Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 13 January 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Carbon Budgets: Discussion (Resumed)
I have received apologies from Deputy Bruton, who will not be present for the earlier part of the meeting. He hopes to join us later. I have also received apologies from Senator McGahon.
From the National Economic and Social Council, I welcome Ms Niamh Garvey, senior policy analyst, and Dr. Jeanne Moore, policy analyst. I thank them for attending.
As I said yesterday, the purpose of this series of meetings is to consider the carbon budgets. This is the third meeting in the series. We have one further meeting next Tuesday. Our first session to day is scheduled to last for one hour, after which time we will suspend for a couple of minutes to allow the witnesses to withdraw and new witnesses to join us.
I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name, or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that may be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If a witness's statement is potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction. For witnesses who are attending remotely from outside of the Leinster House campus, there are limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present on the campus does.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges again a person outside of the Houses, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also remind members that they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex. I ask all members to confirm, prior to making their contributions, that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.
I invite Ms Garvey to make her opening statement.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
We are grateful to the Chair and members of the committee for the invitation to attend this afternoon.
I will focus on areas where NESC has recently engaged in research and has published reports, notably on the just transition approach. These are relevant for the committee's request to explore where there is a need for special measures to help those less well placed to make the transition and the types of policy tools needed to deliver the ambition.
NESC has undertaken significant work on just transition in recent years. Under the climate action plan, NESC has been requested to continue to provide strategic advice, research and analytical support in respect of just transition. The council believes that the just transition approach on climate action is essential. As identified in the climate action plan 2021, NESC defines just transition as one which seeks to ensure transition is fair, equitable and inclusive in terms of processes and outcomes. Just transition refers to both the broader policy framework of climate action and supports, and the process of ensuring that individuals and communities have a voice and a role in informing and shaping these supports.
The council's research reveals that we can expect the transitions in Ireland to be time-consuming. While there is no single blueprint, two key elements are highlighted here. First, we need to identify both the risks and opportunities to employment from transition. Vulnerable sectors and vulnerable job roles are also coupled with new job and enterprise opportunities. Further work is required to scope out the outcomes and processes appropriate for impacted individuals and communities in key sectors such as agriculture and food, transport and parts of industry. Ireland is not alone in needing further research on the social and employment implications of climate policies. Second, we need to adopt a proactive, managed and participatory approach to transition at national, regional and local levels.
NESC's work on wind energy identified the importance of an intentional, problem-solving, State-wide process to underpin transition. Collaborative top-down as well as bottom-up action are both required as transition initiatives rely on a wide range of actions in order to be delivered. As part of this, participatory social dialogue is effective for fostering trust and for adopting a collaborative approach. NESC research is exploring transitions facing rural areas in Ireland using a place-based approach to enhancing sustainable rural development and identifying achievable and acceptable pathways. Dr. Niamh Moore Cherry and colleagues argue that collaborative engagement and support for community-led initiatives can aid successful transition.
Other NESC work on the Covid-19 pandemic has noted the importance of co-design evident in Ireland's Community Call response and the capacity of communities to harness local resources and to use them in new ways helps to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Just transition forms a substantive part of the climate action plan. New structures and processes are under development to develop just transition policies and practices, such as, the just transition commission, and a research and policy working group. Other policy areas also focus on just transition, including the rural development policy, Our Rural Future. There is merit in considering how this approach can be applied to other sectors and policy areas.
NESC report No. 149, Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland, identifies employment in the agrifood sector as one of the areas that could be impacted from a low-carbon transition. The Government has requested NESC to undertake research on climate and agriculture in 2022. A new project will explore how climate targets and the transition they imply for Irish agriculture can be achieved in a manner that considers social equity and inclusion, environmental resilience and economic well-being.
Work will focus on, first, understanding how climate action and transition are understood within the sector, focusing on both the opportunities and the concerns, including from an economic, environmental and social perspective. Second, it will examine the options, alternatives and costs in supporting ambitious climate action, mapping existing innovative approaches and situating action within a broader rural development perspective. For example, climate action resources such as retrofit or renewable energy supports could be a catalyst for rural communities. Third, the work will assess the strengths and weaknesses of possible policy levers to support climate action and transition, including, for example, the role of advisory services, market requirements and economic instruments. The project will be overseen by a NESC working group and it will engage collaboratively with a wide variety of stakeholders. It is due for completion in March 2023.
Carbon budgets require reductions in emissions which will inevitably mean that certain activities and sectors will be impacted more than others. The focus of working just transition is how to ensure that those individuals, communities or areas more disproportionately impacted by such policy decisions can be identified earlier and better supported so that nobody is left behind. While just transition is in the early stages of policy and practice in Ireland, there is a firm commitment to develop it. No single policy instrument or measure can be applied and it will be important to consider the specific context for each sector, its workers and communities. NESC's work points to the value of early, inclusive engagement with those potentially impacted by decarbonisation. The council's latest projects, which I have just described, will seek to engage widely to further understand what a just transition approach can bring to agriculture.
I thank Ms Garvey for her statement. As this session will only last for one hour, I propose that each member be given two minutes to ask the questions. It would be helpful for them to specify the witness to which the questions are addressed. Are we agreed on the two minutes? Agreed.
I thank Ms Garvey for her presentation and for all the work NESC has done on just transition. A considerable amount of research documentation has been produced. It is very useful to have that available. During the development of the climate legislation, some members of the committee expressed concern that the principles of just transition and the definition just transition were not incorporated into it. Is NESC concerned that no concrete definition is available for policymakers, politicians or even people in the community to fully grasp what it means.
Does NESC see its work reflected in the policies and decisions that are being made currently? I understand that we do not even have a just transition commissioner. Kieran Mulvey was the previous commissioner and his term ended in December. His remit only covered the midlands; we do not have a national commissioner at the moment. The Government proposes to have the Bill to start the process in this regard by the end of the year, which means there will be quite a gap. Is it problematic that we do not have a just transition commissioner and commission in place at the moment? There is a risk that we are moving quicker towards emissions reductions without having the just transition framework and mechanisms in place, leading to the risk of people being potentially left behind. I am not sure who is best placed to answer that.
I wish to point out that this session is about carbon budgets. If the witnesses want to draw a line between the just transition commissioner and carbon budgets, that is fine. I do not want them to be put on the spot to answer questions that do not relate to the subject of the session. I will leave it up to the witnesses.
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
As I am a policy analyst with NESC and have been involved in the just transition, climate and sustainable development work, I am happy to answer that. It is important to recognise that just transition permeates national policy, even the rural development policy. It is permeating throughout Irish approaches to climate action now. There are two chapters in this regard in the climate action plan. There are still a number of areas that are in development - the Deputy mentioned the commission - as outlined in the plan.
We look forward to hearing more about the details of that. It will include a policy on research that will be focused within the Department to monitor and feed back learning from just transition practices into policy. These are very welcome initiatives and will take time to develop. While I agree with the Deputy, it is great to see that in there and that just transition is a strong part of the climate action plan. It is important to acknowledge that there is progress.
It is valuable to think of just transition in the current discussion. I welcome that the committee is widening this discussion by inviting some of NESC's council members to attend. The process part of just transition is the piece that is often not given enough attention. We are very much aware of the focus on leaving no one behind in the outcome but the process of meaningful engagement can take place at a national, regional, local or sectoral level, as our work on agriculture will demonstrate. It is important that the process the committee is engaged in is part of a just transition, in the questions it is asking and in the way the process is being framed. In Scotland, the just transition commission ended up going back to government. The Scottish Government recently thanked the commission for its questions and said it was going to take a particular approach. This very much acknowledges that co-design and collaborative solutions at a granular level lead to direct action.
For example, when talking about sectors and working with key sectors now, trying to embed a just transition approach all the way down into those sectors is perhaps a very good way to think about it. It is not only a matter for national level legislation and policy structures but a question of how it is embedded at a granular level and also at a community and place-based level. How can we understand local communities and use just transition as a way of engaging participative, collaborative solutions? This came up at yesterday's meeting with the idea of citizens’ assemblies and really engaging with the local communities. Just transition can be embedded and used in that way to come up with new solutions. That is my brief answer to the Deputy's question. Ms Garvey may wish to add to that but I will be happy to contribute more on this issue.
I thank the Chairman and witnesses for their presentation and written submission. I will address a similar theme. One of the points that came up in a number of the contributions we heard from academic experts yesterday, the subgroup of the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, on Tuesday, and the witnesses today is the potential social impact of the developed models. There is a weakness with every model. I ask the witnesses to assess the potential social impact of change, the gaps in information and the type of work we need to do to fill those gaps. I also ask them to comment on the issue of bringing communities with us. They mentioned participatory research, which may be the way to go, but my question is on scaling that up. We are obviously in a rush here. Time is of the essence and we are hearing we need to act very quickly. Is there time for continuous pilot studies or do we need to scale this up? If that can be done, what will it look like?
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
I thank the Deputy for his question. It is very important to think about the social implications. A just transition approach means embracing change. I was listening in to yesterday's discussion. It is fascinating to get a sense of the scale of change and transformation and how we begin to engage with that on a wider societal basis and have those conversations. My personal view is that we are only at the beginning of that.
There are gaps in our understanding and plenty of interesting research projects such as the Dingle project Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir spoke about, which is monitoring the kinds of interventions that can take place when one brings together the ESB, University College Cork, UCC, local farmers and so on. There are some very interesting and innovative projects under way. We need to be more systematic in how we research and develop understandings of what works. There is a considerable amount of engagement outlined in the climate action plan that is being planned on climate dialogue. That, too, is very welcome because having those kind of conversations is at the heart of a just transition. As I said, we are just at the beginning of that.
The work we have commissioned from Professor Niamh Moore-Cherry and her colleagues in UCD will be very useful because it takes a number of different case studies in particular communities and uses a just transition and place-based approach to try to explore with those communities what the main issues and opportunities they see with climate action are. The results of that work, which will be published in the next few months, will be very valuable in giving an insight into how that can be used for policy and can frame rural development as well as climate action policy.
There are a number of initiatives taking place. I will mention also the work I have just finished on the shared island initiative where we looked at climate biodiversity from a shared island perspective. We did an enormous amount of consultation on that. One of the key themes that came out of that was the need for an integrated climate and biodiversity approach. There was a tremendously positive appetite for communities to very much engage and think about how that vision could be delivered on an all-island basis. There are many things out there that may need to be brought together and more systematically understood and researched.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
I thank Deputy O’Rourke for his very interesting question. Thinking forward to the new project that NESC will be engaged in, which will examine the area of just transition for agriculture, we will be looking at this across the economic, environmental as well as the social impacts. There are a whole range of transition options or measures that will be available in the area of agriculture. Some of these will have different economic impacts or co-benefits in different areas of environmental resilience. The social one is absolutely key. We already know from many of the measures, for example, in the Teagasc MACC - marginal abatement cost curve - that certain measures are perhaps more socially acceptable. Behaviour change is a very big part of what needs to be supported and encouraged, for instance, understanding the perspectives of farmers as regards the perceived acceptability of the different measures.
Forestry came up in the discussions in the past two days. Some of the barriers around afforestation have arisen for a range of reasons. However, we also know that there are cultural and social acceptability aspects that will be very important to tease out with rural and farming communities in understanding those social elements as part of a just transition in agriculture.
I thank the witnesses. The research NESC has done has been very interesting. I hope we can have a deep conversation on just transition at some point with the council because the issue is of interest to the whole committee.
The witnesses will have heard yesterday's discussion when the scientific case for early action was made very strongly, as was the economic case in that the State can currently access financing in a way that we have no guarantee we will be able to do in five years’ time. Loans are available at zero interest and the State has a healthy level of revenue. We can use the economic opportunity this presents to take early action. This brings us to the idea of just transition. Will the witnesses comment on the fast and fair aspect of just transition? Sometimes just transition can be used as an argument for delaying changes to the status quowhen in fact it is a matter of speeding up transformative and proactive action, including in new sectors, of which agriculture is a very interesting example.
We will hear later that the economic model in farming is not viable for two thirds of farmers. Perhaps we could fast-track a new environmentally sustainable model.
I believe the territorial plan for just transition will go in next year. If we want to achieve our carbon budgets is it important that we do not just rely on whatever funding comes from Europe through the territorial plan but that we go outside these territories and funding to front-load expenditure on just transition for communities in the wider sense? There have been a lot of great just transition community pilots, particularly in Donegal and Phibsborough. We could scale up in order that all communities are empowered to take the lead on opportunities and not just those in the territorial plan who are negatively impacted immediately. Will the witnesses comment on sectors where it is not necessarily about a just transition but about economic supports and subsidies? We hear that we may need to end or redirect fossil fuel subsidies, which of course will have an impact on sectors. How do we find ameliorating subsidies? If we end our derogation on the nitrates directive, and it looks like we may need to do so to achieve early targets, how do we redirect it? What additional subsidies would be possible? I would like the witnesses to comment not only on the long-term vision but also the emergency measures we may need over the next five years. The substantial investments that will bring the big changes may not arrive before we need to stop doing the negative things. I would also like witnesses to comment on how important marine protection areas are to the sustainability of bringing in wind energy.
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
There are many areas we could discuss. NESC has not done particular work on the specific economic stimulus. The work we did on employment vulnerability recognised that delivering high-impact targeted funding for the transition was very important but only with regard to building resilient enterprises and continuous pre-emptive workforce development. The type of anticipatory planning approach the State takes is very important with regard to the overall economic, social and environmental aspects of transition. The report looked at that digital and low carbon transitions and within that, this was very evident. I agree these measures are very important.
I also agree with the Senator that a just transition is not a slow transition but it is an inclusive and participatory one. There is an urgency and the science was laid out very plainly at yesterday's committee meeting. Sometimes there is a discussion between the "how much" and the "how to". The NESC secretariat paper of 2012 really identified that it only makes so much sense to talk about by how much to reduce it when you actually engage on how to do so. We have to proceed quickly but we have to do so in a way that is inclusive and participatory, that is resourced and targeted in a way that focuses on those vulnerable factors and does so in a way that is collaborative. NESC is increasingly interested in the co-design element of policy whereby you bring people along by involving them in the discussion and this takes some of the weight off finding solutions. The solutions are often there in communities with the right questions and evidence. This is what a collaborative approach is.
