Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Question 179: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his assessment of how far off Ireland's Kyoto obligations we will be in 2008 to 2012; the fines Ireland is expected to face as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30933/06]
Question 209: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his view on the finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that Ireland is 23% above its 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30932/06]
Question 220: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the further action he will take to reduce the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30974/06]
Question 341: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his future plans for compliance with the Kyoto Protocol; if he is satisfied with the progress to date; if he will take new initiatives to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31241/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 115, 179, 209, 220 and 341 together.
Since the publication of the national climate change strategy in 2000, the Government has put in place a variety of measures which, collectively, will deliver an average 8 million tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the period 2008-12. That is our compliance period for the Kyoto Protocol and it is the period during which we will be assessed.
A number of measures have been taken. We have strengthened the energy requirements in the building regulations and over the key period that will lead to a reduction of approximately 300,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Regulations require all new cars for sale to be labelled with fuel economy and CO2 emissions information. That is making a positive contribution. The renewable energy directive to which we are committed will achieve a 1.3 million tonne CO2 reduction annually. Excise relief of over €200 million between 2006 and 2010 will bring emissions reductions of 250,000 tonnes annually, equivalent to taking 76,000 cars off the road.
The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will have the biggest single impact. Less greenhouse gas emissions arise from fewer and younger animals. The reduction under those changes will be approximately 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 per annum. The Government's forestry programme will also contribute to the removal of over 2 million tonnes of CO2 per annum.
There are three strands to the Government's approach. The first is measures to reduce emissions throughout the economy. Most Deputies accept that there is no single saver bullet. A variety of changes will achieve the impact. Second is the emissions reductions in the installations participating in the EU emissions trading scheme. Third, where it arises, there is the purchase of credits for carbon reductions elsewhere in the world, which is an option specifically provided for in the Kyoto Protocol.
I recently launched a report on the implementation of the climate change strategy, entitled, Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance. The report provided the basis for a period of public consultation up to the end of last month. The responses to this open consultation will inform the identification of future policies.
In addition, progress will also be achieved by the range of new measures identified in the Green Paper on energy published last Sunday. These are significant. The greener homes renewable energy grants scheme, for example, has been remarkably successful and has a tremendous take-up. It will deliver an approximate 200,000 tonne reduction in emissions. There are new ambitious targets for renewable energy use of 15% by 2010 and 30% by 2020, which will more than double the savings in that regard. We intend to more than double the use of biofuels by 2010 from 2% to 5.75%, which will have significant emissions benefits.
The establishment of a task force on bio-energy will help to develop an integrated national policy in this area, taking into account the various policy strands arising under different Departments. That will be in place by the end of 2006. There is an action plan on energy efficiency to reduce energy consumption by 20% by 2020. This is the Power of One scheme which was launched last week. I believe it will have a significant impact. An increase in the use of combined heat and power to 350 MW by 2010 with grants for 30% of the installation costs will also have an impact. There is a commitment to co-firing peat-fired power stations with 30% biomass by 2015. This will not only have the effect of cutting emissions but will also reduce our dependence on imported fuels.
Significant changes have already been introduced and more are on the way. I am confident that with these changes we are well on target to meet our Kyoto figures.
We are well off target. The Government commitment to the Kyoto Agreement states that we should be ten points lower than where we are at present. In other words, we are ten points adrift. We are far above the carbon dioxide emissions that we should permit. I attended a lecture recently at the Dundalk Institute of Technology given by Lawrence Staudt, who is the head of the renewable energy department. He said that Ireland has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita of any country in Europe. That is a shameful statistic.
The Minister has fine talk but there is no action. The spatial strategy is not working. Thousands more people are spending longer periods commuting to work in Dublin by driving from Wexford, Portlaoise and even Galway. The Government's policy is not working; it does not have a proper transport policy. The EPA has stated that emissions caused by transport, that is, cars, lorries and so forth, are far higher than they ought to be. The Government has failed to meet its commitments under Kyoto or to implement a proper transport policy. We are causing more pollution per capita than any other country in Europe. The spatial strategy is not working.
Will the Minister insist to each local authority — this has been implemented in Fingal County Council — that a specific amount of renewable energy be used in house construction, whether that is 10%, 15% or 20%? I will not argue about the percentage but the principle must be established. There must be a reduction in CO2 emissions from homes, particularly given the heat loss caused by many modern technologies. I accept that the building regulations are being changed but the Minister is not insisting on a percentage of renewable energy to be used in every home.
