electricity. There was a win-win. We were emitting substantially less carbon and the households and companies of Ireland were paying less for their electricity. We need to target such measures.
Our first job is to pick the easy wins where we can save money while improving our living standards in other ways. Some easy wins that save money and also cut carbon emissions, such as the closure of peat-fired generation, might have adverse effects on employees and local communities. Supporting individuals and communities that are adversely affected and helping them to make the transition to low-carbon economic opportunities will help to speed the adjustment. Approximately 3 million of the 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide we are emitting comes from peat-fired electricity. It is costing everybody money. There is an easy win in this area, as long as we deal with the fallout for those who are directly affected. There will be a need for very significant investment by the State, companies and households. This will pose problems in the context of the continuing strain on Government resources.
Identifying and maximising co-benefits in terms of health, air quality and a range of other benefits from climate policy is important if we are to move forward. In prioritising this work the council has emphasised that Ireland must implement a major increase in the cost of emitting carbon in the coming decade, moving to a substantial carbon tax by 2030 of approximately €80 a tonne or higher. Because of doubts about the success of the reform of the EU emissions trading scheme, ETS, the council has also recommended that Ireland implement a carbon price floor for electricity, something which has already been implemented in Great Britain which is the leader in this regard. It could be done, for example, by joining with a coalition of willing partners such as France which is very keen on the idea, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, the new government of which announced in November that it would go down this route. That would guarantee that if Ireland were to invest in renewable electricity, it would make money in the future, whereas the current uncertainty about the ETS price makes such investment a risky option.
In the coming year the council will focus successively on the detailed policy measures needed in the areas of agriculture, heat and transport. Although we have not reached detailed conclusions, we are still happy to discuss these areas with the committee.
Research shows that how we communicate the need for action on climate change is of importance. The Citizens’ Assembly has shown the potential of citizen engagement and it is hoped the national dialogue on climate action will expand its effects throughout the country. These will be important to maintain public support for the changes required in the coming years, especially those which involve expenditure. Policy must take account of the complex factors that affect human behaviour. I refer to the example I gave of the obstacles for Ms Murphy in upgrading her dwelling. We must choose policies which will help us to make the right choices for the future.
Carbon pricing alone will not deliver the necessary emissions reductions, but delivering emissions reductions without a sufficient carbon price will be almost impossible and certainly far more expensive. Increasing the cost of emitting carbon is not a once-off commitment, rather it must be sustained in the coming decade. If we are to decarbonise the economy and our society, it is essential that there be wide support across all political parties for this essential step on the decarbonisation journey. That is why the work of this committee is so important.
I thank Professor FitzGerald. I will begin with a few short questions before I move to members.
The Citizens' Assembly stated it was important that whatever plan the State came up with was enforceable by law. As Professor FitzGerald is aware, it recommended that an independent statutory body be established with powers of enforcement over the State if targets were not met. What is his view in that regard? Would he support the establishment of such a body?
One of the most difficult sectors to address is the agriculture sector. How much detailed consideration did the advisory council give to the economic effects on farmers' incomes and Exchequer returns? A major concern for many of the members present is getting the balance right in meeting our targets, while not disadvantaging rural Ireland and keeping our agricultural interests in mind.
I do not know if Professor Fitzgerald has formed an opinion on the proposal for a stand-alone Department of climate action. In the light of the scale of the work that must be done, does he think it would be a positive step to have a separate Department of climate action?
On the potential of offshore wind energy generation, I note that the United Kingdom is tapping into it on a large scale, with 10.6% of electricity being generated from onshore wind and 8.5% from offshore wind. What do we need to do in Ireland in that regard? What are the challenges or blockages? Has a licensing regulatory framework been set up? What do we need to do? Offshore wind energy can easily be tapped into, but the committee must know what are the challenges in that regard and the council's view on how we can take that step to use it. All present know about the objections and planning problems with onshore wind energy projects; therefore, offshore wind energy generation seems to be one of the areas on which we must focus.
I ask Professor FitzGerald to elaborate on these points.
Professor John FitzGerald:
On the Citizens' Assembly recommendation that a body be established to legally enforce implementation of climate strategy, the Climate Change Advisory Council should not be given such responsibility.
The council is there to provide independent advice. The four statutory members could not be on it under those circumstances. It is about having the independence to say what we think is best without having to enter enforcement. Once one is into enforcement then one is into the democratic process, which is very different. For four years in the last decade I was on the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation. Under law, the mission of the regulator there was as an enforcement body. We were there to do that. The law said we were to ensure that consumers, in the long run, had a secure supply of electricity at minimum cost. This gave the regulator a clear objective, given to us by the legislature. The problem was that it also said we were to do something on the environment, which was difficult because as regulators it was up to us to decide whether to impose more costs on consumers in Northern Ireland in order to benefit the environment. I believe that distribution issues are for the Oireachtas to deal with and are not for the regulator. Regulators should have a clear mission on what they are to do. In certain areas one can see how setting up a body might help with implementation but it would be very different from the regulator. That is not our branch. One would be starting from scratch in setting up another body to do that. I am not sure that the failure so far of the Oireachtas to act, or of successive Governments to act, would have helped. The legislators are the experts on that, not me.
I will now turn to the economic effects on agriculture. We will spend the next six months considering this aspect in detail. When I was appointed as chairman of the council it was my understanding of the science that I was going to have to tell farmers they would have to get rid of their cows. It turns out, however, that the scientific evidence on this issue is more complicated. Methane lasts some 12 years in the atmosphere, and perhaps Phillip can elaborate on this. This means that agriculture needs a more nuanced solution. It is not a get-out-of-jail card. Agriculture has to make a major transformation if Ireland is to decarbonise. The first problem is that we need to define the objective for 2050 and what carbon neutrality means for agriculture. In the case of carbon dioxide it is easy to define. A tonne of carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for 100,000 years or indefinitely. It continues to do damage, not just when it is emitted and not just for 12 years; it remains for 100,000 years. We have to get rid of all carbon dioxide. The same goes for nitrogen oxide, NOx, which presents a big issue with agriculture's use of fertiliser. We must eliminate it also. With regard to methane, if Ireland had the same number of cows as there were in 1841, the impact on global warming would be the same as it was in 1841.
We need to define the objective for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and I would like the Department to spell out what the science means. There is a problem in that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, will issue a paper on this in August 2019, which will define it. Whatever Ireland defines as an objective must be consistent with the IPCC's definition. I understand that the change in the science will be reflected in the IPCC report and we need to reflect that change. I refer to a possible result of this. Farmers make money from dairy farming. Dairy cows are a priority. Research shows that farmers make pretty much nothing, net, from beef cattle. While beef cattle and dairy cows are biologically linked, if we de-emphasise beef and got out of beef production Ireland would save on the methane emissions, which might give more scope but saving on methane emissions is not the issue; the issue in agriculture is land use. The issue is about changing land use. Today's Financial Timescarries an article on what Britain plans to do in agriculture after Brexit. There are many issues around sucking the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through changes in land use. Ireland also needs to look at this. Perhaps the CAP reform will incentivise it. For example, if it costs a farmer to have cattle on their drumlin soil in Cavan, research suggests that they may make more money switching to biomass forestry. This could be part of the solution.
There are a lot of problems for farmers in doing that, however. If I planted trees, I would be dead before I could get the benefit from them. We need a suite of policies that move agriculture onto a sustainable path. We need to define that path. It will involve some wins but there will also be costs. Teagasc published a very interesting suite of policies, some of which are cheap and can make a real difference, for example, on changes in fertiliser use. It might be possible, although the advisory council has not decided on the issues, that the price of a particularly damaging fertiliser might be made more expensive. Alternatively, we might have a carrot instead. Another measure that is specifically mentioned in today's Financial Times for Britain is flooding wetlands so they absorb more carbon. Farmers are not going to do that unless there is an incentive. That might be an area where we might have carrots. We do not have a detailed suite; it is for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come up with the policy and objectives. There are solutions that leave agriculture productive and farmers earning an income and that could be consistent with a sustainable future, but we need to define the path.
On a stand-alone Department of climate - this is my personal view - one of the reasons we have made so little progress in the last two years has been the dislocation caused by moving climate from one Department to another. Key officials who had the expertise, for example, in developing scenarios and modelling what the effects of policies would be, did not transfer from one Department to the other. The current Department has had to develop the expertise from scratch. Switching again to another Department will delay progress for another two years. It may work in theory but, in practice, is this what we want? We want an administration that has the expertise and can deliver rather than to be constantly changing the administration. That will make problems, not solve them. That is my personal view. I do not know if Ms Burke wants to say something on the question.
Ms Laura Burke:
We have not discussed this but the risk in setting up a separate, stand-alone body is that everyone will think, "that Department over there will be responsible." With regard to climate and broader environmental issues, we need them to be integrated - "infiltrated" would be another way of describing it - into all the Departments. Then, for any decision, whether it was being made in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or Transport, Tourism and Sport or whatever other Department, climate would be taken into consideration. There is a risk that by separating it out, we would be absolving the other Departments of responsibility.
With regard to setting up an independent body, the other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that there is already oversight at EU level. We have commitments there and if we do not meet them there will be repercussions for our EU compliance. How they would fit in and be aligned is a question that would need to be asked.
On agriculture, Professor FitzGerald mentioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. We had 100 scientists from across the world in Dublin last week looking at the IPCC report on agriculture and land use. The chairman of the IPCC also attended and one of the things he was saying to the group was that although over the last 30 years the IPCC has focused very much on the science of climate change and the issues, it is now moving its focus to some of the solutions. That is a really interesting change of dynamic. We now all know the issues and there has been great work done in bringing attention to them. It is really important to have that expertise from across the world looking at solutions.
