Thursday, 30 November 2006
Multilateral Carbon Credit Fund: Motion
That DÃ¡il Ãireann approves the terms of an agreement between Ireland and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on participation in the Multilateral Carbon Credit Fund, copies of which were laid before DÃ¡il Ãireann on 27 November 2006.
We all recognise that climate change is one of the major global environmental issues of the day. This problem, which affects the entire planet, cannot be solved by any single nation, and certainly not by a nation of just 4 million people. When the Stern report was published recently, it was pointed out that if the UK economy were to close down and to cease all emissions, it would be the equivalent of saving 2% of global emissions. It was argued that rapidly developing economies, such as China, would wipe out the benefit of that saving within months. If all Irish emissions were to stop overnight, the impact of that saving would be lost in a matter of hours.
The challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires a unique level of international co-operation. Changes are needed in virtually every economic sector. The European Union has taken a lead role in applying the targets agreed at Kyoto for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland is fully committed to the Union's policies in this area. Ireland, as a modern developed nation, a member state of the EU and a responsible member of the wider international community, is playing its part in the co-ordinated global response to climate change. Specifically, Ireland has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is committed to meeting its Kyoto target of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above the 1990 levels. In that context, Ireland will reduce its projected greenhouse gas emissions from 78.2 million tonnes to 63 million tonnes between 2008 and 2012, which is the indicative period established in the protocol.
Ireland has already put in place measures to reduce its annual emissions by 11 million tonnes, 3 million of which will arise from the participation of power plants and large industry in the EU emissions trading scheme. I have detailed such measures in the House on previous occasions. They are outlined in Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance, which I published in July and is available in the Oireachtas Library. Ireland is fully committed to and supportive of the EU emissions trading scheme. The Government agrees with the Stern report that the scheme has the potential to become a global carbon trading system. Ireland is committed to purchasing a further 3.6 million tonnes in credits under the Kyoto Protocol, if necessary. A range of other commitments will further reduce Ireland's emissions between now and 2012. The commitments in question have been announced in the Green Paper on Energy, in Transport 21 and in budget 2006. We can anticipate that some further changes will be made in this area in the next few weeks.
It is worth recalling that between 1990 and 2004, Ireland successfully decoupled its economic growth from its growth in emissions. Commentators often overlook the reality that Ireland's emissions grew by 23% in that period, whereas its economy grew by almost 150%. Ireland is an exemplar of the point made in the Stern report that economic growth does not need to be retarded by a commitment to Kyoto. A country and an economy can grow while remaining committed to Kyoto. I suggest that the economies which will develop most in the next few years will be those which are committed to Kyoto. Ireland was one of the first EU member states to submit its 2008-12 national allocation plan. Ireland's proposals in that regard are known as its NAP II proposals. As Deputies are aware, the European Commission yesterday accepted Ireland's NAP II proposals, subject to any amendment notified to the Commission before 31 December next.
I am seeking the approval of the DÃ¡il for the terms of a contribution agreement between Ireland and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in respect of Ireland's participation in the multilateral carbon credit fund. We had a good discussion on the proposal at the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government. There are two separate tranches to Ireland's participation agreement in this fund, the first which relates to a contribution of â¬5 million to the project-based element of the fund and the second of which relates to a contribution of â¬15 million for the fund's green investment scheme element. I will explain both of the tranches in more detail after I have outlined the background to the proposal before the House.
As I have said, Ireland has been able to stabilise and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2001, Ireland's emissions were 27% above their 1990 levels, but by 2004 they had been reduced to 23% above their 1990 levels. We have some more work to do before we can reach the target of 13%, which we intend to do between 2008 and 2012. Ireland's compliance with its Kyoto commitments will be assessed during that key period. Ireland will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 14.6 million tonnes in each year during that period, by means of a combination of measures which have been implemented; participation in the EU emissions trading scheme; and the use of the flexible mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol to purchase allowances. The Government has capped the purchasing requirement at 3.6 million allowances per annum, or 18 million allowances in total over the entire period between 2008 and 2012. The total reduction that is necessary for Ireland is 15.2 million tonnes. As Ireland has accounted for 14.6 million, the remaining gap is just 600,000 tonnes. Further measures are being put in place, particularly on foot of initiatives outlined in the Green Paper on Energy. I do not want there to be the slightest doubt that we will bridge the remaining gap and meet our Kyoto commitment.
The projections on which these figures are based were published in March 2006 and they underpinned separate Government decisions about the size of the burden to be taken on by firms in the emissions trading scheme. The Government has decided that the emissions trading sector will reduce emissions by 3 million tonnes per annum between 2008 and 2012. These decisions underpinned the preparation of Ireland's national allocation plan for 2008-12. The Commission yesterday published its assessment of the first ten plans submitted to it by member states, including Ireland's plan. The Commission accepted Ireland's NAP II programme. Not all member states are in our happy position. The Commission has started infringement procedures against Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy and Spain for not submitting their NAPs on time. However, the Commission is seeking adjustments, as it has with all other NAP II submissions. The Commission has proposed an average reduction of 7% across all member states. In Ireland's case, the reduction demanded is lower, at 6.4%.
The end game has still to be played on this. The Commission's decision should therefore be seen as a stage in the process. The decision allows us the opportunity to resubmit our national allocation plan for further consideration by 31 December. The Commission believes we have not yet made sufficient progress in our arrangements for Government purchases of allowances under the flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol. This is what we are addressing today. This motion is to allow the first purchases to be made. I have already indicated my intention to publish the carbon fund Bill shortly.
The Commission had much more fundamental concerns with other member states' plans. It was clear many of them over-allocated to their industries in the first phase of emissions trading, and the 2005 data for actual emissions proved this. In Ireland's case, however, the 2005 data proved that we had allocated correctly, and the Commission has acknowledged this. The basic principles of our plan are recognised by the Commission as being sound. There will be extensive dialogue with the Commission in the coming weeks before we finalise the plan. The outstanding issues can be met with relative ease.
The purchase of carbon credits is a legitimate, practical and logical option under the Kyoto Protocol. The purchase of carbon credits is a key part of the Kyoto arrangements. A country or a company producing over its target of carbon emissions can either reduce its emissions or buy them from another state or company that has spare credits. This provides the motivation to save credits, as they have a value and can be transferred. The Stern report discusses the urgency to go global with this mechanism. Much of the analysis of the Stern report is specifically about the economic value of saving carbon. The flexible mechanisms are not only important to Kyoto parties. They are also very important to developing countries as they attract investment in modern clean technology. This was very evident at the recent meeting of the parties to the protocol in Nairobi. Measures to promote investment through the clean development mechanism in the least developed countries represented major progress at the conference.
The "Nairobi Framework", announced by the UN Secretary General, aims to use the expertise of the main UN development agencies to leverage greater funding for African countries, ensuring the benefits of trading in carbon is shared with the world's poorest nations. In Nairobi, Sir Nicholas Stern repeated the key messages of his recent and much-acclaimed report. He stated that each country should find the best mix of measures to meets its Kyoto responsibilities, including buying credits. He also repeated the point that using carbon finance to accelerate action in developing countries is an urgent priority for international co-operation on climate change. It is also a part of the moral responsibility of the developed world to assist, especially those countries which are energy deficient. Such investment not only helps to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but also contributes to sustainable development priorities of project host countries.
