Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements


7:55 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

The annual transition statement covers several areas, including how far the State has progressed in meeting national and EU climate commitments. It is an excellent opportunity to take stock of how far this Government has come, or not, in responding to the climate crisis and what new measures are necessary. I have a number of separate points to make.

The statement from the Minister contains the standard overview of recent policies, but I will start by noting that it is disappointing that other Ministers will only address the statement in 2020 and not in December, as in previous years. Ireland will fail considerably on its 2020 climate and renewable targets. Under the EU’s effort sharing decision, Ireland has exceeded its binding emissions allocation in 2018. Our overall target commits us to reducing emissions by 20% by 2020, but we will reach only a 1% reduction, a truly staggering failure. The upshot is considerable financial penalties in hundreds of millions of euro and potentially billions by 2030. It is important that the Minister explains, in detail, precisely why this occurred in 2018, whether it will occur again in 2019 and the level of fines that will be paid on account of our failure to reach our overall target in 2020.

As we approach the end of this Government, the biggest criticism of Fine Gael will not only be its failure to secure the necessary reduction in emissions and pollution in the last decade, but it will also be its endemic and deliberate failure to enact appropriate legislation and to prioritise policies that would facilitate substantive, near-term emissions reductions. In other words, it is quite fond of making climate wishes with photoshoots and press releases, but the situation is quite different when it comes to delivering on them in the near term. I stress near term, in that Fine Gael was dragged kicking and screaming into producing its 2015 Climate Act. It produced a mitigation plan under this legislation, universally regarded as insufficient and which did not yield substantial emissions reductions.

This year, Fianna Fáil has been clear that the policy framework set out in the Government's 2019 climate action plan is an improvement. However, it differs substantially from the report of the climate action committee. It ignores timelines and deadlines which Fine Gael committed to in that committee.

It is littered with reviews and consultations, along with the words “would”, “could” and “maybe”. The point is that the longer we postpone climate action, the more expensive the transition will be and the greater the risk to the economy as emphasised most recently by the Central Bank.

It is important the Government undertakes a further review of the committee's recommendations and ensures their full incorporation in the finalised national energy and climate plan. The Government's climate plan has no statutory footing, meaning that it is not even possible to ensure accountability and properly measure progress. Will the Minister integrate relevant policies and measures set out in the Government's climate action plan as part of the finalisation of the national energy and climate plan?

The Minister’s climate plan will not deliver necessary annual emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement. Given ongoing increases in emissions, such an approach would also seem to imply a dependence on costly negative-emissions technology in order to meet a 2050 zero target. Will the Minister ensure that the national energy and climate plan sets out a pathway to net zero emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement objectives?

The deadline for the submission of Ireland's national energy and climate plan is the end of 2019. We understand the Government will not meet this deadline, however. The Department is currently holding a public consultation on a separate long-term strategy which was originally meant to only last 15 working days but was subsequently extended. The Department has not communicated if a further public consultation will take place on the finalised national energy and climate plan. Will the Minister ensure his Department allocates necessary resources to such consultations? It is particularly disappointing that we are discussing the statement but the Minister has not even published the key amending legislation which will turn promises to actions through a clear commitment to climate neutrality by 2050, a system of carbon budgets and an enhanced advisory council. It must be remembered that Fine Gael committed to enacting this legislation in 2019 at the committee on climate action, yet it has not even been presented. Will the Minister clarify if the Government will support a whole-economy net zero target by 2050 in light of its analysis during 2019? Will the Minister set out sectoral emissions reduction pathways to 2050?

Improving the climate advisory function is particularly important. His climate plan has made no reference to this step, however. Will the Minister seek to update the expertise in resources available to it? Earlier in December, the European Council endorsed the objective of achieving a climate neutral EU by 2050. The Council also noted the Commission's communication on a new green deal. The EU will substantively increase its mitigation commitments for 2030 and 2050. Will the Government step up to the plate, however? The signs are not encouraging. Earlier this month the international climate change performance index showed that, although Ireland had climbed seven places from its ranking last year, it remained among the lowest performances globally and is ranked one of the worst performers on climate action in the EU. With the EU now set to increase its 2030 target over the coming year to at least 55%, this is the time for Ireland to develop a 2030 pathway based on five-year carbon budgets aligned with the science and Ireland's fair share.

The annual transitions statement also noted that Ireland has committed to a doubling of its national contribution to the UN green climate fund in 2020. However, this is only an increase to just €4 million, nowhere near that provided by other similar EU states which have reached ten times that figure. This makes a mockery of Ireland's commitment to climate action and further harms Ireland's international reputation.

Is the Minister aware of the policy statement released by his Department yesterday entitled, Petroleum Exploration and Production Activities as part of Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Economy? Did he personally approve the conclusions of the report which contained some rather curious points seemingly prepared rapidly and exclusively for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry? Several statements in the document about climate action and energy security, unfortunately, would seem to call into question the Government's own and supposed desire to consult on Ireland's national energy and climate plan and clearly pre-empt the Government upcoming energy security review. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, in the foreword stated, "we need to protect and conserve our rich marine biodiversity and manage the available natural resources in harmony with surrounding ecosystems". On the same day as the release of this report, University College Cork announced research which showed that in areas of seismic surveys used by fossil fuel exploration companies, whale sightings are down by almost 90%. What does this say about a commitment to ecosystem protection? Did the Minister consult with energy companies prior to making these conclusions? Did he raise these conclusions with the EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities or the UCC marine research centre? Was this document signed off at Cabinet level?

Our emissions are driven significantly by energy and infrastructure decisions which lock us into either high or zero carbon development. It is important this review on energy security takes as the starting point the need to meet Paris Agreement objectives. It should address risks posed by new investments in fossil fuels, potentially locking in higher emissions. Will the Minister update the House on the production of the terms of reference of this security review? Will he be consulting on the matter?

Kieran Mulvey was before the climate action committee today. I was surprised to hear Mr. Mulvey state he was phoned two days prior to his appointment and a day prior to the closure of the two plants, Shannonbridge in County Offaly and Lanesboro in County Longford. This showed the Government was not prepared but it was a crisis reaction, getting the press release out and appointing the just transition commissioner. Mr. Mulvey stated at the climate action committee today that he was a one-man band and had not even secretariat support. He is not sure about support from the Department. While I believe he will be a credible just transition commissioner, if he has not been provided with the resources and the ground supports, his work will be compromised as a result of this failure by the Department and the Minister. Another point Mr. Mulvey made today was that he was not consulted on the terms of reference.

We should no longer refer to Ireland as a climate laggard as if the country were to blame. It was the Fine Gael Government which decided in 2012 to abandon climate legislation proposed by the Green Party and Fianna Fáil. It was Fine Gael which failed to introduce any sort of coherent climate plan until this year. It is far from certain that we will see legislation and policies sufficiently progress to reverse this trend before the end of this Government.


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