Professor John FitzGerald:
Until now offshore wind has been much more expensive than onshore wind. One of the reasons the people of Ireland and the climate are a winner in what we did on renewable energy compared to anywhere else in Europe is that we have delivered it in a way that has reduced the cost for people and helped clean up our emissions. There are issues which I will not go into here in terms of getting acceptance for onshore wind. However, the cost of offshore wind has come down dramatically. One has to be careful with lobbyists when they are lobbying, but one major international company asked to speak to me and said it was happy to put in a very large amount of offshore wind development in Ireland. I thought the man was going to say the company wanted a subsidy.
Actually, the company wanted interconnection between Ireland and France. If there was such interconnection which enabled Ireland to export its surplus wind energy, it would be done. We are approaching a stage where offshore wind may be deployed in the next decade. Our remit until now has been to decide how we are to clean up our act at a minimal cost to the people of Ireland. Until now, onshore wind has been the answer. To meet our commitments for 2020 we need to see a substantial increase of onshore deployment.
The Chairman raised an interesting issue, and has obviously been briefed on this, as I have. There are problems with offshore power in terms of foreshore licences, etc. Legislation, which has not yet come before the Oireachtas, would help us to clean up our act and make it easy to acquire permits for offshore wind. It would be good if the Department could bring forward that legislation soon. Offshore wind may not yet be profitable, but we should at least be ready for it and make it easy for people.
Last week, I raised the issue of oversight and whether we will be fined both at a national and European level. Ms Justice Laffoy suggested the fines may not be imposed, but oversight would provide a stick which the State could use to meet its targets. While I acknowledge that this would not be a role for the advisory council, would the council support a statutory oversight body in Ireland that would ensure we meet our targets? Last week, I asked about fines at European level and at national level.
Ms Laura Burke:
This is something that has to be debated and discussed. It depends on how we want to go about tackling climate change. Within the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act Ministers already have a responsibility to report what their Departments are doing. I am aware that this committee will ask various Ministers and Secretaries General to appear before it. Whether that is deemed to be sufficient, along with the reporting role the EPA has in highlighting it year on year, remains to be seen. I am slightly concerned about putting a large amount of effort into a body which then starts holding various Departments to account and threatening them rather than focusing on getting things done. If such a body was set up, it would be important to ensure that we still get the traction. Professor FitzGerald alluded to the fact that we do a great deal of talking. We have to make sure our national policy ambitions become actions. That is a concern I have.
I agree strongly with Ms Burke. Thinking about timeframes, Professor FitzGerald reminded me that Sue Scott wrote something about this issue in 1992. I recently found a dust-covered book on my shelf written by my colleague, John Gormley, which set out the science of climate change. It was written in 1988 or 1989 but it could have been written yesterday. The time for marginal change is over; it is time for a change to the system. In our work we have to think about the world 30 years from now and 30 years is nothing. We have to change our entire transport, agriculture, land use, energy and industrial systems if we are to play our part in halting runaway, dangerous climate change.
While I support the introduction of higher carbon tax and absolutely agree with the idea of a carbon floor price in the emissions trading scheme, ETS, those steps would represent marginal change. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, made it clear, as did the Department of Finance's tax strategy group, that such actions do not send out the correct signal. Even if we doubled the carbon tax to twice the level proposed by the advisory council or twice the level the Department of Finance has stated it would even consider, it would still not deliver system change but rather marginal change.
By Christmas, we have to have a new national climate and energy plan. Our Government has admitted the existing plan is a complete failure. That is only in terms of three months, forget about 30 years.
In terms of the approach we take to this, should we not start by asking the question Professor FitzGerald asked, namely, what carbon neutrality means for land use in 2050. In that way, we will know where we are going. Is that not the first thing we have to determine? Similarly, what is a zero carbon energy system? In my mind, I am thinking of three decades. Where would I get the answer to these questions? Has anyone in the State written some sort of vision for zero carbon energy, transport and carbon-neutral land use systems? That has knock-on consequences. Where do I get that analysis? Who has written it? Is that not the way we should go? Rather than just obsessing on 2020 or 2030, should we not think big? We will have to take some bets on electrification of everything and on land use in various ways, but do we not need to start by thinking at the end point and considering the system changes we need to get there?
Mr. Phillip O'Brien:
That is the 80% emissions in the national policy position on the energy, transport and other elements of the economy. The detail of that vision is not there. We have seen work from University College Cork, UCC, which gives various pathways to it. There is sometimes a reluctance to pick the technology. I do not know whether that is a challenge even now.
Professor John FitzGerald:
We have not laid that out, and it is one of my concerns. From the beginning, the Council wanted laid out, given our knowledge today of the technology, the cost-effective path to decarbonising Ireland by 2050, for example, that we would need to be at a certain point by 2030, that this would be the cost-effective way to proceed, which might involve doing more than we are committed to doing for 2030, the technologies involved, which would be so many electric cars and so much in the way of retrofit, and to have scenarios on that. The fact that we failed to do so is a problem.
It is interesting watching our equivalent in the United Kingdom and in Denmark. They have laid out this path and said what they need to do, the cost-effective way of doing it, and that it will not happen without a suite of other policies. The Danish Council on Climate Change is very clear on that. We need to set out the path, put in place evidence-based policies and say we need this policy on electric cars by 2025 or whatever. It is interesting that the United Kingdom has gone quite far on that. According to today's Financial Times, they are discussing the last stage - 2030 to 2050 - because they need to eliminate net carbon emissions. I believe 450 million tonnes are emitted in the United Kingdom. We emit 60 million plus tonnes. They can get down to 120 million tonnes by 2050, but that is not carbon neutral, so they are looking at how they can offset that 120 million tonnes by carbon capture and storage and a range of technologies. In the case of agriculture, because of the special nature of agriculture, it would require more afforestation, and they specifically mention flooding of wetlands and so on. They have laid out this path. The Danes have laid out this path, and they are now looking at the policies which would deliver on that path.
I very much welcome Professor FitzGerald's statement at the outset that we, as the Oireachtas representing all parties here and Independents, have a role in that. Our committee has a role in that our remit is to inform and open up consultation on this new European national energy and climate action plan, which I understand is the definitive plan. Everyone here is guessing in terms of what the future holds, but will he outline his thinking on the direction we are going in for 2050?
On that, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC did a good job on it and set a much more ambitious target than did the Government by recommending we decarbonise 100% by 2050.
There are examples such as New Zealand where interesting work has been done in planning for this. One can even look at an example from as recently as last week where California, the fifth largest economy in the world, has gone way beyond the Government in saying it will have a 100% renewable and 100% decarbonised energy system by 2045. While I have not read the full text, the targets may be even wider than that. Does the council have the resources and modelling capacity, or does the EPA have the modelling capacity, to do some of that work for presentation to us in aid of the public policy process in circumstances in which we are required to have a first draft by Christmas? It does not exist now. We do not have it anywhere from the Government.
Professor John FitzGerald:
We are charged in legislation with advising on policy, not making policy. We do not have the resources. That is what we have a Department for. As I have indicated, I am concerned that the Department has failed to deliver on this. Part of the problem it has faced has been that, in the establishment of the new Department, the expertise to do that, which was available in the old Department, did not transfer. It is a problem but we are not in a position to do it. We can throw out ideas and we have looked at the price of carbon to begin with, as that is essential. We are moving now to agriculture and, successively over the next year, we will look at transport and heat and give our views. However, we are not in a position to put forward a full framework on how we deliver.
Given the council's policy advice role and what Professor FitzGerald has said, would the council advise the Government and the committee that one of the most urgent and immediate matters is a national land-use plan to complement or back up the national planning framework, which does not contain one? As he said, land use is one of the biggest issues. I have concerns about methane. The latest scientific research this week means that alarm bells are ringing across the world regarding methane. The latest science is scary on the release of methane from permafrost. Methane is not to be discounted in any way. Aside from the scientific issue, does the council agree with a national land-use plan, as we need to work out where the forestry we need is going to be? Forestry is one of the most significant abatement measures we may have. What is the new future for Irish farming in circumstances in which the current model is not working for the vast majority of farmers? We need to pay them properly for the land-use services they will deliver. We need a plan to protect biodiversity. As I am sure Ms Burke will acknowledge, we have a biodiversity crisis as well as a climate crisis. We need a plan to address flood management and water quality management. We have many of the tools to deal with that if we follow the water analysis. If one uses water as one's metric, it delivers many cross benefits in biodiversity, carbon storage and so on. As such, does the council agree that we need a national land-use plan?
More specifically, I ask the EPA, which is there in terms of the inventory, if it can present the committee, in written form if not in person, with its understanding of the latest IPCC analysis and trajectory, or the UNFCCC analysis? What sort of carbon abatement or storage capacity would we have if we did 10,000 ha, 15,000 ha or 20,000 ha of afforestation a year? Would different types of forestry deliver different results? I refer to continuous cover versus clear fell or mixed versus single canopy forest, which is what we need. We need that level of analysis or we are flying blind. Can the committee also be provided with a written assessment on where we are on 2020 and 2030 targets? UCC has a model but I do not agree with the fundamental assumptions it contains. Does the EPA have an emissions reduction model for the period to 2050 on the various gases for Ireland? Can we be provided with that written analysis to inform our work? While the IPCC report will not be available until August, the UNFCCC is setting rules on accounting and storage. Mr. McGovern is our representative on the UNFCCC panels. I ask that the committee be presented in writing with the latest details and analysis as to what the rules may be in regard to land use in particular, as that is the most technical, complex and important issue. I ask for the presentation of a written report to the committee as part of our ongoing analysis.
Ms Laura Burke:
The Deputy is looking for a load of written reports. To be clear, we cannot deliver everything. It comes back to the role of the EPA. I am now exchanging my Climate Change Advisory Council hat for an EPA hat. I agree with the Deputy about targets for 2050. We have a national policy position and we need to work backwards from that. If we want an 80% reduction in electricity, we need to consider what needs to be done to achieve that. Based on current projections relating to emissions, the EPA has identified that a reduction of about 800,000 tonnes per year would be needed if we are to achieve the desired levels by 2050. I will not call it a target because it is something the EPA is seeking to do.