If purchasing a carbon credit is the most efficient option, it is odd that some who say they endorse the Kyoto Protocol contest the validity of using this mechanism to assist in meeting Ireland's Kyoto targets. Purchasing carbon credits is provided for in the Kyoto Protocol. It has been specifically identified as a key mechanism by Sir Nicholas Stern, Tony Blair, the EU Commission, Al Gore and Kofi Annan. It was singled out and praised by the president of the Nairobi conference. Ireland will purchase a maximum of 18 million allowances or 3.6 million allowances for each year of the commitment period. Ireland will certainly not be the only EU member state to do so. In fact, we will be one of the very small players in the market. National allocation plans that have been submitted to date show that EU member states alone are likely to purchase up to 500 million allowances to meet their commitments. In Nairobi, it was suggested the figure might even be higher.
While some have fumed at the idea of buying credits, they have been less than forthcoming in exploring the full economic and social consequences of not doing so. If industry was forced to carry the full burden, the consequences could be very severe. Existing Irish industries would have to carry a huge economic burden. Ireland would become an even more costly place to locate business and jobs. Heavy energy users would face particular difficulties and Deputy O'Dowd mentioned two examples in his constituency. The cost base of all industries would rise, electricity prices would be further inflated and domestic producers would face undercutting from imports. Who would benefit from that? Yet that is the precise consequence of the rigid approach being advocated by some people.
The agreement that I propose to sign with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, subject to the approval of the DÃ¡il, is to invest â¬20 million in the new multilateral carbon credit fund offered by that bank in conjunction with the European Investment Bank. As Deputy Cuffe pointed out, this fund is particularly virtuous as it is ring-fenced. Ireland will invest â¬20 million with the bank. The bank will use its expertise in project investment in eastern Europe, and its prior experience with carbon fund management, to secure contracts for projects to reduce emissions in return for emission reduction credits. These projects will be fully validated and accredited by the UN supervisory bodies, and the credits will only be issued for verified emissions reductions.
There are two distinct elements to the fund. The first is the project-based element. I propose to invest â¬5 million in this element for projects eligible under either the Kyoto Protocol joint implementation mechanism, or the clean development mechanism. The green carbon fund element will allow countries to sell spare Kyoto allowances to other countries in return for investment from the fund. This is a government to government transfer. Ireland will invest â¬15 million in this part of the fund. Allowances can only be exchanged for verified emissions reductions. This was a concern that came up repeatedly at yesterday's committee, so I will emphasise it again. All of our investment in these funds will be directed towards good, environmentally-sound projects that will deliver verified emission reductions.
The price of credits was also mentioned yesterday. The bank envisages a price range of between â¬5 and â¬10 for projects in the fund. This is an exceptional price and that is why it is important to secure early investment in the fund. If we get agreement today, I can do so tomorrow. We heard some speculation at the committee that carbon prices may rise to very high levels. If one believes that the price of carbon is going to rise threefold or more from its present level, surely prudence and common sense dictate we move now to take advantage of the low-cost opportunities presented by this investment.
I thank the members of the joint committee for the consideration they gave the motion yesterday. I commend the motion to the House as an important contribution to Ireland's commitment to address global climate change and our responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol.
I take the opportunity of speaking on the motion before the House. This proposal was laid before the DÃ¡il on 27 November, allowing only three days for discussion or research on the matter. Most Deputies are so busy they do not read everything that is laid before the DÃ¡il, but this came to my attention yesterday at the Committee on the Environment and Local Government. At that meeting the Labour Party spokesman, Deputy Gilmore, the Green Party spokesman, Deputy Cuffe, and I asked that this motion should not be rushed or adopted before we had an opportunity to debate it in the DÃ¡il. I thank the Government, particularly the Minister, Deputy Roche, for conceding to have this debate in the DÃ¡il, which I believe is important. It is significant that at least we are having a debate even though we may be merely going through the motions in that the gun is already to the Minister's head in this matter.
It is extraordinary that we find ourselves in this situation. Just three days after the proposal was laid before the DÃ¡il we are debating it, and it must go one way or the other. From what the Minister said, he will sign this proposal this evening because I presume a majority of Members will endorse it. That is democracy, in one sense, but it is not the way to handle a motion as important as this. In my 17 years in the House I have always noted that legislation or other matter that is rushed through the DÃ¡il at the last minute never turns out to be satisfactory. The House is littered with examples.
I recall my first year in the DÃ¡il when the famous rod licence Bill was rushed through on 18 December and signed into law. Then we had two years of a rod licence row in several constituencies, including mine, until the Government eventually had to back down. I know the present Minister was not responsible for that, but that is what happened because the legislation was rushed through the DÃ¡il. Embarrassingly, two years later after everybody had seen the effects of the legislation, the Government backed down and abolished it. The damage done by that event has not yet been rectified in communities in my constituency.
We have had more recent examples of rushed legislation such as the refund of the nursing home charges Bill, rushed through the DÃ¡il before Christmas and then repented over at leisure. It is a pity this motion is being dealt with in like manner. Nonetheless, I am glad we are having a debate. I blame the Government, first, for the delay. However, the Minister must have taken his eye off the ball at some stage or perhaps he was not at the match at all because this should not be happening in the manner that it is. After all, the Kyoto Protocol has existed for more than ten years. What has the Government been doing about reducing emissions over that time? Again, I am not blaming the current Minister, but this Government was in power all that time. What concrete steps were taken to ensure we would not be in the position we find ourselves?
I have glanced through the Minister's speech, much of which is very technical, and quite frankly some of it is above my head. That would not be so if I had the opportunity to research this matter properly. Figures are quoted to show what we should or might have been doing and what we did not do. The bottom line is that the Government is obviously going to buy its way out of its obligations instead of taking the action necessary to reduce emissions and meet the standards required as members of the European Union.
I recognise the Minister has a serious problem on his hands and that he has to sign on the dotted line some time today. Perhaps we sympathise with him to a certain extent, but it is the role of Opposition to point out that we should never have been put in that position. We should not be in that position today and neither should we have been yesterday at the Committee on Environment and Local Government. The problem still has to be resolved. We must reduce our emissions in Ireland if we are to meet the Kyoto requirements, rather than just buying our way out. This seems to me, as a lay person, to be the lazy man's way of doing the job. First, it will cost â¬5 million, then we will invest â¬15 million and then we will give â¬20 million to the banks. If Ireland gives â¬20 million in taxpayers' money to the banks I do not know how we can be sure it will go towards solving the problem in any way. It may take egg off the face of the Government, but it will certainly go no way towards solving the problem. Not everybody has confidence in the banks being able to solve the problem for Ireland, and again that is a short-term solution to the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
On the subject of EU legislation, serious conflicts can arise in the context of directives. There are EU directives affecting farming, for example, whereby REP schemes etc. stipulate that cattle should be taken off the land and put in sheds between September and March. We cannot damage the grass but nonetheless we put the cattle into slotted sheds with slurry pits that further add to our emissions problem. This is in conflict with the directive which stipulates that emissions must be reduced. That is just one example.
There are many others in EU directives, whereby the emissions problem is added to and then Government is required to take steps to reduce it. What has the Government done, for example, to ensure that all new houses have the necessary safeguards to reduce emissions? What is its policy on wind energy? Nobody is clear on that. What is the Government doing to resolve this problem instead of just taking the option now at the last minute, with a gun to its head, to buy its way out of trouble?
Perhaps in the short term people will be delighted that certain regulations were not brought in to reduce emissions, but in the long run it is the taxpayer and Ireland's position in the European Union that will suffer as a result of the Government having done nothing whatsoever to reduce emissions in its ten years in office. In the period from 2008 to 2012, Ireland has agreed to limit annual greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above the 1990 levels. While emissions in 2004 had been reduced to 23% over 1990 levels, achieving the protocol target without compromising economic and social development is extremely challenging. The Government did not take up this challenge, rather it ran away from it. We are now so far behind in our attempts that this emergency has arisen in the 11th hour and has put us in a position in which we should never have been.
