Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Sectoral Emissions Ceilings: Engagement with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The purpose of today's meeting is to discuss the sectoral emissions ceilings. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his officials. Before we begin, I will read the note on privilege. 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 to otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in the meeting if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. I ask those who are joining us online to confirm that they are indeed on the Leinster House campus before they make their contribution to the meeting.

I call on the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to make his opening statement.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Chair and members for inviting me to speak today about our sectoral emissions ceilings. These ceilings, which were approved by the Government in July, will support and guide our transition to a sustainable, healthy and more prosperous economy and society. They will underpin Ireland's ambitious commitments to tackle climate breakdown while also increasing our energy security and they will put Ireland in a strong position in the global race to the top in embracing net zero emissions, agricultural and business models. We will innovate and create job opportunities in the coming new economy as we meet our targets. The Government has agreed a ministerial accountability framework which assigns responsibility for achieving targets across a number of Ministers, primarily the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The ministerial accountability framework will be reviewed within six months to ensure we achieve the optimal enduring accountability arrangements.

In reaching a decision on the sectoral emissions ceilings the Government has had to consider a large range of factors, including cost, feasibility, socioeconomic impact, the contribution to other sustainability goals and the ability to serve as a steppingstone to achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050. In July we were in a position to agree ceilings for the electricity, transport and built-environment with the residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. This provides some certainty and clarity for these sectors on the level of action and investment required to reach our 2030 targets.

With regard to the land use and land-use change and forestry, LULUCF, sector, the committee will be aware of the new scientific data published by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, this summer which showed a significant deterioration in the emissions profile in the period to 2030. This will need to be fully assessed before the ceiling for this sector can be finalised.

This work will be carried out in parallel with the second phase of the land use review, due to be completed within 18 months. If necessary, the climate Act provides for the review of carbon budgets in certain circumstances, including where there are significant developments in scientific knowledge about climate change.

My Department has prepared an overview of the sectoral emissions ceilings for publication. This overview will help to answer questions people may have about the ceilings. It includes information on the legislative context for the ceilings, the process undertaken to prepare them and details of the ceilings for each sector in the first two carbon budget periods. Emissions targets for 2025 and 2030 are set out, which will set us on a pathway to achieving our legally-binding 51% reduction target by 2030, as well as the carbon budgets for the first two five-year periods. Sectors must stay within their respective ceilings for each carbon budget period. Achievement of Ireland's ambitious 2030 climate targets will require transformative changes across all sectors of our society and economy, which will deliver a safer, healthier, more sustainable and prosperous future. Collaboration across Government, business, academia, communities and individuals will be required to make the necessary changes and investments.

I would like to finish by thanking the committee and noting the integral role it will play, as set out in the 2021 Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Amendment Act, in reviewing the Government's progress in achieving our climate ambitions. The oversight from this committee is a key component of our enhanced climate governance structures and will improve the accountability of Ministers for delivery of climate. I look forward to further engagement with the committee as we work towards achieving a 51% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero no later than 2050.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Thank you for your opening statement. Before I open the meeting to questions, I would like to let members know that the Minister is available until 3 p.m. I think that should be sufficient time for him to answer questions. As usual, I propose that each member is given two minutes to address their question to the Minister. That is to ensure everybody gets a chance, but of course we will go back for a second and third round. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I call Deputy Whitmore.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to thank the Minister for coming in today. One of the concerns expressed when the ceilings were published in July was that they had not been divided into budgets for the 2021-2025 or 2026-2030 periods, but I see that those carbon budgets will be published. When will that happen?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This week, I think.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Perfect. How will it be possible to publish those targets if the LULUCF will not be devised for another 18 months? If one is breaking it up between the different sectors and one of the sectors is missing, does that not make it difficult to allocate among the remaining sectors? The fact that the LULUCF was not included in the sectoral ceilings was also of concern in relation to meeting the targets. Has the Minister obtained legal advice on delaying the incorporation of LULUCF into any of the targets, the ceilings or the budgets, for another 18 months, at least?

The Minister spoke about ministerial accountability and having developed an accountability framework. Will he go into more detail on the metrics being used and how he will hold the various Ministers to account? That is very important. Will it be done in a transparent manner? Will that information be available to the public?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Whitmore. As I said, that information will be shared. Information has already been shared with the Committee of Public Accounts, as I understand, as it also requested information. The further outline breakdown and background material will be published this week.

I would like to make a point on the key question the Deputy asked regarding an unallocated element where we are waiting for further scientific knowledge and assessment, particularly of the land use sector.

The change of information was quite late in the day. As I said, it was mid-summer in the midst of us developing the sectoral emissions ceilings. It was absolutely appropriate in those circumstances not to rush through, or to try to conclude on that scientific evidence, as to the measures or the quantity of further emissions reductions or further reducing the source of emissions from the land use sector. This is something we envisaged. I will quote the programme for Government because this approach is something we thought about in advance, not just in the last few months or even the last year but two and a half to three years ago. It stated:

In setting the second carbon budget for 2026-2030, we will not yet be in a position to identify all the emerging technologies, changing scientific consensus or policies to meet our full ambition. This will require a further allocation within the overall carbon budget, subject to intense evaluation. This approach, which mirrors the Danish model, will be reflected in the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill and in future iterations of the Climate Action Plan.

It recognised that in some instances scientific or technological information evolves or may change. That is particularly the case when it comes to land use and land use emissions. Everything is measured from a 2018 period because that was the most up to date period on the formation of this Government, and everything is based on United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, reporting mechanisms. Even there the baseline understanding, from memory, was from roughly 4.8 million tonnes of land use emissions as a source. The revised information we had from the scientific community at the last minute was that it would be higher, closer to over 7 million tonnes, as I recall. The likely projected source of emissions from land use in 2030 is to be 11 million tonnes, 4 million tonnes above what had originally been projected.

It is appropriate for us to complete and to use the land use review, which we are doing and which will give us a much better understanding as to how we might address some of those, particularly in managing wetlands and the management of bogs, forestry and grasslands. In those circumstances, it was appropriate to await the final allocation or to have a category, which we set pending the completion of such a review, and then, as we committed to in the programme for Government, adjust the allocations accordingly, as soon as we have the relevant information and we are working flat out on that.

With regard to the legal advice in terms of whether there are legal questions around some of that approach, of course, the Attorney General would always be involved but that is an internal process where the Attorney General provides ongoing legal advice to the Government.

As regards ministerial accountability or the sectoral responsibilities, one of the elements we will include in the new Climate Action Plan 2023, this iterative process, which we will publish in November, will be clear key performance indicators, KPIs, that will determine how we measure and monitor ministerial progress. This committee will also have a role in that regard.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Okay. I presume the budget target for 2025 will be the key metric they need to be working towards and that will be set out in all the actions in the Climate Action Plan 2023.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Okay. Has the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage been included as one of those ministers?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has specific responsibility around social housing but our Department also has a key role there. For example, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has a role in terms of public buildings, but the key responsibility in retrofitting is that our Department will set a key lead. As I said in my opening statement, the six-month review will allow us to really finalise how that interaction between Departments is managed and how the responsibility is shared out proportionally.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I congratulate the Minister and his officials on the mammoth task of not only appraising the policy and developing the plan but also on the political challenge of getting various Departments with various priorities to come on board. I have a little experience of it and it is a mammoth task.

I want to pursue the issue of what is unallocated in the target setting. The Minister mentioned that the land-use sector is one with a high level of measures that are yet to be identified. Other than these, are the other measures that are yet to be identified spread fairly evenly throughout the various sectors and their targets? Have Departments at this stage identified measures which, in the event they do not fulfil the targets, be in reserve to correct a pattern that is going off trend?