There are many ideas and plans as to how to achieve this. There is a national mitigation plan that contains many ideas for what needs to be done and what needs to be prioritised. There are also numerous joint Oireachtas committee reports already in existence, including a very recent one on agriculture that identified 35 different actions. That is worthwhile considering. There is a risk that there are many different plans. There is a White Paper on energy which examines how our energy system should be decarbonised. There are many different plans and papers there. It is a question of pulling all the disparate plans together in order that there is one national approach, and that should be the aspiration for the national energy and climate plan.
There is also a need for clarity. Different sectors have a role and a responsibility in identifying what they are going to do about mitigation and adaptation. This comes back to not abdicating responsibility and seeking to place it on somebody else. The sectors in question are responsible for looking at their activities between now and 2020, 2030 or 2050 and, as part of their role, identifying what they are going to do to mitigate their impact on climate.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine does a substantial amount of work in afforestation - different types of forestry and considerations regarding carbon abatement and storage. I would be looking to the Department to state which type of forestry is required where. Over the past ten years, the EPA has committed €26 million in State funding to conducting research, with the money coming from either the Exchequer or, at times, the environment fund. That can be research on things like land use and there are reports looking at opportunities and mitigation. There is research that can support this committee but I am conscious that there is only so much the members can take.
The EPA makes predictions and its projections work. There is a short summary report on the website which - in the context of every sector - indicates what the EPA thinks the issues will be as far as 2035 and where the growth is. It is not modelling. There is a multi-departmental technical group - the technical research and modelling group, TRAM - which is looking at modelling and making predictions for the future of the State. It will be interesting to hear more from that group on what it is doing.
Professor John FitzGerald:
We need a land use plan but it needs to look at how it happens. More forestry and more biomass constitute part of the answer. I published research I carried out with Teagasc and ESB International 20 years ago. What became clear to me was that one can work out in theory that more trees means more biomass but making it happen, from a farmer's point of view, is something else. It goes back to what I said about behaviour.
We must get the price right but even if the price is right, things will not happen so it is about finding out the obstacles to the owners of the land making the necessary change. A very interesting article by Jasmina Behan, the head of the Government's economic service, talks about some of the obstacles facing farmers in shifting. That is where a significant amount of work is needed. How can we make it profitable or attractive for the owners of the land to change its use in a way that is consistent with climate change?
Deputy Ryan covered a lot. Professor FitzGerald's role is to advise on policy, not to sell the policy, but if we reverse the roles for the purposes of conversation or argument, how can he sell what he has given us this morning, particularly regarding CO2? If we use Mrs. Murphy in Mayo as an example, Professor FitzGerald started off brilliantly. If she is tuned in, she will save so much money into the future. He then swiftly moved along to the fact that the Government is going to introduce a carbon tax immediately, which Mrs. Murphy will most likely end up paying if she is burning fossil fuels, before she gets a chance to retrofit her house. She is then told that it will cost her between €30,000 and €50,000 to do so. If she was a dragon in "Dragons' Den", she would be out at this stage. How do we sell this? The cart is before the horse to a certain extent and the circle is not squared. It needs to be squared. Irrespective of what decisions are made by this committee or any other committees or Departments, at the end of the day, we must bring the people with us. How do we sell that to the people and square the circle? How do we reach a scenario where Mrs. Murphy is still prepared to invest in such a project even though it will be a long time before she gets her money back - possibly not in her lifetime? If she is selfish, as we can all be sometimes, and says that she only needs this climate or world for a maximum of 20 or 30 years and will let somebody else worry about it, how do we change this because that attitude is out there?
The main focus of the presentation is on increasing carbon tax. It almost comes across as if this will solve everything. As was highlighted here last week and using diesel as an example, regardless of the rise in carbon tax, it only takes a very small fluctuation in the ratio between the dollar and the euro or a minor reduction in the price of a barrel of oil or both for carbon tax to be neutral when it comes to the net cost to the user. Consequently, the incentive will be gone in certain scenarios. How do we legislate for that? More money will be coming into the Exchequer but there will be no incentive for the end user to change their habits. We have seen the price of diesel fluctuating at the pumps and going down to as low as €0.90 a year to 18 months ago. It is now up to €1.30 but in the example I have given, there is nothing to say that were we to apply the carbon tax to bring up the price to €1.35, it would not fall back down to €0.95 again. How does that work? How does that incentivise anybody? The witnesses will say that it could go the other way. I am basically asking them how we can sell this. I know that selling it is our job but I would like to hear their opinion in this regard.
If it sounds like I am defending agriculture, it is because I am. After two meetings, we seem to be going down a road that is very focused on agriculture. Rather than almost being critical, we could look at and learn a lot from where agriculture has been and where it has come. It is a fact that from 1990 to 2016, CO2 emissions in agriculture reduced by 3.5% while production increased by 40% in the same period. This was not done through taxation but through incentives such as grants for farm buildings and the REP scheme. We must look at incentives far more stringently than taxation. This has been proven. Agriculture is drifting at present because production has increased again, the caps have lifted or quotas have been done away with but during the period from 1990 to 2016, transport emissions increased by something like 139% while those from energy production increased by 116%. If we are talking about changing land use to sequester carbon that is being abused in other sectors, it is really taking the whip out to hammer agriculture. We still will need to eat and we still will need to increase food production by 50% before 2050 based on the rise in population.
We are also running the risk. This is our remit, as I stated last week. We have to think of the Irish situation here. If we sow trees on all our land, stop producing milk - we produce the lowest CO2 emissions per kilogramme of milk in Europe - and get our house in order, the milk will have to be produced far less efficiently somewhere else and that methane cloud will not remain over the country where it is emitted. This is a global issue and we must be cognisant of the overall picture.
Professor John FitzGerald:
I have lived with two politicians in my life and I decided I did not want that career. That is Senator Paul Daly's career. It is the Senator's job to sell. When I took on this job, I was not going to go out and sell. Our job is to provide advice. However, having worked in the research area for 30 years, I would say the Senator is quite right that we need to explain to the wider public the nature of the research and the nature of the task. Essentially, we must try to do that.
I picked the example of a mythical Mrs. Murphy. One must be able to say to somebody, as I have done, that it is very disruptive to one's life but that it will actually save him or her money. It will not save a person money unless the carbon tax is there. The carbon tax has to come first and then one can say to people that they can save money. If one says to people to do it now and that the Oireachtas will introduce a carbon tax in ten years' time and they will save money then, for somebody of my age that will not make a difference. One has got to say that it will make a difference today.
I had a grand-aunt who was badly off but who was left a small amount of money in 1920. She decided to go to Cambridge to read economics. She put herself through Cambridge and graduated in 1923. She did not get a degree, because they did not give degrees to women in Cambridge until after the war, but I have her very good notes on the lectures from Professor Pigou, a famous economist, which were delivered in October and November 1922. One hundred years ago, the answer was one taxes pollution if one wants people to change. It is the same today. We have a problem with climate deniers and the science on how one makes people change in economics is unanimous. One must begin with a carbon tax but, as I explained, it is only a beginning. If it is not there, nobody will change. One will be much less effective unless one brings in other policies. In the case of Mrs. Murphy, she will need a lot of help in changing through other schemes.
On the point the Senator made on transport, that is why I said €30 a tonne in the next budget. Somebody who the committee will hear from next week may advise making it much bigger. I would be happy if we did more but I am looking at it in terms of deliverables. If we went to €80 a tonne, which would make a different in transport - it would give a big push to electric cars immediately - it would make a substantial difference to the cost of motoring but my guess is that one would find that very difficult to do. That is why we say €30 a tonne. We need a much higher price to reflect the damage that we are doing.
In terms of what was referred to as incentives rather than sticks, the problem is that the money has to be raised and we are talking about a lot of money being spent. In terms of social housing, I said the bill could be €5 billion for social housing. It is the landlord's job to spend it and the Government will have to raise the money somewhere else. Going back to Pigou, unless one uses sticks as well as carrots, one is going nowhere. The State will not be able to finance the change. Saying to everybody in Ireland that they will pay for their houses and their electric cars by not raising any taxes on them is not sustainable. As would be asked in the Department of Finance, where I worked for 12 years at the beginning of my career and which, like the Jesuits, gets one at a young and impressionable age and has one for life, "Where is the money going to come from?"
On agriculture and milk, I am feeling my way. We will discuss this over the autumn. Is there a solution for agriculture? Agriculture will have to make major changes but given that milk seems to be most profitable for farmers, can we find a model which is consistent with decarbonising Ireland which leaves farmers doing what is profitable - we have seen a substantial increase in milk production - but which makes other changes which will offset that in areas in which farmers are not making much money?
Is there such a model? I am not saying there is, but there may be a way of doing this. Agriculture changes. There may be a model out of which farmers will do reasonably well and out of which climate will do very well. I do not have the plan but it is hoped that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will come up with it.
I would like to go back to the beginning of Professor FitzGerald's presentation. He put a great deal of emphasis on carbon tax in Ireland and on carbon pricing under the emissions trading scheme. He advocated an increase in carbon tax to reflect the costs of climate change. As we are in the second week of our journey towards finding realistic solutions to implement on climate action, can Professor FitzGerald explain the data upon which his view of the cost of climate change is predicated? I am not just mean national figures relating to the tonnage of carbon or greenhouse gases we are emitting, but data in the international sense. The figures we are coming up with require every country in the world to take similar steps. To what extent are certain countries not being required to take these steps? I am looking for something tangible. People are watching this and we are talking about tonnage and so on. I count myself among those who might be ignorant of these issues but I would like to know how the council is arriving at these figures and how Professor FitzGerald puts a value on the price of climate change in an international context, not just a national context. Are they just comparing us to our European partners?
