Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Priority Questions.

Environmental Policy.

1:00 pm

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will report on the implementation of the national climate change strategy in view of the comments by the EU Environment Commissioner, Mr. Stavros Dimas, in Dublin on 2 March 2006 that climate change, not terrorism, is the biggest threat facing humanity. [9773/06]

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I met with Commissioner Dimas last week. I agree that climate change is of major global concern but it is another issue as to whether I would characterise it as he did. In the course of my discussions with him last week, I assured him of Ireland's commitment to meeting its Kyoto Protocol target.

The national climate change strategy was designed to reduce domestic emissions of greenhouse gases in the most efficient and equitable manner. National greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly since 2001, notwithstanding the very slight year-on-year increase shown in the provisional outturn for 2004.

The strategy was adopted in 2000. The first progress report was published in 2002 and it is available in the Oireachtas Library. Since then, there have been a number of significant developments at EU and wider international level, notably the commencement of carbon emissions trading within the EU in January 2005 and the coming into effect of the Kyoto Protocol in February 2005. I expect to see the impact of emissions trading reflected in the outturn figures for 2005.

A variety of measures adopted by the Government on foot of the strategy are contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. These include higher standards of energy conservation provided for in the building regulations, cleaner electricity generation and increased penetration of renewable energy, improvements in public transport, tax incentives for more fuel-efficient cars, and a package of excise relief for biofuels worth €200 million over five years announced in last December's budget.

A review of the strategy has been carried out to provide an updated progress report on implementation and to identify possible additional measures. This review will be finalised in the light of the current consultancy study which updates the projections of emissions for the 2008-12 period, to provide the best possible information on where Ireland stands in regard to its Kyoto target. I intend to publish this review as a consultation document which will inform the preparation of a revised strategy.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Given the Minister's reply, which is more or less the same one we have had previously, can I take it the EU Environment Commissioner did not have any influence at all in pushing on the national climate change strategy? Does the Minister recall the recent climate change conference organised by the Green Party in the Mansion House? The belief among experts working in a number of different university faculties in Ireland and abroad is that the required cut in carbon dioxide emissions must be between 60% and 80% for there to be any chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Does the Minister recognise that the Kyoto Protocol is not even at the races in regard to the commitment required for compliance here and that climate change is not an equal opportunity disaster? Will the Minister take specific action in regard to other Departments, perhaps by way of emulating what is being done in Sweden, where a 15-year target has been set to become the world's first oil-free economy?

Is the Minister able in any way to rise to the challenge being presented by climate change? It is not sufficient to simply talk about Kyoto. Will the Minister even express an opinion on whether the environmental NGOs should be part of the partnership talks in which a ten-year agenda for this country is being drawn up? Does he take on board the arguments being made for a domestic carbon quota, which would at least ensure the equitable manner which he espouses in regard to the implementation of the required measures? Is a cost available for carbon trading? People would like to know if the Government policy which will cost us dearly will impinge on other areas of public spending.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry I missed the conference. I am sure it was most interesting. I would have attended it if it were possible.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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If he likes I can give the Minister a DVD of it.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy. I will watch it with great interest.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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We can put the Minister's photo on it.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The whole idea of the Kyoto Protocol is to deal with a global problem on a global basis.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is a start.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, it is a start. The Deputy is quite right. It is very important that countries which care about the future get involved in the process. It is sad that not every country views the Kyoto Protocol with the same degree of urgency as is apparent in Europe.

I do not agree with the Deputy if it is the general tenor of his comments that there is a single silver bullet that will resolve this issue for any one country.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Certainly not.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I do not believe it would be logical or sensible to suggest Ireland should impose restraints greater than in any other country in Europe. The Deputy's general point about the period beyond 2008-12 is correct. The targets will have to be even more ambitious. That is why it is important we take a variety of approaches to the problem. I do not disagree with the Deputy on this point, nor do I disagree with his view on the necessity of inducements. We have introduced a trading sector to proceed with matters. When it realises it will have to meet targets, industry will be very quick to put in more fuel efficient systems. I think savings can be made.

The Deputy referred to the upward trend in 2004 which is disappointing but we must keep this in perspective. The figure in 2004 was 0.1% above what our emissions should have been. Those are provisional figures which will be subject to review and the tendency has been for the review to be downward. The consultants' report on emissions project carbon costs to run at €15 per tonne during the period 2008-15.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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They will be much higher than that.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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That point can be made, business to business trading costs will be higher than that but state to state trading figures are used in calculations. We have been clear on the methodology and the projected figures.

We must create a balance that allows us to achieve our targets in the most cost effective way, not just in the cheapest way in the short term but in the medium and long term. That is why we have targets and why we are encouraging larger energy users to be ambitious. If they are ambitious, not only will they save costs but there will be benefits in terms of credits that come their way. We must make decisions and they will be difficult, with sectors in the economy making a lot of noise in the next few weeks as we move forward.

We must do our bit, as must every other country, and I do not accept the general view that buying credits, one of the options available under Kyoto, is an inefficient way of dealing with the problem. It is a way to deal with the demands facing an economy growing at the rate ours is. In the long term we must adopt a position where a variety of individual approaches will resolve the issue, including energy efficiency in buildings and the introduction of new technology, including biofuels and alternatives. There is not just one single way to achieve this, it is a complex issue. I discussed this with Cabinet colleagues today and we are determined to meet the targets that have been set for us.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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This is not about forcing people to make sacrifices, it is about taking advantage of an international opportunity. Sweden's Minister for Sustainable Development has declared that a Sweden free of fossil fuels will present enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices. The report of the Climate Group, Carbon Down, Profits Up, demonstrates that the corporate world is seizing on the invisible frontier of profitability which energy efficiency represents. Will the Minister put it to the Taoiseach and the Cabinet that if we can get the NGOs into the partnership process and put in place a formula that will allow us to take advantage of climate change, there will be business opportunities, not the opposite? Will the NGOs be included in partnership?

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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No one has a monopoly on wisdom in this area, we should avail of all opportunities.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I did not say we have a monopoly on wisdom.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am not saying that, I am making an admission, not an accusation. I do not always disagree with the Deputy and I agree strongly that if business wakes up to the reality, it is a win-win situation. Europe will not be penalised by meeting its Kyoto targets, it will be at an advantage because if we are leaner and more energy efficient, we will benefit.