The Minister has stated this is a problem for the entire planet. While this may be the case, today it is also a problem for the Minister of his own making, because he did not adequately foresee it. Why was this matter not discussed in the House on a day when it was adjourned because of a lack of business before it? I do not understand why this issue was left until the last minute before anything was done about it.
In 2003, the price of a barrel of oil stood at $35. This year, it is set to reach $70 again and we have been warned that the days of oil prices of $100 per barrel may not be too distant. What actions has the Government taken to ensure that our oil dependency would not continue to increase at its present rate? In his reply to this debate, the Minister should spell out the Government's policy on alternatives to oil. For example, what is the policy on electricity generation from wind energy?
Moreover, it is obvious that our European partners already have a serious headstart on Ireland in respect of emissions reduction. In 2001, Austria sourced 22% of its energy consumption from renewable sources. How does Ireland measure up? Ireland must consider what the rest of Europe is doing to address the energy crisis it now faces. Ireland must also ascertain how to develop an energy regime that is sustainable, renewable, clean and in accordance with the best health and safety practices, given that unlike many other EU countries, it does not rely on nuclear power and is unlikely to so do in the near future. Ireland must also guarantee security of supply. What is being done in this regard?
The EU has produced a Green Paper on energy that focuses on alternative and renewable energy. However, it also incorporates an ongoing reliance on nuclear energy. While Ireland must model its energy policy on that of the European Union, it must do so without the nuclear option. Consequently, development of an energy policy for Ireland is more complex, due to its obligation to ensure security of supply in an expanding economy while at the same time complying with the Kyoto principles. The Government has not taken up this challenge and must now take it up at the 11th hour.
Even if Ireland buys itself out of this challenge today, I fear the Government will become complacent again. When the real crunch comes at the end of the four year period, the Government might recall that it was able to buy itself out in November 2006. Although I do not know how many hundreds of millions of euro this will have cost the State, we may be obliged to buy ourselves out of it again, at a cost of billions instead of millions. This appears to be the road down which the Government is going. Therefore, we need an energy policy with short, medium and long-term targets, to be reviewed, tested and updated annually. We cannot postpone immediate action and we must test the effect of such action on a regular basis. The Minister and Government have failed to take up this challenge.
Fine Gael believes it is eminently possible to shift our dependence from imported non-renewable energy to indigenous renewable energy in respect of electricity generation. When Fine Gael enters Government â as it hopes to do â it will move towards generating at least 33% of Ireland's electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025. The party's policy document states it will try to achieve this target through State investment and a regulatory regime that will give access to the national grid to renewable sources above all others.
While I will not enter into the Bellanaboy debate, why did Ireland sign off to Shell the rights to the vast potential of its energy fields and offshore waters without any benefit to the State? This is a serious question for the Government as the decision has cost the State billions. This took place during the tenure of a Minister from my constituency, rather than that of the present Minister. He signed off the rights without any reward to the State, which was a desperate mistake and error.
As for electricity generation, wind energy has been described as an oil well in the sky. Although wind is an abundant resource in Ireland, it has one of the lowest levels of wind power generation in Europe. Wind energy will be vital if we are to meet the Kyoto targets. Fine Gael will prioritise the creation of a network of wind turbines to harness the potential of wind energy in Ireland, which is estimated to be the best in the European Union.
Closer to home, Fine Gael welcomes recent Government steps to provide grants to householders to assist them to move to renewable energy. However, the grant is in no way sufficient and came far too late. When in office, Fine Gael proposes a new deal for householders under which it will expand grant aid to those householders who wish to convert existing home heat technology to renewable energy technology. The grants will be increased from â¬500 to â¬3,500.
I will conclude on that point. However, I regret that Members are debating this issue when, in a cooler climate, they could have helped the Minister to iron out the dilemmas and problems that the Government of the past ten years has forced upon us.
The Labour Party opposes the motion. It does not do so because of its intrinsic merits, which the party might support in a different context. If there was general compliance with Ireland's Kyoto commitments, some of the benign purposes for which this motion is intended might recommend themselves to the party. However, Labour Members oppose it because they wish to flag what is happening in this regard to the people. This is the start of a process. As the Minister noted, "this motion is to allow the first actual purchases to be made". This constitutes the start of an obligation on the people and taxpayers to pay for carbon and to pay for the failures of the Government in this sphere during the past ten years. The amount being sought for approval from the DÃ¡il today may be relatively small in the context of what Ireland will be eventually obliged to pay. However, this constitutes the start of a bill for the taxpayer that may be as high as â¬500 million by 2012.
While the Minister and the Government will always recoil from the concept of carbon taxation, there should be no mistake about what is being done in the House today. This is a motion which taxes the Irish people for carbon and which is the start of a payment process which will cost the Irish people hundreds of millions of euro in the years ahead. That payment and that burden on the taxpayer must be met because the Government has failed over the past ten years to align our carbon emissions with what was required by the Kyoto Agreement. It is a failure which will cost the taxpayer a great deal of money and which will cost the environment and future generations.
The Minister quoted the Stern report and told us what happened at Nairobi. He sounds like a man who discovered global warming on the way to Nairobiââ
ââand returns enthusiastically converted to the need to do something about it.
Let us tell the Minister the history of this. The Kyoto Agreement was reached in 1997, the year Fianna FÃ¡il and the Progressive Democrats returned to Government. The Minister has had the entire life of the Kyoto Agreement â almost ten years â to get it right and he has not. He now faces a situation where, in November 2006, he tells us we must reduce our carbon emissions by over 15 million tonnes a year between now and 2012. He tells us a fairy tale that of the reduction 8 million tonnes a year will be met through fine plans of the Government for public transport, alternative energies and reducing the cattle herd, 3 million tonnes a year will be met from industry through emissions trading and 3.6 million tonnes a year must be bought by us.
First, 3.6 million tonnes a year between now and 2012 will cost â¬180 million at today's prices, but yesterday the European Commission made a number of decisions on the emissions trading scheme the purpose of which is to drive up the price of carbon. The European Commission has concluded the emissions trading scheme operating in Europe is not achieving its objective, that the price of carbon is so low that it is not providing sufficient incentive and motivation for polluting industries to reduce carbon emissions and to switch to clean technologies, and that the price must be increased. The European Commission's ambition is to raise the price to the region of â¬30 per tonne. If it reaches â¬30 per tonne, the 3.6 million tonnes a year the Minister is already committed to buying will cost the taxpayer in the region of â¬500 million between now and 2012, and of course there will be a continuing cost thereafter.
That figure, of course, is dependent on us getting away with purchasing 3.6 million tonnes a year by way of allowances. It seems the target of 3 million tonnes a year, which the Minister expects to be achieved through the emissions trading system, must be reduced because of yesterday's decision. The European Commission has put a new cap on the amount which we can achieve through the emissions trading scheme, which reduces it by about 1.5 million tonnes. The Minister told us in select committee yesterday that he will try to negotiate his way out of that and persuade the Commission to bring the cap back up. I wish him luck.
If he does not succeed, it must be found somewhere or it must be paid for. Of course, the 3.6 million tonnes a year in allowances which the Minister is already committing to buy will also need to be increased if he does not achieve the reductions of 8 million tonnes a year which he hopes to achieve through all of the various worthy measures he outlined.