He stated that we should shift from taxes on labour to taxes on carbon and that there is research which shows that this is the way to go. To what in particular is he referring? What will that look like? Last week, ESRI representatives appeared before the committee. They told us that imposing carbon taxes on business will not affect exports, which does not make sense to me. Many people asked questions last week and, as far as I was concerned, that was not dealt with or answered sufficiently. We are looking at being competitive and at all the costs for businesses that feed into that. How can that not ultimately affect exports?
Professor FitzGerald also said that he served on Northern Ireland's committee on electricity. Was that the single electricity market committee or something similar?
He pointed out that the regulator was driven by getting the best cost for the consumer and by bringing renewables on board. We are looking at introducing a new support scheme for renewables to contribute towards achieving our targets. Could Professor FitzGerald please outline the technologies he would prefer to see us supporting? Onshore wind is being given priority at the moment. Can he speak to the cost-benefit analysis of that technology as compared to other renewables such as offshore wind, biomass, anaerobic digestion and so on? He might deal with them individually. He might also deal with solar energy and what that can bring to the table.
As we have tried to achieve change over the past number of years, we have often talked at a high level but nothing has ever filtered down into action or into progress towards addressing issues. With regard to offshore wind energy, is there a problem with the planning system? We do not have a planning regime for people who want to develop this renewable resource. We do not have a planning authority similar to the county council or to An Bord Pleanála to which such people can go. Is that not an issue?
I am from County Mayo, which has great renewable resources, including wind, wave and so on. Eirgrid's plans do not include the development of transmission infrastructure beyond Bellacorick where the old peat-fired power station is located, yet there is a test site for wave energy off the coast of Belmullet.
Would this not need to be a priority if we are going to consider wind energy?
Before briefly mentioning farming, I wish to talk about roads. The Citizens' Assembly is advocating two thirds public transport and one third road transport. As an economist who provides advice, would Professor FitzGerald accept that there are areas which never experienced major road investment, for example, major interurban routes such as the west and north west, although there are at least some plans there now to do so? A Bus Éireann bus can be put on a road but we need the roads to facilitate our economic growth if they are going to be considering anything like this. When the Green Party was in government with Fianna Fáil, it put the emphasis back on public transport, but we still have a deficit on roads. There should be nuanced thinking in areas that need to be developed when we are developing these policies and they will need more support to be self-sustaining. I am talking not just from the environmental point of view but also from the people point of view if we are to create jobs and investment in areas.
On agriculture, the talk is always about decarbonising Ireland. I know that for the purpose of debate we talk in generalities. Other than at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine where we prepared that report, the impression is often that farmers can be collateral damage regarding the efforts we make. I feel that was the impression the Citizens' Assembly gave to agriculture in its recommendation. I do not accept this as somebody who comes from that region and sees the significance that farming has to rural areas. We can talk about dairy, but if beef is taken out of the equation at one sweep, it would close down the west and north west.
The witnesses alluded to forestry. I do not consider it a community where people are looking out at trees, and this is a problem. I know there are competing interests. As other colleagues here have done, I would also like to highlight the real issues of ordinary people on the ground.
We have targets for Food Wise 2025. We are selling food into 180 countries. If these beef farmers, who seem to be a problem for so many people, are removed from the equation, it will not be just the farmers who are gone. They supply to people finishing the beef and the whole food industry. What the Climate Change Advisory Council is proposing is massive.
I agree that we need to try to improve the situation, as do farmers and the farming organisations. At the end of the day, when we talk about decarbonisation of society, we still have to eat, so why not have Ireland become the carbon-efficient people? If this idea is taken to the extreme, we would all become vegans. Where is the choice in all this? Where is the reality in all this? It does not match with what I see. I would be in favour of innovation, thinking outside the box and all the rest. Much of the conversation seems to be at an academic level.
In my area there have been objections to wind farms, transmission and everything else. I have never seen the people, who are telling us that we need all of this, at a public meeting advocating why we need this infrastructure etc. The people on ground and their public representatives are trying to advance the cause of their areas and also help people deal with the fallout of being asked to cater for infrastructure. Everybody is an expert at the round table but when they go on the ground, they are not listening to the ordinary person and the ordinary communities who are being asked to facilitate infrastructure. As the witness said, the margins for farmers are so small because they are so regulated in everything they do. As Senator Paul Daly said, they are taking great steps towards reducing carbon emissions. While farmers and the farming organisations must step up to the plate, if we want to bring them with us we need to acknowledge what they are doing.
Professor John FitzGerald:
The council is unanimous that if we do not raise the carbon tax, we will go nowhere.
Therefore, if we want to deal with climate change, we need to begin with a carbon tax. If we do not do so, we can give up.
On switching from taxes on labour to taxes on carbon, I published a series of papers dealing with Ireland. I published the first of them in 1992 and the story is the same in 2018, namely, if one taxes labour, it raises the cost for employers who employ fewer people, whereas if one reduces taxes on labour, more people are employed. If one raises taxes on carbon, it reduces the amount of carbon emitted. It goes back to what Pigou said in October 1922. It does not just apply to Ireland. If one looks at the research from prominent economists in the United States, the Netherlands and Britain, it is accepted across the economics literature. Will carbon taxes affect exports? Yes, they will. However, if our competitors are other countries within the European Union and they do it at the same time - for example, Sweden has made much bigger strides than we have - the research which specifically looked at this issue has found that there will be a small effect on exports, but it is the cheapest way if we want to do something about climate change, although, of course, as a society, we may not want to do so.
On the support scheme for renewable technologies and the point about the carbon price floor which we have suggested, there is a competitiveness issue in that regard. If we were to do it as a coalition of countries within the European Union, electricity prices would go up by a bit, probably by less than what we pay in the public service obligation levy, but it would make renewables profitable. The research we have carried out suggests the carbon price floor which would be enough to produce a dramatic change in emissions from electricity generation in Ireland would add about €200 million to bills. However, because the price went up and we were not able to take account of this, renewables would be much more profitable and what we pay in the PSO levy - over €200 million; it was perhaps €400 million last year - would actually come down and there might as a result be a net gain for people.
On the different technologies used, in 1992 there was a conference on wind energy organised by the ESB, at which I said: "It is very expensive. Don't invest in it now." Former Taoiseach Charles Haughey who was chairing the conference said: "Typical economist. No vision." I was right, although he is not around for me to tell him. We have delivered a lot in a way that saves the people of Ireland money. One can move to use a technology too soon, at a time when it is very expensive. I had thought that use of solar energy was for the birds - perhaps not for the birds exactly - but it is interesting that it is now coming down in price rapidly in parts of the world where there is a lot of sunshine; it is competitive and the cheapest way of producing electricity. The problem lies in its intermittency.
There are various technologies that could be used. There is onshore and offshore wind energy. Solar energy is still expensive, but the cost is coming down fast. We may well, therefore, see solar energy being part of the mix.
On wave energy, there is a very important paper by Dr. Eleanor Denny of Trinity College Dublin which shows that one would never invest in tidal energy production owing to a technical issue. For example, the tide in Strangford Lough flows out very fast for a short period midway between high and low tide and for a lot of the time it is not flowing at all, whereas in the case of wind energy, on average, it flows 30% of the time. While they are both intermittent, tidal energy is utterly predictable. Dr. Denny came to the conclusion that unless the cost of tidal turbines was much lower than onshore wind energy, one would not do it. Wave energy production is possible, but it would also be intermittent and at the moment is incredibly expensive; therefore, it seems unlikely that it will ever be part of the solution for Ireland. As it could be part of the solution elsewhere in the world, it is something to be researched, but it is not going to be part of the solution for Ireland in the next decade or 20 years.
On biomass, the study we produced in 1995 showed that it was expensive. I have twice visited the farm in Derry of Mr. John Gilliland, former president of the Ulster Farmers Union.
He switched from growing grain to growing pollard willow. He actually made money out of the latter and was selling his woodchips to the Bogside community centre. Biomass used in heating, probably in rural areas or hotels and so on, may well be the way to go. I do not know. I am not an expert in this area and I have probably gone on for too long about it.
Roads versus public transport is an issue to look at project by project. Is a certain project justified? As for completion of the road to Mayo - is it the N4? - the stretch to Roscommon is truly awful, and the return from the completion of that stretch would undoubtedly pay off. Public transport, specifically the deregulation of buses, is much more an urban issue. Going to Galway, people are much faster taking the train, and the emissions will still be significant until the buses are decarbonised. Our first recommendation in the NDP was that Government needs to reflect appropriately the issue of climate change in its criteria for investment decision-making, which it was not doing, but in the national mitigation plan it announced it would change the methodology. If this is incorporated in the methodology, it may be that we will spend more on public transport than on roads, but I do not know what the appropriate split is, whether two thirds, one third etc. One must factor in the cost of climate change and the fact that people must get from Mayo to Dublin to the Seanad and come up with the right answer. I do not have an ideological answer to this. It is project by project.
The question really concerned a recognition that vast areas of the country have faced underinvestment in infrastructure, particularly roads, and that if any such rule were applied uniformly or took flight within Government policy, it would not be helpful to the-----
Professor John FitzGerald:
Any appropriate methodology would reflect the problems that people in rural areas face. If it did not, it would not be an appropriate methodology.
I will make a final point and then I think Ms Burke will say something about agriculture in her reply. On forestry, a very interesting study was done 30 years ago, I think, by Bob O'Connor, then deputy director of the ESRI, since deceased, and Brendan Kearney, then of Teagasc, which showed that if one switched from cattle to forestry - I am not saying forestry is the answer; it could be something else - employment in rural areas would actually be higher, not lower, in the medium term, which is interesting. Paid employment is important in the development of communities in rural areas, so I urge members not to write forestry off.
