Tuesday, 3 July 2018
Establishment of Special Joint Committee on Climate Action: Motion
I welcome the establishment of the committee and commend the Citizens' Assembly on its work. However, this House is also a citizens' assembly. It is directly elected and paid for by the people of this State and it is answerable to them. These issues should be tackled head on in the Oireachtas and we should make the decisions to put us on the right path to counter climate change. The Citizens' Assembly recommended that the State take leadership on this issue but the State and the Oireachtas have not done so sufficiently. Everyone will play their part and be involved if given the means to so do. Communities need to be involved and, most importantly, respected in the transition ahead. However, it starts with leadership by the Government and the Oireachtas and seeing beyond the election cycle referred to by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
We cannot hide that the State is in a shameful position in terms of climate action. Emissions are spiralling and we are the second worst in the European Union in terms of climate change measures. We will miss our 2020 targets and face fines of hundreds of millions of euro as a result. The shame on the State in regard to climate change is doubled because we have some of the best renewable resources in Europe. Not only will we not meet our emissions targets but Ireland will only achieve a 1% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 rather than the 20% reduction target which we should have tried to exceed. Our emissions are increasing. The only renewable energy we have developed has been from onshore wind and, rather than having community involvement in that, the opposite has been the case. Many of the key participants in the industries involved in directly combatting climate change have not shown the vision needed for the future but rather have been stagnant and lacked imagination and will. There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the Government and the Oireachtas and a lack of vision by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It is important for senior and other civil servants to wake up on this issue. It will be up to the Oireachtas committee to address issues directly and make recommendations which will lead to solutions and change.
There is much discussion of the targets but those targets are being missed badly. We must discuss solutions to protect our environment, create security of energy and see climate action not as a burden but rather an opportunity to create long-term jobs and new industries, particularly in rural Ireland. The committee must be focused on solutions such as making homes more energy efficient and changing our sources of power for electricity, heat and transport. That is very important. There are many aspects to addressing this issue. It is not a case of simply putting obligations on citizens and asking them to take the burden without any alternative. Our first step and policy must be to offer alternatives to people, industry and communities. That will require political leadership and a major shake-up of civil servants, semi-State companies, private companies etc. We must offer people alternatives in public transport, energy and efficiency and have specific targets for each industry to help develop alternative sources of energy.
I look forward to addressing the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. However, as I stated, this House is a citizens' assembly. I have been Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment for seven and a half years and I dealt with the Minister's predecessor in the previous Dáil on this matter. I do not wish to criticise anyone but one of the most frustrating things for me over the past seven and a half years has been all the talk on this issue without the necessary action. I acknowledge that the State has gone through a very traumatic period economically and so on and had to be picked up off the floor. However, that has been done but we have not moved towards a new modern green economy.
We need to create jobs in different types of industries and have different renewable sources of energy. Some people wish to make the switch and immediately turn off all our current energy sources. I wish for that to happen but I know, as does every worker and person on the street, that it cannot unless alternatives are in place. I appeal for the Oireachtas, the committee, the Minister and the Department to set about putting realistic alternatives in place in terms of wind, biogas, solar, hydro, offshore wind and wave power. We have the resources and experts who have considered the matter have told us that we need to use them. We cannot keep lagging behind the rest of Europe and not only because of the shame of completely missing our targets. I did not think it could get any worse than when the Minister last year told me and others that we would only achieve a 4% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. However, three weeks ago in answer to a question of mine he announced that we will now only achieve a 1% reduction, which is absolutely disgraceful. We all have a responsibility. We must change our approach and create a major impetus to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and remove the shame of being one of the dirty countries in Europe when we should be a green food-producing island which produces green energy to meet its needs.