I want to pursue the land use issue. If, as it seems, the starting point of land use is far more challenging than we thought, will this wash back into having to revise the targets in other sectors? I imagine that it is slower to make changes in land use compared to some of the other sectors. Is there a risk that difficulties in this sector could require higher targets being set in other areas? Land use was not included in some of our international targets. Is there some flexibility there?

As I understand it, at EU level, the emissions-trading sectors have ambitions of various percentages and the effort-sharing sectors are not large users. This distinction has not been made in setting the plan. How will the sectors interact? As I understand it, the thinking underpinning emissions trading is that high-carbon activities are moved to those countries that are most efficient at doing them. If we set targets for such a sector, will we miss out on the concept of an activity moving to a more carbon-efficient location? Will the fact we have not made this distinction handicap our freedom of manoeuvre in policy to a degree? Will it put us a little out of step with what will happen in the rest of Europe?

My next question is a special pleading. Will the Minister consider integrating the strategy and the approach being taken on the circular economy entirely into the climate action reporting framework? It is my strong belief that the circular economy offers a better framework for transformative change than simply the climate metric alone. On the one hand, it embraces biodiversity and many of the other environmental challenges while, on the other, it is a more inclusive approach in that it emphasises that different players need to work together to come up with solutions. It creates a unity of purpose. Sometimes the discussion on climate creates a finger-pointing debate. I see potential in the circular economy for every sector, whether it be food, construction, fast fashion or non-food retail. We can get a common purpose and have common principles applied. We can get greater buy-in along the supply chain if we approach it in this way. Will the Minister consider that it should be integrated? I acknowledge the full details have not been worked out. As the actions and the ambitions for various sectors emerge, they should be integrated into the climate approach.

The climate approach has the oversight of the Taoiseach's office and it has the cross-Government pressures that were not included in the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act but they are essential if we are to get momentum in the circular economy territory.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In terms of the further adjustment to the budgetary allocations, every sector could potentially play a part in that. However, it does require us to complete the land-use review because that will give us a better idea of the quantum in that particular sector and then we will have a better idea of what is potentially required elsewhere. The approach we have taken is better. Rather than just pretending we have the answer for that and allocating on a non-scientific basis, it was appropriate to follow the science and to complete the land-use review to discern what will be required.

In terms of other measures, the process whereby the climate action plan is reviewed and amended each year is appropriate, as this summer shows. Even since the agreement on the sectoral ceilings we have seen what has happened, with energy prices on the European markets, particularly gas, going up by some 50% in the last week of July and first two or three weeks of August. Prices then dropped but went back up again. That will have very significant implications for emissions in the energy sector, to take one example. It is likely to accelerate some of the measures that we had already considered. Therefore, it is better to have this iterative planning process.

In no sector is there an easy option that is being held back in reserve. To be honest, the ceilings are appropriate for each sector but they are testing the limit of what each sector can do in a practical way. There is not any easy allocation, or certainly not without an incredibly challenging political commitment to further change. It is a really challenging approach that we must follow in order to meet these targets but they are achievable. They require political commitment as much as anything else, particularly focusing on real delivery.

On land use, I remember this committee in the previous Oireachtas had analysis done on the potential for land-use emissions reductions. It was very interesting to note the variation in what was deemed possible, particularly with the re-wetting of bogs and the management of wetlands. The variation was somewhere between 5 million and 10 million tonnes. We had a presentation which showed that we could get up to 11 million tonnes from re-wetting of bogs, stopping the ongoing release of carbon from that source. That is why the land-use review is key, to give real certainty on the potential in that area. What we have learned since that time regarding the implementation of measures on wetlands will give us a much more scientific assessment of how the first tranche of re-wetting of bogs and drained land went and whether it is working. That scientific review will tell us what is possible.

Regarding the EU system, Deputy Bruton is right to say the EU approach is also changing. It is very important to remember in the context of our sectoral emissions ceilings and the whole climate action plan system that we are doing it separate from the European accounting system. Ours is based on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. It very much mirrors the scale of ambition. We are doing it on the basis of the programme for Government commitment to a 7% per annum reduction, roughly. That is now akin to what we will be required to do under the European Fit for 55 package. They are doing it on a European accounting system that has certain differences vis-à-visthe UN accounting system that we will apply, although even that system continues to evolve. For example, the Emissions Trading System, ETS, is now likely to incorporate transport and the built environment within the trading sectors. It will be a slightly separate emissions trading scheme but it will be carried out in a similar way.

Our work on our sectoral emissions ceilings helps us in the development of our next national energy climate action plan which is due the year after next, in 2024.

Much of what we are doing here will, in effect, make up the presentation of that plan to the European Union. That European plan has to add up to what Europe is committing to in the UNFCCC process. We are still connected to the UN in both strands but the European one is on an effort-sharing basis where all the elements add up. I do not think anything we are doing contradicts what European legislation will require us to do but our approach is based on a 2018 baseline, due to the new Government in 2020 and those 2018 figures being the most recent, and on the UNFCCC accounting system and climate law, which is separate and apart from the European Fit for 55 legislation. One does not contradict or hinder the other in any way.

With regard to the circular economy, I absolutely agree with the Deputy on the key political point that we will not achieve the objectives if this a blame game and is about finger-pointing. It has to be part of moving towards a better system. In the context of this recent wartime emergency, we can see the effect of a reliance not just on gas but also on other fossil fuels and fertilisers - the use of AdBlue in our haulage industry for example - in so many different sectors. Even in respect of animal feed, we can see the risks this country is under because of an over-reliance on imported raw materials. The more we move towards a sense of a positive agenda, and reduce that import dependency and financial risk, the better. The circular economy is a perfect example of that because at its core it is promoting efficiency. Designing systems so they are less wasteful is not just good for the environment; it means a better economy. It is where the world and new technological innovation is going and where we will benefit from reduced pollution as well as reduced emissions.

We do not have a specific sectoral allocation for the circular economy because, as the Deputy said, it tends to be across so many different areas. What we can look at, however, and will consider based on what the Deputy said, is the provision of a chapter within the climate action plan to incorporate what we are doing in the circular economy because it has a big influence and, potentially, a very significant impact. We should include it in our climate action plan and not ignore it, but it will not be contained within the particular sectoral emissions ceilings we are setting out here.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for attending. It could be believed, from a lot of the public commentary and attention around sectoral emissions ceilings, that the only area of concern was agriculture. It was almost presumed that every other sector would be given a responsibility for the upper end of the carbon budget target range but that is not the case when we see it.

I will ask about the process. It is the first time anybody has gone through this process. The Minister has had the responsibility, in the context of uncertainty, emerging technologies and unknowns, of trying to work and negotiate his way through this. Will the Minister, if he can, reflect on that process? What are the trade-offs and constraints? Are they technical constraints in terms of feasibility? Are they political constraints involving the political system or markets that have not yet emerged or are not ready? Will he address that specifically in relation to the area of electricity? There are particular considerations and challenges there. We know and have heard a lot about the opportunity for offshore wind and renewables. There was a promise of increasing ambition.

The war in Ukraine has obviously impacted on that. An increase in ambition was announced yesterday. Will the Minister focus on that in relation to the challenge ahead to achieve the targets that have been agreed and the reason they are not more ambitious?