I understand we will probably conclude on agriculture. I asked Professor FitzGerald at the outset about the international dimension. Is he pricing us for carbon pro rata? Can Professor FitzGerald explain how all this is-----
Professor John FitzGerald:
I am sorry. That is a very important point. Yes, we are doing more in Europe than in many other parts of the world. Parts of the United States are doing more than we are doing, in spite of Donald Trump - California, for example. We are laggards compared with some US states. In the long term, if we are to decarbonise the world, which we must do if we are to affect climate change, we should not expect Africa to start spending huge sums of money because this will not happen. However, we need Africa to decarbonise. The way this will happen is that we will raise the price of carbon in the developed world in order that it pays to develop technologies like wind, solar and electric cars and they become the cheap technology. Already in Chile, for example, they are deploying without subsidy a large amount of solar because the price has come down so much. In India, regarding the outturn in terms of investment in coal-fired power generation, which is incredibly dirty, they have invested much less in the past two or three years because solar has come down so much in price. The development of solar has been driven by the higher prices and the expectation of higher prices in Europe, Japan and elsewhere. Therefore, we must, through the price of carbon, incentivise the world to develop carbon-free technologies in order that they become the cheap answer for the rest of the world, that is, the poor part of the world. Otherwise, this planet is going to cook.
Ms Laura Burke:
In the context of technology on the agricultural side, we have anaerobic digestion, which provides opportunities for win-win situations regarding agricultural and other waste and energy generation. This is very common. We do not need research on the technology but we need to look at the barriers to implementation. The EPA has carried out research in respect of the initial upfront capital costs. None of this should be discounted.
Senators Paul Daly and Mulherin mentioned the carrot-and-stick approach in agriculture. The EPA has a wide range of roles. We have a regulatory role regarding intensive agriculture and we have worked very closely with the IFA in recent years in terms of focusing on behavioural change. In our regulatory role, we need to ensure compliance and that various organisations do not cause environmental damage. However, we must also think about incentives and working with the 130,000 farms throughout the country in order that they will be more resource efficient. This would be a win-win situation through the money the farms would save, as Professor Fitzgerald has already alluded to, and through the environmental benefit. We have been working with the IFA for a number of years on this. The relevant programme has been very successful programme and involves peers talking to peers, with farmers talking to farmers. It is not the EPA or some other entity instructing people what to do. Farms volunteer to do various tests and they then speak to their neighbours and their communities to tell them that by doing certain actions, on which the EPA, Teagasc or other bodies have advised, they have saved money and helped the environment. This programme supports and works with people rather than talks to them, which is important.
The EPA has a regulatory role over intensive agriculture. Recognising the points made by Senator Paul Daly, we have a priority site list for enforcement. We enforce just under 800 industrial licences, including for intensive agriculture. Disappointingly, the food and drink sector is high up on the priority site list for non-compliance with licence requirements. This is not about going above and beyond. It is about the industry causing nuisance through odour, noise and environmental damage. We cannot say that we are clean and green - and sell to other countries throughout the world on this basis - while not being in basic compliance with these requirements. I hear what members have said about some of the work in the agricultural sector but there is an awful lot more to be done.
We have tracked greenhouse gas inventories since 1990. There were reductions but we are now seeing an increase in the sector year on year and this is very much linked to livestock numbers. When numbers decreased, emissions also decreased. With livestock numbers increasing, however, emissions are also increasing. We will have to have a discussion on what carbon neutrality means. There has to be encouragement and support but we also need to recognise that the sector has a responsibility to comply with environmental requirements. We need a combination of all of these factors.
My understanding is that this is the situation, which would defeat the argument Ms Burke has made. From listening to Professor FitzGerald in particular, the communication strategy on this is essential. We are creating a rural-urban divide, which I can see increasing. The agricultural sector is our largest indigenous industry and it gives employment to approximately 300,000 people. Professor FitzGerald suggested that a carbon tax is the only way forward. There has to be a balance between the carrot and the stick and we have to get that balance right.
If there is more of one than the other, there will be serious difficulties.
Professor FitzGerald mentioned the forestry issue as well as suckler farmers in, for example, the west. Ireland is a small but diverse country, and some parts of it are able to do some things better than others. There has been much talk in recent weeks, particularly last week, of the demise of rural Ireland. We are closing post offices, there are no school buses for kids, etc. That line is rattled out day in and day out. If we were to have a carbon tax and eliminate an entire sector of agriculture, for example, the suckler sector, it would put the final nail in rural Ireland's coffin. As Senator Mulherin mentioned, there is a substantial number of suckler farmers in the west compared with the east. If we apply a significant carbon tax on them without analysing the potential consequences, then instead of looking out her window at trees, Senator Mulherin will only see a barren place in the years to come.
I was delighted to chair the committee that launched a report on the forestry issue. We put a great deal of effort into our report. This committee should analyse that report from the point of view of agriculture. It contains some good elements. Even though the agriculture sector has made many good changes, there is undoubtedly much more to do. The sector, particularly the farming organisations, realise and accept that.
Turning back to the suckler industry, one of the main initiatives of recent years has been the beef data genomics scheme. It was the first such scheme in Europe, and it may have beneficial consequences for the future that even many farmers do not realise.
We must be careful that the communication strategy is right going forward and that there is a balance between carrot and stick. It is important that we not encourage the urban-rural divide that seems to be developing and is not good for our country and society in general.
Forestry has a large part to play and its incentivisation has to be key. Since the abolition of milk quotas in recent years, we have seen the development of more large dairy farms in the east and south particularly. What about having an incentive for intensive farmers to grow a certain number of trees? One of the witnesses might be able to enlighten me about something I heard. If every farmer in the country grew 50 more trees, it would solve many of our problems. The witnesses might correct me if I am wrong, but I heard that figure cited somewhere. I might not be 100% right. It would not solve all of the problems for the agriculture sector, but it would be helpful. Incentivisation of the forestry sector in areas where there is intensive livestock farming could be beneficial.
Much could be done in the tillage sector. While working on our report, we received a presentation from the BASE Ireland farmers' group. It discussed how tillage farming could be done without using extra amounts of fertiliser or chemicals or having to plough the land using extra machinery. In its presentation, it showed that, financially speaking, an extra livestock unit or man hour could be saved in this way. We would be reeling in the years to what was done previously. This would not be reinventing the wheel, but doing the work more efficiently.
The agriculture sector has a large part to play, and it should not be forgotten that it has done much already.
Professor John FitzGerald:
Regarding agriculture, methane is different from carbon dioxide in that methane disappears after 12 years but carbon dioxide remains forever.
If we make a mistake and emit too much carbon dioxide today getting that back would be very difficult: in methane it is easier because one makes a change in the future. Agriculture is lower in terms of priorities. Dealing with the problem of carbon dioxide is the top priority.
In terms of agriculture, I take Deputy Deering's point on the need for a carrot and stick approach. What is interesting in the research that I have seen on changes in land use is that it is not the carrots and sticks but other problems that farmers face in changing land use, such that the policies needed in this area will be different from those needed elsewhere. There will have to be some sticks. We have not suggested a methane tax on the herd. This would not be where I would begin, and I am not sure this is where I would end either.
Professor John FitzGerald:
It is a question of establishing the damage function and the damage done and whether there are alternative, cheaper ways of dealing with it. That is an open issue. For example, the paper by Jasmina Behan showed that the problem for farmers in committing to turnover their land to forestry is that they can never go back. They would never be able to get the stumps out and have the pasture back. The move is irreversible. Another problem is that farmers are nervous that if there is only one buyer they will get screwed. We need a market. These are the types of issues arising. If we are to achieve a big change in land use, which might make farmers more money, we will need to talk to the farming community about how it could be achieved and the real obstacles. Carrots and sticks may not be the most important thing in this area. It is work in progress for us and it ought to be work in progress for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We have not reached any conclusions on this.
The Deputy's point regarding the need for balance in terms of carrots and sticks is important.
Ms Laura Burke:
On the urban-rural divide, it is an issue of which we all need to be conscious. I am from Dublin but I have been living in the countryside for the last 14 years. It is very different in terms of public transport and in many other areas and this needs to be recognised. When one finds oneself giving out about Dubs, etc., one knows one has gone native and there is no going back.
On the numbers, emissions from agriculture are now 2.4% below what they were in 1990. The numbers overall of dairy and non-dairy cattle are similar to what they were in 1990. Sheep numbers have halved. Emissions have increased in four out of the last five years. I would be very surprised if they do not increase again, which is the warning signal from us. As I said, emissions increased in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. This is data to support policy. We are not the policymakers. What we are seeing is that the fluctuations in agriculture emissions are underpinned by higher animal numbers.
Ms Laura Burke:
Food Harvest 2025 is an ambition for a sector: this is data. The ambition of Food Harvest 2025 is to have sustainable intensification. There was discussion about no net increase because of other factors such as beef, as mentioned by Professor FitzGerald. On the ground, the evidence is that emissions are increasing.
On what can happen, it comes back to behaviour, as mentioned by Professor FitzGerald.
A marginal abatement cost curve developed by Teagasc looks at actions that can be taken at low cost and no cost. The question that arises is why these actions are not being taken already if they lead to a cost saving. We then get into behavioural change which leads me back to smart farming and so forth. We in the Environmental Protection Agency and other bodies can say what should happen from an ivory tower, but we need to engage with communities on the ground and find out what the barriers are. Some of these barriers were alluded to in the context of forestry. That is the evidence we are seeing.
The first recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly was that, as a matter of urgency, a new or existing independent body should be resourced to look into this issue. It is apparent that Departments are not working interdependently or cross-sectorally on climate change. If an independent body was set up, as recommended by the assembly, it would have longevity unlike Governments, which change. Why does the advisory council believe it may not be necessary to have an independent body? Given the scale and urgency of the problem we face, is it not better to have a properly resourced independent body with teeth to go after the Departments? The witnesses indicated that was not the remit of the advisory council. The independent body would be charged with putting pressure on Departments to create some coherency because policy at the moment is all over the place. Departments are not working together. We need a body tasked with ensuring we have a long-term pathway rather than dealing only with short-term problems. In addition, the body would have the teeth to go after Departments to make sure they deliver.