The Senator mentioned the midlands and the territorial plan. It will be really interesting to see how the funding is delivered and evaluated. It will be useful to do focused research on the projects already being funded through the just transition fund and learning what kind of measures involving enterprises and communities are being funded. How can we take lessons from this on what seems to work well and helps to shift the broader just transition focus with regard to job creation, empowerment and the skill development these communities badly need? We can learn but we learn by doing. If we start doing we will learn. This iterative approach of feeding it in is the NESC approach.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
I thank Senator Higgins for another great question. She is right that the scientific case made for early action at the committee meetings this week was powerful. There is also an economic case for early action. In many areas of transition we see huge opportunities for win-wins or triple economic, environmental and social wins. The positives of transition that I mentioned are a very important part of the approach, without underestimating the significant challenges that are also involved.
I want to reinforce Dr. Moore's point on the fast and slow dimensions of just transition and participatory approaches. We saw clearly from the likes of the Citizens' Assembly that citizens provided with the right data and analysis who are facilitated to have a solutions focus can move relatively quickly to high degrees of consensus on potential solutions and potential ways forward. I want to challenge the idea of a just transition necessarily being slow. With regard to areas of economic support we are only in the very early stages of the work on agriculture. We will certainly be looking across a range of policy levers that are potentially supportive. There has been CAP reform and there already are significant changes there to strengthen the environmental element of CAP supports. It is important to acknowledge this.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. The submission states that we need to focus on how climate action on transition is understood in the sector. The submission also states that we require early policy and practice in Ireland. We have to get in there early and be inclusive and engage with those potentially impacted by decarbonisation.
If I may, I want to ask questions about the one serious litmus test the State has faced on this, namely, the Bord na Móna workers who had to decarbonise and were made redundant. Normal redundancy is because a business has gone down but here, the State correctly took the policy to shut down peat production to enable us to deal with the climate chaos we are facing. This has been a good thing but I do not believe the experience of just transition has been a good thing for Bord na Móna workers. I say this because I met many of them and I attended some Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, seminars held in the midlands to discuss this issue.
Perhaps the witnesses have looked at this and if so, I would like them to comment. If not, perhaps they will comment on what I am about to say. Although there were early discussions with the Bord na Móna workers, they certainly were not collaborative. There was a lot of resistance from Bord na Móna management to allow certain sections of workers to apply for the redundancy. There was resistance to firming down their pension scheme. The alternative jobs they were offered were often at the minimum wage without trade union membership or pension rights enshrined. To me this is anything but a just transition for workers. Workers are not separate to communities. They are the communities, particularly in the areas where Bord na Móna was producing peat in midland towns. In larger and smaller towns this is what kept the communities going. There is a bitter taste in their mouths about how they were treated. I do not know whether the witnesses know much about it but if this is an early intervention, then we failed at the first hurdle. What can we learn from this and how can we get a better collaborative approach from all parties involved in future?
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
I will answer this, given that I worked on the project.
I thank Deputy Smith. I think the midlands and Bord na Móna workers is a very sensitive issue. At the time we were doing the employment vulnerability work, it was very much a live issue. While we can in our work draw on some insights from the case studies that Sinéad Mercier did internationally, and we looked at the midlands as part of our own work, in terms of trying to see the practices and principles of just transition and how we can see them in evidence, we were not really in a position, nor would it have been appropriate at the time, for NESC to get involved in Bord na Móna specifically, but even now, we can see the funding being directed. There would be great value in research looking at the midlands to see how things have progressed for the workers impacted and for the broader enterprise and community groups in the area, and to see how the funding is being spent in terms of what really makes a difference in a community and how we can learn what best practice is.
As the Deputy said, in a region impacted, it is often a very time-sensitive issue whereby a state that can get involved early enough can anticipate it. We have examples from Spain and other areas in Germany were there was a very intensive regional focus, often with a steering group involved and quite large amounts of money invested in that region. It can take years for some of those impacts to really be felt, however. There is, therefore, a tension between directly supporting workers impacted and then the development of a region towards a low-carbon alternative solution. That can take a much longer period.
Some of these issues are experienced across Europe. There is a platform for coal-intensive industries in regions that are trying to look at some of these core underpinnings. I do not think Ireland has all the answers, but I believe it is a valuable exercise for Ireland to look at the midlands and perhaps draw out some of that learning for the next sector that is impacted.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
As Dr. Moore highlighted, she was much more involved in that project. I take the Deputy's points. Dr. Moore has responded well in terms of perhaps the need for further learning.
The Deputy asked a question around the understanding aspect of the agriculture piece going forward. To elaborate on that a tiny bit, it is looking at how the issue is framed and understood in its complexity with the perspective of both those opportunities and concerns such that they can be facilitated to be part of the vision going forward for transition in those areas. That was just to explain the understanding part. I understand the Deputy's question may have been more about the new transition switch, to which Dr. Moore has just responded.
I thank Dr. Moore and Ms Garvey for their attendance today and for their opening statement.
I will touch on the opening statement and the National Economic and Social Council's obligations under the climate action plan. Ms Garvey mentioned NESC's role in that plan and that it has been requested to continue to provide strategic advice, research and analytical support for a just transition. It is on that basis that my first question is formed. It is to elaborate on the research and analytical support NESC has already conducted over the past year or so. The witnesses might elaborate a little bit on that for the committee to outline what they have uncovered and what their advice is with regard to just transition. I note their definition of a just transition is "one which seeks to ensure transition is fair, equitable and inclusive in terms of processes and outcomes". The difficulty, however, is what we have all heard to date about that just transition and, indeed, the supports that are in place for people who might need them.
My second question is about one of the key elements the witnesses pointed out in their opening statement. I refer to the second key point about the need to "adopt a proactive, managed and participatory approach to transition at national, regional and local levels". On that, obviously, there is agriculture and we accept and are aware of that. Have the witnesses delved into research on a sectoral basis and, say, gender and age cohorts? If so, they might share that with the committee.
I can see that just transition impacts on all different strands, spheres, individuals and communities, and while agriculture is the obvious one in the room today, we all know there will need to be transitions of many different sectors of different types. The witnesses might elaborate on that, please. Again, I thank them very much for all their work and for their participation today.
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
I might start with that and hand over to Ms Garvey in a moment. I thank the Deputy for his question.
To give the Deputy a flavour, in 2012, the NESC secretariat was asked to look at climate policy. We then did a very interesting project on wind energy and community engagement. Out of that came that sense of a participative transition, and we looked at other countries such as Germany and Scotland that are very much trying to understand transition. Out of that, we started to focus on just transition. We were asked to do that report on employment vulnerability with the council, which took over a year. As part of that, we did a number of background papers. I did one on approaches to transition, which looked at international evidence. I mentioned Sinéad Mercier's case study reports. We looked at modelling as well as part of that.
Since then, what we have been doing is trying to offer informal advice to the system. For example, I was on a working group that advised the Department on the just transition aspect of the climate action plan. We then put forward a number of actions we felt might help progress the work, particularly on agriculture. That is the broad range of work we have done. We have not done any specific work on age or gender on other sectors. We have identified agriculture as the next one that warrants that work. We look forward to seeing what other advice we can give and ways we can support that work going forward after agriculture. At the moment, it is going to be a big project on which Ms Garvey and I will both be working. Ms Garvey is leading on it. It will take up a lot of resources to do that well. That is going to be our primary focus.
The other additional piece we will be doing is with the just transition indicators to try to help support the development of what measurements we need going forward that will help us understand whether we are delivering on a just transition. This refers back to Deputy Smith's point about how we know what a just transition is in terms of the impact on the ground but also the national objectives.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
I thank the Deputy for the question. Again, Dr. Moore has summarised the work to date and the advisory capacity in which we have acted. In terms of going forward, the just transition report No. 149 we just produced pointed to the need for more research in the area across different sectors. We are, therefore, beginning within our limited capacity in the area of the agricultural sector but, of course, a sectoral approach across the range of sectors would be of benefit.
In terms of the gender and age cohorts, they are excellent points. We noted from our research in the UK, in particular, that gender dimensions were very important. I will take that on board. You could look at gender and age in just transition alone, but they would also lend themselves very well to a focus within a sectoral approach. We know the gender and age dimensions in agriculture are already a focus of attention in terms of other Government programmes and, indeed, the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme.
I thank the witnesses very much for their presentation. I do not have too much to argue about with them. I know there is a commitment to just transition.
I will go back to what my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, was talking about. Take retrofitting, for example. A warm, dry home is one of the basics of living. My concern is that as we move on in this climate emergency with just transition and climate justice, it might seem like we are talking about motherhood and apple pie. We are going to need a champion here because people cannot be stranded. People with lower incomes cannot be left stranded. It is critical when it comes to carbon budgets.
It is no good having a budget while sections of society are excluded and isolated. We are going to need champions in the voluntary, community and arts sectors. Will the witnesses keep that to the fore in this climate emergency? Will they comment on that?
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
I will start but perhaps Ms Garvey will also want to comment. It is great to have an opportunity to talk about this work. I fully agree the responsibility for just transition is societal and that champions are needed across industry and across communities. Energy is a very interesting example because we are beginning to see energy communities empowered in terms of microgeneration and being able to contribute to the climate solutions through their own renewable energy activities. That sort of State-supported activity really begins to lead to energy champions through the SEAI community energy scheme. For example, I know from the Dingle case study that I mentioned and the Aran Islands energy co-operative that local people who had retrofit done begin to understand the value of talking about renewable energy because they can see it in their own homes. It is important to articulate that warm homes and clean air are significant and key everyday quality of life and well-being reasons we are moving towards this new future. It is important these are outlined so societies can understand that climate action is not just an abstract idea and it can deliver powerful quality of life tools.
I agree with the Deputy it is about communicating that message about newly developing champions who can really understand how to translate some of these abstract ideas into things that will make a difference to people's homes. For example, with regard to air pollution when fires are burning in people's houses and the air quality is poor in small towns, or being able to cycle and walk through our cities and towns and that sort of active travel and mobility, or this idea of retrofitting our homes, it can bring tangible quality of life improvements. That is a very important point.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
At the end of yesterday's session, I was struck by the discussion around leadership and that need for the bottom-up as well as the top-down, which we have found in our work around just transition to be critical. On that point around champions, if a just transition is to try to give a positive vision for as many people as possible, it is about seeing those champions from the perspective of learned experience. We see a lot of innovation. I keep bringing up the agricultural project that I am working on but we already see a huge amount of innovation, such as the Farming for Nature awards for farmers, and there are many positive stories out there. Dr. Moore referred to named champions in terms of the SEAI but also champions from the practical doing of innovative work around a low carbon approach across different sectors. I wanted to pick up on that point from yesterday around the bottom-up as well as the top-down, and finding those champions from across practice as well as policy.
Thank you. We will have time for a second round of questions. I see Senator Higgins is indicating but I want to ask one question first. I want to bring it back to the subject of the carbon budgets, which we have been discussing all week. It is a very valuable discussion on just transition and how we manage the social and economic impacts of the actions that we take. To bring it back to the carbon budget trajectory that has been proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council up to 2030, it is a 4.8% reduction in emissions each year through the first budget, then there is a real jump to 8.3% after 2025 through to 2030, and then beyond 2030 there is an even greater jump. Has NESC done any analysis of that pathway and what the social and economic implications of that path are? I note Professor Ó Gallachóir on Tuesday said they had to consider those issues. We had the independent scientists in yesterday, separate from the scientists who were on the sub-committee of the Climate Change Advisory Council, and they were saying we needed to go a lot further but it was pointed out that there are implications of going further and that climate action is very hard when it comes down to it. Has NESC undergone any analysis of that particular pathway and can it comment? Does it see its role as perhaps commenting after the event, once that policy decision is taken by the Government?
Ms Niamh Garvey:
The Chairman's final point is the answer. No, NESC has not done work on the various trajectories. What we will be doing is working within the frame. The trajectories and the carbon budgets ultimately frame what the vision can be because to operate within a carbon budget frames what is possible. With that frame set, our work then is how we support the transition that that implies in a way that has relevance to economic well-being, social inclusivity and broader environmental issues. The short answer is that we have not done work on that. Dr. Moore may want to comment further.
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
That is the case. We have been very much focused on the doing and on doing this in a way that is fair, inclusive and participative. Obviously, there are difficult decisions that politicians have to make and we respect that is their area now. For the council, we will be very interested in looking at the impacts and it will be interesting to see, once they are set, what that means, for example, what that means for agriculture, but also looking at just transition in other sectors. However, we have not done that analysis.
While it is not my position to suggest this, it would be very useful if that analysis could be done, obviously not in the timeframe that we have, but in the next couple of years. That would be very useful for us all to have.
There are two minutes left and I see two members indicating. I ask Senator Higgins and Deputy O’Rourke to be brief.
Energy communities and transition communities seem to be one of the fastest and most effective ways of delivering transition. In terms of employment vulnerability, will the witnesses comment on the importance of engagement with employees and not simply employers, and the importance of the employee voice in looking at the issue of employment vulnerability and solutions?
I want to pick up on a NESC paper, Economic Resilience in Sustainable Communities, with a view to moving towards action and alternative economic models. There was some reference to the community wealth building model as an alternative sustainable and participative economic model. Do the witnesses want to comment?
Dr. Jeanne Moore:
As part of the social dialogue which is a key part of just transition, employees would be a very important part of all conversation, not just employers. Sinéad Mercier’s work has looked at examples of just transition around the world and the employee is obviously part of that conversation. Yes, I completely agree with the Senator that this is a key part of the way to do this going forward.
With regard to the work raised by Deputy O’Rourke, that was a piece of research by Seán McCabe that we commissioned from TASC. It is a very interesting piece of work which looked at the Preston model of community wealth building, where the local authority used money to invest in the local community.
It was using public procurement as a tool for job creation. He made the point that investment in climate could be used in the same way for rural Ireland as a catalyst. It is a very interesting idea. We funded that research. We wanted to start a conversation on that as a way of looking at different models of co-creation and the idea of bringing economic opportunities into the heart of thinking about just transition and climate, while always looking to the future and doing that in a local way. We have not progressed that, although we would be very interested in doing it. Obviously, we are going to touch on it in the agriculture work.
I will hand over to my colleague.