A number of Members of the House travelled to the UK to see a competition held by the UK Government to produce a low energy, low cost home. Will the Minister introduce such a scheme? Will he put the technology industries head-to-head with each other? Will he put the cement industry head-to-head with the timber frame housing construction industry, tell them to come up with the best house between them, one which is neutral in terms of energy or has the lowest possible emissions, and say it will build it? Will the Government take this on board in its social and affordable housing plans and build such houses — say 10,000 of cement construction and 10,000 of the other? Whatever the figure, we should opt for whichever is the best. It is not acceptable for the Government to sit back and do nothing about it.
Deputy O'Dowd's comments are, to put it mildly, predicated on a misreading of the situation. He said the Government has no coherent transport policy. On a per capita basis, Transport 21 is the most ambitious public transport policy in Europe.
I listened carefully to the Deputy so he should let me finish the point. When his party was in power, investment in public transport averaged approximately €1 million per year. It is bizarre——
This is now and we are delivering. In our worst year we delivered a multiple of what Deputy O'Dowd's party did in its best year.
It is not ancient history. One is talking about the past ten years and the extraordinary ramp up of improvement. If the Deputy wishes, I can go through all the transport issues but that is not the question. It is simply mendacious for the Deputy to suggest it is ancient history. That is nonsense. It is rubbish, as the Deputy knows from the way in which he is talking.
Let us deal with the facts. Deputy O'Dowd has again misrepresented precisely where we are in terms of the Kyoto Protocol. Europe as a whole must be at 8% below the 1990 level. We have to be at the 1990 level plus 13%. At present we are at 23%. That is ten percentage points ahead before the end of the indicative period, which is 2012. To suggest, therefore, in 2006 that we have somehow failed to attain a 2012 target is simply nonsense. The Deputy had some good suggestions, for example, the construction of model houses, which I would be prepared to consider. I have made it very clear time and again — we have exchanged views in this House and elsewhere — that a whole menu of policies are necessary to achieve the targets.
Looking at what has been done, we had to bring our emissions down to an average 63 million tonnes over the indicative period. We have actually come down by over 8 million over the period. We have a 7 million tonnes target to meet. I have outlined the policy changes that have been indicated which will significantly cut into that, producing savings cumulatively of more than half that distance to target amount. That has been made clear in last week's publication, the Green Paper on Energy, in which there are significant and exciting proposals for biofuels, for example, to which I am very committed. Not only are they low in emissions but they have the benefit of giving us energy security and a variety of other benefits about which Deputies know. In Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance, there are commitments to further changes. There have been very significant changes in this period.
Deputies should remember that the changes have been carried out in the most successful and rapidly growing economy in Europe. We could have expected dramatic increases. We have decoupled economic growth from the growth of emissions, something in which we can all take some pride. I reject the hypothesis put forward by Deputy O'Dowd.
I have three supplementary questions. Will the Government produce a revised national climate change strategy and, if so, when will it be published? What is the current estimate of the amount, in tonnage terms, by which this country will exceed the Kyoto target at 2012 and what will that cost the taxpayer annually?
I have already made it clear that the consultation period in Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance concluded at the end of last month and I intend to act on that. The distance to target as of this moment is roughly 7.2 million. If one nets out the figures I have already identified for the Deputy, one is talking about 3.5 million. The figure which the Deputy quoted, that is, approximately €1 billion in fines, look very odd in that regard.
I have just answered the question. The Deputy asked three questions, the first being, what is happening? As I said, we have already published Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance.
I am surprised the Deputy, as a spokesperson for a serious party on the environment, does not seem to know that we have published Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance.
That is not the energy strategy. The measures which come out of that consultation will be incorporated in a new policy document.
Every time the Deputy speaks about this issue, he issues a degree of extraordinary confusion on it or simply an incapacity to grasp it.
The Deputy asked me a third question which he does not want me to answer because he is on the record as saying time and again that it will cost us thousands of millions in fines to reach the target.
The Deputy also gives high double digit figures for the cost of a tonne which he knows are wrong. As the Deputy knows, the figure fluctuates.