My difficulty with him not achieving that 8 million tonnes a year reduction is his Government's record. It is quite horrific to look back at the litany of missed opportunities over the past ten years where this country could have achieved real and enduring reductions in carbon emissions and the extent to which we are contributing to the global warming problem. We are repeatedly told this country has built 500,000 new dwellings in the past ten years. That is great and I am certainly happy with that, but over that period there has also been a European directive aimed at energy conservation in building which requires the energy labelling of buildings. That energy labelling directive should have been in force from 1 January 2005. The Minister did not implement it. He has actually looked for a derogation until 2009 in implementing the labelling of buildings. In the period of this rapid growth in construction there was an ideal opportunity to put in place the energy conservation measures which were coming down the track at us anyway and which would have made a significant contribution to energy reduction and conservation in this country.
The Government's second failure is in the area of agriculture. Over the past number of years there has been a vast change in agriculture in this country and in the way in which the European Union relates to farming and agriculture, not only here but in other countries as well. The Government has gone along with a system which effectively pays farmers to produce nothing, when in fact it could have promoted a system which would have encouraged farmers to switch to producing the very crops on which alternative fuels and biofuels could have been developed. Why are farmers now being paid to produce nothing when there could have been a shift in production, which would not only have provided for a sustainable future for agriculture and rural communities in this country but which would also have made a large contribution to our environmental obligations and to securing fuel supplies on a sustainable basis in the future?
Probably the biggest example of the Government's failure in this area relates to the sugar factories. The sugar factories are being closed and put on the market for significant office, commercial and residential developments, at a time, I might add, when the privatised sugar company is refusing to pay the redundancy payments to its former workforce who made the company what it was in the first place. Instead of those factories being turned into commercial buildings, businesses etc. and making a fortune for those who will benefit from the sugar company's privatisation, which is also a Fianna FÃ¡il legacy, they could have been used for the production of biofuels â another missed opportunity by this Government.
The Government has delayed the implementation of public transport strategies which would reduce reliance on the private car. In fact, in the course of the past couple of weeks this country has been criticised again by the European Environment Agency for its pattern of development, which is resulting in sprawl and in a dispersed form of settlement reliant on private transport and resulting in increased problems and an increased burden in terms of our Kyoto commitments. The Government of course has great plans for public transport. We have heard and will hear over the next number of months leading into the general election, of nothing but Transport 21. This is also fairy tale stuff, which is being pumped out in advance of the election and contrasts badly with the Government's record of delivery over ten years in office.
After the litany of failures, we will end up by not meeting our Kyoto commitments. The Minister says that it does not really matter because we do not make a big contribution to global pollution anyway. He said that if all Irish emissions were to shut down overnight, the impact would be lost in a matter of hours. In other words, he is telling the Houseââ
ââthat it really does not matter; we can continue to pollute but because we now have money we can buy the right to pollute from poorer people. Carbon allowances and credits come from a framework whereby we have three worlds on this globe. A quarter of the world's population does not have electricity. These are poor people who are not contributing to global warming through carbon emissions. Carbon allowances and credits mean that wealthy countries such as ours can continue to pollute. The Minister says we have to protect our industry and we must, but basically he is saying that we can continue to pollute and will buy the share of pollution that would have been produced by poorer people who cannot afford to do it. That is what buying carbon credits is about. It is a form of environmental imperialism.
The Government's attitude is to say that since we are not contributing much to pollution anyway, we can buy our way out of it. There are two problems with that, however. The first is that buying our way out of it will cost Irish taxpayers a lot of money. At a conservative estimate it will cost â¬500 million between now and 2012, which might otherwise be available for hospitals, schools, care of the elderly and many other social requirements. Instead of that, taxpayers' money will be used so that certain industries, some of which are particularly favoured by the Government, can continue to pollute. The second problem is that it completely undermines our international position. As the Minister said, this is an international problem. Ireland should be providing moral leadership on the issue, as it has done in the past on so many global causes. It is an embarrassment that we are so far behind in our delivery on Kyoto that we have been silenced on global warming, the greatest issue facing the planet.
The Government will have no credibility in addressing international conferences and making a contribution on global warming while we continue to be so far in excess of our limits. Ireland continues to be criticised by the European Union and the European Environmental Agency for its performance. The Government has adopted a "pollute now, pay later" attitude, which it is standing over. That is particularly regrettable in the context of where energy will come from in future.
A renewed debate is taking place on the question of nuclear energy. Across the water the United Kingdom's Government has already made certain moves in the direction of renewing its nuclear programme. Given the long-standing position that this country has taken against nuclear energy, which the Minister says he supports, and given the difficulties we continue to have with handling nuclear waste and pollution from Sellafield and other installations, Ireland needs to be able to make a credible statement concerning the shift to nuclear energy which is now taking place in the UK and elsewhere. We are silenced on the issue, however, because we are now seen as one of the dirty players in Europe. Because we are at the worst end of the league table in terms of lowering carbon emissions, we cannot with any credibility tell other countries they should not produce electricity from nuclear sources.
This is a bad day for the country. The motion before the House may appear obscure, rather like other motions seeking approval for international agreements that come before us from time to time, but it is a watershed for the country. It is the start of the Irish people having to pay financial and environmental costs for the Government's failure to honour its commitments under the Kyoto Agreement over the past ten years. It has not done its job of getting carbon emissions under control.
I first became aware of climate change a long time ago, in the late 1970s when I was barely out of short trousers. I read an influential book called Eco Science by two American authors who pointed out that climate change was an important issue. They wrote about the hole in the ozone layer, air pollutants and other problems facing the planet on a global scale. We have been able to address some of those challenges. The hole in the ozone layer is repairing itself. We no longer put chlorofluorocarbons into every aerosol or fridge. If there is an interest in tackling a global problem we can solve it, but the Government does not realise the importance of climate change.
We tend to joke about climate change in Ireland. When we get a warm October, people say "Ah, let's have more of this stuff; isn't it great?", but climate change is a deadly serious issue. In Darfur, tens of thousands of people are dying from drought that can be attributed wholly or partly to climate change. In the Pacific Ocean, the populations of island nations are facing the prospect of emigration to survive. We have already seen islanders from that area being transferred to New Zealand. When storms hit Bangladesh, rising sea levels cause thousands of deaths.
Climate change, therefore, is a deadly problem that must be taken seriously. I am concerned that the Minister is sleep-walking on the issue and failing to treat it with the gravity it deserves. The Minister is the Neville Chamberlain of his time. He is coming back off the plane from Nairobi with a press release in his hand which says "It's all right folks, we have it under control". I do not think he realises the importance of the issue.
The Minister needs a reality check. He expresses an interest in hybrid cars and then purchases a Lexus, which is the Exxon Valdez of the hybrid world. The Minister could set a better example. There are three options for tackling climate change. We can make reductions here at home, we can buy carbon on the international market or we can buy our way into reducing emissions elsewhere, and we are talking about the latter option today. That involves investment in projects in countries such as Kazakhstan â what I would call the Borat buy-out â and it is not the worst option. We are not saying it should not happen, but it should not be done at the expense of failing to take action here. That is our concern.
On the other issue, two of the options require money belonging to taxpayers to be forked out. It is necessary to buy one's way into it, whereas if reductions are made here in Ireland that is not required. This is a no brainer with an obvious easy option yet, for some reason, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not doing anything about it. He could improve building regulations saving us 1 million tonnes of carbon per year. He could tackle urban sprawl so the European Environmental Bureau will no longer consider Ireland, and Dublin particularly, the poster boy of bad behaviour. He could improve public transport and extend the Luas to the far flung suburbs of Dublin while also laying lines in Sligo, Cork and Limerick. These are failures on the part of the Minister. Every election sees the Minister suggesting a railway line to Navan and every five years sees more grass growing on the line.