Related to that, will the Minister make the tools that will inform decision-making processes publicly available? That would be of benefit. It is in the public interest. There is an opportunity and a need for greater transparency in relation to the trade-offs required to deliver climate action. As the Minister is aware, we have sought publication of the McKinsey report. More than that, as we have for the financial budget and financial policy decisions, I and other Opposition Members need to be able to ask individual Departments about the emission reductions that we can achieve by pursuing policy X versus policy Y. We do not have that and it is a weakness of the system. We should deliver that and while that may be a challenge in the immediate term, we should work towards it. I would welcome the Minister's response in that regard.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy O'Rourke. In regard to process, going back to what I said earlier, one of the reasons we rely on the UNFCCC accounting systems here is that we it means we do not have to replicate what we are doing already by creating a new system. The starting base was very much in the sectorial emissions ceilings that they would reflect the EPA emissions inventory. That makes sense. We take existing data. We do not create new data streams when we can avail of what is there. It was a long, complicated process. We had to consider a range of factors such as economic cost, feasibility, socioeconomic impact and the effect on other environmental sustainability goals. Also, critically, in setting these first two budgets and taking a view over the long run, we do not have to do something where we will have to reverse engines. We have to recognise we are going to net zero. If something can be a stepping stone towards lateral emissions reductions, obviously it will be very beneficial.

In the process one of the key elements was the employment of outside consultants - McKinsey, at is happens, which assisted the Department and engaged, with the Department, in extensive negotiation processes with other Departments. It was not as if we just started doing this in August. There were six months leading up to it. Deputy Bruton mentioned this earlier and I understand the process is similar to those in which he engaged in 2018 and 2019, in the sense of replicating the consultation process with different Departments. As I said, it is not easy.

The focus in the media and among the public was on agriculture. In truth, agriculture proved to be challenging because it is not easy to change some of our farming practices. However, in the end it was a beneficial process. We learned a good deal from engagement with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as did it. That gives me confidence that we are on a solid footing to where we go from there.

Deputy O'Rourke mentioned the energy area, in particular areas such as offshore energy. This is complicated because I have the ministerial portfolio and the Department has the responsibility for that. I am convinced that the targets are achievable for the energy sector, which has the highest and most challenging target of achieving 80% renewable electricity and a 75% reduction in emissions. The war in Ukraine has accelerated the case for change.

There are some large interventions, such as the likes of developing offshore wind, which can fundamentally switch the way things work within a decade.

The most challenging issue will be transport because, again, one is dealing with people’s everyday lives and transport patterns that have been set for 40 or 50 years of increased car dependency and a more sprawled, disbursed planning model in our country. That is not easily reversed. It will be a four-way switch: to biofuels and electric power; to walking, cycling and public transport; the reduction in the overall demand for traffic, which is probably the most important but least discussed; and a sharing of transport. Moving to more shared mobility options would be a clever way of not just improving our emissions but also improving our public realm.

I was drawn to that this morning coming in. It was the first morning that the schools were back, but also it seemed that many office people were coming back on a Tuesday. There was much traffic. Certainly, on my own route in this morning, the traffic was back to the worst days in terms of tailbacks of cars. That has to change and it is not an easy one to change. More than anything else, it is not engineering solutions, technological innovation or anything other than political will for us to reallocate space and create the environmental conditions which will allow for traffic volume reduction.

My understanding is, as I said, that a lot of detailed information has already gone to the Committee of Public Accounts, including a summary of some of the McKinsey analysis. We will follow it up this week, as I said, with further sharing of information. Further analysis will then be presented subsequent to that, including the detailed analysis from MaREI in University College Cork, UCC, which helped as lead academic agency in the collation of a lot of background research materials. All that information will be provided. They are the background appendices of analysis that underpinned the Department’s and McKinsey’s work.

We have known this information in this committee for at least five or six years. There is nothing new that has been presented in any of the analyses. Members could have a fairly good assessment from engaging here with MaREI or others as to what their recommendations are.

I would say one thing on that. It is interesting and I was just reflecting on this with a colleague the other day. Some of the modelling information from MaREI five or six years ago was quite different in its assessment. The world does change. Five or six years ago, for example, its assessment in the energy sector looking forward to the energy future strongly stated biomass would be a significant element in meeting our energy needs and decarbonisation. However, actually, five or six years on, the cost of offshore wind has halved and the price of solar has come down 70% or 80%. The assessment of what is possible keeps changing. That is why I keep coming back to this approach where we do a new climate action plan each year and we continue to update what is happening on the basis of those changing circumstances. Even though one gets good background scientific modelling information, it changes. Perhaps more in a five-year period than in a year-to-year period, but it is continually evolving. It evolves towards more renewables, more efficiency and the land use plan being probably the most important project we have in the climate agenda in front of us. Completing that is the most strategically important in so many different ways – for biodiversity as well as emissions.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to restate the possibility of the Minister’s Department or a central facility where policy proposals and options could be asked as questions and the emissions reductions impact of them could be assessed. Essentially, political parties will launch alternative budgets next week. They will be with confirmed data from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance. We do not have the same facility for emissions reductions.

It is important, regardless of who is asking those questions, to start to think in terms of the carbon impact of individual policies. I think it would be beneficial for whoever is in government and in opposition to have a system like that.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would agree with the Deputy. Within our existing system in Cabinet, we have to proof policy matters in a whole variety of aspects, including environmental. I believe the Department of the Taoiseach is looking at further ways - both internally in Government as well as in respect of sharing with the Opposition - in which we can carbon-proof in advance measures as they come to Cabinet, or indeed as they come to the Dáil or before committees. It is about the scale of this climate issue. The truth is that it can be centre stage for a certain period but then something else happens, such as the war in Ukraine, Covid or Brexit, and inevitably the focus switches to whatever the crisis issue of the day is. We do need a mechanism where every policy measure is consistently assessed on its carbon impact. The Department of the Taoiseach is looking at the issue. We will seek to stitch that into the climate action plan.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Perhaps I might jump in there. For the benefit of the Minister, we have discussed, as a committee in private session, the fact that the resources of the committee are limited enough and it is an incredibly technical subject. I did bring the issue up with the working group committee. The Taoiseach was in before the summer and he gave his informal approval that there would be some kind of Oireachtas service like the Parliamentary Budgetary Office, PBO, that would inform Members across all political parties on the subject. Deputy O'Rourke is absolutely correct. Indeed, his party unfairly came in for some stick earlier in the summer when it was being asked to come up with numbers and to take positions on highly technical policies. I think it is important to raise the issue. It is good that it has been raised with the Minister, but as a committee we should follow up on it as well, and perhaps make a representation to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I might just say, if it makes sense, that if I was doing so, my instinct would be to include it within the existing PBO. It would take two years to create a new agency. I know that from experience, having helped to set up the PBO. It took three years, and it may have even been four years by the time it was fully set up. I would perhaps look at the remit of the office. At the time the office was being established, I recall asking it how it would integrate its work with the climate agenda. Perhaps it is about looking at the mandate within the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight and its resources. The creation of a new office might not necessarily be the solution. Integrating the economic assessment and the climate assessment within the one PBO might make sense.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I defer to the Minister's vast experience in the matter. I think it is something that we should probably discuss, as a committee, and push for as a priority. I believe Deputy Bríd Smith has joined us virtually from her office.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I confirm that I am on campus. I am not feeling great, so I am not coming down to the committee room to spread diseases. I thank the Minister for coming in. I am sure the Minster is probably aware of it, but I wish to draw his attention to correspondence from some very eminent scientists, Professor Barry McMullin, Dr. Andrew Jackson, Mr. Paul Price and Professor John Sweeney, that we dealt with in private session earlier today. The correspondence dates back to 9 August 2022. Has the Minister answered the correspondence? If so, I ask that we are provided with a copy of his response. For the here and now, I ask the Minister to outline how he would deal with the concerns that these experts have expressed in their letter. Many of the concerns raised are around the legality of not having a target for land use, land-use change and forestry, LULUCF, and for postponing it, and the targets not being adequate and not fulfilling the requirements of the legislation in a timely and effective manner. The scientists are concerned that these targets and the lack thereof in some areas is actually flying in the face of the legislation. I ask the Minister to tell us how he would address that.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have the highest regard for Professors McMullin and Sweeney and Mr. Jackson and, obviously, I have read any letter of concern that they have with real attention. We will respond this week. I hope we can allay some of their concerns though perhaps not all. They may form a different view. Certainly, we can allay one of their concerns as to where the budgets were set out for 2025, which in the initial press release could be read in a way that was not clear. It is clear we are allocating the first budgets to 2025 and that the allocation within each of the sectors is agreed.