Professor John FitzGerald:
My concern is what Senator O'Sullivan means by teeth. In my view, the Oireachtas is the teeth and, failing that, the Judiciary is the teeth. I would not be happy to hand over to a separate body the responsibility the Oireachtas has to bite the Government. Constitutional law is not my area but what would this body do? Would it lock up Ministers or Oireachtas Members for not delivering a carbon tax? That would not be democracy.
I understand the frustration felt by the 100 citizens of the Citizens' Assembly about what was not happening but that frustration is not just about the Government. The carbon tax cannot be implemented by the Government unless the Oireachtas supports it. It needs the support not only of the governing parties but also of others in the Oireachtas. What does Senator O'Sullivan want this proposed new body to do? The Oireachtas is extremely important and if we are to make progress, its work will also be important. We play a minor role in advising the Government. It is for the Oireachtas to make Departments work properly and to hold them and Ministers to account. It is not clear that setting up an independent watchdog body is feasible. That is my personal view as opposed to the view of the advisory council.
Ms Laura Burke:
The advisory council has not discussed the issue the Senator raises. In a way it comes back to my first comment on setting up a single Department for climate change. To do so would put the issue "over there", as it were. It may be a simple solution and sometimes simple solutions work. However, as the question has been asked, I will give a personal view, which is not the view of the EPA. I believe that having a Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, as we now do, along with these types of committees and the engagement of the various Departments may be more productive than having an independent body.
What would be its powers if a democratically elected Government decides something else is more important? It is about trying to figure out what exactly this would look like versus the theory. I am having a little difficulty seeing how it would work. As I said, that may be teased out.
I appreciate that. It is recommendation No. 1 so it is part of our remit. I have a few other questions. With regard to taxes, vulnerable members of the community may be on a lower income, so how would they be compensated? Have the witnesses done any analysis on the impact of taxation on the vulnerable in society?
It is highly frustrating to be part of a committee like this; it is hard because there is so little coherence in policy and the position is so dire for the country because we are so far behind. The national development plan and the national planning framework were subject to entirely inadequate strategic environmental assessment, and the process failed to qualify the effect of proposed polices and investment on emissions. What is the view of the witnesses on how climate considerations should be factored into appraisals of projects in the national development plan? Do the witnesses agree that quantified climate assessment of policy and decisions must be incorporated into the 2015 low carbon Act?
Professor John FitzGerald:
On the question of vulnerable people, a 1992 study by Ms Sue Scott, another study from 2007 or 2008 by Dr. Seán Lyons et al.and an even more recent study all come up with the same answer that if social welfare payments are increased, using approximately 30% of the revenue from carbon tax, it would make a difference. We should remember that many of the other policies we are implementing may also raise costs. For example, the Government has quite rightly indicated it will close Moneypoint in 2025, and this will raise electricity prices. Poorer households spend a higher share of their budget on electricity than richer households. We should look at whether closing it by regulatory decision is the right answer, as it will mean gas-fired generators will make more money because the price will increase, or whether it would be better to have a carbon price floor in Ireland. That would mean the price would go up but some of that increased price would go to the Government, which would have money to compensate the people who are adversely affected. If there is no carbon tax, where will we find the revenue? If there is a tax, it is more likely that those who are affected will be compensated than if there is regulatory action, where the rise in costs is hidden and not transparent.
There are other issues in making a difference. On average, people in social housing tend to be among the least well-off in society. If the State decided to spend €3 billion, €5 billion, €7 billion or whatever it would be on upgrading social housing so people would spend pretty much nothing on heating because the properties would use sustainable sources, it would be a big gain for those households. The long-term transfer for poorer households would be very substantial in that case. Probably even more important would be the health effects. I understand older people may have heating but they get nervous about spending money so they under-heat houses and end up with pneumonia or whatever. If they do not need to spend the money, perhaps there would be health benefits. It is not an issue for me; I am elderly but I heat my house and I do not have to worry about the cost. There are policy changes we need that could improve the distribution of income rather than the opposite.
On the NDP and no coherence of policy, I share the Senator's frustration. It is a rather technical issue, and I think Deputy Ryan referred to the work done in Cork. We should spell out a pathway or pathways of where we are going to go so we can fit the policies in, which is what the Danes have done. Then the Government can come up with a policy, which would allow us to say that is the difference it is going to make and measure it. Such a situation would make it much easier for politicians. It might be technical telling members the pathway but one could then bring in policymakers and ask them what they are doing to improve things. Such a situation would be helpful.
In terms of the national development plan and factoring in climate considerations into appraisal, it is one of the few clear gains we have had in terms of recommendation. We went to the Minister and said that the appraisal network framework for public investment does not take appropriate effect of climate change. The Minister said that was a bad idea and he would talk to Paschal. A fortnight later it was announced that the Government was going to revise the appraisal scheme because the scheme really must take climate change into account. The problem is a discount rate is used, which is relatively high but probably appropriate for most things. If one uses a high discount rate one would not do anything about climate change because the damage done today is significant but the damage done in 50 years' time, if we do nothing, will be massive. That is an issue that the Government must deal with.
The price of carbon is another issue to be dealt with. This is a spin-off of having the right price of carbon, which maybe should be between €80 or €100 a tonne, certainly by the end of the decade. In its appraisal, the Government needs to not just put in the €20 per tonne that we have today. It needs to put in a price that reflects the huge damage done to the world by climate change.
The Government has not completed its revision of the appraisal but that would bring more coherence to the national development plan. The Government has said that there is a lot of money available for climate change. However, we want that money spent in the most cost effective way so that we produce the biggest reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for the sum of money that is there. This is a work in progress.
In response to the Senator's final question, I am a bit nervous about putting measures into the Act and then bringing judges in to decide. I keep coming back to the role played by the Oireachtas. I am not an expert in this area and I would not be ideological. Is Ms Burke ideological?
Ms Laura Burke:
I am not ideological in this area. What strikes me, in the context of all of these things, and we had the discussion on transport previously, is that the issue tends to come back to money and costings. We have had recommendations in previous reports on transport moving away from buses in Dublin using diesel because there would be a co-benefit in air quality. There is a leadership piece there as well as the climate piece. If one is given a certain amount of money and one can buy so many buses that use diesel or a lesser number that are electric or hybrid vehicles then it makes decisions much more difficult. I agree with the Senator in the context of actual purchases and projects. One needs to bring in externalities. One also needs to be costing for win-wins but it does come to Department of Finance appraisals.
Professor John FitzGerald:
This is very important in terms of investment. Research done by the ESRI showed that the third level sector - this was done about 15 years ago - that universities had done a reasonable job of trying to improve their energy efficiency but the institutes of technology had done a lousy job. Why? The Department of Education and Skills controlled their budget. They did not have a capital budget and unless they saved the full cost of the energy efficiency investment within the one year they were not allowed to proceed.
Twenty years ago the headmaster of the school that my children attended sent me the school's electricity bill for two years. He had halved the bills because he had found a mechanism for hiding the money from the Department of Education and Skills and used the money to make furniture for the school. Therefore, how we assess the capital budget is really important. The State needs to spend, and has allocated in the NDP, a lot of money but spending money efficiently is essential.
I thank Professor FitzGerald and his colleagues for attending the meeting this morning. It has been a very informative and engaging session. I was struck by the reference to whether we should have a single statutory authority with teeth. Has the council considered proposing a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach to tackling climate change? I am very au faitwith the Healthy Ireland agenda which has taken that exact approach, whereby every Department must have Healthy Ireland policies in place. It goes from the Taoiseach's office across all Departments, through to the local authorities and into the local communities. It then filters out through sports clubs and all sorts of organisations. As it appears to be a good approach, is that something the council has recommended to the Government as part of its advisory role?
I was also thinking about how to get the message out about climate change. I have highlighted the important role Met Éireann has in this, and in its strategic plan it refers to its responsibilities and goals for getting information to the public on climate action. Would the council recommend that Met Éireann play an important role? Some other meteorological services internationally have taken innovative approaches to getting messages to citizens on this issue, be it through animated YouTube videos or through their own broadcasting services for weather reports.
Professor FitzGerald spoke about the fictitious Mrs. Murphy and we can all probably visualise such a Mrs. Murphy. I am familiar with the work the Tipperary Energy Agency does. Is that a model that could be replicated to reach the Mrs. Murphys of the country in respect of linking with the local community through the local authority and so forth?
With regard to forestry, the biggest landowners in the country are Coillte and Bord na Móna in terms of the amount of land that is available in that regard. Would the council recommend that they plant a significant amount of the area they hold with broadleaf trees? That would be a shift for Coillte because although it has some broadleaf it primarily has coniferous plantations. Bord na Móna was mentioned earlier. There is a significant shift in its strategic plans around moving away from peat. Being from County Offaly I am familiar with this and with the challenges that exist in terms of communities transitioning and coping with the massive loss of employment that has already occurred, not to mention what will occur in the future. They are coping but, as others have mentioned, they need help in doing so.
As regards what will replace the peat, there were references earlier to agriculture. Many in the farming community are open to making changes. If there are attractive schemes in place many of them are happy to try them, but the problem arises when they do not work. Miscanthus is an example. Many people in my area and in other areas across the country went along with planting miscanthus only to find that they had no market for it. The company that was to buy it from them suddenly realised that it was not suitable and left all those people, who were happy to make that transition, with a product they could not sell. This was a big issue. Has the council made recommendations on what is suitable biomass? There is not much point in peat-fired stations shifting to biomass if the biomass they will use is not coming from within this island but is being brought in from India or elsewhere. That would be ridiculous. It is not the direction we should take.
