Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Climate Change Policy

9:12 am

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I sincerely thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I welcome any Deputy who wants me to go further on my existing policy and who is looking for more ambition. Even better is suggesting ways that I can do that and specific practical means to get there and even better if a Deputy has specific experience in that area and was previously a Minister. The work that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I are doing is based on the policy and the preparatory work that Deputy Bruton put in when he was in that role. I hope that future Ministers will implement things where I have done preparatory work.

The Government recognises that Ireland needs to establish a circular economy to achieve its climate action ambitions. It is with that in mind that the heads of the new circular economy Bill were agreed by the Cabinet yesterday. In September 2020, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, launched a new action plan for a circular economy. The action plan goes beyond waste management. It looks at resource use more broadly to capture and maximise the ongoing value of materials that in the past have been discarded. The plan confirmed the link between the circular economy and climate action. It established a circular economy division within my Department, with a mandate to ensure a whole-of-government approach. That division has produced a draft whole-of-government circular economy strategy, which has just finished an eight-week public consultation.

I understand that Deputy Bruton is anxious for what he regards as more ambition in the current draft strategy. I can assure him that there is plenty of ambition behind the strategy and the work programme to follow. If we are to achieve the systemic overhaul that is required, then we need to bring a large number of people with us. We need comprehensive buy-in to transition into a circular economy. That means across Government, business, households and communities. Therefore, targets, actions and timelines must be built with the input of those who are expected to make the changes required.

Without collaboration and consensus, the strategy risks becoming a top-down to-do list. We need to first establish an agreed platform for action. With that in mind, I will be visiting the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, seeing actual community-led groups trying to implement circular economy ideas rather than lofty abstract ideas that are coming from high up.

In line with the approach set out in the waste action plan, the draft strategy is not a target-driven, technically detailed document. Our primary aim is to set out an overall approach to circular economy policy, identify key objectives and indicate the direction of future policy development. An additional aim has been to provide explanatory information which can demystify the circular economy for non-specialist audiences.

The text also contains an explicit commitment to revise the draft strategy on an ongoing basis. This will include introducing targets as policy develops further. An interdepartmental working group will be convened after publication of the strategy to drive this next phase of development. This joined-up approach will ensure that circular economy practices are embedded across Government.

This first iteration of the strategy aims to provide an overall framework for circular economy policy development. Future versions will include specific actions and targets for all Departments and all sectors of the economy. In parallel, the 2021 climate action plan is currently under preparation and treats circular economy as a cross-cutting issue of significant importance. Circular economy actions and principles will be incorporated across the thematic areas of the document, for example, in construction, agriculture and food loss, and enterprise. We are leveraging the expertise and resources of others to support our ambition for the circular economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency's new programme will be a driving force for Ireland's move to a circular economy through designing out waste, promoting resource recycling and delivering sustainable economic growth. The overall approach is to influence behavioural change, support sustainable choices and inform policy toward the implementation of a circular economy.


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