I do not know whether Deputy Smith missed the opening question and answer session with Deputy Whitmore but, as I said, the reasoning was very much scientific in that we received new information in late spring or early summer that showed a significant deterioration in the emissions from the land-use sector projected to the end of the decade and a reassessment of what the baseline emissions from land use were back in 2018. That is primarily related, as I understand, to a reassessment of the emissions from upland, peaty soils where afforestation had led to a much higher source of emissions from that land. The life cycle and clear-felling characteristics of our forest stock were also some of the reasons for that deterioration.

Rather than allocating blind, as it were, with regard to land use or the balancing amount in other sectors, it was better to use the land-use review that we are carrying out to assess what can be done because it is designed to find out how we optimise storage of carbon in our soils and land and the direction we take in re-wetting of soils, new forestation systems, grassland management and so on. It is more accurate and appropriate to do that. We recognised that in the programme for Government and acknowledged that, such is the scale of the challenge, we might have to do it in a evolving way as science and technology evolve in the course of this decade.

We will write back to, I hope, answer their concerns. They may take a different view and that is their right, but the critical thing we need to do now is concentrate on the delivery where we have clear targets and a budget for this first half of the decade. One could get into a long-term row over the what scientific approach is to managing the uncertainty of higher emissions from land use and the implications for each sector, but my focus will be on how we deliver the immediate reductions we need in transport, agriculture, built environment, energy and so on.

That is also where our political focus should be because that is the biggest challenge. It is not easy. We are seeing when we look to change policy or implement new measures that involve emissions reductions that we do not necessarily have an easy path and, in many instances, there is considerable public opposition to some of the measures we might seek to make. My focus is on that. The legislation and the allocation of these sectoral ceilings give us a certain strength and ability to do that.

With my officials - I will put on my energy hat now - I regularly say that if we do not step up here, we will be exposed, because this legislation requires us to act. We know our sectoral emissions ceilings and they are justiciable. The existing legislation is in place and intact with the sectoral emissions ceilings in place. One could spend the whole time arguing on that scientific approach, or not, as some might argue on the LULUCF, and the unallocated savings, but our focus is on emissions reductions we have to do. The other issue will be worked out as we complete the land-use review and reallocate as soon as we can.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is fine. I heard the Minister's earlier contribution. I am looking for more clarity on that because the point being made here by the experts is not whether the science is developing or evolving, as the Minister said, but rather that 18 months' delay in setting a target for the LULUCF lacks consistency with the legislation in that it is not effective, timely or in compliance with the legislation. It is extraordinary that we will be into 2024 before we get a target for this sector and, of course, all sorts of speculation will happen in the meantime, and speculation about this sector, particularly in regard to smaller farmers, sheep farmers and hill farmers, may be used as a “sweep it under the carpet” tactic for other sectors that are not reaching their targets. My question was really about the illegality of not complying by setting a target for this sector, not the argument the Minister made around the science of evolution.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I agree with the Deputy on the need for urgency and action. The legislation states, “The Minister shall, as soon as may be after a carbon budget takes effect under section 6B, finalise and submit each sectoral emissions ceiling to the Government for approval”, so there is provision within the legislation. I also recognise that, in many instances, scientific information will evolve. That land use review is not starting now and this is halftime, as it were. The first half of it was engaged in building up the evidence, with the EPA and Teagasc having a key role in that. I do not think it is complete because it is an incredibly challenging review. It is charged with, first, optimising the storage of carbon and the reduction in the source of emissions from land use, but it also has to optimise for the protection of biodiversity, the restoration of natural habitats, the restoration of pristine water quality and the reduction in nitrogen and ammonia pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, and, I believe, the prosperous development of rural Ireland.

It is complex because it has to incorporate, as I said earlier, building on what we are already doing. It has to be based very much on the river basin management systems because that is an existing European structure that is central to our environmental habitats protection. It has to help to give us clear direction on forestry policy, rewetting and rewilding projects and how we manage wilderness areas, as well as farmland. It has to help us in the agriculture sector, not by telling any one individual farmer what to do, but in ongoing changes to our support systems, such as the Common Agricultural Policy and other measures, to make sure our land use targets are met.

To give one further example, one of the measures we agreed for the sectoral emissions ceilings this summer was with regard to the development of anaerobic digestion. We have a good assessment of that and we believe 5.8 terrawatt hours is possible. That is also incorporated within the land use review. It has to help us make sure we have the right anaerobic digestion systems in the right place. It is such a massive project and has such huge implications across so many different sectors that I think it will take 18 months.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to follow up on some of the concerns raised by the experts who have been spoken about: Professor McMullin, Professor Sweeney and Dr. Jackson. I am also raising a couple of concerns I would have highlighted to the Minister back when we were setting the carbon budgets. I am worried we are seeing dilution and further dilution in ambition at each point.

The Minister mentioned following the UN process and following the programme for Government. The UN Environment Programme had said that an average of 7.6% would be needed to stay within 1.5°C or to achieve our targets, those ultimate objectives that are meant to underpin our legislation.

It had indicated 7.6% whereas the programme for Government had indicated 7% per annum. Again, the latter was already less than what the UN had sought. We know from the analysis of the carbon budgets that it amounts to a reduction of 6% per annum. Therefore, the reduction in the carbon budgets is already less than that in the programme for Government. In that context, we need to look to the legislation and ask whether, even within the limited measures, we are fulfilling the obligations in the legislation. Concerns were raised that the Minister seems to have addressed. I hope the table on sectoral emissions ceilings in tonnage that has been given to the committee will be publicly available. Will the Minister confirm the EPA will be reporting in terms of the tonnages? As the sectoral ceilings become legally binding, will there be a review to ensure the EPA’s analysis captures and accurately measures all forms of emissions in terms of tonnage?

We are now into this discussion on tonnages. On tonnages, we have two problems. On the period 2021 to 2025, LULUCF is down as undetermined, but the space within the budget is just 20 megatonnes. Will the Minister confirm whether 20 megatonnes is the ceiling in terms of LULUCF? In that context, even though we may get excellent information from the land use review, we know that many of the things that need to be done will take one, two or three years, meaning some of them need to be started now. For example, peatlands rewetting may deliver some dividends within a three-year period. It would need to start now to make any contribution by 2025. We know that planting trees will result in carbon storage after 2030 and will therefore not be relevant to either of the two budgets in question. In that context, there is a concern.

With regard to the 2026-2030 window, there is a serious problem. It looks like there will not be compliance with the legislation whereby we have plans for 213 megatonnes of emissions even though the budget relates to 200 megatonnes. The idea of unallocated savings is not consistent. The sectoral emissions must be within the carbon budgets. That is very clear in the text of the legislation. Those sectoral omissions need to be revised.