Ms Niamh Garvey:
I thank the Senator and the Deputy for those final questions. Dr. Moore has covered them well, particularly in terms of the employee engagement. That is a key part of the further social dialogue. The TASC paper she referred to and some of the ideas there, the inspiration for taking a broader approach to rural development within the context of an agricultural just transition, are very much part of our thinking in the project going forward. There is much interesting research in the area of community wealth building, and our approach would be on engaging with stakeholders, individual farmers and other rural community representatives. These are the types of discussions we hope to be having, where they see the potential and the opportunities as well as, obviously, the risks.
We are out of time. I thank Dr. Moore and Ms Garvey for appearing before the committee today. It was great to have them here and to get their insights. I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes to allow our witnesses to leave and the next set of witnesses to join us.
I welcome Mr. Ian Talbot, chief executive officer of Chambers Ireland; Mr. Macdara Doyle and Mr. David Joyce from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Dr. Seán Healy, chief executive officer, and Ms Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst, of Social Justice Ireland; Ms Karen Ciesielski, Mr. Oisín Coghlan and Mr. Andrew St. Ledger from the Environmental Pillar; and Mr. Brian Rushe, Mr. Tadhg Buckley and Ms Geraldine O'Sullivan of the Irish Farmers Association.
Before we begin I must read out a note on privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name, or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that may be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If a witness's statement is potentially defamatory with regard to an identifiable person or entity, the witness will be directed to discontinue his or her remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. For witnesses who are attending remotely from outside of the Leinster House campus, there are limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as does a witness who is physically present on the campus.
I will invite the witnesses to make their opening statements. As there are quite a few witnesses and we have limited time, I ask them to keep their statement to five minutes in order that we can manage the session effectively. I will remind each witness when he or she has one minute remaining. I invite Mr. Talbot to make his opening statement.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
Since the publication of the 2019 Climate Action Plan, Chambers Ireland has been calling on the Government to integrate carbon budgeting into the decision-making process of all State agencies. If we are to be serious about our 51% reduction targets, and our net zero aspirations for 2050, the State has to incorporate the carbon impact of its actions and its policies into its decision matrices or else the long-term climate costs will continue to be deferred against short-term fiscal incentives. Our 2018 greenhouse gas emissions, upon which our 2030 targets are based, mean that we must be emitting no more than 33.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by the end of this decade. Collectively, the State, through its wide range of agencies, is the primary player when it comes to those emissions. The State is the largest energy consumer in the country, but even more importantly, its decisions shape the environment that the rest of us, the business community and the public, navigate in our daily lives. Nationally, our track record to date on emissions reductions has been extremely poor, with our benchmark 2018 emissions being almost 10% higher than our 1990 levels. Our emissions in 2022 will be still higher than they were in 1990.
Chambers Ireland is generally supportive of the carbon budgeting proposal that was published by the Climate Change Advisory Council. Carbon budgeting is a useful tool for ensuring appropriate public policymaking because ultimately, it is the activities of the State that bind us to our current behaviour and limit the range of our potential activities. However, if instead of being a mechanism to direct State policy a carbon budget is used as a mechanism for allocating emissions between different sectors in society, it will do no more than act as a multiplier on the existing carbon taxes. If we in the business community and all of us in wider society are to be able to transition to less polluting alternative energy sources, we need the State to have laid the groundwork to ensure that those alternatives are available. There is little point in trying to send out market signals through the price mechanism if more environmentally sustainable substitutes are not available.
Under successive Governments, the State’s response to greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis in general has been characterised by inactivity. Inaction on the CO2 emissions consequences of policies are just as damaging to our environment as actions that actively pollute. When communities are planned without integrated public transport networks and active transport links, the State relies on people using cars to fill the gap where those services ought to be. When housing estates are built with no pedestrian access to shops and schools, that is the State locking in decades of transport-associated CO2 emissions in the future. Inactivity has caused the long delay in creating regulatory and planning certainty for offshore renewable energy. While we greatly welcome the recent passing of the Maritime Area Planning Bill, the problem should not have taken 15 years to progress.
This has prevented us from developing a clean offshore wind energy industry to the extent we would like.
A lack of action has also locked in decades of fossil fuel emissions. The main benefit to introducing budgeting is that it will no longer allow administrations to defer actions as the rolling five-year budgets require immediate action. To this end, budgeting needs to become a key element of both the planning process and the planning programmes of the Government. This decade will see an enormous investment in the built fabric of our country between the national development plan infrastructure and the hundreds of thousands of housing units we so desperately need. A huge amount of additional carbon dioxide will be released during construction, even as we attempt to curtail emissions.
An effective carbon budgeting mechanism should accelerate the delivery of projects that decrease our carbon dioxide consumption. It should incentivise us to take the bigger, harder actions first and, in the long run, take the impactful action immediately. It will afford us more options and greater flexibility as time progresses and our timelines to net zero are inevitably brought forward.
The 300,000 housing units that will be built over the next few years as part of Housing for All will, in general, stand for 100 years. Their location and the services available to them within a 15-minute walk will determine what a century of emissions will look like. Given that our members are based in cities and towns across Ireland, we found it heartening that the CCAC has a sense that, regarding transport, liveable cities are the easy bit. However, if making city and town centres attractive places to live and work is the easy part, the vast majority of people are going to be shocked by the enormity of the task we have ahead of us. Even very small movements towards reactivating vacant and underutilised property are happening at a pace that suggests we will not have made much ground by 2030. The prioritisation of various transport projects echoes this, and the lack of urgency regarding offshore renewable energy speaks to a lack of coherence in the overall approach to the decarbonisation of our society. Chambers Ireland hopes carbon budgets will be the tool that will finally spur us into action.
Mr. Macdara Doyle:
On behalf of congress, I thank the committee for the opportunity to participate in what is a very inclusive consultation on this critical issue. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Joyce. We will be happy to take questions afterwards should any arise.
With reference to an earlier discussion, I remind members that just transition is a trade union concept that originated within the trade union movement. A clear and comprehensive, and probably the best, definition of just transition has been drawn up by the International Trade Union Confederation. I would be happy to share that with members should they require it.
I do not believe that anybody who has participated in these hearings can be under any illusion as to the magnitude of the change we face or the sheer scale of the transformative change that is under discussion. Nobody at work today will remain untouched by this process. Equally, the opportunities and quality of jobs available for future generations will largely be determined by decisions that are made now. Therefore, it is imperative that the overall transition and decarbonisation process be underpinned by engagement and inclusive dialogue, especially with those workers and communities positioned at the front line of the change. As the workers of Bord na Móna and the communities of the midlands will readily testify to, our record to date has been quite poor. The obvious danger is that the very idea of transition will become synonymous with job losses and lower living standards, making it almost impossible to deliver. To be clear, we do not believe job losses and poorer communities are the inevitable outcome of the transition process but that they result instead from poor planning and bad policy.
What we see is a serious disconnect between official declarations and policy implementation. Successive Governments have repeatedly embraced the principles of just transition, as reflected in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the 2019 National Economic and Social Council report and the recent COP26 just transition declaration, but these principles have yet to translate into practice.
Congress welcomed the commitment in the climate action plan to creating a national just transition commission, for which we have advocated for several years, but the recently published annexes to the plan reveal the commission is unlikely to be operational until sometime in 2023. This is untenable. We therefore request that the committee act to ensure that this very key component of the transition process be prioritised and that an effective vehicle for structured social dialogue at national and sectoral levels be established without delay. The urgency of this task was underscored by the CCAC in its letter to the Minister of 25 October. This characterised "early and effective engagement with workers, local communities, business and social partners" as an essential step in the transition process, not something that happens afterwards.
The carbon budgets set out by the council provide clear targets and the timeframe to reach net zero by 2050, so we know where we have to go and how far we have to travel. Without a vehicle for structured social dialogue, we know roadmap yet to get where we want to go.
The next significant step in this process involves the agreement of sectoral emissions ceilings across the economy. These will have major implications for employment. Some of these we can predict. Jobs will be created in renewables but are likely to be lost in areas such as transport, but we do not yet know the number or type of jobs that will be affected, nor whether the jobs lost will be replaced by high-quality employment. We have an opportunity now to tackle this and bring some coherence, foresight and proactive planning to the process. To that end, congress is now calling for a new mandatory requirement that every sectoral emissions ceiling be accompanied by a comprehensive employment impact report. Such a report would have two key components: a full breakdown of the likely impacts on jobs - positive and negative - of the proposed emissions ceiling in each sector; and the concrete measures and plans that are needed to maximise job creation or minimise job losses. The process would be organised under the auspices of the just transition commission, when set up, and the impact report would provide the basis for full engagement at sectoral level across the economy. It is only through dialogue and early engagement that we can hope to restore confidence and build trust in the transition process. I thank the members for their time.
Dr. SeÃ¡n Healy:
Social Justice Ireland welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action. This is a critical issue. We are glad to see the committee is addressing it but we are also glad to see it is listening to many perspectives and having stakeholders engage in the process. It is essential that every sector should contribute to the effort of the committee and the effort to resolve the problem generally and that those people, communities and regions who will be impacted the most be supported during the transition. Ms Murphy will outline the key elements of our written submission.
Ms Michelle Murphy:
As Dr. Healy outlined, it is essential that every sector contributes to this effort. With regard to policy tools and actions, a continued focus on cost-neutral or cost-effective actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change is misguided. While addressing the impact of climate change and implementing adaptation policies comes at a cost and requires strong collective effort, the cost of inaction is much higher. As Dr. Healy outlined, if Ireland is to succeed in addressing our climate and other challenges, the pathway to this must be founded on consensus and must be well managed and properly evaluated. We welcome the commitment in the climate action plan to social and national dialogue on climate action to ensure the move to a sustainable future for all will be fair and successful. Stakeholders from all sectors of society - the young, old, urban and rural, along with businesses, trade unions, farmers, the community and voluntary sector, and the social inclusion and environmental sectors - must be involved in the process. Every sector faces a challenge in implementing the carbon budgets.
With regard to agriculture, the Ag Climatise strategy, while committing to a reduction in absolute emissions from agriculture, does not detail the specific targets or outline the difficult, yet very necessary, policy changes that must be introduced if absolute emissions from agriculture are to be reduced. Improvements in production efficiency will not be enough to meet our targets. The long-term trajectory of the livestock sector must be considered. Continued support for the beef sector should be contingent on stronger conditionality, and essential income support for low-income farm households via the CAP should be consistent with our green transition ambitions.
On transport, despite the reductions in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, significant and substantial investment is required to develop a public transport network powered by electricity and renewable energy.
It is vital that the upgrade to the public network has a strong focus on connectivity to support people from rural and regional areas to travel by public transport. However, road transport is just one element of transport emissions. Air travel is now second only to private cars as a share of transport energy. Therefore, we must also look at the aviation sector and the policy levers that are available to ensure that this sector makes a contribution. Now that the Government has published the impacts of aviation taxation in Ireland, it is important that the key recommendations of this report, including abolishing the jet kerosene exemption, are implemented in full.
Energy is the third largest driver of our emissions. One of the most cost-effective means of reducing our emissions is through retrofitting and increasing building energy efficiency. However, issues around renewable energy subsidies and energy poverty must be addressed. Incentives and tax structures must look at the impact on protecting people from energy poverty and ensuring that subsidies are not taken up only by those who can afford the necessary investments. For this reason, a State-led retrofitting scheme will be required to ensure that people living in social housing and poor quality housing have access.
On the tools needed to deliver on the ambition, our taxation system should reflect the environmental cost of the goods and services, while ensuring that revenue from environmental taxes is used to offset any regressive impacts. Environmental subsidies are a key element of the tax code that need to be reviewed. In 2018, €2.4 billion was not collected by the Exchequer. Instead, it was revenue forgone due to the preferential tax treatment supporting fossil fuel activities. The value of these subsidies is substantially higher than the allocation to just transition and biodiversity and it offers a significant pot of money to Government to implement climate policy. There must be policy coherence so that our policies on environmental subsidies and other strategies such as agriculture and transport do not undermine our environmental targets.
Social Justice Ireland has consistently proposed additional supports and measures for those who are less well-placed to make the low carbon transition. One of the fundamental principles of the just transition is to leave no people, communities, economic sectors or regions behind as we transition to a low carbon future. Transition to a sustainable economy can only be successful if it is inclusive and if the social rights and well-being of all are promoted. Transition is not just about reducing emissions. It is about transforming our society and economy, investing in effective and integrated social protection systems and services such as education, training, lifelong learning and healthcare. This is because it is these services and that social investment that will support those people, communities, sectors and regions which will be most impacted by the change we must make. A comprehensive mitigation transition strategy is required to ensure there is comprehensive public support for our climate goals.
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
I will highlight a few of the key points from the written submission that we made to the committee. The Environmental Pillar welcomes this landmark moment. Members of our network have campaigned for a climate law like the one passed in 2021 since 2007. However, we are now playing catch-up for a lost decade. The latest emissions figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, have our national emissions at 57.7 million tonnes in 2020. This figure is exactly the same as it was in 2011. The carbon budgeting process can help us with that catch-up and we have a few recommendations to make to the committee with regard to both carbon budgets and wider policy.
The committee should recommend that the Dáil and Seanad accept the first two carbon budgets as proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council. However, the committee should ask the council to review its work on the third carbon budget before it is presented to become binding in 2025. The reasons for these recommendations, as well as the others that I will make briefly, is that the issue or principle of fairness needs to be central to Irish climate change policy and the carbon budgeting process. By this, we mean we need fairness between countries, that is, global climate justice, fairness between generations, namely, the older generations such as ours which did most to cause the problem and those who come after us, a fair and just transition to protect the vulnerable and fairness between sectors.
Every sector of society and the economy will have to do its fair share to reduce pollution but that is not the same as an equal share. Some sectors will have to move faster than others but every sector will have to reduce emissions drastically, starting now, and must get to zero or close to zero as fast as possible.
Based on these considerations, it is important to put on record that although they are very challenging, the 2030 target to halve emissions and the two carbon budgets the Climate Change Advisory Council has proposed to 2030 still do not amount to our fair share of the effort to fulfil the Paris Agreement. Ireland will continue to use more than our fair share of the remaining global carbon budget, consistent with 1.5°C of warming, for the rest of this decade. While the Environmental Pillar accepts the proposal from the Climate Change Advisory Council regarding the two carbon budgets to 2030, it leaves us feeling deeply uneasy.
