Thursday, 29 April 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I want to express my support for the open letter published recently by more than 400 academics researching climate and environmental change protesting the worldwide attempts to criminalise non-violent climate protest. The letter states that those who put their voices and bodies on the line to raise the alarm are being threatened and silenced by the very countries they seek to protect. I agree with that, and I want to add my voice to this important issue.
I want to draw attention to the fact that the Bill does not include measures to ban the importation of fracked gas. It should have done so. I hear Green Party Ministers swear blind that such a ban will be included in separate legislation. Climate activists will watch like hawks to see that that legislation is indeed brought forward, and brought forward quickly. Perhaps the Minister can provide us with a date as to when we will see that legislation.
I am for climate action. I am also for climate justice. The idea of carbon taxes on the general population, taxes that will rise year on year up to 2030, is something I oppose. These taxes are counter-productive. They will rightly be perceived by many as unjust and they have the potential to turn people away from the necessary climate action agenda. A total of 71% of greenhouse gas emissions in the past three decades came from just 100 large corporations. That is where carbon taxes need to be directed. They need to be targeted precisely at forces such as those which pollute for profit.
Worldwide, data centres account for 2% of world energy demand, a figure which is expected to quadruple to 8% by 2030. However, in this country data centres and other large users are expected to account for 27% of Irish energy demand by 2028. Ireland is fast becoming Europe's data centre capital. There are currently 54 such centres, with planning permission in place for a further 31. They all require high levels of energy to power and cool machines. It is estimated by the Irish Academy of Engineering that data centres are set to add 1.5 million tonnes to Ireland's carbon emissions total by 2030. We should act like our house is on fire.
Ireland cannot become Europe's data centre capital and reach emission targets. It is not enough to say that data centres should use renewable sources. Of course they should, but at the current rate of growth they will end up using close to 50% of all energy from renewable sources. This drive needs to be slowed down. The case for strong carbon taxes on the owners of these centres is clear and undeniable.
What we need in Ireland and internationally is a green new deal that puts the environment first and promotes the question of a just transition, one that is just for society and ordinary working people. What kind of policies might be enshrined in a green new deal in this country? I suggest the following issues would be among those at the core of it. There should be massive State investment in renewable energy. There should be a State-funded programme to retrofit houses, including the State building social and affordable housing and retrofitting new housing. There should be free public transport, via a public transport system which has had a major increase in investment. There should be a four-day working week. There must be a major increase in investment in reforestation. Agribusiness should be taken into public ownership and a plan should be drawn up, linked to a move towards sustainable, carbon-free agriculture.
Policies such as these clash with the imperative within a society to put profit first. One cannot square that with a system which puts profit first, before people and the environment.. We cannot fund that without massive increases in taxation on big business and the wealthy in society. It points towards the need for a break with the current economic system, the system of capitalism.
Young people on climate marches carried signs that read "System change not climate change". The system that needs to be ended and replaced with something better is capitalism. Capitalism is the system responsible for those 100 companies that account for 70% of global carbon emissions. Capitalism is the system which results in the top 10% of income earners in the world having up to 43% of the environmental impact, while the bottom 10% of earners have between just 3% and 5%. Capitalism is the system that the author of the Stern report referred to when he stated that "Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen".
We cannot afford that market system if we want a future for the next generation, halt the threat of climate change to our planet and offer a real future for young people. We need to end the system which puts profit before the environment. We need to end the system of capitalism and replace it with something better. I would suggest that something better is a democratic and socialist society, rationally planned in the interests of all.