Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements
That is no problem. As I said, I hope that climate action does not become the new housing, where we have endless debates. We need to focus on the solutions collectively in this Chamber regarding climate action. Where there is consensus, then we need to move forward and where there is not we will have division and debate. It is important, however, similar to the Bill we had earlier today, that where there is consensus that we need to drive on with this issue. I also mentioned earlier the European Commission's green deal, which has just been published. I said there are elements I like and elements I do not like. The most significant change is the one that states the targets set for 2030 and 2050 are not good enough and need to be revised.
Even within its own limitations, however, that proposal, ironically, still manages to outshine this Government, a Government completely locked into the private sector and market solutions. This is not surprising, as Fine Gael takes the same approach to climate action as it does to health, housing, childcare, insurance costs and workers' rights. The European Commission at least recognises that the existing targets are not good enough and wants to increase the greenhouse gas emissions' targets from 45% to 55% by 2030. This is a real problem for Fine Gael, as it has consistently failed to achieve even the current modest targets.
Last week also saw the publication of the climate change performance index, in which the State went from the worst performer in the EU to the second worst performer in the course of a year. That was actually spun as a success by the Taoiseach and his Ministers. We are second worst only to Poland, which gets 80% of its energy from coal. The European Commission has called for a review of the framework for energy infrastructure to ensure consistency with the climate neutrality objective. It is hard to see how Fine Gael's love for fracked gas terminals will survive such a review. This is an issue that has received cross-party support. The Taoiseach and his Ministers, as is their style however, have simply ignored the views of the House and want to make out that fracked gas is somehow climate-neutral energy.
The European Commission's green deal also calls for a new circular economy action plan, including a right to repair and the curbing of built-in obsolescence of devices, the design of all new buildings to be in line with the needs of the circular economy and the climate-proofing of building stock, an increase and expansion in the use of rail, including the transport of freight by rail, a review of all current tax exemptions for aviation and maritime fuels, improved and expanded public transport, an increase in the area under organic farming in the EU, to be coupled with a farm to fork policy that will strive to stimulate sustainable food consumption and promote affordable healthy food for all.
Those are just some of the proposals within the EU's Green New Deal. It remains to be seen whether EU members can agree to act upon it, but on the face of it the document is progressive and shows real potential. I cannot, however, see this present Government paying anything but lip service to any of it. It is clear to me that we are not going to see any real progress on climate action until this Government is gone. That is the reality. Take the need for increased investment in public transport and rail on this island, for example. The western rail corridor was originally included in the EU's TEN-T map. That is a map of the EU core travel network, with each identified as a priority. In the last European Parliament, Sinn Féin managed to secure overwhelming support from MEPs from right across Europe to vote for the western rail corridor to be included in the core network list. Being included on that list means that government and regional authorities are able to draw down funding and support from the EU. During negotiations with the European Council, however, which the Government was a party to, the western rail corridor was removed from the core list. There was no explanation for that. What is certain is that there has been utter failure from successive Governments to commit to the western rail corridor.
There is much more that can be said and, as I said earlier, this is the second debate today that we have had on climate action. I am sure when we come back in January that there will further debates on this subject. It is the issue of our generation and it is an issue that we need to face up to. The Minister highlighted the young people who sat in these seats and debated climate action only a few short weeks ago. What they want is action. They do not want endless talk, endless debates and endless motions being passed, which are not then implemented or delivered on. They want us in this Chamber, collectively, to do our job, face up to our responsibilities and deliver the climate action that is necessary.