The analysis by the United Nations is that in order to have a decent chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, we need to cut global emissions more or less in half by 2030 and to near zero by 2050. However, that figure applies globally. Under any definition of climate justice, and according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, CBDR, rich countries like Ireland, the EU and the US should do more sooner. While we accept, however reluctantly, that it is probably impractical if not impossible for Ireland to reduce its emissions by more than 50% in nine years, it is important to recognise and acknowledge that we will still be adding to our debt, both carbon and moral debt, to those in the global south who have done the least to cause climate change and who are being hit first and hardest, as well as to younger and future generations who have done little or nothing to cause climate change and who have little or no power to stop it.
Given that reality, it is imperative that the Government step up Ireland's contributions to climate finance to help poor countries to adapt to the impacts of the climate change that cannot be avoided; become an advocate at EU level for the strongest possible climate change governance and climate action measures; and brook no argument from those voices who argue that Ireland should not have to reduce our emissions by 50% by 2050 or that their sector should somehow be exempt or specially treated. Cutting our pollution by 50% by 2030 is the least we have to do. It is a down payment, not a final payment, on our fair share of the efforts to achieve the Paris goals.
In particular, we urge the committee to request that the Climate Change Advisory Council review what Ireland's fair share of our effort under the Paris Agreement is and recommend to the Minister that he formally ask the council to do that. That is the least we must do to reflect the commitment to climate change in the climate law. Specifically, the council's indicative proposal for the third carbon budget from 2031 to 2035 does not seem compatible with climate justice. Having proposed a reduction of 8% to 2030, it seems that reduction percentages after that are lower and would suggest we will not get to zero until 2050. As the United Nations pointed out, that is too late for rich countries. Other countries are moving faster. We have time to revise this third budget. We ask the committee to urge the council to do that. I will briefly hand over to my colleague, Mr. St. Leger, to discuss forestry.
Mr. Andrew St. Ledger:
Ireland and the European Union have declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. It is now widely accepted that sustainably managed forests could contribute significantly to climate mitigation with biodiversity restoration and conservation benefits. The Irish Government is planning to substantially increase forest cover with a new target to plant 8,500 ha per annum over the coming years. The positive or negative impacts that this new forestry in Ireland will have on climate mitigation biodiversity will ultimately depend on a range of factors, such as where the new planting takes place, the management model of forestry used and the environmental safeguards that are implemented. As we embark on our first process of carbon budgeting, forestry will rightly be included in the mix. However, it needs to be sustainable.
To summarise the issues and obstacles affecting the forestry sector, of which many members of the committee will be aware, there is a perfect storm of events now affecting the forestry sector. These include a licensing logjam, public opposition to the tree farming model, farmers who have been reluctant to plant for many reasons and an over-reliance on the UK market. Our current system is also threatened by a global glut of cheap timber from the same type of tree farming model, which is driving global prices down. Lower volumes of higher quality forestry, greater diversity and a more ecologically focused forest management will ensure a more secure, profitable future.
Our forestry system and structures are not fit for purpose and are in need of review. In 2019, in our most recent presentation to this committee, we raised the issue that Coillte, the State forestry board, was not fit for purpose. The committee's recommendations at that time included a call for a review of the Forestry Act 1998, which established Coillte.
That has not happened. It is also in the programme for Government.
While only five minutes are available for contributions now, the committee will take into consideration in our discussions and when drafting our report the full statements submitted in recent days. I invite the representatives of the IFA to make their opening statement.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
I thank the committee for the invitation to this meeting. This is an important debate. I echo the comments made by the other contributors concerning the diversity of views and opinions, which is very important.
As many are aware, farming and the wider agrifood sector are the backbone of economic activity in rural Ireland. In 2019, Ireland's agrifood sector was valued at €14.5 billion. It is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector, providing employment to over 300,000 people, directly and indirectly. Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge facing the world today, with farmers very much on the front line. Irish farmers understand they have a unique role to play in meeting the climate change challenge. They are committed to playing their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, this must be done in a fair and balanced way.
Irish farming is a world leader in grass-based food production and is a highly emissions efficient, sustainable food production model. In dealing with the climate change challenge, it is imperative that Irish farmers’ current sustainability credentials are fully acknowledged at the outset. These include the following aspects. Irish dairy and beef output is extremely efficient from a carbon footprint perspective. Irish milk production has the lowest carbon footprint in the EU, while Irish beef production has the fifth lowest. Despite what many would lead us to believe, the carbon-efficient expansion of milk production in Ireland has helped displace 4 million tonnes of carbon which would have been emitted had the equivalent dairy product been produced outside of Ireland. The majority of Irish farms are not intensively stocked. More than 60% of livestock farms are stocked at less than the equivalent of 0.33 cows per acre. Ireland is not an intensive agriculture country.
Ireland’s overall livestock numbers have remained relatively static over the last 30 years. The number of cattle in Ireland remained the same from 1999 to 2019. During the same period, Irish vehicle numbers rose by 75% and the number of passengers going through Dublin Airport increased by 155%.
Irish farming is predominantly a grass-based system. As a result, the use of direct energy, such as electricity, on Irish farms, at 56% of the EU average, is very low by European and international standards.
Irish farmers have a strong track record in participating in agri-environment schemes. Today, 33% of Ireland's land is farmed under agri-environment measures, compared with an EU average of only 13%. More than 50,000 farmers participated in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, the most recent agri-environment programme. It is also worth stating that the appetite among farmers to participate in schemes like that is strong and continues to grow.
While Ireland has a relatively low level of forest cover, at approximately 11%, it has the third largest total hedgerow area in the EU, with an estimated 450,000 ha. Since 1994, some 6,605 km of new hedgerows and more than 3.7 million trees have been established on non-forest land. These hedgerows, which farmers continually upkeep, help to maintain biodiversity and sequester carbon.
In 2020, agricultural emissions accounted for 37% of total Irish emissions. This reflects the relative importance of agriculture to Ireland’s economy, and the lack of heavy industry in comparison with other member states. Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are predominantly methane and nitrous oxide. Current scientific understanding indicates that reducing Irish agricultural greenhouse gas emissions through technical means is extremely challenging, particularly for biogenic methane produced by pasture-based ruminants. However, it is important to recognise that agricultural emissions as a percentage of total emissions have remained relatively static since 1990. In the same period, transport emissions have more than doubled, from 9% to 19%.
Since 1990, Irish farms, collectively, have increased their output by approximately 40%. Despite the increase in production, total agricultural emissions by the sector have remained static, with 19.5 Mt CO2 eq being emitted from the sector in 1990 and 21.4 Mt CO2 eq in 2020. This increased production was achieved by improving efficiency and reducing the emission intensity of Ireland’s food production model. The emissions footprint per kg of Irish milk and meat produced are low by international standards, with one EU study showing Irish milk to have the joint lowest carbon footprint in the EU and the fifth lowest footprint for beef.
Due to Ireland’s existing emissions efficiencies in food production, the scale of the proposed reduction target of between 22% and 30% by 2030 for the sector poses a significant challenge. The proposed reduction target for agriculture is to reduce emissions by between 22% and 30% by 2030, from the 2018 baseline of 23 Mt CO2 eq to between 16 Mt CO2 eq and 18 Mt CO2 eq. This is an extremely challenging target for the sector. According to Teagasc, there is no prospect in the current decade of scientific solutions alone being capable of delivering agricultural greenhouse gas emissions reductions of the magnitude required to meet the higher target. The climate action plan has identified potential measures to deliver emission reductions, including actions primarily based on the Teagasc GHG marginal abatement cost curve, MACC-----
Mr. Brian Rushe:
Moving to my closing remarks, farmers have a major role to play in reducing Ireland’s emissions and contributing to addressing the climate change challenge. They are committed to playing their part and have already made significant investments to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Farmers are engaging positively with new guidance on farming practices and environmental programmes such as the agricultural sustainability and support advisory programme, ASSAP, smart farming and the signpost programme, as well as European Innovation Partnership, EIP, projects.
It is vital for the sector that it is set a reduction target that is achievable and that empowers and supports farmers to make the necessary changes to farm management practices and adopt new technologies to reduce emissions footprints. A reduction target of 22% for agriculture is extremely challenging but achievable, based on the potential mitigation measures outlined in the climate action plan. The lower target would also recognise the social and economic importance of the sector, as well as the vulnerabilities and technical challenges faced by the sector.
I thank Mr. Rushe for his contribution. We have limited time, unfortunately. Do members agree that questions will be limited to two minutes? Agreed. If members wish to direct a question to a specific witness, I ask them to identify that witness. If witnesses wish to contribute on any question, I ask them to use the "Raise Hand" function on MS Teams, and I will call them in order.
I will lead off. Given that we have very little time, I will cut to the chase. We have had two compelling sessions in the past two days. Representatives of the Climate Change Advisory Council were with us on Tuesday to speak about the council's proposed carbon budgets up to 2035. Yesterday, we had some independent scientists with us who gave us their views. The general view that emerged was that the carbon budgets needed to be more ambitious than those set out by the Climate Change Advisory Council. I would like to get a sense from our witnesses' of their position in this regard. I thank Mr. Coghlan for explicit stating that the Environmental Pillar supports the trajectory set out by the Climate Change Advisory Council. Do the other witnesses see it as their role to comment on the path that is to be taken? Do they agree with it? Have they done any analysis on it? I ask a representative of each of the groups to respond explicitly to this question.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
It is hard to comment on the proposal specifically because there has been a great deal of expert comment over the last two days. As we said in our submission, we need to do proper planning. Some of the issues that have emerged on topics such as transport emissions, for example, have been driven by factors such as people having more cars and driving more because they have longer commutes. We need to create alternatives that people and businesses can adapt to. That is critical.
Where finances are invested, the alternatives we spend money on first will make the impact come through quicker in those areas. There has to be some matching of the set process we need to take over the next eight and 28 years between where the investment will go and making that people adapt to make the best use of that investment. We then need to keep investing and keep making that change. In principle, and from what I have heard from the witnesses today, there is great level of commonality in us all realising the significant step changes we need to make. We are also all looking for guidance on how to get there.
Mr. Macdara Doyle:
As we said, what we have heard over the past couple of days has demonstrated the magnitude of the change that confronts us, which has been stressed by other witnesses. What has been set out by the Climate Change Advisory Council, demanding as it may be, is probably what is realisable and achievable. What the advisory council has also very clearly stressed is the essential necessity for early and proactive engagement with communities, workers and everybody who will be impacted by this. Delivering a plan after the fact is worse than useless. The major flaw we saw in the Bord na Móna example was that any engagement on the part of the State, or the relevant authorities, happened after the fact. Arriving with a plan after someone has lost his or her job and the enterprise has been closed is not worthwhile in any respect. Early engagement is critical, which has been highlighted and identified. That is where we should be focusing.
Ms Michelle Murphy:
We are supportive of the budgets, challenging as they are. As representatives from the Irish Environment Network pointed out, those budgets are not even enough to get us to our 2050 target. There will be two key elements: first, investment to provide the alternatives, infrastructure and supports that communities, workers, regions and individuals will need and, second, the planning and social dialogue that has been committed to in the climate action plan, for which there should be consensus among all sectors that it is well governed and well evaluated. That social dialogue needs to move down from a national to a regional and local level to ensure there is planning and full buy-in from every sector. People, sectors, workers and communities should know what to expect, know what infrastructure is required, know when it will be delivered and know what kind of alternatives will be available to them. It will be very challenging to meet the targets set out in the budgets without that planning.
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
I thank the Chairman. I will say for the benefit of those watching that we accept the first two carbon budgets are the best we can do. There is probably a little more backloading between the first and second budgets than we would like, but we understand it takes a while to ramp up the actions that will reduce emissions. There is no space for backloading action, even though there will be faster reductions in the second half of the decade compared with the first half.
We do not think, however, the third carbon budget, which from my understanding will not be voted on in the Dáil or Seanad right now, even though it forms part of the carbon budget programme and is not binding until it is voted on by both Houses, is adequate or in line with climate justice. The committee should ask the council to do research on what is Ireland's fair share of the remaining global carbon budget under the Paris Agreement and, specifically therefore, on when Ireland can reach net zero. The council seems to presume we will have a linear path to zero between 2030 and 2050, but 2050 is too late for us to get to net zero. The climate law specifically states we will reach net zero or climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. Other countries, such as Sweden, Finland and Austria, have adopted earlier timeframes of 2045 and 2040. There is now time for the climate council to do research on what is Ireland's fair share. When the CCAC comes back in three or four years' time with revised versions of the 2031-35 and 2036-40 budgets, it should do so based on explicit published research around our fair share based on climate justice.
The question relates to the path proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council. As Mr. Rushe knows, its representatives were before the committee on Tuesday and there are differing views on the achievability and appropriateness of that path in respect of the challenge we have. I asked previous witnesses to comment on whether they are supportive of the path that has been set out or proposed by the CCAC, which includes a 4.8% reduction in emissions per annum through to 2025 and 8.3% each year thereafter to 2030. Has the Irish Farmers Association a view on that trajectory? Does it see its role as having a view on that? Perhaps it has done its own analysis on it. It would be good to hear Mr. Rushe's comments.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
The IFA, and almost all farmers, fully recognise the need for climate action and the need to engage on what is a major issue for everyone. Any process or drawing up of budgets in the future has to include farmers and all the stakeholders involved. It goes back to the point we made about Bord na Móna in the midlands and just transition. Farmers need the same kind of conversation before the fact and not after. We need to recognise that any carbon reduction budget that is brought in will have economic and social impacts on farming.
Nearly everyone will be aware that many farms are in an economically vulnerable place. When measures are introduced to reduce emissions on such farms, those measures will, by and large, have a cost. Farmers are the weakest link in the supply chain. We do not have an ability to pass on that additional cost to other actors in the supply chain. That cost is absorbed by the farm and it hits and hurts farm income. We need to make sure we do not leave farmers behind, that we properly support and bring farmers on the journey and offer them opportunities, if those are available. There are major opportunities in the renewable sector, for example. We need to ensure we keep farmers in business, keep people on the land and keep rural economies alive. We need to keep the three pillars of sustainability in clear focus, which are environmental, economic and social.
I confirm that I am in Leinster House. I thank our witnesses for coming before the committee. A major opportunity has been presented to the committee and the witnesses, who have been kind enough to come before us, in the context of the challenge in the climate action targets that have been set. There are opportunities to close gaps in society when it comes to fairness. We spent some time talking about just transition. Over the course of the past two days, major challenges have been presented to the committee and society in respect of what it is we are trying to achieve collectively.
