Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome this debate on the environment and commend Deputy Sherlock and the Labour Party on tabling this motion. Sinn Féin will support it and the amendment tabled by Fianna Fáil, which adds value to the motion. We have tabled our own amendment and we are hoping that will also be supported.
It is hard not to feel that this House has spent much time on passing motions on climate action, rather than actually rolling up its sleeves and getting on with the policy solutions that need to be put in place. One of those solutions is made very clear in the motion where it states that there needs to be an immediate "nationwide ban on smoky coal, which has already been proven to work in many larger urban areas without legal challenge". I hope the House will pass this motion today. Hopefully, it will not be another motion passed by the Dáil that the Government will ignore. As many speakers stated already, a nationwide ban would save lives. There is no good reason for the Minister and his Government to hold back on this. In his opening statement, he stated that climate action is the most important part of his work as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. When it comes to practical solutions, however, and the big challenges, his Government is not facing up to them. This is a very straightforward issue. There is no quarrel from the Opposition and the Minister is being supported by Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and, I expect, the Green Party and others. There is no reason, and the Minister has given no good reason to the House and the public, for not proceeding with a nationwide ban.
The amendment tabled by the Government is typical of the Government when it comes to climate action. It provides that we should proceed on climate action "on an incremental basis and in a proportionate way". Everything the Government does on climate action seems to be on the basis that we should act incrementally. That is being used as an excuse not to do what needs to be done. There is no incremental action that needs to be taken when it comes to banning smoky coal, for example. That needs to be done and it is a clear, simple, logical and effective policy solution that has the broad support of the public and, I hope, Members of this House. For whatever reason, however, the Government is not doing it. This approach of doing things on an incremental basis is not the type of overarching policy approach that should be taken by a Government.
I will speak to the Sinn Féin amendment in a moment. I support the Fianna Fáil amendment on a just transition. By way of information, we had the just transition commissioner before the Joint Committee on Climate Action today. I was far from convinced, not with regard to his ability, which is beyond question, as is his integrity and experience, but because he told us that he has no office, staff or budget. He has the €11 million set aside in the Government's budget this year, but that is all. He can consult communities and workers but cannot stray beyond the €11 million allocated. His costs and those of his staff will have to be met from that €11 million. This is extraordinary given that we have known for a long time that the just transition was coming. I was not the only member who was not convinced by the just transition commissioner's testimony at the committee's hearing today. Again, this calls into question the Government's commitment to climate action and the whole concept of a just transition. The reason I support the Fianna Fáil amendment is that the just transition cannot be abused. It cannot be something to which we pay lipservice. If we want people to buy into climate action, it needs to be done in a fair and just way. People need to see that just transition works.
On the Sinn Féin amendment, I will speak about the green new deal published by the European Commission. There are parts that I have issues with and parts that I do not have issues with.
The most significant change is the one that stated the targets set for 2030 and for 2050 are not good enough and need to be revised. The last paragraph in the Labour Party motion calls for the provision of a quantified account of how the measures in the Government's Climate Action Plan 2019 will reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions to reach the target of 33 million tonnes by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. While that is an important point in the motion, Sinn Féin’s amendment goes further than that, setting out how this can be achieved.
One of the most obvious ways to achieve this reduction is through investment in public transport and the rail network. A significant debate is going on about the expansion of the rail line to Navan, a development which my party supports. Investment in intercity rail is important. There needs to be a shift in thinking, not just by the Government but by politicians from all parties. Public transport is the most obvious solution to enable people, not force them, to change their behaviour. There are far too many people who do not have access to public transport. Bus is important but rail services are the future, a point to which the Government needs to pay more attention.