The Minister mentioned Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine. The reality is we will face unexpected challenges consistently. Surely, therefore, we should be aiming to have the sectoral emissions allowed for by the legislation come in lower than those related to the carbon budgets so we have a space that allows us to address unforeseen circumstances that may require an increase in emissions temporarily. We should be looking towards that rather than towards exceeding the budget figure and saying we will figure out how to make the saving later.

The 7.6% we mentioned, the figure of the UN Environment Programme, related entirely to emissions reductions the UN was looking for. It would be much higher if savings or potential technologies were included. Therefore, there is no scope for including these technologies downstream in these budgets. Will the Minister address those specific concerns?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The 20 million tonnes is not the implied ceiling within the budget. With regard to the 2026-2030 target, the 200 million tonnes is after the reallocation of what we decide on the reallocation, including LULUCF. It does not give an implied figure for LULUCF in the budget period.

May I make a point that I believe to be critical? Regardless of the figures and targets we set, they, in their own right, will not change the emissions. What will change the emissions is what happens in more than 2 million Irish homes, more than 120,000 Irish farms and hundreds of thousands of small businesses.

The ceilings are very useful and important because they give a clear policy direction for the public sector, particularly for Government Ministers and their areas of responsibility, in amending policy decisions and helping the country to make the switch and take this leap. However, policy measures have to be implemented. Agreeing a figure one way or the other will not automatically see the reduction being delivered, even-----

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am not suggesting that Minister. We have targeted discussions on many different policy areas, but what we are discussing here now is the sectoral emissions ceilings. Will the Minister address the fact that he has proposed sectoral emissions ceilings for the 2026-2030 period, that exceeds the carbon budget of 200 megatonnes? The fact of how we get there-----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Can we let the Minister answer?

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Sure, will the Minister answer that question?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The point I was making is that is not what will happen. There will have to be a reallocation. There is a process. We have set out what we know and think is possible in each of the sectoral areas - we learn by doing - in agriculture, in transport, in terms of how we can promote public transport. Even within that, there will be variations - we learn by doing - but we know we will need approximately a 25% reduction in the demand for transport. We know we have tools to use like space reallocation as one of the ways of achieving that but we still have to achieve it. The delivery of the mechanisms is going to be key. We did not know how we would close the gap that opened up in scientific knowledge at a latter stage in this process. It was appropriate in those circumstances to say we were not going to give a back-of-the-envelope response, or a guess, without having any clear technological understanding as to how to close this gap or what the implications might be for other sectors. We said, appropriately, that we would have to do further research and analysis as to how to close that gap, and will do so as soon as possible. In the meantime, we need to get on with the measures we know we can deliver and that should be the focus of our approach while we do the reallocation.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is a problem Minister as I said-----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am not allowing a back and forth on this. The Senator can come back in for the second round.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Actually Chair, my question has not been answered. I am asking specifically about the legal compliance of having 213 megatonnes of emissions planned for during a period which has a budget of 200 megatonnes. I also asked if the Minister was confident that Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry, LULUCF, emissions will be less than the 200 megatonnes and if so, how does he plan-----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to be fair to other members who are waiting to ask questions.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to come back in again around this. We are asking questions about the topic at hand, not on any other topics.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is less than an hour and there is time to come back in. I will let the Minister come back this time and then I will go on to the next contributor.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

My understanding is that the difference in the Senator's view is that the unallocated savings will arise as emissions whereas we are saying they will be reallocated and we will therefore bring the figures down to 200 megatonnes. The Senator is assuming there will not be a reallocation. We are committing to reallocation but on the basis that we need to do further scientific analyses.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister and the officials who have joined us again so quickly after the last session. I have five points to make.

First, while I agree it would be helpful to have an information service in relation to climate emissions, every party, bar one, was able to come out and state a position so we did have advice. The Climate Change Advisory Council came before the committee on several occasions and they are there to give advice.

Second, to come back to the point raised by the Minister around transport, I completely agree with him and it is something that often does not get enough coverage in this committee although it is absolutely critical. The emission targets are very high for transport.

There is an issue around local authorities, public bodies and State companies in particular. The way that we have our democracy set up means we can set targets at a national level. Can the Minister tell me how can we and the Department ensure at a local level or, indeed, in public bodes, such as An Bord Pleanála and the National Transport Authority adhere to the climate action plan?

I would like to refer to the point raised by Deputy Whitmore about the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and local government. I think that there is a really important remit here for that Department.

My third point concerns LULUCF. It is concerning to all of us that no targets have emerged from the negotiations with the two other Government parties. As there is evidence that there are actions that can be taken that will reduce emissions, to what extent has accountability and transparency been built into the next 18 months, or whatever length of this period, to reduce emissions even if there is no target in place?

It has been highlighted that a lot of the discussion, certainly in the public domain, was around agricultural emissions. The target set for agricultural emissions is 25% reduction and off the back of that the target for electricity or energy was raised, as I understand it from public discourse. The target is now 7GW for offshore renewables and originally it was 5GW. I welcome the increase and all three Government parties agreed to increase that target for energy emissions reduction. How confident is the Minister that we can hit the target? The lower level of agricultural emissions probably did lead to the increase in energy. I do not doubt that it is also very difficult to hit that target of 25% but each area is difficult.

Lastly, I wish to refer to back-up storage, particularly for this winter and next winter. There has been some discussion in the media that there are concerns around the public ownership of back-up storage and I would like to hear the Minister's views on the matter. I believe that public ownership is the only way to go when we are talking about energy security.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The last issue is not quite related to today's discussion.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I know but I hope that the Chairman might let me slip in my query.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will leave it to the Minister to reply, if he so wishes.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I agree with what was said earlier about information services for the Oireachtas. As I said earlier, the Parliamentary Budgetary Office would be an appropriate vehicle. There is also the legal office here and I am sure that the Senator has had recourse to it on climate issues and so on. There are also different committees.

As an aside, one of the most interesting developments at the moment is what is happening in Brussels and Strasbourg. One of the things that we tend not to do is follow the legislative process in the European Union but I believe that there are 22 pieces of legislation in the Fit for 55 package. So there is an incredible breadth of legislative change coming because Europe is doubling down and betting everything on this green transition. One of the things that we need to do is make sure that we keep in close contact with our European colleagues and maybe bring them in to understand what is happening with the Fit for 55 legislative package because that is the most significant. There are also a lot of resources within the European Parliament that we might be able to tap into to inform us.

Certainly with regard to the role of local authorities, State companies and others in the transport sector and elsewhere, I absolutely agree with the Senator and think that local authorities are key. I have travelled around the country. Last week, I was in the Country Louth to meet members of Louth County Council to make this point and listen to what they intend to do. All bodies, not just Louth County Council, need to shift away from thinking, "We have a climate action plan which is about our emissions", which might be 1% of the total emissions within the county. They have a key role in everyone's emissions, a key role within the law and a key role particularly in areas like transport, waste management and water.

They have a critical role, as do State companies. People may not have noticed but a very significant Government decision was made earlier this summer on the role of public companies, State companies and others in respect of the climate agenda in all their agencies, ranging from the library service, Coillte - it could be semi-State companies of every hue - whereby they must incorporate our climate emission targets in their corporate, board and management decisions. That paper is available in terms of the roles and responsibilities of public bodies on climate change. It was agreed and published this summer and very much sets the direction of where they need to go.

With regard to LULUCF, doing this land use review does not mean we stop what is already happening. There are significant measures in the 2022 climate action plan in rewetting of bogs, management of forestry and so on and they will be intensified in the 2023 plan that will come out in November. It is not as if we wait 18 months for the review to be completed. It is happening and needs to be and will be accelerated in the upcoming plan.