I do not have any explicit questions because, to be fair, the Chairman has asked the very questions I was going to ask regarding the position of the various stakeholders on the carbon budgets. I note the Environmental Pillar's very explicit position on it, for which I thank its representatives. The only remark I have to make is the diversity of views that have been presented to us is very welcome. It offers a magnifying glass on the level of the challenge that is before us in the coming decades. In the short term, it will be exceedingly difficult for us to hit the targets set by the Climate Change Advisory Council. That being said, no sector can remain doing what it is doing at present. Each and every sector has to change. If we do not, we simply defer the inevitable and that inevitability is the climate will change dramatically, making it unviable for certain industries to continue operating, in the first instance.
To achieve our targets, it is very clear to me that we have to step up our role in the Oireachtas and in the Government to fund those changes.
We have to step up our role in the Oireachtas and as governments to fund those changes, because without the adequate funding for certain sectors-----
-----in terms of viability for incomes, we simply cannot reach the targets being set for us and that we are now debating. I welcome the valuable suggestions being made, of which there have been quite a few. I will certainly be taking the coming week to assess the witnesses' opening statements and remarks, towards our report, which I know will be a helpful bookend to this part of the process for both the Department and the Climate Change Advisory Council.
I thank the witnesses for the presentations. There is a lot going on today. I will ask a few questions of the IFA and Mr. Rushe. We had the scientists in yesterday who put a large dose of reality into the conversation. One of the things Professor Kevin Anderson said was there was no such thing as a universal "we" and that most people were not responsible for most emissions. I suspect this applies equally to farmers. When the IFA talks about farmers and farms, on average and in general, we should be able to qualify where the real problem lies.
The figures on the cattle numbers are interesting. Mr. Rushe said in his submission that livestock numbers have not actually risen and offset the huge increase in dairy cattle as against beef cattle. However, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures show that from 2010 to 2020, there has been a 46.4% increase in the dairy herd. That is almost 50%, one may as well say, to average it out, but that does not go for the thousands of farmers who cannot sustain a proper income from the farms they have.
In that case, the IFA should welcome changes to the way agriculture is run in this country but, of course, it is driven by the Government. I work out of the Department of agriculture and it has, through Teagasc and Bord Bia, deliberately driven up the cattle numbers, especially in dairy, in order to, pardon the pun, beef up the export market. We export a high number of cattle and those exports are worth a significant sum of money. However, it is not our biggest industry, pharmaceuticals are our highest export.
Having said that, I would like to ask----
When Mr. Rushe went through the figures on dairy and cattle numbers, he then compared them with the rise in figures for vehicles by 75% in the same period and Dublin Airport passengers by 155%. What is the point of that comparison? If we are dealing with the agricultural sector, we have to look at it in its own right, because it stands out as being responsible for a huge amount of the emissions and therefore, needs to do a huge amount of the heaving lifting. I suspect that heavy lifting needs to be done through looking at why we have this policy of exporting so much dairy and beef to benefit the likes of Goodman, Dawn Meats and Greencore-----
Mr. Brian Rushe:
I will take the first part and I ask Mr. Buckley to come after. With regard to Deputy Smith's commentary on the "we", Irish farming is sectorally diverse and diverse in terms of production systems, depending where in the country one is, but we have to look at what drove the increase in dairy production. The market signal and opportunity for farmers to improve their income and bring young people home to farm drove that.
We need to be aware of where we lie in terms of scale when we talk about Irish farming and intensity. The average herd size in Ireland is fewer than 100 cows. Pre-quota removal, it was 70 cows. It has risen by 20 to 25 cows per herd, on average. Those 25 cows allowed farmers to employ someone to help them on their farm, which gave them a better quality of life. It allowed a family bring home a son or a daughter who otherwise did not have a future in farming. These are positives and I will always highlight the positives in agriculture, because I am one of those farmers who has two young sons, a ten-year old and a seven-year old, and we are working towards making a future for them in agriculture.
No person or sector is immune to change and farming is no different. We are changing. We are changing our practices on-farm, fertiliser use, animal genetics, because we want to stay in business. We want to continue to contribute to our economy and towns and villages throughout the country. If I wanted to be a millionaire, I would do something else, but I do not. I want to be a farmer. I want to produce food and contribute to the social sustainability of the country, because that is what I and most farmers believe in.
I take exception to dividing farmers into large or small or whatever else. That will serve no one in this debate on climate action. We are having that debate within agriculture all the time. We fully recognise that if we divide up and start fighting among ourselves, we will achieve nothing. We are very serious about meeting our climate action targets. We are very serious about staying in business and being here for the next generation. We are solutions-focused and not in it for Goodman, exports or whatever else. We are in it to stay in business and continue to do what we are doing.
We are not intensive. The average stocking rate is 23 cows per acre on 60% of farms. That is a very low stocking rate. When we compare ourselves with our international peers such as Australia, America, Canada or Brazil, we are not an intensive producer. That is not to say we do not face a significant challenge, but we are engaging with it. That is why we are here today and why we continue to adopt the best research, engage with Teagasc and everyone who has solutions.
I would like to bring in Mr. Buckley to clarify some of the figures.
Mr. Tadhg Buckley:
The Deputy asked why we quoted the figures on passenger numbers and cars. The main reason was when we speak to farmers throughout the country, especially over the past 18 months, they feel completely scapegoated in the commentary on the challenge we face. The vast bulk of farmers fully accept they have a role to play, but feel they are being unduly targeted in much of the commentary in the media and other places over the past 18 months, in particular.
What we wanted to do was put it in context that absolutely we have a role to play, but the growth in cattle numbers over the past 30 years is very small, whatever way one looks at it, relative to other parts of the economy. We are not trying to pit one sector against the other. We are trying to put in context that we have a challenge, but it is not painted in the same way it sometimes is with regard to the growth that has happened in agriculture.
If one looks at the EPA emission numbers from agriculture for 1990 versus 2019, they are more or less the same. We speak about the growth in dairy. There were milk quotas in place for dairy for 30 years and the growth that has happened over the past number of years simply was because of the fact there was absolutely no growth for 30 years and numbers fell continuously. We wanted to put context on what has happened in relative size of the emissions coming from agriculture relative to other sectors and also show that
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
I do not want to go deep into this now. It is worth acknowledging that, until recently, agricultural emissions had not risen in the same way as transport emissions, nor had they fallen in the same way as electricity emissions.
On the other hand, they have started to rise significantly in recent years since the expansion of the dairy herd took hold with the removal of quotas. The issue now is that we have this collective target and obligation to reduce total emissions by 50%.
A specific point I did not get to make earlier but that is in our written submission is that if the committee and the Dáil accept the overall carbon budget, then, as members are aware, the next step will be for the Government to divide up that emissions cake or pollution pie. It has provided indicative emissions ranges for each sector. Contrary to how the public may be presenting it, and certainly contrary how the IFA is presenting it, the agriculture sector is not being scapegoated. The plan is to give the agriculture sector the least demanding emissions reduction cuts, of between 22% and 30%, compared with between 70% and 80% in electricity and, if memory serves, approximately between 45% and 55%, or around the average, for the other sectors. What is worth noting in respect of those emissions reductions is that according to the calculations done by Dr. Hannah Daly, who appeared before the committee on Tuesday, it is only if every sector hits the more demanding end of those emissions reduction ranges that we will meet 51%. They are not really ranges; they are just an indication of how far the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has got in extracting proportionate commitments commensurate with the overall target from the individual line Departments for the sectors. Basically the easier end of those ranges will not do. All sectors will have to hit the higher end if we are to meet the overall target. Every tonne that is not done by one sector will have to be done by another sector. The cake will be set by the process.
I thank the Chairman and our witnesses. I have a question for each of the groups so I will be quick in asking them, I hope. I refer to the achievability of the targets. We are ambitious to achieve them but what I have heard from the range of speakers in recent days is that engagement and bringing people with us are very important, as are planning and execution. What is the view of each of the groups on how the process of engagement has been? I ask them to bear in mind that members are in a privileged position, as are they, as representative groups before us today. I ask them to think of the people who have never been before the committee. How has the process been thus far? Do our guests think it could or should be improved to include broader society?
My second question relates to the opportunity in this transition for the people our guests represent, whether they are workers, farmers, people living in poverty or those in business.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
I thank the Deputy for his question. On the engagement so far, it is possible that we have not been honest enough collectively in respect of how big the challenge is. People are always afraid of change. There are significant changes afoot here to achieve our targets, no matter what sector we are in. I am not sure of the extent to which the public are aware of the scale. There is increasing acceptance among the public of the need for change but there may be a sense in too many places that it is all fine, the change will not affect them and that it is other people who will have to change. We need more engagement with people and more openness and honesty across the entire sector in respect of what these targets will actually mean, how fundamental these changes will be and how measures such as the town centre first initiatives, public transport initiatives and so on are vitally important. We need to do everything we can to get these initiatives through the planning system, within reason, as efficiently and effectively as possible. We do not have ten years to wait to get things over the line. We need to get this done rapidly.
That leads on to the Deputy's question in respect of opportunity. There are opportunities. There are plenty of businesses that are really looking forward to the opportunity for innovation, for example. There is great opportunity for innovation and for Irish companies to leverage the EU Green Deal, for example, and start drawing down funds from that to make progress. There are great opportunities in terms of employment potential and there is the opportunity for us to generate energy that can be shipped to other parts of the EU and so on. There are great opportunities here but they need to be kick-started with investment and making sure we can get things done through the planning and legislative processes. For example, I refer to the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which may now be an Act. It is great to see it but it has been in the hopper for 15 years. We do not have 15 years any more.
Mr. Macdara Doyle:
Both of us will reply. I will go first. Being honest, the engagement has been poor so far and, generally, it has been after the fact, which, as I stated, is worse than useless. The crucial architecture we require specifically in respect of a just transition commission is not in place. We cannot understand the delay in that regard. In Scotland, for example, a national just transition commission was set up in 2019 to devise a roadmap. That commission involved all relevant stakeholders from society. They set out that roadmap for the Scottish Administration and delivered it in March 2021. We are already several years behind the curve on this issue. What makes it so frustrating is that we realise there are significant opportunities in terms of employment creation arising from this transformation and change process. That is what makes it all the more frustrating and perplexing.
Another example is that in 2018, in the north of Spain, the Spanish Government and private and public employers agreed a major ten-year deal for the wind-down of the Spanish coal industry. That plan involved an investment of €250 million. The sector is quite similar in size to the peat sector in the midlands in terms of employment levels and output. That plan is now in place and working away. They will be attracting additional money from Europe on top of the €250 million that has gone in from the Spanish Government. We are behind the curve. I will pass over to Mr. Joyce.
Mr. David Joyce:
I was going to specifically focus on some of the improvements, which are outlined in the annexe to the climate action plan. As Mr. Doyle mentioned, the intention to form a just transition commission is very welcome but the approval of a general scheme of legislation to establish it in the final quarter of this year means that it will not be in place until, at best, the middle of 2023. Given the urgency of the change and the challenges we face, that is unacceptable. We should try to expedite it as soon as possible. It could be formulated in advance of being put on a statutory footing. If we wanted to speed that along, a Bill introduced by Deputy Whitmore is in the system and is very much based on work done by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on just transition and a sort of oversight function for bringing together workers, unions, employers and government in social dialogue to drive those plans.
On the broader social dialogue question, we welcome the reference to the national climate stakeholder forum. The annexe signals that such a forum is to be held in the first quarter of this year, which is very welcome. However, we do not know if it will be a one-off or will become a regular event. Will there be an opportunity for stakeholders to shape that forum?
It would be good for this committee to focus on some of those issues and make concrete recommendations to try to get them over the line as quickly as possible.
Dr. SeÃ¡n Healy:
If Ireland is to succeed in addressing its climate challenge and other challenges, the pathway to doing so must be founded on consensus. It must be well managed and properly evaluated. Ms Murphy made those points in our introductory remarks and they are critically important. Reforming governance and widening participation is key to a successful just transition. An increased recognition of the need to include all stakeholders in the decision-making process is needed. A deliberative decision making process, involving all stakeholders and founded on reasoned, evidence-based debate, is required.
One component of real participation is the recognition that everyone should have the right to participate in shaping the society in which they live and in shaping the decisions that impact on them. In the 21st century, that involves more than just voting in elections, referendums and so on. Ireland would greatly benefit from a structure that would engage all sectors at a national level on an ongoing basis across the gamut of policy. Social dialogue helps highlight issues at an early stage, which allows them to be addressed promptly. More importantly, it ensures that the various sectors of society are involved in developing mutually acceptable solutions to problems that emerge, which, in turn, would be most likely to ensure their support for such solutions when implemented by Government. There are a couple of important things in that. The major weakness in the national climate dialogue forum is that it is just about climate. The problem is that Ireland has to deal with a series of other challenges as well. We are aware every day of the issues around housing and health. The increase in the older population is not drawn to our attention every day but there is a major challenge coming in that regard. These issues must be dealt with as well as those relating to the climate. They all interact with each other. It is fundamentally flawed thinking to imagine it is possible to have a dialogue on one of those issues while omitting the others. That is simply nonsensical.
There is one other piece I want to highlight. At a local level, it is now possible to have a genuine engagement with people. The public participation networks, of which there is now one in each of the 31 local authorities, have more than 16,000 registered organisations. These are community, voluntary, environmental and social inclusion organisations. More than 16,000 of those organisations have engaged and signed up, and are active. They have personnel, their own structures and all that sort of stuff. The issue is that the public participation networks are supposed to engage with local authorities on policy. There is a great opportunity there to take up a point that Ms Murphy made in our original presentation. These kinds of discussions should not be kept to a national level. We need to go to a regional level and to a more local level, certainly a local authority level, where the participants can all be there and can be heard.
Ms Michelle Murphy:
I will briefly address that point. Some headline opportunities were outlined in an Oxford study last year and by the OECD in terms of clean physical infrastructure, building energy retrofits and investing in educational training, natural capital and clean research and development. Those are economic and climate multipliers. When we dig down to the individual level, we must look at what minimum floors are needed now and going forward. What is the minimum floor of basic income and services for an individual or a family? What is the minimum floor of services and infrastructure that a community needs in order to meet current and future challenges? We need to bring forward those discussions and go beyond just the very technical points about how the Government is going to reach the targets in its budgets. In order to meet the targets set out in the budgets, the infrastructure, and investment in the social infrastructure, is required to support us to meet those targets. That will allow for the opportunity to look at what a minimum floor of income, services and infrastructure might look like nationally, regionally, locally and individually.