There is much to be done on this issue and I am not sure we have the right Minister or the right Government to do it. The Minister's term paper was submitted in recent days and it was sent back with the observation "more work required".
If the Minister is not up to the challenge, the Green Party is. We will improve building standards to ensure people have warmer homes that cost less to heat. We will provide Luas lines in cities other than Dublin and to communities in Dublin stuck without a decent public transport system. We will tackle urban sprawl instead of giving carte blanche to developers to build housing estates in every far flung corner of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. We are up to the challenge of climate change and I am not sure the Minister is.
Will the Deputy build high-rise buildings in DÃºn Laoghaire? His constituents will be interested to hear what he has to say on that.
It is quite obvious, from the outset, that environmental protection has never been high on the Government agenda. Implementation of EU environmental directives has been characterised by foot dragging, missed deadlines and warnings from the European Commission in areas such as the widespread pollution of drinking water, habitat damage, failure to submit reports on substances that damage the ozone layer, climate change and the failure to nominate areas of natural conservation importance.
Under the Kyoto Protocol this State must not let greenhouse gas emissions rise by more than 13% of the 1990 level and it is currently running at 23% above the agreed target. The Government failure to take the action necessary to curb greenhouse emissions in this State will result, according to preliminary projections, in the State facing estimated fines of more than â¬100 million, and possibly as high as â¬180 million, for failure to reduce emissions outputs in line with Kyoto Protocol commitments. These figures could quadruple thereafter. Taxpayers and not the big industrial polluters will end up carrying the resulting financial burden.
There is a lack of concern at Government level with actually achieving reductions in emissions. Responsible states should not resort solely to emissions trading and it should be remembered that the Exchequer will benefit from any actions which result in a reduction in emissions. We should be aiming beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which merely represents a minimum level with which all states should be complying.
Environmental non-governmental organisations have raised concerns regarding carbon trading schemes introduced as part of the Kyoto Protocol. They have pointed to failures in accounting, dubious science and the destructive impact of projects on local peoples and environments in developing countries, as reasons why trading pollution rights should be avoided. Perhaps the Government should take heed of their calls to make reductions at the source of pollution and develop energy policies that are justice based and community driven.
It is obvious that a number of measures need to be implemented at the earliest opportunity to address the growth of emissions in this State. The Twenty-Six Counties is facing enormous fines or alternatively will be forced to spend huge amounts of revenue, taxpayers' money, on emissions trading. Responsible states should not resort solely to emission trading and it should be remembered that the Exchequer will benefit from any actions which result in a reduction in emissions.
Only yesterday the European Commission said Ireland's national allocation plan for the amount of harmful emissions released during the 2008-12 trading period must be reduced by 6.4% and also found that the State has not made enough progress in its arrangements for compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. In particular, the Government's decision not to impose carbon taxes means the burden of paying penalties, estimated at â¬300 million per year, will fall on the general body of taxpayers rather than on the main offenders, notably in the transport sector. This is not what was envisaged in the Government's 1999 national climate change strategy.
This Government must build on the Kyoto Protocol and strengthen its positive points and then further commit itself to greater cuts in emissions post 2012. Sinn FÃ©in supports a phased introduction of carbon taxes directed at those agents most capable of making the change from high to low emission fuels. This is not to say we support carbon taxes in all cases, only where it can be proven that such a tax would be effective in reducing emissions. It is obvious that a number of measures need to be implemented at the earliest opportunity to address the growth of emissions in this State or else we will cause irreparable damage to our environment.
I do not believe any country in the world is defined by and associated with a colour as Ireland, the Emerald Isle, is. The understanding of the word green has developed in recent years and people believe that Ireland should have a clean, green environment, rather than merely use the term as a marketing ploy.
Ireland has exported a great deal of its population around the world and they have been highly successful in building other countries and resolving problems in those places. I do not believe for a moment that this genius is no longer available in this country. The â¬20 million set aside for carbon credits is the lazy way out and we can do much better. I listened to the Minister's speech and felt he came across as very enthusiastic when describing sound environmental investment, the problem is it is to be found elsewhere. We want that investment to be made in Ireland so carbon credits need not be used as an escape route from our responsibilities.
Most people do not realise we are buying our way out of this problem rather than dealing with it locally in a structured, strategic way by accelerating delivery of the public transport programme and addressing energy waste through building regulations. This is the lazy way out and the public is way ahead on this issue. The Minister may dispute the European Commission's exact comments but they were not favourable and must not be ignored.
The public is making its own arrangements on public transport by mixing modes of transport. People are leaving their cars close to train stations so that public transport can be used for, at least, one leg of their journey. Spending on car parks around train stations is not seen as investment but rather a drain on public funds and it has been suggested that commuters be charged to park at train stations instead of it being seen as a benefit. Feeder bus services, that would avoid the necessity to use such car parks, are seen merely as something that will cost money, yet we are willing to invest in other countries by buying ourselves out of our traffic jams through carbon credits. That is essentially what we are doing.
I am not opposed to cars. The problem is one of car use as opposed to car ownership. The Netherlands is a good example of a country which, despite high levels of car ownership, has balanced car use. I was a member of one of the panels of the Dublin Transportation Office when it examined the connection between transport and land use. This involved carrying out scenario testing to determine the best case scenario for the city. Although a range of good scenarios were presented to the panel, the practical outcome in Dublin, the dispersed pattern of development which is driving up demand for private cars as a means of transportation, is the worst case scenario. In buying carbon credits we are paying the price for some of the disgraceful decisions made on development.
While I welcome recent initiatives on home heating systems, much more could be done. I have been contacted by several constituents considering installing solar panels who were uncertain as to whether they require planning permission. We must consider the hoops that end users are forced to go through to avail of the incentives in place. Such schemes must be more widely available and easier to use. We must take a carrot rather than a stick approach to encouraging use of beneficial technologies.
If politicians were to state in their election manifestos that our failure to provide solutions to easily resolved problems will mean that by 2012 personal taxation levels will have to increase or public services will have to be cut back to meet the considerable costs involved in emissions trading, people would revolt. This is, however, the predictable outcome of our behaviour. We are starting on the back foot by taking the easy way out. Ireland can do much better.
I welcome the decision to extend the debate to accommodate Deputies, including me, who wish to contribute. On a minor technical issue, there appears to be a slight conflict of interest in terms of the conduct of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Given that Ireland is a member of the bank, which will raise funds for its operations through the fees imposed on transactions, is it appropriate that the EBRD should suggest selling us carbon credits?
Climate change and carbon trading are difficult issues. The carbon trading market does not operate successfully. While I accept that we are groping in the dark, the international phenomenon of climate change requires an international response.
A sense of proportion is required on whether Ireland has honoured its commitments and obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Steps are being taken to reduce our carbon emissions. We face a major challenge because most of our economic growth took place after the benchmarking process under which our emissions ceiling was set. As the Minister noted, Ireland has successfully decoupled pollution and emissions from the rate of economic growth. This welcome development should not be overlooked. Irrespective of whether it is attributable to changes in agriculture or large industry, it is a significant achievement.
One could conclude from other contributions that Ireland is a major polluter. A sense of perspective is required on the amount of emissions we create. This does not absolve us from our duties at international level and we must show good example. As the Minister indicated, the purchase of carbon credits forms part of the mix of our approach to addressing climate change. This type of safety mechanism, while a wise investment, should not deflect us from the long-term consequences of the problem. It is irrelevant to climate change and global warming whether emissions are produced in Ireland, eastern Europe or the United States. The problem is caused by the accumulation of emissions across the globe. Ireland must take responsibility and show leadership on how we tackle the problem.