I believe anaerobic digestion has been hugely underutilised. However, where there have been proposals to move to anaerobic digestion in some areas, whether it is a farmer who wants to do it for his own use or for the wider community, there are immediate objections to it because people do not understand. This brings me to the original point about communications on this. We have failed massively to communicate with the citizen about what is happening.
I think we have left the door open for climate change deniers to step right in and create all this uncertainty around renewables and so on. That is an absolute disaster, for which we as public representatives and policy makers have to take the blame.
I wish to ask about the reform of the EU emissions trading system, ETS. Professor FitzGerald referred to the doubts about the success of the reform of the ETS and I would like him to expand on that.
Professor John FitzGerald:
We see the evidence that there is no co-ordination of the whole of Government approach. My colleague, Professor Edgar Morgenroth and I had the job of helping to develop the Structural Funds plans for Ireland over a period. That involved co-ordination across Departments. Professor Morgenroth also did the same work for the German Government on the East German plan. He found it very interesting that in Ireland there was no structure for co-ordination but seven or eight people came into the room and it worked very well, whereas in Germany, one had 80 people in the room who had never met each other but they had a structure for doing it. I think we are getting bigger and a structure for co-ordination across Departments will be an issue. The technical research and modelling group, TRAM, does I understand perform this role but we can see evidence that it is not working perfectly. I think the administration needs to do a better job - things that could happen in fact do not happen. I have no great ideas on how to do that.
I will now respond to how we can get the message across. I was watching BBC "Newsnight" a couple of weeks ago when they had a representative from the Met Office and somebody else who for 15 minutes discussed the problem of climate change and how to deal with it. This was informing the wider public on climate change. In Ireland we tend to put on a television discussion programme with a representative who is a denier of and somebody who acknowledges climate change rather than a programme that explains the issues to people.
In a newspaper article in The Guardianlast Friday, the head of the BBC talked about the need to look at the model of balance, and that balance is provided by two people fighting, when climate science has the answer. There is no doubt about that. How we communicate the message is the issue. The expertise in Met Éireann is very important. We need all the help we can get in communicating the message.
The experience in Tipperary was raised. I talked to somebody last week who had a big job done on his house and had a great experience with an agency in Tipperary. A model that works is where the system is rolled out following experiment. The system in Tipperary works because there are good people involved. One needs good people elsewhere so one cannot suddenly go global. Let us build on the good examples we have.
There was a suggestion that Bord na Móna would plant broadleaf trees. When I walk the mountains I find the spruce plantations boring and would prefer to see more variety but that is not an environmental assessment. Bogland is a big issue in terms of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, but I am told and I have read it in the Financial Times that the British are considering re-wetting the wetlands. The answer may be not to plant trees but to wet the wetlands again. I do not know. This is a scientific issue. We need to do work on how we can make best use of this resource. A best use that provides alternative employment would be a win-win.
The EU has implemented a major reform of the emissions trading system, EMS. It is highly constrained because of the Polish Government and to a lesser extent the German Government obstructing progress in this area. Poland has significant coal mines and the coal miners have a similar view to President Trump on coal. Basically the EU proposes to take permits away which hopefully will raise the price of coal. The research done by our Danish colleagues suggests that it will not produce a decent price for carbon, although it is €20 a tonne today, which is a significant rise with the prospect of this reform. Also Thomson Reuters at a conference in UCC reached a similar conclusion that this would not do enough. Our concern is that we, the Climate Change Advisory Council are recommending that we electrify transport and we electrify heating as the solution but if we do not have in place a system across Europe, an ETS which will decarbonise electricity, we will have locked into the wrong answer.
We are very concerned about it. As a backstop we are recommending a carbon price floor for as many countries as will adopt it, which is a backstop because if the ETS works, it becomes irrelevant. If the ETS price goes to €80 a tonne by 2030, then the ETS will have worked and it becomes irrelevant. The research I have seen suggests that it will be under €30 a tonne, which will be way too low. In that case coal will not close in Europe, Moneypoint will not close and we may be importing electricity produced with coal.
We do not know for certain but it looks as is the EU trading system reform will not be enough and we need a backstop which will guarantee to us that we will decarbonise electricity in Europe over the next 20 to 30 years. The research we have done suggests that a coalition of France, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain would make a substantial difference. One would see Moneypoint and peat close by at least 2025. That would reduce our emissions by more 5 million tonnes. One twelfth of our emissions would disappear because of that. That is our best recommendation.
Deputy Deering mentioned the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine report, entitled Climate Change and Sustainability in the Agriculture and Food Sectors. Has the council examined that report to see if the recommendations are something it would put to Government in terms of the council's advisory role? Ms Burke also mentioned about emissions rising. Does she have a breakdown of those? She was answering a question on whether it was carbon, methane or whatever.
On making progress in the electrification of our motor vehicles, if I decide to change my car in the morning and want to buy an electric vehicle, I have to ask, living as I do in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains is, how I am going to get to the Dáil in an electric vehicle. If I do get here, can I plug in the car outside in the car park? No, I cannot. If I am going to Tullamore to a county council meeting, can I plug it in over there? I do not know if I can or not, but I probably cannot.
This comes back to the cross-departmental approach. Whether it is new builds, existing buildings being retrofitted or public buildings, surely it must be part of building regulations that they would all have electric car chargers. Is that something that the Climate Change Advisory Council has recommended to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government? I am not sure I am seeing them in new builds. Whether these are in towns or housing estates or private developer estates, surely there must be standards in place. If we do not lead by example in public buildings, how can we expect the citizen to follow? Is that something the witnesses feel is important too?
Professor John FitzGerald:
On that last point, I am concerned that the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport has not come up with a plan, but it needs a cross-governmental approach. The ESB has been deploying the charging points infrastructure, and it is regulated by the regulator which is under the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. If we are dealing with houses, it is the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. We need a plan.
I was talking to somebody who has an electric car and is leading by example. He was going north and he ran out of juice halfway to Northern Ireland. One charging point in the lay-by was not working. He had to turn around and go back towards Dublin to the one charging point on the other side of the road, wait for it, and then do another loop to get back.
I looked at this issue and said that I would like to buy an electric car, but not unless it could get me to Kilcrohane in one charge, which is my test, and it could not. I therefore bought a hybrid. We need to deploy the infrastructure well in advance. For people to adopt electric cars, they must know that when the range is there, it is going to work for them.
We have not seen that plan, which is one of the things we need. We are going to tackle transport over the coming year. The council has not expressed a detailed decision on this. I anticipate that it will say what the Deputy is saying.
Ms Laura Burke:
I want to comment on a couple of things. I do not have the figures off the top of my head to answer the question that was asked about carbon dioxide and methane. We will send those figures to the committee. I do not want to lead the committee astray. I know we have the figures. I cannot remember how they break down.
I agree with what the Deputy said about public buildings. The EPA is in the midst of ensuring there will be a small number of charging points in each of its buildings by the end of the year. We will then look at rolling out those facilities. I recognise that we need to lead by example.
I would like to speak about how we communicate. The EPA provides the secretariat to the national dialogue on climate action, which has just commenced. This links in with one of the ancillary recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, which relates to engaging people on the challenges of climate change, including in a positive way. We need to try to motivate changes in behaviour. We are looking to create structures at local, regional and national levels to support the generation of bottom-up ideas, as well as their transition into actions. Our first meeting in Athlone in July was attended by 125 people and had 75 participants from nine counties. They were self-selecting. We went through the public participatory networks of the councils and the local community professional bodies. It is sometimes the case that the same groups of people who all know the issues talk to one another. It is interesting that at the end of the meeting in Athlone, 70% of the participants felt that they had a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities. I remind the committee that I am talking about a self-selecting group. Some 70% of participants felt at the end of the meeting that they were more aware of the climate action initiatives that are happening in their region. Some 90% of participants felt more inspired to take action. It was great that 90% of them felt that they had a better understanding of the purpose of the dialogue. Some 92% of them felt that the regional gathering enabled them to express their hopes, concerns and ideas. I wanted to mention in the context of our discussion on communication and engagement that after one day, this group felt positively disposed to take action on the issue. There will be four more dialogues across the country between now and early 2019.
I have two more questions. Many different views on these issues are expressed when conversations take place around the dinner table. We are a small island nation. If the waters around us rise, our cities will be flooded. Pretty soon after that, the water will come flowing up the River Shannon and out into the tributaries and we will all be underwater. As Ireland has a population of just 6 million, we can only make certain changes. As an island nation, we will be dreadfully affected by rising sea levels. As a small nation, how should we communicate with bigger emitters, such as Russia and the USA, that are resisting efforts to accept that climate change is happening? Should we use our massive diaspora to speak for us? When I was talking to somebody about this issue the other day, that person said that Ireland is small and asked who would listen to us. We have a massive diaspora. Should we consider reaching out to the members of our diaspora to ask them to make the point that Ireland is a small country that will be significantly affected by this matter? Some other island nations are already underwater. This could happen to Ireland. It might not happen in my generation, but it could certainly happen in the future, perhaps in my daughter's generation or my granddaughter's generation. Is this something that the witnesses have looked at? How can Ireland as a small nation go out there and make its point?
My other question relates to the work being done in the area of sustainability by local projects like Cloughjordan ecovillage in north Tipperary. The district heating system in Cloughjordan is working very well. It is a fantastic model for sustainability. Local communities need to rely on and support one another to deal with the challenges we are facing.
Professor John FitzGerald:
As we seek to communicate with the outside world, the EU is a big and hugely important voice.