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
I agree with a lot of what everybody else has said about engagement. It has been patchy and, overall, inadequate. There was some good work done in the national dialogue on climate action initiative but it petered out. Apart from the intersectional gap that Dr. Healy identified, its connection to policy was also very unclear. It just petered out. I know that at the national level, the stakeholders represented here have all said in previous sessions, going back to the national economic dialogue in 2019, that a session once a year with the Minister under the national economic dialogue to talk about climate policy is not enough. We need a national stakeholder forum at which all the stakeholders represented here could meet more regularly, perhaps three or four times a year. That forum could be modelled on the Brexit forum, the future of Europe forum, or whatever other forum it might be. We need an ongoing forum for dialogue on climate policy. It is good that the Government keeps stating it will have a new, enhanced social dialogue, including on climate, but we have yet to see that in any way rolled out. Of course, Covid complicates matters, but it is time for that to become real. We urge the committee to keep an eye on that, shall we say, or to push it, if it can.
Climate policy is a massive challenge and an existential threat to human civilisation. There are many things we need to do but once they have been done, they will be very positive. Those include warmer homes with lower fuel bills, cleaner air, more liveable communities, 15-minute cities, more public transport and active travel. All of those things will lead to a healthier, more enjoyable lifestyle and lots of good jobs. The fact is we have to move away from where we are now, where there is a lot of inertia in the system and a lot of vested interests, perfectly legitimately. Things are often done in silos now. We need to get from where we are now to where we need to be, and that will be challenging. Apart from saving civilisation, that will be worth it in and of itself. The benefits will be worth it.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
I will be brief. I will bring in Ms O'Sullivan towards the end of my contribution. The first part of the question was about the level of engagement and we feel it has been limited. There are decisions, targets and policy moves being made that will have a fundamental impact on farming for my generation and the generation that comes after us. That is not to say we are not engaged in change or we do not believe in change. However, any plan that is going to affect livelihoods the way this might needs to have full and proper engagement. The IFA, its president, Mr. Tim Cullinan, and I have consistently said we want to engage on this issue. We want to sit around the table and be a part of the process. We are focused on solutions, as I have said before. However, stakeholder engagement needs to be better, whether through a forum or whatever else. It is going to be important to continue that conversation as we go forward.
We have not been afraid to say that the targets are going to be challenging for our sector. There is a lot of common ground between the different groups and as was mentioned earlier, any targets have to be framed under the three pillars of sustainability - economic, environmental and social. If one of those is left out-----
I am going to cut across Mr. Rushe. The question from Deputy O'Rourke was about opportunities. I will give Mr. Rushe an opportunity to talk about those. No doubt he will have plenty to say. I want to move things along. I apologise for cutting across Mr. Rushe.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
We are the only sector that can remove carbon dioxide. We can sequester it. We can mitigate through the use of renewables. We see considerable opportunities for farmers to diversify and improve their incomes, which delivering on some of the targets and needs of society afterwards. We need to see proper policy around that.
On the element of renewables, before I bring Ms O'Sullivan in, I live in the midlands, in north-west Kildare. A lot of wind energy is planned around here but it is all planned for Bord na Móna and big business. We want to see a situation where farmers can be part of that. We want farmers to be able to diversify their incomes by becoming energy providers. They should be able to offset some of the negative costs involved in climate action and not only mitigate some of the impact on their incomes but improve their incomes. We believe that if we empower and support farmers to be involved in the renewable sector, it will have considerable benefits for the rural economy.
It needs ambitious Government policy. I would like to bring Ms O'Sullivan in on that point.
Ms Geraldine O'Sullivan:
Mr. Rushe makes a good point. Ireland is ranked 23rd out of the 27 EU member states in on-farm renewables. We have a very low level of adoption of community farm-based renewables and we typically have larger companies coming in. We are not taking advantage of spreading the wealth and having communities and farmers directly involved. It is something we need to have addressed because the social and rural development benefits from that are proven in countries that have supported that mechanism throughout Europe.
On the opportunities in climate change, we need to transform the supply chain. This has very much been talked about as part of climate change, that we improve the equity within the supply chain, because the only way we can fund the transformation is by producers getting a greater share of the supply chain so that we can develop that sustainability.
Mr. Rushe mentioned carbon farming and ecosystem services payments. These are opportunities that are available. We would need to understand funding mechanisms and markets as to how we would develop these in the longer term, but we have those opportunities.
I thank the speakers. It has been an incredibly interesting discussion. I wish I had much longer. I have many questions for each of the witnesses but I will primarily focus on the issue of agriculture and agricultural emissions. The question will be for Mr. Rushe.
One word that kept on coming up, yesterday and today, is "honest": honest discussions and being honest with stakeholders. To be honest, the Government has not been honest with farmers. It is pretending or skirting around the fact that farmers will have a greater role to play in this and in meeting our emissions targets. By doing that, the Government is doing the farmers a disservice because it is not facilitating the engagement. It is not making sure whatever changes will need to happen are being done with the farming community and in a way that benefits the farming community.
I looked up some interesting statistics. Mr. Rushe mentioned that the majority of farmers are in an economically vulnerable place. That is correct. The average farm income is €25,000, which by anybody's standards is low, and 43% of farms are on less than €10,000 a year. For farmers and for the farming community, our current system of farming does not work economically for the majority of farmers. It does not work environmentally either. The fact that agricultural emissions represent 35% of greenhouse gases and the issues we have with nitrates and phosphates show there are environmental problems in the way we farm. It also does not work socially because, as they say, young people - sons and daughters - are not in a position to take over their parents' farm because it is not economically feasible for them to do so. It is a system that does not work for the farming community. There is an opportunity to reform. This could be the point at which we appreciate and value the work farmers do and pay them to do it, because what I hear repeatedly from farmers is they will do what the Government needs them to do but they need to be paid to do it.
I have a specific question on an issue I raised the other day on the herd because the herd is one of those issues that pops up regularly as a primary area where we could reduce methane emissions quite rapidly. This is a very open discussion. If a farmer-----
Mr. Brian Rushe:
It is a fair question. I suppose any measure to reduce emissions at farm level, whatever it may take, must involve bringing the farmer and the community on a journey with them. I hate the term "national herd" because there are more than 130,000 farmers in Ireland and nearly 100,000 of them have cattle. There are 100,000 family farm units and they vary in scale depending on where in the country they are, whether they are full time or part time. It is so diverse and the national herd is a blunt term. In measures to reduce emissions, climate change and any of the environmental impacts farming might have, it is so important the community is brought along. Talk about cutting the national herd will not work. All it does is create division in this debate, which is what we need to get away from. The answer to Deputy Whitmore's question, and I am not sure she will be satisfied with it, any policy decisions in the future must be just and fair, they must engage and bring farmers with them, and it has to be a farmers' decision. That is what I would say, if they are to be successful.
We talk about income. Irish farming is small scale. That is one of the issues we have regarding our income size, because in other parts of the world where there was no government support, farms just grew in scale, for instance, the scale of operations in America and South America. Ireland does not have that because Ireland, through the EU, valued the family farm model. That supported farmers. When the market did not deliver an income, the State or the EU delivered an income because we value the family farm structure. We need to continue to value that. It is so very important. I will reiterate what I stated previously. There are changes happening on farm. We are not immune to change and farmers are engaged in it. I suppose that is the message for the Deputy there.
Mr. Coghlan's written presentation mentions we need to reduce emissions by 7% a year. Will he confirm that is the view of the Irish Environmental Network? It is important, of course, because the question is whether the budgets get us to 7% per year.
I was surprised by the idea of waiting to look at the fair share issue until 2030. Mr. Coghlan might comment on the climate debt being created between now and 2030 by the fact we do not have fair share principles embedded in the first two budgets. Mr. Coghlan also mentioned he would have preferred a different approach in terms of the backloading. Perhaps he could comment on that.
On the early action, we heard a strong scientific case for early action. Perhaps Social Justice Ireland and Chambers Ireland could comment on the economic case for early action, both in terms of redirecting fossil fuel subsidies and, of course, accessing the EU financing that is available now at very low cost as well as the funding Chambers Ireland mentioned around the European Green Deal and the sustainable development goals, SDGs, because it may not be available even in five years' time.
On agriculture, the witnesses mentioned that the scientific solutions will not deliver in the next decade. Obviously, we need to invest in them. That is most important. Given they will not deliver in the next decade, they mentioned that is an argument for later action, but in fact it is almost an argument for early action because we do not know if they will deliver. In that context, would the witnesses agree we need to look at early action, for example, that we maybe cannot afford the nitrates directive or herd expansion within the carbon budget for agriculture? In that context, what of other incentives, because we have that access to funding and we have more flexibility on funding than we have on carbon budgets?
On my final point, two thirds of family farms are not profitable under the current economic model. Maybe we should be front-loading subsidies to them rather than keeping that model going because many who are thinking in the long term, for instance, of forestry, will not invest in carbon sequestration to last until 2030. Can we incentivise it in the short term?
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
For clarity, first of all, the 7% average is what is required to hit the Government and climate law target of a 51% reduction by 2030.
For clarity, purely mathematically, that is not our fair share of a Paris Agreement-aligned just transition climate carbon budget. Perhaps we should be doing 11% per year at this point in order to do that. There are various ways of calculating it. If we take into account issues such as just transition and fairness, and the effort required to get action going and emissions reductions, I am not sure that we can achieve much more than 51% by 2030. That is nine years away. It takes time, and this is not about delaying action. It is absolutely about early action. As I said earlier, every time the State faces a choice at local and national level between options that may reduce emissions or may not reduce emissions, we must choose the option that reduces emissions. We have no more time to waste.
Even if we do all of that, it is hard to see us reducing emissions by more than 50% by 2030. That is a doubling of the rate of reduction compared to the 2019 climate action plan proposals, which is less than three years ago. I do not believe that any more is practicably possible, or politically possible, or possible with regard to a just transition. If we are saying that we are to get to 80% or 70% by 2030 and 60% by 2026, we must ask if it possible to do that in a way that does not massively impact on the poor and the vulnerable in Ireland, or on sectors in the context of shutting stuff down. The 50% reduction by 2030 is probably all that is possible, but we need to acknowledge that it is not our fair share. Many of the models around fair share date back ten or 15 years. This is the typical Irish directions of "I would not start from here." We have lost a decade that we should not have lost. Many of the models of fair share, even going back 15 years, said that there was always going to have to be an element of climate finance also, and we are not giving a fair share of climate finance. That is particularly necessary if we are not able to do our immediate fair share of emissions reductions right now.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
The quicker we can invest, the better, but there are so many challenges to prevent Ireland from moving fast. We are not used to moving fast and we put up opposition to everything. There are challenges that we need to face such as the changes that we need to make, for example in the breadth of our taxation and around the laws on motor taxation that arise when moving to electric vehicles from diesel and petrol cars. Every time we try to make changes to our tax system we run into political issues in getting those over the line. Consider the water charges, which we supported, and consider the local property tax that has taken eight or nine years to get a new valuation in. There are so many messages that we need to deliver into system, the quicker that we can make the changes, get people engaged and realising, the better. I agree with Mr. Coghlan that there are real challenges here in speeding it up beyond just finding the money to do it. It is about more than just finding the money.
Ms Michelle Murphy:
On the funding, the initial investment far outweighs the long-term cost. At the EU level we should be making the case that climate investment is not on balance sheet. That is an obvious starting point.
With regard to the national implication for costs, the agricultural and transport sectors' emissions are under constant scrutiny, but one sector we do not scrutinise is environmental subsidies or environmental tax breaks. We forgo a significant amount of money annually, for example it was to €2.4 billion in 2018. Perhaps these could be subject to scrutiny, with a sunset clause for those that are damaging, and an assessment as to how they could be phased out. That money could be invested into just transition, biodiversity, reducing and eliminating energy poverty, and implementing some of the OECD recommendations around this. The OECD recommends that public investment is far better than tax breaks in bringing about change, and recommends expanding the fuel subsidy to all members of the population and rebranding it as we go through the transition of decarbonising our economy and society. I would really point to this area of the tax code for initial scrutiny. It would increase the fiscal and budgetary space available to the Government without levying any additional taxes on individuals sectors.
Mr. Tadhg Buckley:
The Senator is absolutely correct in her analysis of the number of vulnerable farmers from an economic perspective. There are a couple of points to bear in mind within that. Those farmers are predominantly drystock farmers and they are farming in parts of the country where there is not a whole lot else going on from an economic perspective. They generate a huge amount of value in those rural economies. A study from 2013, I believe from University College Cork, showed that every €1 million in beef output generates about €2.11 million in the local economy, and supports some 16 jobs. We must bear in mind that while many of those farms are absolutely economically vulnerable, they play a significant role from the perspective of social sustainability. We need to keep these farms alive in rural Ireland because without them I am not sure what we have left in rural Ireland. When considering options needed by those farmers we need to show them options that are viable for them. Reference was made to the technological advancements side of things. In fact, the technology for achieving our full objectives is not there at the moment, but that is not to say that it will not be there in the latter half of the decade. While we are looking at reducing emissions, it does not always have to relate to the numbers. Decoupling the reduction in emissions from the numbers is an important point.
With regard to the economic vulnerability, it is very important to realise that a huge problem is the trend in retail food prices. Retail food prices fell in each of the past seven years up to this year. In the year just gone, prices rose by less than 1%. Bear in mind what inflation is running at currently. We hear a lot about consumers demanding more from a sustainability perspective, and we understand that, but there also needs to be a sustainability dividend within the value chain that is returned back to farmers. At the moment, the value chain is not delivering back to farmers at the primary level. We know that in Ireland the primary producer gets about 18% of the food value chain versus an EU average of 25%. This is a huge challenge for Irish farmers. It is a big part of the problem for economic sustainability of farmers. The food value chain in Ireland is not returning to the primary producer what it needs to return. I am aware that we are looking at the environmental side of things today, but these are all linked. Returning a sustainability dividend back to the farmer as part of the value chain is very important.
