Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


3:55 pm

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

Today we begin the journey to net zero and we legislate for the ambition of decades of work by environmentalists, climate activists, scientists, NGOs and more recently the voters across our communities who have demanded action to stop our climate chaos and biodiversity loss. We do this for the young people across this country and across the world who went on strike and marched and raised the bar and demanded action now, action that should have started 20 years ago. Many do not yet have a vote, but they certainly have a voice in this House and in today's climate Bill. We are acting for the future generations.

I want my children to grow up in a country that leads on climate action and finally casts off the mantle of being laggards in the battle to save our planet. I thank all those young people, the activists, the environmental groups, the individuals who want a better future and understand the action that is required. The voters of Wicklow put me here and put me in a position to create laws that will set us on the right path and keep us on that path. I ask them to continue to demand action from every party in this House for faster, bigger and better action on climate.

There is no room for complacency in the battle ahead of us and I do not underestimate that challenge. We all have a role to play. The journey we started today is for the benefit and protection of everyone. It is for our precious life-sustaining environment and biodiversity. It is for our future economic gains. It is for job creation, better health outcomes and secure comfortable affordable quality housing. It is for energy efficiency and better ways to live, to work and to travel. It is for all of us together in a fair and equitable manner across every part of our island. It is for our shared future.

It will be challenging, but the opportunities are enormous. Over the next decade the steps we take to reduce climate-changing gases will improve our health, economy and communities. Climate action will create thousands of jobs across all sectors. Jobs will be created in the maritime environment as we embark on harnessing wind energy to supply our electricity and energy needs. The marine protections we put in place as part of that development will protect our seas, provide a sustainable fishing sector and ensure healthy oceans, which are crucial for carbon sequestration.

Our coastal communities will see direct social and economic benefits from offshore renewable energy. We are already seeing that in Arklow and more will follow in town such as Wicklow and in the larger-scale ports, such as Moneypoint and Rosslare.

The ambition we have on the targets we have set for offshore wind energy will reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, lowering our emissions and providing energy resilience. It will provide us the opportunity to electrify transport and home heating. It gives us cleaner air, more comfortable homes, a better quality of life and enormous financial savings in energy efficiency. That is climate action.

Long-term, sustainable, clean and well-paid employment will be created as we make our housing stock energy efficient, warmer and healthier. I welcome the recent launch and promotion of apprenticeships and opportunities for mature apprenticeships and upskilling. As we transition to cleaner industry and take the necessary actions to wind down the high carbon-emitting processes, we will ensure that those workers are not left behind. We will have a significant future requirement for skilled workers across new technologies and continued improvements to construction trade skills. Our new and retrofitted houses will have solar technology, heat pumps, high levels of insulation, smart metering and energy-saving heating and lighting controls. This means thousands of jobs now and into the future.

Across the SME sector, which is vital for employment throughout Ireland, we will support investment to improve energy efficiencies in offices and commercial buildings. Improved operations, resource management and manufacturing processes to reduce waste and emissions save money. These aspects of business may not be at the top of the list for an owner of an SME at the moment as they struggle to re-emerge from the pandemic, but it is important for their future sustainability. We will support those SMEs. This creates savings, protects and creates jobs and ensures viability. That is climate action.

Investment in digitalisation, innovation and our fibre network will assist in decarbonising our economy and bring benefits across society. The pandemic forced many of us to work remotely from home and has shown that jobs can be located in smaller towns and villages, which have good broadband infrastructure, digital hubs and workspaces. Throughout the last year we have learned to appreciate what our local towns, villages and green spaces have to offer for our physical and mental well-being. Rejuvenating smaller towns and putting town centres first creates local jobs, improving the public amenity offering, making our town centres attractive for cycling and walking to school and to shops and for recreation. It also attracts business and investment.

Proper planning, higher densities, good designs and managed open spaces in our towns will sustain those local businesses. Good public transport through and to our towns and villages and to urban centres will reduce car dependency and congestion, improve air quality and create safer, quieter and more enjoyable town centres.

We need to seize the chance we have to borrow at all-time low interest rates to invest in the infrastructure deficit that exists in our public transport networks, both rural and urban, in our fibre and communications networks, in housing, in our water network, in town planning, in urban design, in placemaking and in our main streets. That creates jobs, putting life back into our smaller towns and villages. That is climate action.

We are now setting out on a path to reduce our carbon emissions. The actions we take to achieve this will be beneficial across society and for future generations. There are, of course, scaremongers who do not wish to change and those who fear change; we heard them here last week. They are also part of this, and we must bring everyone on this journey in the confidence that a carbon-neutral future is good for everyone. In fact, to continue as we have done has a devastating price. Carbon has a cost and if we do not act now with the highest ambition and achieve the science-based and proven targets, we will place an immeasurable burden on our children. The cost to them will be unaffordable and leave them with a worse quality of life. Every generation seeks to improve the quality of life and future for their children and, of course, that must be a just transition.

I am proud to stand here to support the Bill, as a Green Party Member and as part of a Government that understands the science that will provide the solutions that will vest in our people and our economy across society to safeguard our shared future.

On a personal note, I acknowledge the lifetime commitment to and work of the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on this issue. I also acknowledge the manner in which he has worked on it collegially across this House and in committee for many years and the faith he had when we Green Party councillors together that some day would be here to enact a climate action Bill. I am very proud to stand here today and I thank the Minister for the time he has spent on this issue.


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