The point raised on the diaspora is of interest. We do not have a large diaspora in Russia or Saudi Arabia to make a difference and I am unsure that our diaspora in the United States, many of whom I suspect voted for President Trump, would offer support. Australia should also be considered. It is an interesting idea in terms of how we communicate. Climate justice is what happens in Africa, where we have a significant development aid programme and may be able to bring technology to bear. While I was working in Vietnam two years ago, I developed a model on the environmental impact on the economy for the Vietnamese institute with which I was working and which held a conference on adaptation. Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and it had done some very impressive things which have yet to be done in Ireland. Interestingly, the President was there during my stay and attended the signing of a major contract by an Irish company to develop wind energy. There are ways in which we can impact on and make a difference in the wider world.
I ask the Deputy to remind me of her final point.
In terms of the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, its looking at models such as Cloughjordan in tandem with the committee would be fantastic because that is one of several ecovillages across the globe and has won international awards and, therefore, has a lot of learning to bring to this discussion.
I realise I am the last contributor so I will try to be as brief as possible. Many of the issues have been covered.
I will begin on agricultural issues. There has been discussion of forestry and its potential impact, in particular on rural communities in certain parts of the country. The Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Pat Deering, stated that if every farmer was to plant 50 or 80 trees on his or her land it would be a very significant contribution. A solution such as that would spread the load far more effectively than whole communities being affected by significant afforestation in their areas. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, mentioned that possibility in an article published in the Irish Examinerin August. It is one of the things we should be progressing and looking at as a possible solution to the issue of forestry.
Ms Buckley mentioned the issue of digesters, which is of particular importance in light of the growth of the dairy herd and the current issues with excess manure. How that organic waste is used is a key issue that must be considered and incentivised. International models and smart farming must be taken into account. Wind and solar energy contribute to the operation of milk processing plants on dairy farms in countries such as Italy and Germany. We must utilise a combination of energy generation from solar, wind and anaerobic digestion. If the digestion model is to work in Ireland, in particular in regard to the dairy herd, crops must play a significant role as they provide the ability to finance it and to tie farmers together in the project.
We need to think outside the box on the issue of organic farming, which would be of benefit to the current water shortage issues. I am sure Ms Buckley will inform the committee of the position regarding water quality and supply. We are probably at a tipping point in many ways. A significant organic farming programme would help in many respects and should be one of the issues which the council is considering and driving forward.
On communication, one of the questions that many farmers have is how the global population increase of approximately 2 billion between now and 2050 will be catered for if the amount of land used to produce food is to be reduced. That is a significant issue. Ireland currently has a largely GM-free policy of which we are quite proud. Such crops are not grown here to the level that they are in certain other countries. Is it now proposed that GM products will form part of the solution to the world food issue?
It is an issue about which many people have a view. If one reduces the quantity of land used to produce the food, then one needs also look at the GM issue, which brings its own questions. This will present a conflict for many farmers.
With regard to the decarbonisation proposal, if Ireland had a large carbon tax, do the witnesses believe there is a possibility of nuclear power becoming part of the solution? Is nuclear power a solution to the issue, if the carbon tax was a part of that? How would it fit into the cycle itself? Perhaps the Professor FitzGerald could comment on that.
On the electric car, during the summer I drove from Cork to Dublin in an electric car. There was one charging point midway in Portlaoise where we stopped, and we made it quite comfortably. It worked out very well. The technology is there and the incentives are quite large with €5,000 off vehicle registration tax and with low motor tax rates. The issue, however, is with the infrastructure itself. If the infrastructure was there tomorrow morning, the uptake of electric cars would be significant. Already, the uptake from one year to the next is more than 250%. I am aware this is based on small numbers, but that is the actual percentage. This will be a key issue for the main provider, the ESB Networks, which provides the 1,000 charging points currently. That is the delivery mechanism we need in order to get more electric cars. We have the incentives, and people know they are there. People want the technology. I know people are very interested in the technology. The battery life power is there to make the journeys but without the infrastructure one would be looking around for a charging point or waiting for it to happen. Infrastructure is the area in which debate needs to happen.
I will move on to my last point as the Chairman is looking at me.
Where does incineration fit into the entire model of decarbonisation? Are we proposing that incineration be part of that model? Are we looking at that as a progressive model we can use to generate energy for the grid or are we of the view that we should shy away from incineration due to environmental issues?
Professor John FitzGerald:
Quite a number of the Senator's points make me think about whether the Senator would like to join our council. On planting trees, very interesting research has been done by a company that owns a large farm, which it has mapped using light detection and ranging sensing technology, LiDAR. This helps to measure the amount of carbon that is fixed each year in the hedgerows. This could be an idea rather than planting everywhere with forest. Last weekend I walked around a part of rural Oxfordshire and while the countryside is not quite as attractive as Ireland's I noted that the mixture was good. It is an interesting idea. I do not have the expertise on it but certainly it should be pursued. We do not really deal with water, but as a result of the mapping, that same company could see where the run-off was from fields into the local river. The company experimented with planting hazel where the water ran underground to see if the leaching into the river of undesirable nutrients could be stopped. Research in the agriculture area is really important and is something that Ireland is doing well.
I will now turn to the issue of reducing land area and food production. We need food. Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy referred to importing biomass product. It seems to be mad, for example, to wipe out the growing of grain in the US to grow maize to make ethanol. This does not seem to be a sensible environmental solution.
Reference was made to nuclear power. When he was the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said that he was happy to have an open discussion on nuclear, knowing what the answer would be. Economically, it is not on. I have done research. First of all, nuclear power stations come in too large a capacity of 1,000 MW. For Ireland they have got to be around 400 MW. Unless one could buy a used Russian nuclear submarine and stick it in Dublin Bay, nuclear power stations would not be an option. The cost overruns in France and Finland are bloody massive. I have no ideological view on this but we are not going to see nuclear power stations in Ireland in the foreseeable future.
On the issue of electric car infrastructure I was interested to hear the Senator's example of getting from Cork to Dublin. It is about getting the infrastructure right. We would like to see, as would the members, the Department rolling out a plan that brings together all the agents involved.
I have not thought about incineration. I will leave Ms Burke with the difficult question.
Ms Laura Burke:
Nuclear, genetic modification, GM, and incineration are an interesting combination. I am conscious of the EPA's role as regulator in the context of the use of GMs under their various classes, whether in medical usage or in terms of the potential for growth. Ultimately, it is a policy decision that the Oireachtas and the Government need to make. We always say incineration is lower on the chain. Reducing, reusing and recycling come first, then we look at incineration with energy recovery and, finally, landfill. I am moving away from climate now but it is related in a way. Over the past number of years, there has been a reduction in capacity to deal with Irish waste in Ireland. Waste is being exported to other countries, where it is used for energy recovery in many instances. That does not make sense either. Whether it is waste or climate, we need to have a mature discussion overall about what we do with what is generated. The EPA is the regulator so we deal with each individual application in front of us in its own right.
I would like to touch on water and highlight that there are no simple issues here. Everything is interconnected - air quality and climate, too - for good or ill. The promotion of diesel happened throughout Europe, which impacted on air quality, although it was good from a climate perspective. If not dealt with properly, biomass has the potential to impact on air quality. Using electric cars is the opposite; they have a positive impact on air quality. Water is also connected; none of the environmental issues is isolated in its own box. With regard to growing trees and afforestation, the right trees need to be planted in the right place, otherwise there could be a negative impact on water quality. It is the same with agriculture and so on. Everything is interconnected. What we have seen overall with regard to water quality is that the worst of the badly polluted waterways have gone but we are also losing the best of the best. We are losing the pristine water quality areas and rivers and that is something we need to watch in all of this. This is probably best left for a separate discussion on water, which we should have at some stage.
Mr. Phillip O'Brien:
I want to come back in on the planting of trees at farm scale. There are some tools out there such as the carbon navigator that is available as an advisory tool to farmers on management of carbon at the farm scale. I do not know what Senator Lombard had in mind in terms of planting 80 or so trees, whether it would be as a commercial enterprise or just an element of offsetting the carbon or other emissions on a farm. It would not be enough but it would certainly be a contribution. The navigator is an important tool for creating awareness of the other dimensions of carbon such as soil, hedgerows and the other elements of biomass within the farm. It also addresses elements like nutrient management, which have a knock-on for N2O emissions as well. It is not just the fertiliser but the animals themselves with their waste and methane as well. It creates a more holistic appreciation of the entire farm and I suppose efficiencies come into it as well.
The Tipperary Energy Agency was mentioned. It may have written to the committee suggesting a visit to look at some of the work it is doing on deep retrofit. What was said here is true and that it is a good example. Perhaps that is something we should consider.
If the EPA is not the right body to answer this question, the witnesses might know whom I should ask. Who would tell us whether the targets we have set ourselves in the White Paper and the mitigation papers for an 80% reduction by 2050 are ambitious enough? My understanding is that those levels of ambition were set prior to the Paris Agreement. Whose job is it to reassess whether they are ambitious enough and if we are likely to have a higher target? Has anyone in the State done that research and could it be provided to us?
Professor John FitzGerald:
I am concerned that the EU has set us a target for 2030. Is that the most cost-efficient target or should we have a tougher target for ourselves?
The only available technology is at University College Cork. I am very anxious to have that work done. A report on how global temperatures will increase by 1.5° Celsius will be published next month.
In advance of officials from the Department coming in, it would be good to have written information from it following on from what we have discussed this morning. The officials in question are scheduled to appear in early course. It is remarkable that the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council is saying that it cannot get access to the modelling. The committee must also have access to that information and, as Professor FitzGerald said, we must to show our teeth. We should insist that the Department provide the information in question in advance of the officials coming before the committee to inform its work.
I support Deputy Eamon Ryan and his proposal to consider the invitation to visit the Tipperary Energy Agency. If members agree, we could also add a visit to Cloughjordan Ecovillage, which, in geographic terms, is close by.
That is a good idea. We will write to the Department seeking information about the modelling.
On behalf of the committee, I thank Professor John FitzGerald, Phillip O'Brien and Laura Burke for their excellent engagement with us today. We will suspend proceedings until 1.45 p.m., when we will take evidence from the environmental pillar.