Today's edition of the Financial Times highlights the failures and shortcomings of the emissions trading system. An article on the topic notes that British industries will be allowed to emit more carbon dioxide in 2008 than they did in 2005 under a ruling delivered by the European Commission yesterday. This is a failure by any measure as we should not take backward steps. The same article notes that the United Kingdom proposed stringent emission controls in the first round in a move designed to make the second round less strict. This will have a negative global effect, which clearly demonstrates that the trading mechanism does not work.
From the tone of the debate, one would be forgiven for believing that the Minister was responsible for the failure of the system.
We have already heard two Deputies from DÃºn Laoghaire, Deputies Cuffe and Gilmore, argue for more intensive development. I will ensure their constituents are made aware that they are being sold down the drain.
I will address the issue of building regulations later. On the emissions trading scheme, Ireland has major responsibilities in this regard. The focus of the system appears to be on industry. In truth, however, the majority of carbon emissions are produced in the transport sector. This creates a major challenge arsing from our economic prosperity and affluence. While emissions standards in cars have improved significantly, the trend towards acquiring high powered cars has offset the benefits of reduced engine emissions.
I hope the budget will include measures which encourage people to choose a greener option when purchasing cars. I am sure the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have advised the Minister for Finance on the matter. We must provide incentives, while also addressing the problem of congestion, one of the major contributors to carbon emissions, by investing in public transport.
The Rock Road in my constituency will soon have a new quality bus corridor. Although I am, in principle, a great fan of quality bus corridors and welcomed the introduction of a QBC on the Stillorgan dual carriageway, I did so because the road was of an appropriate size. It is one of the successes of the Dublin transport initiative. I worry about what will happen on the Rock Road which runs parallel to the DART station. I accept, as do many of my constituents, that we cannot travel the roads like we did. I enjoy the privilege of a car parking space here, a privilege many other people do not have, but we must make changes. If I am to sell a QBC to my constituents, however, saying it is a good thing, not just because of climate change but because of convenience, we will need more buses. Those buses do not necessarily need to be publicly owned.
If a private individual wants to operate a bus service, he should be allowed to develop that service. We must ensure flexibility in this area. No one cares who owns the bus as long as it arrives and brings him where he needs to go.
Ireland faces difficult questions over the issue of excise duty on aviation fuel because of our island position. It must be considered as one of the challenges we face in dealing with climate change.
I agree with Deputy Gilmore that we must have more stringent building regulations. I visited a school in my constituency that was built 30 years ago. The principal of that school was worried about the heating bill for the school just as the ESB and Bord GÃ¡is Ãireann had introduced their increases of 20% and 34%. We must incentivise public buildings to restore roofs and install insulation to allow them to reduce their heating bills. We must also provide for such measures in the regulations for new buildings. If we had stricter regulations, we could save up to 22% of our energy costs. Prevention is always better than cure.
I listened to Professor Des O'Neill speaking in the Joint Committee on Health and Children about the value of the medical card for the over 70s. While giving a card to everyone regardless of need may be an expensive way to achieve something, he pointed out that it has reduced need because it has encouraged people to adopt preventative instead of curative measures. He said it represents great value for money so we must apply the same principle to energy use.
I am confident, therefore, that the budget next week will contain measures to encourage people in their houses and cars to reduce consumption. That is how we will make progress with carbon emissions. The Government has a duty to encourage and inform people and I commend the Power of One campaign, which has made people reflect on energy use and consumption.
The Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources produced a report earlier this year in which we indicated that we would like to see a debate on the use of nuclear energy. With such extraordinarily high rises in gas and oil prices, we must consider nuclear power. Can we afford to keep Ireland a nuclear-free zone? There will be a high price to pay to do that and we must be honest about that.
When the Government tried to secure all-party support for its energy policy earlier this year, it did not take me long to figure out what was happening. It was an attempt to promote nuclear energy as the only way to protect the environment. What an appalling scenario.
On a point of order, is there some way I can respond to that? Deputy Durkan is totally misrepresenting me. I did not say such a thing. I merely said a rational debate should begin and that is now being misinterpreted as saying I am pro-nuclear energy. I resent that and I am sure the Deputy is not entitled to make such an allegation against me. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle advise me on this?
The Deputy said in the past ten minutes there were certain things we should do, including looking again at the nuclear energy sector as a means of resolving our environmental problems, and I want to point out to her the error of her ways. I presume the first nuclear generator will be in Ringsend, or will it be in Blackrock or Wicklow? That will be an interesting debate.
At least one of the Government parties is clear and unequivocal about the issue. My remarks, however, are not necessarily a criticism of the Minister. The situation regarding emissions that he inherited could have been addressed by his Government in a series of different ways in the past five years but it failed to do so. The Kyoto Agreement has been in place for the duration of this and the previous Government, but only token measures were taken. The obvious thing to do once that agreement was signed was to develop the alternative energy sector but it was not done.
It was only when Fine Gael published an energy policy that the Government woke up and said something should be done. Every facet of Government policy was copied from our party . It is a great thing to be copied, it is just a pity the photocopier was not working properly and it missed a couple of pages. We will put that right in due course.
The Government is responsible for the notion that high electricity and gas prices are the answer to emissions, but that is not the case. The economy must continue to grow.
It is, however, obviously, Government policy. In September the Government agreed with a proposal to increase gas and electricity prices. Why? To get more money in VAT and to make provision for carbon trading.
It was a case of jacking up the price of electricity and gas to pay for carbon trading. This should have been funded instead by developing the alternative energy industry. They were also concerned at the possibility of European Commission fines which can be hefty and much more serious than carbon trading. If the Government did not embark on the carbon trading it would be forced to pay the fines at some stage, substantially in excess of the amounts raised in the increased price of gas and electricity and substantially in excess of any amount likely to be invested from now on in the alternative energy sector.
I have had my head in my hands on a number of occasions because I am dismayed by the lack of action on the issues that are obvious to everybody.
There is no area with more myths associated with it than the energy sector. Everybody has an opinion and everybody knows what should happen. The industrialised United Kingdom contributes about 2% of the total of carbon emissions and many other emissions as a consequence. The UK relies heavily on nuclear energy. I do not accept that nuclear energy is an option in this country at this time. It would well be a cheap way of escaping from reality but it would not change one iota of what we need to do other than in the generation of electricity.
Countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland, are generally held up as sterling examples of how to go about dealing with the question of emissions. I acknowledge they have done well but they have found it very easy because of their geographic location to promote the alternatives such as hydro and nuclear power.
I was amazed to hear some months ago that Sweden proposed to go oil free in 15 years. When I heard this I wondered when their general election was going to be held. I was not too far wrong because the election was held quite soon afterwards. I discovered that 15 years ago, Sweden had stated it would be nuclear free in 15 years and this has not happened yet, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future.
The Minister is correct. We should be realistic in considering what we can do about emissions. We can develop the alternative energy sector and invest in it. This sector should not be developed by way of increasing the price of all fuels so that it becomes impossible to live in the country. The Minister knows well there is serious doubt about what is happening at present. He will not admit it in the House but he knows it in his heart of hearts. It was decided in the past two or three months to increase gas and electricity prices, allegedly, to encourage more people into the business and against the backdrop of internationally falling prices. At every opportunity the Government is putting forward the notion that these increases might be reviewed and that this might be a good time to do so. This is nonsense. It is quite obvious that if they were that wrong the first time, they will be wrong the second time and any reduction by way of 5% will not be accepted or acceptable, nor should it be, because the increase should never have been made in the first place. There should be an end to the nonsense and the issue should be dealt with in a realistic way.