I thank the witnesses for the presentations. I do not know if they saw yesterday's meeting but it certainly left us with no illusions about the scale of the emergency and the required response. We also had outstanding farmers speaking to us late last year around November about the transition process, particularly just transition for farmers, taking in organic farming etc. They were reassured that they are valued as custodians of the land and I am only one generation from a farming family. We all sense that farmers are, globally, custodians of the land.
Professor John Sweeney said at yesterday's meeting that if agriculture reduces emissions by only 33%, there will be a 60% burden on the rest of society, and if the reduction is 15%, it will leave an 80% burden on the rest of society. He said it will not be manageable if the reduction is just 10%. The IFA has said it accepts that it must make the reductions suggested in the budget. Given that its special role has been acknowledged by the Climate Change Advisory Council, what is its position on those targets being reached?
I have seen that a third of food wasted in the world goes to landfill, which is horrendous. We are a rich country and Irish farmers work so hard to produce food. It can be back-breaking work so seeing food going straight to landfill is appalling. As we are a rich country, I am sure the waste amounts to more than a third in Ireland; I am sure that in poorer countries, most people are like my mam, leaving nothing to waste. She keeps food for stew or for birds or whatever.
I also have a question for Ms Michelle Murphy about social dialogue. Is she confident there is a real commitment to retrofitting as something that is essential and really ethical so nobody is left behind? We see how private healthcare relies on the public system. Is there a cultural mindset there? Some people feel inequality is good for us because it keeps the capitalist system growing. Does she have any comments on food waste?
Mr. Brian Rushe:
The Deputy is quite right and the figures indicate that if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. This goes back to Mr. Buckley's point about the value people put on food, and perhaps if food was valued a bit more by people, less would be wasted. The Deputy asked a question about where we are on the targets.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
We know the targets set out are going to be somewhere between 22% and 30%. A target of 22% equates to a huge challenge to our sector. I reiterate the point that at farm level there are major changes and it is a pity that people probably are not aware of or do not see these changes. Sometimes they are small but such small changes over a period have a large incremental impact.
Farmers like me across all sectors, including tillage, dairy, beef, sheep or vegetables, are seeking measures, research and answers to reduce our environmental footprint, including in emissions, water quality or improved biodiversity. In the past 12 months, farmers have engaged with this and started to understand more about the challenge. I am heartened by the attitude of most farmers I meet and the way research at every level is focusing on this as well. There is a huge challenge facing the sector and we must ensure we do not leave anybody behind in meeting these targets. We must use every opportunity we have to reinforce and improve farm income. At farm level, we are engaged. It is going to be a major challenge. Our worry is we will lose farmers and family farm units.
Ms Michelle Murphy:
On retrofitting, we outlined in our submission that subsidies are generally taken up by those who can afford to make the upfront investment. Retrofitting is a prime example of that because people need initial funds to put in the upfront costs. Currently, this is functioning as wealth transfers from all households, including lower-income households, to those on higher incomes because the costs are socialised among everyone. An example of this is the carbon tax. The subsidy, however, goes to those households who can afford the upfront investment.
We can look at the tax structure and incentives or subsidies but we must consider the short-term and long-term costs. We must also look at the impact on different segments of the population and different regions, how to support the elimination of energy poverty and how to protect people from that poverty. That should be a prime focus. That is why, in addition to what is proposed as announced in the budget with the local economy retrofitting scheme, we must look at a State-led retrofitting scheme targeting people in social housing and poorer quality housing. This is to ensure they also get the benefits of transitioning to a low-carbon economy but in terms of reduced energy bills and improved health outcomes.
On the question of social dialogue, we outlined specifically in our submission how we see this might be done at a national level and particularly at a regional and local level. As Dr. Jeanne Moore pointed out in the previous session, we must get to grips with the granular element of how we might begin to do this because every region and community is different. There are different age, income and economic profiles. They have different assets so each region would be different. That is why we must bring that dialogue from a national level to a regional and local level.
I missed the beginning of the meeting but I thank all our contributors and the discussion has been very worthwhile. The concern I have is that some sectors believe change should occur in a way where nobody would be made worse off in that sector. Listening to the evidence we have had over the past few days, it is clear that is simply not possible. We can look at the policy menu that we will have to come to terms with and it includes carbon taxes, road pricing, reducing the size of the herd, bans on waste streams, bans on diesel vehicles, fast-track planning, insistence on high-density development and so on.
Can the sort of social dialogue that has been mentioned help us achieve consensus? We cannot start from a position where nobody will be worse off but we must achieve the consent of losers in some way. Just transition cannot amount to everybody being paid for the adjustment they must make. Some people will clearly have to shoulder a burden by themselves. Are there processes where we could get to that position with the speed and urgency required? That is the dilemma I see. Everybody wants social dialogue but I have never seen social dialogue quick enough to match the urgency we have here. We probably need to devise something different.
I am interested in the insight from the sectors. Will they be able to bring members with them in an environment where some will clearly be losers in this process? The State can make much provision to try to protect the vulnerable but it cannot protect everyone.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
I thank Deputy Bruton for his work in the role in the past as Minister in a previous Government. Businesses can be incredibly adaptable but they just need to know what they are dealing with.
The sooner we can get information to businesses on the impact of the targets, on things like the future plan for carbon taxation, where investment is going to be and the order of it, the better. Businesses will adapt. It is a simple thing but as Deputy Bruton was talking, I was thinking about the fact that 14 months ago we were all talking about the problems we were going to have with Brexit if the land bridge through the UK ran into problems. We had virtually no direct routes between Ireland and continental Europe but now we have something like 35 direct routes. That happened pretty much overnight, in the first week of January last year. Businesses will and can adapt; they just need to know what they are going to adapt to. There are lots of challenges but the impact is going to be easier on the business community which is more used to adapting than other sectors. The big challenge for us is to bring our consumers, our buyers, along for the ride. It is going to be an exciting ride.
Mr. Macdara Doyle:
I would repeat and reiterate what we said in our submission. If the transition process becomes synonymous with job losses and poorer communities, nobody in their right mind will voluntarily accept that or vote for it. It is just not going to happen. We cannot expect people to vote for their own impoverishment. A very interesting study was done a couple of years ago by the Australian trade unions which compared two distinct models of transition. One was based in Appalachia and the other was the transition that took place in the Ruhr. In the latter, thousands of new jobs in new technologies were generated through a just transition that took place over many years, with planned engagement and structured dialogue. In Appalachia, the transition was outsourced to the market and ended up impoverishing thousands of communities and throwing millions of people out of work. I know which model we and most people in Ireland would prefer.
Dr. SeÃ¡n Healy:
The point made by Deputy Bruton is absolutely critical. We will not have a situation where nobody is worse off. There will be losers as well as winners in this process. To get agreement on where we go, we should focus on two things. The first is the need for a new social contract. The old social contract is broken. We have had it for over 40 years and while it worked in the past, however one analyses it, the bottom line is that it is not working now. People do not believe that the contract between them and the State is valid in the way that it was previously. The idea of a new social contract is critically important.
The only way to get a new social contract is to have a social dialogue process in which we involve all of the stakeholders. It beggars belief that the Government continues to try to drive serious change without consulting or engaging in a real way with people and sectors. We are involved in consultation every day of the week but most of it is just box-ticking. It is not really consultation. We need a proper social dialogue process. In the context of social dialogue, I am talking about the five pillars that were there before. That is our starting position. Employers, trade unions, farmers, the community and voluntary sector and the environmental pillar should be involved. We can also expand on that and I am not saying that they are the only ones that should be involved. We can adjust it but we cannot leave any one of them out. I have a fear that when the Government talks about social dialogue, it is talking about employers and trade unions, full stop. There is a process under which they meet from time to time and it seems to work, up to a point at least, but the problem with that is that if one is not at the table when these things are being negotiated, one is going to end up on the menu. That is exactly what has been happening to people who are poor, marginalised and vulnerable.
The other piece in that process is that we then have a mechanism for driving that down to local level, namely the public participation networks that I mentioned earlier. It is possible to have genuine social dialogue that looks at a range of issues and not just one, which would represent a sort of siloing. It must look at all of the issues and then determine how climate can be dealt with. The aim is to arrive at a new social contract under which people recognise that they will lose this, that or the other but will gain in other ways. The five things that a new social contract should be working towards are the development of a vibrant economy, decent services and infrastructure, just taxation, good governance and sustainability. When I say sustainability, I am referring to economic, social and environmental sustainability. They are the five main pieces.
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
Deputy Bruton asks a really fair and challenging question. There is a tension now between the speed with which we need to go and the imperative to bring everybody with us to make it possible. It is not going to be straightforward. Dr. Healy is correct that it does need some overarching contract where losses in one area can be offset by obvious gains in another, apart altogether from the obvious merits of having a contract. People can lose in one area and gain in another. To give an example, people might lose parking spaces outside their local shops but gain a safe route to school for children who are cycling or walking. There will be swings and roundabouts for individual households, never mind communities or businesses. However, in the context of all of that, we must prioritise those at risk of poverty so that whatever else happens, we do not increase the risk of poverty for those who are currently at risk and do not increase inequality in our society as a whole. Therefore, people who are wealthier are more likely to be losers in the adjustment we have to make.
Finally, general communication is required, like there has been with Covid. There have been huge inconveniences and restrictions on us for two years but there has been a general social acceptance that this is for the greater good because of a threat, which in the case of Covid is very obvious and very near term. We have to create a social consensus that the threat from climate change is as real as that. The evidence from the EPA study published just before Christmas is fascinating. The evidence of where the Irish public is at in the context of climate change is actually quite encouraging but that needs to be cultivated and nurtured by all of us here, and particularly by our political leaders, over not just weeks and months or the length of the Covid pandemic, but for the next decade and beyond.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
I wish to make a brief point before handing over to my colleague, Ms O'Sullivan. In response to the last part of Deputy Bruton's question on how to bring our membership with us, that is a challenge. It is a challenge in terms of how we make adjustments that could potentially hit people economically and leave them in a worse position. However, as we said earlier, we believe that there are massive opportunities in agriculture to provide income, mitigate income loss, strengthen farm incomes and diversify farm output in terms of energy, the renewable sector and even forestry, if we could sort out that bureaucratic mess. If we want to bring people on the journey and bring about positive change, we need to improve their economic situation. That is going to be a key part of this. Ms O'Sullivan will comment further now.
Ms Geraldine O'Sullivan:
We all know that there is going to be a cost involved but it is very difficult, without a proper economic and social assessment, to create a proper plan. As everyone has said, we need to have proper engagement in order to understand the economic and social consequences and to minimise them. As Mr. Rushe said, we also need to take advantage of the opportunities that everyone has referred to here and identify models of how we can realise those opportunities. We really need to have the detail. We are all involved in this but until we understand the consequences, we are very much operating blind and whatever plan we come up with may not be the best one. We must understand the consequences fully and try to minimise the impact on all in society.
I thank the witnesses for their contributions thus far. In response to Dr. Healy's last point, we have been discussing climate change, carbon budgets, just transition and many other issues today and over the last few days at this committee. Today's session in particular, given the breadth of the organisations and sectors that are represented, is akin to the social partnership process of the past. The Government must ensure that partnership engagement happens across all sectors because this will require the input of all sectors across society.
Given the number of organisations and sectors involved in today's meeting and the time, I will keep my questions brief. I acknowledge the positivity and constructive engagement from Chambers Ireland and the IFA in particular, because of the discussion around farming far in advance of carbon budgets being set, as well as ICTU and other union organisations in the way they have approached this. As people have said, it is easy to say "No" to any change but there is a recognition in society that we need to change and there is a willingness to change across the organisations I have mentioned and many others in various sectors. Whether they are willing to change to the extent required by the carbon budgets that will be set in those respective sectors remains to be seen. Going back to Dr. Healy's point, the key element will be that dialogue among all the sectors in order that we can have a very rich discussion about how it can be done. I would like to know what all the organisations consider to be the top three challenges in achieving the targets in their respective areas. I also ask them to say a few words about just transition and how they see it being rolled out for their specific sector or organisation. I thank the witnesses.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
I thank Deputy Devlin for his comments. We have been very proactive. Dr. Healy made the point earlier that it is not just about climate change. It is about all the sustainable development goals and trying to approach those in a positive way. Off the top of my head, the first of the top three things is the investment required to make the changes. Second is the skills and resources required to enable companies to make that change, including in research and development, innovation or delivery and implementation. There are a lot of different skills we need and how we are going to get those skills in place in an economy that is already experiencing skills shortages in a lot of areas is an issue. The final concern relates to things like energy security. We had wobbles back in November when we were worried we would have power cuts. If we are moving faster and faster, can all the other things we need, such as the infrastructure we depend on day by day, keep up with us?
On just transition, our members are very conscious of their responsibility to their staff and all their stakeholders. They do their best to create and retain employment and will continue to do that and many businesses are just waiting for the opportunity. I am also encouraged by how many of our chambers have engaged in things like town centre first policies and so on, to which Deputy Devlin has referred. It is about trying to make not just the business community but the community at large in an area the best it can possibly be. We will do what we can in those areas.
Mr. David Joyce:
As has been noted previously, the experience to date has not been very positive. We need to ramp up the implementation of a real just transition beyond the theoretical commitment to it. Some suggestion was made earlier about implementing that as quickly as possible. As people are more likely to come on the journey if they feel their voices are being heard, that broader social dialogue is important. As Mr. Talbot and others have said, the investment needed is a big challenge too.
Dr. SeÃ¡n Healy:
It is challenging to reduce it down to three issues because there is obviously more that needs to be done but it is a good question. The matter of social investment is critical. In the process, we need the social investment, particularly to protect vulnerable people and ensure poor people are not worse off as a result. We talked earlier about how some people would lose out and some would not. It is critically important that the poorest and most vulnerable are not the ones who lose out or that they do not lose out at all in this process. We must prioritise social protection and services. The second thing is that every sector must make a contribution, not just individuals. We need to be looking at it in that way because sometimes we approach these things as if they are personal responsibilities and then we do not actually get those critically important kinds of results at all.
I will also suggest two other small things. They are not really small but people should be aware of them. The Government should take the sustainable development goals more seriously. There are 17 goals, devised by the UN, and Ireland was very involved in shaping them. Why do we not see what is required to deliver them within Ireland? They are supposed to be delivered in every country. There is a 2030 deadline for that as well so it would fit neatly enough.
