Thursday, 29 April 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
Civil society, NGOs, the community and voluntary sector or however one wants to frame it - normal people coming together in an organised way around a particular cause - have been at the forefront of much positive change in Irish society down the generations. That has been the case with the causes of social justice and equality, but it has also been the case with the environmental movement and, more recently, the climate movement. People coming together and speaking with a coherent voice and in large numbers telling the powers that be that something is not good enough are a powerful force. They have got us to this point where we can progress the process of ensuring that climate action, for which they campaigned, becomes law. I met some of the organisations recently. It is a reassurance to me, the future of the planet and my children's future that they will keep pressing for faster and fairer action and implementation of current and future climate action plans. They will be there if Departments do not meet their commitments and they will help to ensure accountability for the future of the planet and the future of our children.
It is my honour, as Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities, to acknowledge the role of the climate movement and the various organisations that comprise it and thank them for their determination and persistence. The movement and the people in it are the last people who need to hear that the Bill is only a first step and the majority of the work is still ahead of us, but the Bill is an important first step. I thank the movement for pressing for more. Please continue to do so for all our sake and the planet's.
As the Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities, I have responsibility for the five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector. The strategy, Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities, contains 11 core objectives, one of which is to support community development and local development in engaging with climate change, adaptation and mitigation strategies. More specifically, it commits to:
- provide training and capacity building in relation to Climate Change to community development and local development organisations,
- pilot and develop models of good practice on Climate Change adaptation and mitigation at community level, and
- include a focus on Climate Change in all community development and local development programmes and initiatives.
Under the strategy, priority commitments for 2021 are the training needs of the sector. We commenced a needs analysis process recently, starting with local community development committees, LCDCs. LCDCs are key in terms of climate action. They are the mechanism that links local reality with national policy.
I received support for our public participation networks, PPNs, nationally. They are a major asset in terms of building a ground-up, grassroots force to help enact climate action in a fair way that ensures those who are marginalised are not left behind. There are 16,000 PPN member organisations across the country working in the areas of social inclusion, the community and voluntary sector and the environment. PPNs allow member organisations to connect with one another and their local authorities, but they also ensure that normal people have a greater say in local decisions that affect their communities. This is key to climate action. PPNs are already contributing to climate policy by taking part in focus group consultations on the Climate Action Plan, which commenced last month. These consultations were held in the local authority areas of Offaly, Meath, Monaghan, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Galway, Clare, Wicklow, Donegal, Carlow, Kilkenny, Fingal, Limerick, Kildare, Sligo and Kerry. Through these focus groups, volunteers are bringing a local perspective into the national conversation, a perspective that will help us as a nation to address climate change and its impact on our daily lives.
A review of how to improve the operation of PPNs will begin soon.
The capacity of PPNs to be involved in climate action will form a part of that review. The climate action Bill requires local authorities to develop climate action plans for their local areas every five years. These local action plans will bring climate action right into the heart of local communities and the climate action Bill ensures that community members will have a strong voice in those plans. The Bill makes it a requirement, in law, for local authorities to consult their local PPN in forming their local action plan. This is in recognition of the importance of community groups in the challenge that lies ahead and the importance of bringing everyone on board.
I also have responsibilities in the Department of Social Protection, which recently held its annual social inclusion forum where community and voluntary groups from around the country spoke about the realities of exclusion and poverty. The forum was focused on the implementation of the roadmap for social inclusion which I oversee. The roadmap is up for review next year and I will ensure that concerns about ensuring a just transition are reflected in that review, as they are in the Department's new overall strategy.
In line with Government policy, one of the high-level goals in the new statement of strategy of the Department of Social Protection published last month is to target changes to key social welfare payments to ensure that increases to carbon tax have a progressive impact on the most vulnerable, those contributing to a just transition.
Climate action can lead to warmer homes, cheaper and healthier ways of travelling and ways of using land to produce food without damaging the planet. Locally generated and owned energy has significant potential to bring communities together and tackle disadvantage. Climate action can be an opportunity and an organising force to improve the situation of those marginalised and to develop a more socially just Ireland. I launched the pilot bike repair and upcycling scheme with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, yesterday. This is one small example of how this might be done.
I oversee the State's main social inclusion intervention, the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. SICAP is implemented by local development companies across the country and provides tailored one-to-one assistance to people on the margins and the groups that work with them. The current iteration of SICAP runs from 2018 to 2022. When we start discussions and consultations on the shape of the new SICAP, the principles of just transition and climate justice will form part of how we frame social inclusion into the future and the next SICAP. Local development companies across the country are already recognising and naming this.
I opened with an acknowledgement of the role the community and voluntary sector has played in getting us to this point today. This role must continue and must be augmented. The Government should support citizens to engage and take action. We will be supporting the community and voluntary sector to engage in climate action at a local level.
I have a short comment on the just transition project in the midlands. My party does not agree with the assertion made in this House that the just transition jobs will not materialise as stated by another Member. The Government agreed last year to allocate €108 million to protect over 300 jobs and the fund was mobilised shortly afterwards. The Department is working closely with projects to ensure the money flows at scale. Covid has slowed down many of the projects. However, grant agreements have already issued to strand 2 projects and the remainder will be finalised very shortly. The Minister has assured me that he expects a substantial number of the projects will be operational this summer.