I have become increasingly sickened in recent times that whenever one raises a question on energy or many other issues, the response is that the Minister is not responsible to the House. It should be restated and condensed to say that the Minister is no longer responsible, full stop. When we ask a question, we are entitled to an answer but the response is that the Minister is no longer responsible. Of course we know he is no longer responsible. Ministers have sought the opportunity to go around with their heads in the air, speaking on television and by means of news broadcasting services and they have failed to recognise that they are responsible to this House for every aspect of the legislation they put through the House in the past or proposed legislation. I reject in its entirety the notion that the Minister has no responsibility. The Minister has responsibility and the regulator and Minister between them have joint responsibilities regarding the appalling gas and electricity price increases they promoted in the past months. I ask that both of them come forward with the revised decision as quickly as possible which will be much welcomed. I regret we do not have more time to deal with this particularly important issue.
I wish to make a final point about transport. Much has been said about alternative transport. The public will use alternative transport if it is there for them and if it is properly located. I do not accept the notion that buses will be the ultimate answer. I regard rail transport, especially in the environs of a city, as the answer. I am not suggesting that more trains be put on the already crowded streets, on the basis that if it is made impossible for people to travel on the roads, there will be nothing left for them. This is a rather peculiar attitude. Trains should be deployed to provide maximum availability to the travelling public and it will be seen how well they will be utilised by the public.
We are discussing the purchase of carbon credit by the Government and I have not heard anyone argue that the Government should not do so. The Minister and the Government are to be commended on participating fully and rationally within the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol. The world in general has been very slow to react to the crisis that is climate change. Many of us may only become aware of it when we see the results of drought in Africa shown on television or when watching the excellent television series "Planet Earth" presented by David Attenborough on BBC which shows the melting polar ice caps and the threat to animals in the polar regions. Climate change is a serious issue. It is regrettable that the international community has been so slow to accept what has become a consensus point of view within the scientific community but perhaps this is the way democracies work. It is very regrettable that the United States has only been brought into this process, kicking and screaming and it gives me no pleasure to say this.
The Government is ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and limiting our greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above our 1990 levels. We have successfully decoupled our economic growth from emissions. Between 1990 and 2004, our emissions grew by 23% but our economy grew by almost 150%. While statistics may be boring, this decoupling in our fast growing economy is significant.
The challenge for the Government is maintaining the twin objectives of economic growth and a sound, safe environmental policy. It is not easy, but it is the challenge we face. Another speaker said he hoped incentives would be included in next week's budget. I echo that. I am quite confident that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have had ongoing dialogue with the Minister for Finance on this issue. The only way we will effect real change is if people modify their behaviour. We all know that people will only change their behaviour if they are incentivised to do so. Why, by and large, do people not drive hybrid cars? The answer is that they are generally not for sale and it is difficult to get the fuel for them in petrol stations. If people were demanding those products, the companies would supply them. There should be no excise duties on green cars.
Let us tackle that for once and for all. There should be serious incentives for the former beet growers to grow their produce for the purposes of alternative fuel. Let us introduce serious tax incentives. We seem to have developed a problem with the concept of tax incentives in recent years. People have said that such incentives are bad and only benefit the rich. That is balderdash. When I started out in politics in 1985, the south inner city was a derelict place with hardly a new building being built there. Were it not for the tax designation of many parts of this city, we never would have had the redevelopment of the capital. Buildings that had not changed from the time of the Act of Union were dilapidating. The same holds for all aspects of society, including agriculture. The arguments, products and thinking must move on. I hope to see radical change in the budget from the Minister for Finance in this area. There is a huge public appetite for that.
I was glad to hear what the Minister had to say about nuclear energy. I do not believe there is any appetite in Ireland for nuclear energy.
I do not think Deputy Fiona O'Malley was advocating nuclear power, she was merely saying there should be a debate on it. It is a no-no for me and the Fianna FÃ¡il Party because we understand how important the environment is.
I am glad that Deputy Eamon Ryan has arrived to listen to my contribution. Unfortunately, the Green Party does not have much credibility on this issue. The party is never in favour of any of the difficult decisions that must be taken to effect positive change. Incineration is an example. When I was a member of Dublin City Council I visited an incinerator in the Swedish city of Malmo, and they know a thing or two about the environment. The incinerator burned rubbish and heated all the homes in Malmo. The smoke from the incinerator was perfectly treated so that it could be safely released into the atmosphere.
The technology is available, but one has to have the courage to use it. The Green Party does not have the courage to say that it will use technology to effect progress on climate change. The Greens want it every way because they are namby-pambying to a small, weird and wonderful section of the electorate who will not face reality.
This House should forge ahead with a consensus on the issue of climate change. The Minister is correct to purchase these carbon tax credits, although I think he should do more of it. I agree with Deputy O'Malley when she said that is not the only thing we should be doing. We should not be doing it just to get ourselves off the hook. It is a little like the issue of overseas development aid. The UN target is 0.7% of GNP, but we should be aiming to give more as other countries are doing. I think the Minister will agree that it is not simply enough to say that we have complied with our Kyoto obligations, we should go further.
Ireland should become a centre of excellence and leadership on this issue.
Nor do I agree with the soothsayers and doomsayers who say that Ireland is a polluted country. I have never agreed with that. We have a relatively good record on the environment, but we have a lot more to do. We must be much more ambitious. The Government can use tax incentives to lead the debate on consumer behaviour in this regard.
I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Ã Snodaigh.
I support the Kyoto Protocol and the flexible mechanisms contained within it. However, we must be careful and cautious about how we use these mechanisms. There is a concern that some of the clean development mechanisms could be used in a way that does not lead to real reduction; they must relate to reductions that otherwise would not have occurred. Of the several hundred such mechanisms that have been developed, only two relate to Africa. While that mechanism was supposed to help the poor, it is not doing so. Like some of the other joint implementation mechanisms, it is taking up the easy carbon reductions that occurred in the early 1990s when the economies collapsed in former Soviet-bloc countries. That is what we are doing. We are in a state of denial on climate change. This is the equivalent of a mid-morning shot of vodka for the Government to get us through the day.
I am concerned about these flexible mechanisms because they take time to get right. These are due to come into operation at the end of 2008, but we are only now starting to examine investment in projects that, because of their nature, take years to set up, monitor and process. We are coming to this incredibly late.
We must think beyond the Kyoto target of 2012. The Minister knows that the real debate is on what comes next. The European Union has said that it is to reduce emissions by 2020 by at least 15% below 1990 levels, and the Taoiseach has supported that. We know that our emissions in 2010 will be approximately 30% above the 1990 level. We are effectively seeking a 45% cut in ten years. It will be incredibly expensive for Ireland to buy its way out of this problem. It will not be the â¬500 million over three years that Deputy Gilmore talked about, it will be â¬500 million per year.
To meet our targets we must start changing now. Every single investment decision we make must be carbon proofed. Every road programme must be questioned and every energy policy must be changed. We must realise that turning this State around by 180 degrees in a new direction is the only way we will meet this challenge. The Government is being dishonest in that regard. It is dishonest when it lauds the supposed reduction in recent years from 27% to 23% as a real achievement. The Minister knows that only reason for this reduction was a statistical change in the base year and the closure of a number of factories, including IFI, Irish Steel and others. We must start by being honest about what is happening.