Finally, I suggest that we develop shadow national accounts. They have this in other countries, such as in Germany for example. They have the national accounts about which we all know but they also expand them to include things that are not counted, such as the value of work that is not paid employment, the cost of using up raw materials that are not replaceable and damage done environmentally. By putting those factors in you get a better, more rounded focus. There already something in the programme for Government about the importance of well-being and a well-being budget. That could integrate very well with both the shadow national accounts and targets on the sustainable development goals. There is a series of things that could be done there, all of which would go towards dealing with the question raised earlier by Deputy Bruton about how we get society to accept the fact that there has to be quite serious change here.
Ms Karen Ciesielski:
It is an interesting question. I agree with Dr. Healy that there are definitely more than three challenges but one of the top ones is a lack of policy coherence or policy resistance. We need the policies as the key drivers. We need governance and we also need the legislative infrastructure to support the actions we know we need as a society. One example is Food Vision 2030 and we know the change that is needed there. The Environmental Pillar was on the stakeholder committee that developed that strategy but ultimately could not support it because it was not going far enough to achieve our climate and biodiversity goals. The second issue is a lack of public engagement, support and involvement in working together to achieve these very ambitious targets as a society. We need cohesion. The circular economy presents great opportunities for building local economies, local communities and resilience throughout the country. There are challenges but there are also great opportunities. The third and probably most pressing issue, which some folks have already mentioned, is the challenge of bringing everyone with us. Just transition principles must underpin all of our work. Social dialogue, engagement, buy-in and ownership are key elements in getting where we need to go.
I would also like to support Dr. Healy’s comments about the UN sustainable development goals. The Irish Environmental Network, IEN, is part of Coalition 2030 and so is the Environmental Pillar, which exists to promote and embed the sustainable development goals in Irish domestic policy. That provides an expansive framework within which we could act.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
I thank the Deputy for the question on the three challenges and if he asked me tomorrow there could be three different ones. The first one I have written down is to ensure that when we talk about or review sustainability, we look at the three pillars or the three legs of the stool, namely, the economic, the environmental and the social. Second, farmers must engage with the process. I speak to and engage with farmers every day and I would borrow Dr. Healy’s statement about the menu. Farmers feel that they are not at the table but that they are on the menu. That is not creating an environment for engagement and we need to address that. Third, current policy does not allow farmers to exploit the potential of renewable energy and that is a big issue. Farmers should be able to see clearly how they can get involved in that sector and provide energy, not just to mitigate on-farm energy use but to improve their incomes and make money from it. If we addressed that, it would be a huge step.
My view on just transition is similar to that of the former Bord na Móna workers. Just transition is about bringing people on a journey and not leaving them behind. I live in north-west Kildare, on the edge of the border where the rehabilitating bogs are and as a lot of the former Bord na Móna workers in the area are part-time farmers, they are being hit twice. On the overall challenge, sometimes the debate on the targets, climate action and environmental policy can be overly divisive from a farmer's point of view. It is a subject that raises passions and we are worried about certain sectors being left behind but sometimes the nature of this debate divides us more than it should and more than it needs to. That needs to be addressed as well.
I would like to ask about that last point on energy and farmers' input to that. The IFA might send the committee a note on how farmers feel they are not engaged in that process. That would be beneficial. I thank all the witnesses.
I thank Mr. Rushe for his comments. I apologise to Senator Pauline O’Reilly who is keenly waiting to come in but I want to jump on that last point Mr. Rushe made on the divisive nature of the debate, which is a valid point. I was surprised that none of the witnesses mentioned the challenge there is in communicating this vast challenge we face. I invite the witnesses to respond to that because in many respects, we are in our own bubbles talking to one another other about the challenge, which has to be done. However, are we also communicating to our followers, to members of our organisations and to the wider public? There is a role for all of us there. I am somewhat surprised that did not come up although I know everybody was put on the spot by Deputy Devlin’s question. Would any witnesses like to comment on the communications challenge?
Dr. SeÃ¡n Healy:
It is important to highlight communications but there is a catch in that about which we need to be careful, namely, that people and Governments start to think about it as simply a communications issue. The problem with the communication process is that there must be something to communicate. In this context we need to work our way towards solutions or at least towards processes that will generate solutions before we start to focus too much on communicating. We must do so because otherwise people will just see it as talking and that we are not really prepared to engage them. It is critically important to have communication and our organisation does a huge amount of it. We communicate in the media and with all sorts of other organisations and groups in society. That is important in the context that you have something to communicate that shows people that there is a pathway through this. I see the committee as working to try to outline some kind of a pathway that might then be followed and could then be communicated widely to involve as many people and sectors as possible.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
I agree with what Dr. Healy has said. I did not mention it because it is a generic issue rather than a specific issue for us. I go back to what I said earlier, which is that we have a lot of choices to make and we have to bring people on board. We cannot give them one bit of the story and not the whole story. For example, there is a need to replace €5 billion worth of petrol and diesel motors with electric vehicles. Where will we get that money? It comes back to the politics of it. Look at how often we have tried to bring in a carbon tax in recent budgets and the temptation has always been to find a reason not to put it through or to reduce the amount it should be to get it over the line. The current rate of the carbon tax is trivial in terms of the amount we need to get done. Communication is vital but we also need some societal decisions about how the full package comes together.
Mr. David Joyce:
It is a good question. We accept that we have a big responsibility to communicate with our members. One of the things we have been doing is participating in an international campaign called Climate and Employment Proof our Work, which is led by the International Trade Union Confederation, to which we are affiliated. The campaign encourages workers and their unions to contact their employers to discuss how we go about this business. It is about moving away from the idea that workers are objects of this process but that they can be subjects who are actively involved in it. The Chairman raises a good point in that.
Mr. Macdara Doyle:
This is less an issue of communications and more an issue of ownership. People need to have a sense that they are involved in this, have a role to play in it and will have some say in shaping how this plan develops and how the process evolves. It is not too well known that the first just transition plan that was ever voted on in this country was voted on by the workers of Bord na Móna back in 2016. They agreed at that stage to the planned wind-down of their industry over ten years. That did not work out too well but people get it and in many respects people are well ahead of the Government on this. They know where we have to go; the problem is just that we do not have that roadmap.
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
I have been trying to communicate climate change for a while. There has been a sea change in the past four or five years, which has helped us with the communication. This meeting demonstrates that while there are still some divisions and different emphases, there is more common ground about the challenge and the communications than there has been at times before. Some of the things that have changed matters include the process unleashed by the Citizens’ Assembly, including the work of this committee and its previous iterations. The Citizens’ Assembly has shown us, as it did on other issues, that the public was further ahead than the politicians thought.
That freed the politicians to be more communicative and engaged than they had been before.
The science around climate change, the 1.5°C report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, and the most recent report again are so stark that it has been harder than ever to ignore. The climate school strikes, to be honest, changed the conversation and caught us by surprise in the environmental movement and they shook up societal perceptions. Finally, the climate itself and the changes over the past ten years in how we are experiencing climate and weather have brought this home to people in a way that means it cannot be ignored. That has freed people, to put it that way, to communicate more about this. I agree with some of the other speakers that we will not always be on the same hymn sheet, but we need the substance to communicate, and then we need to be honest with our constituencies about the scale of the transition that is required and the challenges of that, as well as the opportunities and the benefits.
I have greatly enjoyed the conversation so far. My agreement that the Chairman was being unfair to me was in jest. It has given me more of an opportunity to hear the views on the last issue, in particular, because I was going to bring up a related matter.
The feeling I and all of the social partners here have, and this is important for our report, is that they are all in agreement with the carbon budgets and know and understand the scale of the challenge. Our witnesses earlier on in the week also know the scale of the challenge and believe this is what we must do now. We had political consensus, more or less, on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act and we have political and social consensus, in some respects, when it comes to the actual budgets, but different actions have to be taken. It is very important as we move to the next phase around the sectoral targets that we ensure we are bringing everybody on board. Our witnesses have given us very good indications of what can done around aligning the policy with dialogue because that is something Mr. Coghlan and Mr. Joyce have spoken about. People get on board when they feel their voices are being heard. That has to be meaningful.
Is there a place here for a national dialogue that goes beyond the national dialogue with Government and is not the national dialogue that happens on the airwaves, in our newspapers and on our social media? We are all responsible but so are the media and journalism and it can be too easy to pit people against each other. I take Mr Rushe’s point on board because it is critical. It can be too easy to pit people against each other and political party against political party, but we have all bought into this now. Is there a place for the media to get on board as well and not to pit people against each other, because there is no environmentalist I know who believes the problem is farmers, and there is no politician here who does not understand it is difficult for different sectors? How do we ensure other sectors of society outside of ourselves here get on board to ensure we are not pitting people against each other as this progresses over the next year, as it will, and to ensure we do not say so-and-so is doing more than so-and-so, because there are always trade-offs?
Mr. OisÃn Coghlan:
The short answer is “Yes”, of course we need other sectors of society and the media on board. I do not wish to be too optimistic about things but I believe there has been a very significant shift in the media over recent years, partly driven by the same phenomena and others which I will come back to. I agree with the Senator’s analysis in the first instance, which is nothing new and which is that the media want and often look for the back-and-forth, the cut-and-thrust and the barney in how it frames debates, whether that is between different social partners or political parties. They therefore tend, at times, to go towards environmentalists versus farmers, whether either of those stakeholders look for that.
Weirdly, the transport sector is not organised in the same way. Sometimes one gets the haulage association in, but because the environmental sector is somewhat organised and the IFA is very organised, the media bring us in but there is nobody there to represent the fact that transport emissions have been going up over decades in the way we have both highlighted today. There are some quirks in how things get covered.
The media have generally improved in recent years. RTÉ is now doing a great deal more in recent years, having been pushed back over the weather issues this summer. The Irish Independentand The Irish Timeshave dedicated correspondents and RTÉ also now has a dedicated correspondent.
The issue for the media, as it is more generally for them, will be how good journalism is funded into the future. For those under 40 years of age who never buy a newspaper or pay for a TV licence, how do we fund good journalism and ensure there is not so much misinformation online? It may be as much about the regulation of online media and putting Facebook as a publisher as it is about ensuring RTÉ does its fair share of public sector broadcasting.
Mr. Brian Rushe:
In respect of the national dialogue and the media, from a farmer’s perspective and in talking to and dealing with them every single day, many farmers feel they are being talked at and that they are, perhaps, not part of the conversation at times. When the debate becomes divisive, we are alienating people from the conversation in respect of something they have done their whole life. How is that wrong or what have they done? Most of the time, there is nothing wrong with that production system but it is just a slight change. Any time a farmer here is quoting the national herd size, that does harm to the debate because the average suckler herd in Ireland is 14 cows. It is a very low stock and extensive farm system, by and large, with those numbers. That is what is we have to be aware of. We need to move beyond the divisive nature of the debate and start including farmers. Stakeholder engagement is very important.
I agree with Mr. Coghlan there that when the debate is framed with one side or sector against the other, it might make good television but it does not move us on. I agree RTÉ has improved in telling our side of the story as well of late, but at times the divisive nature of the debate has set this conversation back more than it has brought it forward.
Dr. SeÃ¡n Healy:
I look on this in a particular way. I see the media as part of the cardiovascular system of society, where they are transmitting the story of things in the way they are and are communicating values and ideas about what the future might be like, and so on. The media are critically important but there are major issues. For example, for quite a long time they seemed to have the idea that some story was put up on the fact the climate was under pressure and so on, some climate denier had to be reported to have so-called balanced reporting, which is problematic.
I remember watching Vincent Browne back in the day of his television programme where a prominent Irish journalist, who is still in business and working out there so I will not name him, came on to that programme and he was being challenged by Browne on different things. He said he agreed with what the Government was doing and that he reported from that perspective. Much of the time that is the kind of problem we have in the media, in that the media do not operate for the most part, with notable exceptions, as a place where one can actually engage, have discussion and disagreement and have it based on analysis and on properly researched positions rather than just volume abuse, shouting and those types of things.
If we were to look back and say there are things that are there already, then I have to say that the amount of misreporting I have read over the past ten years regarding what happened in social partnership has been phenomenal.
There are many givens, most of which are false, yet they are in that space. If we were to take something mentioned by me and others, it is that if you were to depend on the national media, would you know there were public participation networks out there and a network of more than 16,000 organisations involving local community, voluntary, social inclusion and environmental organisations, all working together in policy with local government? You would not so there is quite a distance to go to get the media to engage in a really solid way that would contribute positively to having a dialogue and a genuine debate and having the arguments discussed and ideas put out there and dealt with in a honest and fair manner rather than some of the stuff we have to put up a lot of the time.
Mr. Macdara Doyle:
I do not believe that media operates in isolation from wider society. The media tends to reflect generally the prevailing political and social consensus or dominant interests. That said, there are critical issues, as have been raised, around a well-resourced media and its capacity to report properly and investigate key issues. If it has declined over recent years, that may well be down to the fact that the quality of jobs in the media has declined significantly in recent years with a proliferation of freelance and bogus self-employment work. This does not in any way enhance the media's capacity to investigate and report properly. That said, the fundamental route of all of this, and these hearings are something of a model in this regard, is inclusive social dialogue. That is how you help shape a consensus.
Mr. Ian Talbot:
Obviously, we love the media. I agree that we need a confident media where its members are confident in their jobs and are not fighting for jobs but are able to report on things. How we position information is important. If we look back two years ago to the start of Covid, the media in general was not very good at statistics. It has become much better at statistics and understanding the scale of things. It is important that over the next few years, we position carefully helpful and valid statistics and information that set the scene on the scale of matters. Let us not get bogged down in the trivial stuff; let us make sure the media understands what really matters versus, possibly, what I would term the "nice to haves". The media is a critical element but we need to remember that we must position our side very well and very clearly.
Mr. Talbot had the final word. This has been an incredibly interesting session. In many ways, it has also been a very inadequate session because if we learned anything, it is how much more we need to talk about this matter. We had limited time today and I have to wrap up the debate. I am reassured by the process we have had this week whereby we heard from the Climate Change Advisory Council, independent scientists and representatives of the social partners. It has been quite an interesting process, and we are surfacing the scale of the challenge and the challenges that exist within that. We just need to do a lot more of this.
I thank all the witnesses for joining us. It has been a very valuable discussion. I thank the members for their questions, which were very thought-provoking. I am sure we will have further engagement with the witnesses and their groups in the months and years to come.