Thursday, 29 April 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
Climate change, as the Minister well knows, is the single biggest challenge facing humanity today. It is a problem of such an order of magnitude that it can be difficult for us to get our heads around it. The forests of the world are literally on fire. Twenty-four months ago the Amazon was on fire, 16 months ago Australia was on fire and this week the national parks in Kerry, the hills of Wicklow and the mountains of Mourne are on fire. Increasingly, we are looking at weather and temperature events which exceed some of the most pessimistic predictions of the international models. When we take into account the global dimming effect of particles in the air caused by burning fossil fuels and the extra warming that may take place as we replace fossil fuels the need for urgency and the scale of the consequences may be even greater than any of us care to admit. This is an existential challenge for society. In that context, all of us will be judged by our actions - by what we have done and what we have failed to do.
By nature, I am an optimist. I look to the future. I believe that we can find a way to solve this problem but the first step is to admit that the entire current fossil fuel based economic model is broken and that we have to replace it. We need to admit that we will only replace it by regulation. We cannot just close our eyes and hope that it goes away. We cannot pretend that it is other people's problem to solve or that the free market will magically produce a solution like a rabbit from a hat.
In Ireland, we have some of the highest per capitaemissions in the world. We cannot just look at China and India, shrug our shoulders and do nothing. Simply put, at a bare minimum we need to stop putting excess carbon into the atmosphere. We need a just transition to a carbon neutral future. We need that transition to bring people with us and to treat people fairly. This Bill is a step towards that process. It builds upon Deputy Alan Kelly's work in government in producing the first climate action Bill, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, in 2015. I am glad to see the Green Party has retained the framework of the Labour Bill.
As spokesperson for enterprise, trade and employment I can see the vast potential for employment in a carbon neutral economy but we need to ensure that the transition is an orderly and managed one that creates benefits and opportunities for people across Ireland.
We want a just transition that gives people the skills and education they need. We need to strengthen local democracy and examine new and old structures, such as town councils and co-operatives, to build organisations that will share costs and benefits more fairly in our communities. We need the State to invest, subsidise and regulate to make sure those who can least afford to pay are subsidised the most. We need to invest in active travel, walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure in towns and villages that are designed for people and not primarily for cars. We need to invest in large-scale public transport and we need considerable State investment in housing, transport and industry to deliver carbon-neutral economy and infrastructure.
Our greatest challenges lie in agriculture and construction. We need to put the needs of our people at the heart of how we face these challenges. We will need to change, but that change need not be at the expense of the ordinary person if we put his or her need for decent living at the heart of what we do. There is a nettle here to be grasped, and pretending we can stay the same will leave our farmers behind and ultimately prevent us from meeting the challenges of climate change and the collapse in biodiversity we have seen over the past 50 years.
This Bill is about the economy and regulating it and with any attempt to regulate an economy, there will be some big business interests that will seek to delay, obstruct or damage anything that will force them to change. These forces need to be resisted. The common good is too important for us to cave in to the demands of those who do not want to change. We need to support those who are working towards a carbon-neutral economy based on decent, well-paid jobs and a good standard of living. We cannot allow those who are working to change for the better to be undercut and undermined by those who seek to earn a fast buck by cutting corners and exploiting natural and human resources without regard for environmental justice both here and abroad.
Human rights and workers' rights are inextricably linked to climate change. The climate emergency threatens the social fabric of every country on earth, and Ireland is no exception. I have hope for the future and believe that, with good regulation and strong public and community engagement, we can get our economy to change.
There are valid criticisms of this Bill. There are justifiable questions as to whether it goes far enough. Are the links between the carbon budget and the fiscal expenditure budgets too weak? Are the exact mechanisms too technocratic? Most of all, how can we make sure the Bill does not lose sight of the needs of the most vulnerable, rural and urban, and make sure the transition is, indeed, just? With these questions in mind, we will seek to submit amendments to improve the Bill. Ultimately, however, as my colleagues Deputies Howlin and Sherlock have said, we support and welcome this Bill because it is a step we need to take. We cannot afford to delay any longer. The Green Party deserves credit for putting it at the heart of its Government programme, and it would be cheap politics just to attack that party over the Bill's imperfections. I ask the Minister of State and everyone in this House to take this opportunity to listen to one another, honestly debate, examine and accept amendments, and work to produce a climate Bill we can be proud of. We have a duty to the Irish people, and to people everywhere, to deliver a carbon-neutral future with people at the heart of it and to bring positive change to people's lives as we go.