The estimate is approximately 15 million. The figure has gone up and down as the Deputy knows. It fluctuates. The estimated figure is approximately 15 million. If one takes 3 million and multiplies it by that, one is talking about a lot less. The mechanism provides specifically——
If one multiplies 3 million by 15 million, one gets 45 million. That would be the figure in 2012 if nothing happened between now and then. However, one should look at what we propose to do in respect of biofuels, for example. As Deputy Cuffe knows, when one increases the amount of biofuels from 2% to 5.7% not only does one cut significantly the cost of fuel but one also significantly cuts emissions. If one doubles the renewables from 15% in 2010 to 30%, one will do that. The Deputy said that and I agree with him. That is why we are doing that.
The Minister mentioned a reduction of 8 million tonnes. Is that a Government aspiration or is it the factual position? He also seemed to take credit for fewer greenhouse gases being emitted by the agriculture sector. There are fewer livestock in the country now. This problem is being solved in another manner rather than by any steps the Government is taking. The Minister need not take any credit for that. Is the Minister considering the nuclear option here or the importation of energy generated from a nuclear plant outside the State? What steps has the Government taken to reduce CO2 emissions from homes and is grant aid available for this purpose?
The figure of 8 million tonnes is the achievement to date. That calculation comes from various EPA reports. Deputy McCormack is quite right in saying that changes in agricultural practice are having a major impact on emissions. One must realise that changes in agriculture have, to a large extent, been driven for example by the huge take-up in REPS.
The recently adopted nitrates package will also have a significant impact, as will the decoupling of payments. All of those factors will result in change. One could say these are determined by external factors but they are Government policy.
A grant package for housing was announced in the 2006 budget — the greener homes initiative of which the take-up has been significant. I understand that in excess of 8,500 applications for this grant have been made. As Deputy McCormack is aware, the grants are for solar panels, geothermal heating and conversion to wood chip, which is doubly beneficial as we have indigenous sources of production. Such a take-up would generate a significant improvement in emissions. I outlined the tonnage earlier.
The Deputy's other question related to the savings from changing buildings. Roughly speaking, one is talking about 300,000 tonnes of CO2 per year from the changes in the new, better building standards. As I stated, a variety of issues is involved.
Deputy McCormack may have missed this on Sunday as there were other excitements that took people away from the Sunday newspapers, but it was announced that the prohibition on the building of a nuclear power station will continue to be the law of the land. As the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources stated on Sunday, it is unlikely that any political party in the country would move away from that position.
I just answered it. Perhaps there is something wrong with the acoustics. The Deputy may not have heard me but I stated it is already a fact that the legal prohibition will continue as long as this Government is in power.
Does the Minister accept that he has become the Minister for urban sprawl? Does he accept that the results of his policies are increasing our greenhouse gas emissions? Is the Minister aware that the European Environment Agency is set to use Ireland as an example of bad planning, whether it be urban sprawl, greenhouse gas emissions or children being driven to school rather than walking there? Does he accept that the UK has for many years now insisted on condensing boilers in every new home and in every refurbished home, yet the Minister is still not insisting on it here?
The Minister might find the wider issue of planning to be too much for him to handle in the short time available to him, but given that we are building at least 90,000 new homes a year, instead of putting it on the long finger, could he at least improve the building regulations now so that when it comes to 2012 he can look back and say houses are using less energy and greenhouse gas emissions are down? Why is the Minister not doing this now? Why is he not leading instead of following on climate change?
I appreciate the time was short for this question and I am sorry we did not have more time to discuss it. The issue for me is that the Government has failed. Ten years ago I could get to the Seanad from Drogheda within the hour, now it is taking an hour and a half. Thousands of people are getting up earlier every day to get to work because of the traffic queues. There is not enough public transport for everybody. People do not have other options. There are no park and ride facilities outside our cities. The public transport system is inadequate. As Minister with responsibility for the environment, will the Minister take it upon himself to insist that Departments do an inventory of CO2 emissions and come back to him with a plan to reduce them within a 12 month period?
A Cabinet sub-committee exists which examines environment, energy, transport and agriculture. It is a sensible point to environmentally test a whole series of public policies.
I do not accept Deputy Cuffe's point about urban sprawl. We have a rapidly growing population. People like to live in individual households. Notwithstanding that the EEA appears to have some prescriptive remedy as to how people live——
I want to make a point about the EEA. The EEA appears to suggest a prescriptive form of housing which I do not accept. Frankly, Deputy Cuffe's party does not accept it either. I do not believe people in Ireland want to live in multi-storey blocks on top of each other.