On those three energy elements that were agreed as part of the setting of sectoral ceilings, it is true there were concerns at the latter stages. It was in response as much as anything else to the concerns of people asking how, if agriculture was not going to the upper end of its ceiling of 30%, do we close some of the gap. It was appropriate in my mind for us to look to the energy sector for an answer to that question. It was not as if the work had not been done on this. We had been considering it in quite some detail, for example, the switch from a 5 GW target to a 7 GW target in offshore energy. That was inspired not just to close the gap but because we know from the way this is evolving very quickly that we want to be in the space where we are encouraging facilitation of the production of green hydrogen or ammonia or both and are giving a signal of intent in that regard by stating that our strategic approach will be to facilitate that. We knew we wanted to do this anyway when it came to offshore energy. Similarly, on the development of 5.7 TWh of anaerobic digestion and natural gas, again it was not the first time we looked at this. We have been thinking about this extensively for the guts of almost one and a half decades. Most European countries have such significant amounts of gas from anaerobic digestion. However, it was appropriate in my mind to connect it to what we are doing in agriculture. As anaerobic digestion is ramped up, the grass will go to that process rather than necessarily to feeding cattle. As it will also be a way of managing the waste slurry from our farming, it is connected.

The 3 GW of solar ambition is similarly connected.Again, that was not something we just considered in this process. I believe EirGrid will publish its new Shaping Our Electricity Future plan in the coming weeks. I expect it will include that, because much background research analysis had already been done showing that we needed to have that appropriate raising of ambition. Those three new energy elements help us on the climate side but they were not just formulated in response to the climate sectoral emission ceilings. They were en routein any case, in my mind as Minister with responsibility for energy. I am confident and comfortable that they are the right policy measures, not just for climate but for energy policy.

Lastly, as the Chair said, backup storage is a separate issue and it is separate in a number of different ways. First, the timeline for it is more medium-term, that is, to the later part of this decade. It does not connect to the immediate energy security challenge we have but is a wider medium-term energy security issue. We will publish a paper later this week that will set out the options and analysis carried out by CEPA. I absolutely agree that what we have to do must take into account climate emissions. The trilemma in energy is optimising for the environment, for energy security and for competitiveness. Therefore, we must make sure any proposal for energy storage and gas storage does not burst our climate emissions targets, which might be good for a corporate project but not for the State. Similarly, I agree with the Senator very much that we have to consider the State's strategic interest in having a strategic store of gas upon which we can call immediately.

We will see the paper on Thursday. I think it will steer us towards strategic storage of gas which does not blow our climate budget, which gives us greater security, which we can deliver in the medium-term timeframe and which is not only in the corporate interest.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This is my last question. I wish to build on Senator O'Reilly's point on the local authorities. The challenge with much of climate action, especially in housing and transport, is very much in the hands of our city and county councils. I had the pleasure of visiting the active travel unit in Limerick last Friday. It has a new office on Michael Street. I was really impressed with its plans and its understanding of the challenge. I think it will do some very good work in coming years. Limerick is one of the few local authorities which has actually managed to spend its allocation. In contrast, the local authority in Galway, where Senator Pauline O'Reilly lives, seems to be lagging behind. Just yesterday, Galway's BusConnects plan went to planning. I need to look at it more carefully but it is talking about increasing lanes for private vehicles and demolishing houses to facilitate them, albeit to facilitate bus lanes and cycle lanes as well. I am a bit troubled by that approach. Regardless of whether it is a good local authority or one that needs to catch up, there is no accounting system for carbon reduction. A director in a local authority may be doing everything very well, but who is counting how much carbon is being reduced by the various measures such as bringing in cycle networks?

I am happy to hear the Minister mention that the local authorities should have a broader role beyond reducing emissions very directly under their own control because they are indirectly responsible for so much climate action. I think it is the first time anyone in the Government has mentioned this. I would be interested to hear the Minister's further thoughts not just on local authorities but on all the agencies of State. The planning regulator is also key. Many of the city and county development plans are going through at the moment. How do we assess those or align them with our targets and be confident that they are aligned with the targets? It seems to me that there is a much greater role for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Perhaps up to now we have seen that role as being very much related to housing, social housing and retrofitting, but it may be that it has the biggest role in climate action in the State. I am interested in the Minister's thoughts on that. How can we bring the State sector with us? It is one thing for the Minister's Department to lead the charge but all Departments need to understand the challenge they have.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I think the Chair is right. I am glad to hear that he got a good sense from the office in Limerick. As I said, I have been visiting local authorities. In addition, I called each of the city and county managers just before the recess and asked them to submit what we are calling pathfinder projects which will accelerate key sustainable mobility projects that could help us to decarbonise, to meet our national planning framework objectives and to make sure that as we come out of Covid and as remote working changes the patterns, we avail of this moment of change to take back some of the public space to create a better public realm now that we are switching from everyone commuting all the time. The letters were in last Wednesday. I have not seen the responses yet but I look forward to seeing what they are pitching in Limerick.

There are a variety of likely projects that will come through. It has to be real now. We have to focus on delivery. I have not seen the detailed design for that Galway route. Senator Pauline O'Reilly will have views but I do think the cross-city route is important. It ticks all those boxes. It creates a better public realm. It will be good for decarbonisation. There is also a fundamental problem in Galway that the east-west cross traffic is unsustainable in the way the city has been developed and designed. The Senator is absolutely right that local authorities have a critical role in the transport sector.

This second issue is not easy because it takes time and is quite a significant change from where we are going, but I say to each local authority when they are doing their development plans that they should look for waste heat. Where is the waste heat? Is there a big heat source? Can we use that for district heating? District heating is going to provide a very significant part of the decarbonisation. Particularly at this time, such high energy prices should focus us to really think long term. The Danes responded to the last oil crisis by accelerating district heating. We need to see strategic changes coming out of this similar crisis, especially with heating bills hitting such high levels. District heating is another element where local authorities could and should have a particular role.

Last but not least, on social housing, the retrofitting of social housing, again in response to the immediate crisis, is something we should look to ramp up. Many of the problems in that regard have been around the availability of contractors. It is very difficult to get workers to do a lot of different projects. That may free up a bit as the economy is impacted by the high energy prices. It is not an easy thing to do, particularly when people are within their existing housing. The more we aggregate and do it at scale, the better.

The prize for local authorities is that we are going to start to see cities and towns across the world doing this. We have the 100 European cities going for zero carbon. I was talking to some European colleagues in recent days, and cities in other European countries are setting real, immediate targets now for 2035, earlier even in some instances, to decarbonise. Cities and towns that do that will benefit. There will be benefits in terms of better health outcomes and lower fossil fuel bills. They will be the towns and cities people will want to locate to and invest in. This has to be central to the local authorities in their entire thinking. We have provided additional resources recently. We have committed to additional staff to help them plan this. It has to be for those who are planning and thinking big. That is where the legislation includes them and their role. It is about delivering on the ground now and they are the pinch point for that delivery in many instances.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It seems to me there is a gap still. It is both an accounting and an accountability gap at the local level. It is something that needs to be explored further. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has a key role here. It might be something we come back to. It is certainly very important. I thank the Minister present for his answer. We will go the second round of questions.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Earlier in the summer when we had the sectoral targets discussions, one of my key criticisms was the process. When there were discussions about the targets for agriculture, I was very concerned that farming communities were very worried about what this was going to mean for them and how they were going to meet any of the targets that were being set down. The process that was followed by the Department was back to front. There should have been a plan that spelled out all the different measures farmers could have taken on board to reduce emissions and get the farming sector on board in that regard first, and then the Department should have shown them by how much they needed to reduce their emissions. There was a lack of clarity and concern for farmers. It caused a lot of angst. In light of the fact that this week the Department is going to be publishing the two carbon budgets separately, we could be back into that situation again whereby a figure will be handed to the farming community and they will see in the media that they have to reduce emissions by a specific amount by 2025 for the first carbon budget.

