Thursday, 29 April 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is important and ground-breaking legislation and a significant achievement for the Green Party in government. It will set the framework and the parameters within which our economy and our society will develop from this year on but we must accept what we mean by setting these targets and the implications they have for all of us and for every sector of our economy and our society.
It will be possible for some to applaud the objective but to deny the means or pretend that we can achieve these legally binding targets without enormous effort and commitment and changing the way we do things. By way of example, I had the experience of dealing with the economic disaster after the last Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. We came into Government in 2011 with a commitment to reduce the national deficit to 3% of GDP. That objective was accepted by all. The declaration that we would have to achieve a balanced budget was the easy bit. The achieving of the objective was considerably more difficult.
This Bill provides for binding targets to achieve a "national climate objective" and, no later than 2050, the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy. Those are lofty words that will require a great deal of effort to fulfil and we can only succeed if we build public support. We can only have that support if we ensure that we mitigate any harm done to individuals and their standard of living by the actions we have to take. We have to ensure that no group is disproportionately harmed. We have to be clear in the just transition and if I have a complaint about the Bill it is that it does not front-load the issue of a just transition enough. No one can be left behind. Nobody can be allowed to endure fuel poverty, loss of employment or disadvantage. That will require very significant resources. If whoever is in government loses the buy-in of the public it will be impossible to achieve the true transformation that is both possible and essential. There will be any number of groups and individuals who will resist the changes necessary. Many will be well-intentioned and truly concerned; others not so. I welcome and support this destination which, hopefully, will soon be legally underpinned. Sustaining the journey to its achievement will be a monumental challenge for all of us.
Now that the destination in terms of emission targets will be set in law let us see the specifics from the Government. In terms of energy, I will touch on offshore wind because it was talked about in the last debate. We need to fulfil the capacity of the east coast which largely will have fixed turbines in place, with the west coast probably having them later when the technology of floating turbines arrives. In my judgment, and I am biased on this, we should designate Rosslare Europort as the port of service and assembly for the turbines on the east coast. If we do not do that those turbines will be serviced but it may well be from Wales, England or Northern Ireland. Let us acquire the land and get going on these issues, and let us do it now. Let us ensure the interconnectors are built to export surplus energy when we have it and to import and supplement our green energy requirement when we do not.
In transport, the Minister should lay out the plans for achieving the end to petrol and diesel vehicles. He should set out the specifics and the supports we will have rather than saying we will have 1 million electric vehicles. Where will the charging points be located? When will construction on them start? What supports will the Minister give to individuals many of whom in rural Ireland have no option but to have a car because there is no public transport and there will never be public transport? How are they to be supported in this transition? Where are the transport plans for the urban areas? How quickly can they be put in place? It is time now for the specifics.
In housing, where is the realistic plan and the money behind it to retrofit all our housing stock, public and private? Nearly zero energy building, NZEB, housing is under construction. There will be a new national NZEB centre of excellence in Enniscorthy, which will be a UN centre and, it is hoped, will give a lead and enthusiasm to ensure that we make this transition. However, that will be an extraordinarily jobs rich but expensive undertaking. We have not really begun that but we are going to tinker with it.
In agriculture, the Minister must be honest and set out the changes that will be required and the real supports that will be put in place to bring about that achievement in a painless and supported way by our public.
In essence, what we have now is a destination. It is a set of legally binding targets. We have to fill in that framework now because just as with fixing the economy, the declaration of the goal is one thing; the specifics and how they will impact on our people are quite another. Now that this Bill is here and will have broad support in this House and outside it, despite some negative comments, all of us, including the people who want him to succeed on this journey, need the detailed actions, timelines and resources that will underpin that achievement.