Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Climate Change Negotiations

1:22 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Deputy Bacik raised the issue of the publication of the more detailed action plans. In the course of her questions, she said she had been engaging with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications last evening. The Government has committed to publishing that detailed annex of actions, because it is important. I do not have a precise date here and now, but the Minister and his Department are finalising that. By any objective standards, this Government moved especially speedily to introduce the new Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which creates a legal framework for this Government and future Governments in respect of meeting clear obligations on climate change. That has to be followed by the climate action plan, which has been published and the detailed actions, but also by the carbon budgets for every sector.

The challenges will increase. I am not saying this will apply to the Deputy, because I accept her bona fides on climate change, but the challenge will be in implementing all of these actions as it will mean change. It is a bit like the opposition to carbon tax. We get attacked everyday because of carbon tax. One has to ask the question as whether people are serious about climate change overall because all the international advice is that it works on a long-term basis. Of course, it does not work in terms of winning votes. I know that.

However, these are the kinds of calls we will have to make right across the board in every sector. The temptation will be to cynically focus in on certain areas of these changes, to undermine the overall effort for Ireland to play its part in meeting the 1.5°C because we are not strong per capita performers on climate change. We have to acknowledge that as a country and we have to move quickly. That is why the legislation around the marine planning Bill is essential for offshore wind. That has to happen and those frameworks have to be created for investment in offshore wind in particular and throughout other areas. This will be published.

On Deputy McDonald's point, those appointments were made in full accordance with the legislation and I think the Deputy acknowledges that because she said her party put forward an amendment which was not carried. There was a suggestion somewhere that the Minister had gone outside the legislation. He had not. Is the best the Deputy can do on climate change is just raise appointments under the Act? What about the substance of climate change?

That is what COP26 was about. The fact the United States has changed, because of the election of President Biden, has given a huge fillip globally to the whole climate change agenda. In partnership with the European Union and Great Britain, it has to be said, there is potential. Other countries have to come on board. The partnership with China towards the end of the COP26 was important and the US and China have signalled they will work proactively together in respect of that.

With regard to the appointments made by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, no one can question the qualifications of the two individuals concerned, their commitment or that they would be good members of the council. It was in accordance with the Act passed by this Oireachtas. To be balanced and fair about this, there is a wider range of issues on which we should collectively be working and we should be honest about our approach to climate change in that regard.

In response to Deputy Barry, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, which is the legislatively created regulator, is responsible for the regulation of these areas. The conditions are balanced. It is important self-generation and backup generation would be provided. The experience is that, in many instances, many companies are now investing in renewables as compensatory measures. Recently, I was in Eli Lilly in Kinsale, a pharmaceutical company which has been there for more than 30 years, providing more than 1,000 jobs in Kinsale and more elsewhere. It has transformed what was land around the plant into the largest solar farm in the country. Likewise, DePuy Synthes has purchased two forests to ensure its contribution will be net zero in terms of its production facilities.

Many multinational companies are proactively working on the climate change agenda. There is no reason that should not include companies that build and operate data centres. The world is going through a digital transformation, as are we as a country. Infrastructure will have to be provided. We should not have a runaway system of data centres. I do not believe in that at all. There should be limits to this and conditionality attached to it. The CRU has provided a regulatory framework that changes the landscape and that will challenge companies to make a stronger contribution to our energy requirements, security of supply and climate agenda.

Deputy Boyd Barrett's point was raised earlier in the Order of Business. I have said consistently that State agencies now have to have climate change as a central part of their mandate. Bord na Móna and Coillte, in particular, should have it as the core part, given how much land both of them have and the retention and expansion of carbon sinks should be their number one priority.

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