Yet there is still no plan, pathway or defined programme for them to follow. At what stage will there be a plan for farmers that will outline the supports available to them, including the means, mechanisms and measures they can employ to help them to meet these targets that will be published this week?

I also have a comment concerning transport. The Minister spoke earlier about how this sector will be challenging in this context; I agree. He said the reallocation of space, and the political and community will to do that, will be one of the key challenges. Again, I agree with that point, but there are even simpler things that could be done. These include ensuring that the system and services in place now are reliable enough for people. People come to me every day in north Wicklow to tell me that certain buses have not arrived and that they cannot get to work and their children cannot get to school because those buses have not shown up. There is no way anyone could rely on the bus service in Wicklow now. I imagine it is a similar situation throughout the country.

For example, yesterday I read a tweet from someone that stated three 45A bus services had been cancelled, namely, the 17:52, 17:59 and 18:12. People will not take public transport if they cannot expect and be guaranteed that buses will be there when they are meant to be there. This is the key issue the Department needs to examine. This matter is not just about putting in future transport options; it is about ensuring that existing transport options are reliable enough, and that there is accountability when they are not reliable enough and a clear move towards providing a better service.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I absolutely agree regarding the engagement of the agricultural sector, farming communities and the food industry. They must be involved. It is not, however, a case of a lack of engagement and involvement or a lack of plans and strategy. I am thinking about the fact that the whole EU farm to fork strategy has been the centre of policy. It is not complete and continues to evolve, but it is central to European policy. In our policy, the Origin Green programme goes back six, seven or eight years There has been significant monitoring and measuring of greenhouse gas emissions in Irish agriculture. We are often ahead of other countries in this regard, so it is not as if we have not been engaged. Bord Bia's central marketing strategy relates to Origin Green and the monitoring and management of emissions. It has been contentious and the environmental movement was not happy with some of that process, but the FoodWise strategy and the work done in that regard, including by the likes of Tom Arnold, involved huge engagement and stakeholder consultation, and no one could say otherwise. It was all focused on this decarbonisation path-----

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The environmental sector walked away from that.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes. I acknowledge that, but it is not as if there have not been processes around considering our emissions reductions in agriculture. I refer to Ag Climatise. Even if we look at the private sector, what is happening in the food industry is that it is being recognised that companies involved must follow science-based targets. Enterprises, such as Kerry Group, have acknowledged this in the context of their emissions reductions. They have done this not just in the context of their own emissions or those related to the use of their products by customers but also concerning their suppliers' emissions. Those companies have signed up to science-based targets in this context. Therefore, across so many ways, this has been something we have been considering for a long time. We are not coming at this fresh. This work must continue. It is appropriate that it does so and it must work for Irish agriculture. My key understanding and certainty around this issue is that by going green we can pay a whole generation of new people young farmers and foresters well to come into the sector. This endeavour will not work if these measures are just handed down. It must be done by working with the farming community. I am absolutely committed to that and I think they are too.

There has, therefore, not been a lack of engagement. It is contentious and difficult, be it from the environmental side or from the farming side. After the agreement in the summer, no one was saying that it was a great deal for one sector or the other. People have compromised and we acknowledge that. Now, though, this process is focusing on how we can deliver the 25% emissions reduction in a way that encourages a new generation of people to go into farming and allows them to be paid properly. I do not think anyone disagrees with this.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There has to be a plan, though, because the emissions targets are higher than they have ever been. The farm to fork strategy, Origin Green and other such measures have not achieved the required level of emissions, so additional measures need to be built onto them. Farmers are business people and need clarity for their operations if they are to plan for the upcoming season and year. When will there be a plan for them setting out what level of support they can expect?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The climate action plan will continue playing a central role in emissions reduction. It will set out plans for reducing nitrogen. The sectoral emissions ceiling is putting it up to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deliver changes in order that we meet our nitrogen fertiliser reduction targets. His Department has done a great deal of work on improving the breeding stock, which is another core measure that has been agreed. Delivering the reduction in the average finishing age is also a matter for that Department. We have a good idea of how much doing that will reduce emissions by and the Department has committed to doing so. It has also committed to increasing organic production fivefold and delivering 5.7 TWh of methane through anaerobic digestion.

All of the core and additional measures are based on detailed analysis and knowledge about what is possible. They have not been plucked out of thin air and we have to deliver them. The bones of the plan are there. The climate action plan as it relates to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will be updated this autumn and the Department will now have to deliver. If it does not, it will be in breach of the legislation. That is the approach we are taking, namely, to agree the ceilings and core measures, which we must then deliver.

I am sorry. What was the Deputy's second question?

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It was on transport and how the most basic action that we should be taking was to ensure that-----

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I agree with the Deputy. It is a question of finding the best way of delivering that, which I believe to be the rapid delivery of BusConnects projects across our five cities, as well as the delivery of the Connecting Ireland rural bus system. In that regard, the greatest obstacle will be political or public opposition. We must have sufficient political will, as this will require a challenging reallocation of road space, the creation of a safe space for people to walk and cycle and keeping buses from getting stuck in traffic. The best way for us to have a reliable and timetabled bus service is to give buses greater priority on our roads. We are in the middle of that process. As the Chairman stated, Galway published its proposals in that respect yesterday and I believe that Cork issued a further update last week. This strategy is before those of us in the political system here and now, at local government level more than anywhere else. If we want to get buses working, delivering on timetables exactly, improving frequency and increasing the service for the public, this is how we will do it. It is particularly in the hands of our local councillors across the country, which is why I tell every council that this is up to it and ask it whether we can make some brave but correct decisions around improving public transport.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Whitmore raised a fair point.

Limerick is different than our other cities, in that it does not have a serious traffic problem and has underutilised rail infrastructure. I am not convinced that Limerick needs a BusConnects level of investment, given that we can easily get the buses working in Limerick and take other good measures. I might discuss this matter with the Minister offline. I am raising it because, as seen in other cities, BusConnects is almost being used as a means of delaying some progress. It is taking many years in Dublin, although it is needed there. In Limerick, however, we are starting to see BusConnects being used as a reason not to pursue certain projects that are very deliverable. That matter is not for this discussion, but I wished to make the Minister aware of it.

Senator Higgins wants to contribute again.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will ask a couple of specific questions, after which I will return to one of the wider ones. On the reporting mechanisms, Ministers previously had to report individually to the Oireachtas on how they were achieving their targets. This seems to have been amalgamated into a single session. Are there plans to return to a position where each Minister reported? This would allow for more detailed scrutiny of the delivery of sectoral targets.

I mentioned the EPA and measuring tonnages. We have had conversations on percentages. It is useful to have this grid in respect of tonnages and I wonder about measuring the tonnage impact of various things. Within that, what are the Minister’s specific thoughts on the built environment, residential and commercial? Those are two of the sectoral ceilings. The EPA currently measures the energy usage of buildings whereas a report from academics in UCD and elsewhere on whole-life carbon in construction and the environment shows that a very large amount of emissions, possibly over 30%, comes through construction. In Ireland, we have necessarily a great deal of construction planned because we have to deliver housing and the national development plan. How are the megatonnes of emissions involved in construction and the whole-life piece, from materials through to demolition, being factored in and measured to ensure they stay within the budgets and sectoral ceilings that are set? I am asking not about fuel usage but the construction and demolition process.

