Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements

 

7:35 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to present the transition statement which has been published and laid before the House. There are a number of developments even since then. Deputy Dooley will be aware that COP 25 was somewhat disappointing in that progress was not made but many people took the view that no deal was better than a bad deal.

That means the next conference, which is to be held in Glasgow, will have a particularly challenging agenda because there is a call for a stepping up of ambition by all countries on the occasion. As the House will know, the European Commission recently published its green deal. It is a very significant statement by the European Union. This is to be the project for the European Union, not only in terms of achieving a target of net zero for Europe by 2050 but also in driving forward the agenda and seeking to leverage change beyond the Union. I really welcome the initiative taken by the European Commission. Europe needs a project like this to show its capacity to mobilise its citizens. I welcome the opportunity and look forward to working with the European Union in realising the new ambitions it has set.

On our own annual transition statement, the big initiative since the last transition statement was obviously the publication of our climate action plan, which followed on closely from the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly and the all-party Oireachtas committee, which declared a climate emergency and unanimously supported a set of proposals. That is significant in a Dáil that is quite fractured in many circumstances. This brought the House together. I have been working on the proposals.

Our carbon plan, which is very ambitious, is designed to hit our targets for 2030. Over the coming months, we will have to evaluate, with our colleagues in the European Union, the changes required under the new ambitions set by the Union. The plan we published provides for four times the current amount of renewable energy, ten times the amount of retrofitting of homes, and 25 times the penetration of electric vehicles by the end of the coming decade. These are very significant changes that we need to make. They require us to mobilise capital and, in many cases, change the habits of a lifetime. They also require us to implement the policies in a way that is fair and just. In recent months, we have seen, on foot of the decision to finish peat-burning in two of our peat-burning plants, the need to develop a just transition element. That was a major feature of the recent budget. I regard the recent budget as the first that has been significantly shaped by our climate challenge. It is just the first of many that will be shaped in that way.

It is important that we have agreed a carbon price. Professor John FitzGerald, the chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council, has said very clearly that achieving what we have set out without pricing carbon and pricing the damage inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels and by generating carbon in other ways would be almost impossible. What is really important about the approach we have taken is that we have ring-fenced the money for just transition in terms of dealing with people who are very exposed, such as peat workers and those who are very poorly equipped to make the changes. This year, for example, we have seen a doubling of funds for the warmer homes scheme, which offers 100% subsidies for those in the fuel scheme. That is a significant feature. Over time, the carbon transition will raise over €6 billion. All this will be ploughed back into helping communities and individuals to make the changes.

Bringing more coherence into the way we develop a range of policies, with climate very much at the heart, has been important. The national planning framework is an important element. It creates challenges. I have seen this in my area, where many of the more compact, higher-density developments for urban areas that we know are needed are hard to accept. They can be very controversial.

Another initiative that has been delivered this year is the adoption by every public service body of a climate mandate. This process is under way. A mandate has been adopted by every one of the 31 local authorities. This gives us great reach into the wider community. We can have a set of strategies agreed and developed centrally but see them implemented by agencies such as the local authorities, which have such reach within their communities.

Electricity generation will require the major change. We need to be 70% renewable by the end of the next decade, and then we need to head beyond that. We have made significant changes, including the recent announcement of the new renewable energy support scheme, which will go live during the next year; the interconnection project with France; and the marine planning and development management Bill, which has been agreed by the Government and which will proceed to the committee for scrutiny. These are important elements.

In the building area, we are developing a retrofitting approach that will be different from the individualised subsidies that have been a feature. We will be moving to area-based schemes so we can deliver retrofitting on a scale that is much greater than was evident before. We have implemented the near-zero energy requirement and addressed obligations pertaining to those doing an overhaul of their homes that covers more than 25% of the area. The new guidelines have a carbon emissions figure 70% lower than the figure it replaces. Therefore, there is a significant change.

In the transport sector, we are making significant changes, not only in having 500,000 people switch to public transport or active transport but also in moving towards having electric vehicles become a major feature of our fleet by the end of the next decade. It is a matter of no longer having combustion engines newly registered at the end of that decade.

We have built out this year, doubling the supports for public chargers. We continue to support grants for electric vehicles so people can make the change. The House will be aware that nearly 90% of journeys are made in private vehicles so we have to achieve the switch if we are to meet our targets.

We are on the right track. We have a long way to go. The work of this House in bringing people together and achieving the required consensus is really important but I am very conscious that this cannot be solved in Kildare Street, Adelaide Road or Merrion Street; this is about engaging with every community up and down the country and with every sector of economic activity to square up to the challenges. It is a question of considering every type of activity, not just those areas that get a lot of focus, such as transport and buildings. We must also consider how we manage waste. Material use accounts for nearly 60% of our carbon. How we use materials and the efficiency of our use of energy, materials, plastics and food must be considered. We have a poor record in many of these areas. We could do much better in the management of our waste, thereby having a very significant impact.

I believe we have started well. Members of the House will be judging us on the legislation we hope to bring forward very soon, certainly to the committee. I am convinced there is now a broad consensus. It is true that people are pointing the finger at our generation saying it will be the first to have passed on the globe in a worse condition than we found it. That places a great responsibility on us to take this very seriously and to deliver practical, genuine change that shifts the dial. That is what I have sought to do. I have sought to identify the changes we can make that impose the least burden on Irish people but that deliver on climate change while affording opportunities to have a better environment, a cleaner country, a better society and more global justice. That is a challenge well worth fighting for.

There is no doubt that the greatest achievements of civilisation have been when we have been faced by an existential threat. When we look back over history, we see that civilisations rose to their highest level when faced with such a threat. This is just such a threat and it is an opportunity for Irish and global society to rise to the challenge of creativity and collaboration that we have not achieved before. I commend the transition statement to the House.

Comments

John Brown
Posted on 1 Feb 2020 12:19 am

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