To return to LULUCF, the Climate Change Advisory Council, in the research and reports it has given to the Minister and the Oireachtas, has been clear that tree planting now will be very relevant to the budget period from 2030 to 2035 but will not be countable for these budgets because the legislation makes clear that the maximum amounts of greenhouse gases emissions are to be within the limits of the carbon budget during a budget period. We are talking about the 2020 to 2025 and 2025 to 2030 periods. While it is fine to look at what happens in 2030, I seek clarity that the answers that will come back from the new LULUCF analysis will be on carbon emission reductions and limiting carbon emissions within the relevant budget periods rather than future promises?

The concern with the idea of future science is that while it may be relevant for the future, it is not necessarily relevant for these budgets. I have not been satisfied with the answer given. The Minister’s obligation under section 6C(1) of the Act is to prepare within the limits of the carbon budget the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions permitted in different sections of the economy during a budget period. The Minister has prepared a maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions for sectors which is not within the limits of the carbon budget.

On the LULUCF, I ask for clarity on forestry. Senator Pauline O’Reilly made a good point in that we know that peatlands can potentially make a difference within the budget period.

If we are getting this report in 2024, is the Minister confident that the LULUCF share of emissions within that budget period will be 20 megatonnes or less? If not, what is the plan for 2024 because all of these other sectors are making plans, signing contracts and committing to programmes of work based on the allocated ceilings they have now? What happens if something emerges where LULUCF may be greater than 20 megatonnes when we receive that report in 2024? What is the emergency plan?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am glad to say that the Act provides that the Ministers in each sectoral area are obliged to come before the Oireachtas committee, as appropriate, and account for what they are doing. They can be called before the committee and held to account.

On the question of EPA measurements, the inventories and that whole process are based on tonnage and not percentages. It is a matter of the tonnes of carbon that are not emitted into the atmosphere.

The Senator also asked about embodied energy in buildings. Considerations in that regard are contained in the sectoral emissions ceiling for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I agree with the Senator that embodied carbon in the building sector is an important issue. There is potential in switching to a model that encourages the storage of carbon within wood-framed housing and so on.

The Senator also asked about LULUCF. We are, to a certain extent, going over old ground in that regard. The crux of the matter is that the process is not completed. We are continuing this land use review. The changed figures in respect of the tonnage of carbon that will emerge from that review, in terms of what is possible within the LULUCF sector, is not something I can pre-empt, nor would I wish to do so. We are not saying LULUCF will be considered exclusively but it is likely to be a significant part of considerations. There is a problem, in the sense that there is a deteriorating source. The solutions are not insignificant, it seems to me, if we get our land use management right. We will not be prescriptive in that respect until a review is concluded. I do not believe that hinders any Department or sector. What it will take to deliver the existing allocations will be beyond compare to the scale and nature of the change. I do not think any overshoot in that respect would be a problem. I do not believe this further allocation will hinder any body in doing what it needs to do. That is what I keep coming back to. It is about delivering now. We will carry out that land use review, which will help us to complete the process in the reallocation of the balancing amount. That should not, however, stop us focusing on what we need to do now in every sector, including in land use.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister. Senator Higgins is on mute. I am going to move on to Deputy O'Rourke.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to ask for two tiny clarifications.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator may quickly ask for clarification.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister's comments on embodied emissions. Which of the sectoral emissions in the breakdown we have do those come under?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Those of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and industry.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Will the Minister confirm that emission savings planned for after 2030 will not be used in these two budget periods?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The proposal for that approach came from the Climate Change Advisory Council. That is an area where the correct approach has not been resolved. It is an issue that is connected to the forestry sector and the complicated understanding of what is happening in respect of our land use emissions. Part of the work being done in the land use review will allow us to resolve that matter. I would not rule it out. Future emissions savings have not been included in any of the existing allocations but as part of the land use review, further analysis as to how afforestation needs to be best managed is required.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

To be clear, the legislation does not allow for future counting.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to come back to comments made by Senator Pauline O'Reilly and address the political charge that was made. I will correct the record in that regard, if I can. It is not correct to say that only one party failed to offer a position in advance of the announcement of the sectoral emissions ceilings. I would suggest that two parties in government did not offer a position and their only public articulations related to the agriculture sector and asserted that its ceiling would be as low as possible. Other parties did not articulate a position. It is acknowledged by the Minister and others that documents central to the decision-making for sectoral emission ceilings were not publicly available.

We will continue to pursue the publication of those documents. On a broader note, the debate was entirely focused on agricultural ceilings, which are only a small piece of the really important puzzle. Adding to that Punch-and-Judy stuff is not helpful. We have a role to play here so I will leave it at that.

I wanted to ask about the delivery of these sectoral emissions ceilings because past experience shows that we have set targets and missed them. I am concerned that the governance structure is not there to mainstream these measures across Departments and government. Even in respect of the idea of excluding, we have not been able to get the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to appear before this committee. We have struggled to get the Department to appear before this committee. Sorry, we did not ask the Minister; we asked the Department. We have certainly struggled to get the Department to appear before the committee. A number of speakers have commented on the important role of the Minister with regard to this. I certainly get a sense that there is insufficient engagement across portfolios, Ministries and Departments. I know this issue has been raised previously in terms of whether this should be led by the Department of the Taoiseach, for example. We have heard that from different stakeholders. I have a concern that the reporting mechanism concerning sectoral emissions ceilings seems to be to this committee only. Other committees such as those dealing with transport, agriculture and housing need to deal with the challenges of emissions reductions as part and parcel of their work. We have these budgets, as agreed by Government. What are the governance structures that will mainstream the job of delivering on them? How will the Minister ensure responsibility to the Oireachtas on the part of individual Ministers? I would suggest that it needs to be broader than coming to this committee on a 12-monthly basis.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I agree with the Deputy. I think it appropriate that this committee has a key role. It was established in the absence of such a locus and has done good work so I would not give up on that holding people to account role.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am not suggesting that.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We have learned from recent crises when Government works well and there is that persistent attention to delivery. Covid and Brexit are good examples. One of the things we learned from these and from other neighbouring jurisdictions is that when departments get out of silos, there is direct political involvement and agencies are brought in. With that in mind, we are establishing six acceleration task forces or leadership groups: one in the delivery of offshore energy; one in the built environment involving the decarbonisation of our building stock; one in sustainable mobility; one in just transition and climate communications; and last but not least, one in the delivery of this land use review. They are at various stages of establishment. Probably the most advanced is the one involving offshore wind energy. I had a meeting with it last week. I had another meeting with one of the working groups involving sustainable mobility. Each one is in train to be established and having a key role in making sure we have a cross-government focus on the next three years of delivery. This is a really important way of delivering on some of the key measures.

To answer the question about governance structure, the second key is the role of the Department of the Taoiseach in the climate action delivery board. This will continue to evolve.

That group is meeting and has a central role but there will be further evolution of that to make sure it is a core and functioning centre of what we need to do.

As well as this committee there are three institutional arrangements. The Deputy is correct that the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Committee on Transport and Communications and the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment need to own this as well. However, I would not give up on this committee's oversight role or on its ability to influence what those committees might do.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy O'Rourke was not suggesting that we give up.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is a good point about the role of the other Departments and committees. I do not have any other members indicating and we are just about approaching 3 p.m. I thank the Minister and his officials for attending today and for engaging with the committee. I thank members for their thoughtful questions.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.56 p.m until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 20 September 2022.