I am being factual, correct and honest. We have seen Fianna FÃ¡il Deputies distributing leaflets lauding the great progress the Government is making. There is one huge reason to vote against this motion. It is not to block the development of clean development mechanism progress â it is to say that the Government's climate change strategy and its review are disgraceful because of the lack of ambition, honesty and purpose.
The Government is leading the people up the garden path. They will ask why the Government did not tell them climate change was such an important issue and why it made those investment decisions when it knew it was the wrong direction to take. I will commit my political life to meeting this climate change challenge. We can achieve the radical 80% or 90% reductions about which the scientists are now talking. If we do not, we will pass a tipping point and climate change will run away from us. We do not have much time but this side of the House has the political will to be honest, direct and to help the people face this challenge.
Carbon trading is not the answer to climate change. A recently published analysis of carbon trading entitled Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power, argued that carbon trading slows the social and technological change needed to cope with global warming by unnecessarily prolonging the world's dependence on oil, coal and gas. As many environmental justice organisations have pointed out, carbon trading is nothing more than the proliferation of the free market into environmental policy making. As the former World Bank chief economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, put it, the very basis of emissions trading is the assigning of property rights to emitters and then allowing them to be traded â in other words, business can buy the right to pollute.
In the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, governments have handed out to industrialised countries alone several times more rights to the world's carbon cycling capacity than are available if global temperatures are not to rise by more than 2Â° Celsius. Permits worth â¬170 billion have been given to 11,500 of the EU's largest polluters. Even such a small increase as 2Â° Celsius could have catastrophic effects for the globe. The industrialised north is buying its way out of its commitments to reduce emissions and the expense is being passed on to the consumer. According to Feasta, a Dutch study has shown that electricity companies in four countries have already increased their prices to make the customers pay. The current price of the permits and the generators were given for nothing to use in producing their power. The cost to companies of buying their way out of their commitments will be borne by the consumers aggravating fuel poverty and hitting low income families the hardest.
I will focus on the fastest growing contributor to the State's greenhouse gas emission levels which has shown a growth rate of 144% between 1990 to 2004, namely, the transport sector. It accounts for 18.4% of total greenhouse gas output in this State with road transport accounting for an estimated 93% of that sector's output. Despite this, the Government's commitment to biofuels is minimal. The target for biofuel substitution of 5.75% by 2020 is nothing other than pathetic. What is all the more galling is that this State has, or perhaps could have, the potential to become one of the leaders in biofuel production. I urge the Minister to look again at this area and to have more realistic targets we can achieve so that we can be a world leader in regard to biofuels.
I welcome the debate on the terms of the agreement between Ireland and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development on participation in the multilateral carbon credit fund. It is a wake-up call for all Members of the Oireachtas. Regardless of party politics, it is important we all adopt the green agenda because it is essential. It is unacceptable to see Ministers having a go at members of the Green Party for the sake of it rather than examining its sensible proposals over the past 20 years. We should be open and honest and accept that the Green Party has had a major influence on us in regard to green issues, the environment and health. We should not be afraid to say it has been a major influence here and I commend it on the work it has done on this issue. The Green Party has brought a section of the people along with it and it has shown leadership.
When I see Ministers on television or at conferences having a go at the Green Party for the sake it, I want to tell them to grow up, that it does not help their case and that the public sees through it as well. It is important the Minister listens to, and learns from, his voters. The members of the Green Party in this House have had a major influence on environmental and other such issues. If somebody comes up with a sensible idea, regardless of the party to which he or she belongs, all Members of the Oireachtas should support it. That is my solution.
I strongly support the Kyoto Protocol and many of the contributions made by Deputies. However, as well as leaders in Government showing leadership, we must also look at industrialists in this State, the leadership they show and at the way they deal with their responsibilities in regard to emissions and the environment. They have a responsibility and a duty to do something about their patch. The transport industry must also face up to its responsibility because it is having a negative impact on this debate.
The Irish economy is less energy and material intensive per unit of GDP than it was several years ago. However, absolute pressures on the environment have continued to increase, although less rapidly than GDP. Ireland continues to face many environmental challenges, in particular, controlling air emissions from transport and energy production, reducing pollution, loading water for municipal and agricultural sources, improving waste management and nature protection. Major environmental considerations affect all sectors of social and economic activity, transcend geographical boundaries and impact on regions, counties and the planet as a whole.
In each sector, the importance of the environmental agenda is growing, which is very important. Perhaps the biggest issue facing the energy and transport sectors is emissions of CO2 and other atmospheric pollutants while the biggest issue in local government is waste management. Increasingly, in industry, it is a combination of the two. In commercial and industrial sectors, where historically care for the environment has depended on good corporate citizenship, new economic and fiscal measures are making the environment a fundamental business issue. That is something that should be pointed out.
Another important issue, which has arisen in the context of the peace process, is an all-island dimension to the environment. There is a clear logic for North-South co-operation on environmental policy and action. Water courses do not stop at borders and the management of waste is a growing problem on the island as a whole. There is a strong rationale for sharing best practice across the island.
I encourage the Minister and the Government not to fill in the 52 acres of Dublin Bay. One of the best environmentalists to become a Member of this House was SeÃ¡n Dublin Bay Loftus. I will continue to push the green agenda in the House.
I thank Deputies for their contributions, although I disagreed with many of them. Deputies asked what we were doing. Many of them are in denial that we are doing anything, which is quite astonishing. I will outline some of the things which have been done. On energy, for example, the renewal energy support system is facilitating connection of renewal energy to the grid. Deputies know that, although they can deny the truth. Ireland will meet its EU targets to generate 13% of its electricity from renewable resources saving â¬1.3 million in terms of emissions.
In agriculture, for example, I said that CAP reform and the nitrates programme will reduce emissions by 2.4%. Forestry will reduce emissions by 2.08 million tonnes. Despite what a number of Deputies said, it is simply untrue that nothing is happening in regard to buildings. As the House knows, we have introduced progressive and ongoing measures to improve energy efficiency in homes. Energy certification of buildings is being phased in next year. Budget 2006 established the highly successful green house grant scheme. The Government introduced support for businesses to switch to renewable energy. Also, we recently initiated the national energy efficiency campaign, the Power of One. All of these make a significant contribution.
I am particularly glad Deputy Gilmore is back in the House. I am sure it was because business detained him that he was out of the House for much of the previous contributions. He made a number of interesting observations in his contribution. One of these was shared by Deputy Cuffe and was surprising, coming as it did from Deputies from DÃºn Laoghaire-Rathdown. I refer to their willingness to support and get behind the EEA comment on what it calls urban sprawl in Ireland, because if we do not build out, we build up. Week in and out in their constituency both Deputies are prepared to play the hypocrite and on the one hand argue against a denser ââ
I would wish not to. A Deputy who comes into the House and advocates the kind of intensive development which the EEA is behind and then goes to his constituency and says otherwise, is a hypocrite.
No I am not, because the Deputy is a hypocrite. He is a hypocrite and the attitude he has adopted in this matter is particularly hypocritical.
A point of order, this is a personal attack and I want the remark withdrawn. The Minister may make any kind of political charge he wants about me and I will respond. If he wants to raise some issue relating to my constituency, he can raise it here and I will respond to it, but he should not come in and accuse me of being a hypocrite.
I have sat here for two years and listened to some of the most mendacious rubbish that has ever been spoken, much of it directed at me, and I got no protection from the Chair.
Any Deputy who comes into the House and argues that we should support what the EEA is proposing for intensification of land use and then goes to his or her constituency and does otherwise, is nothing other than hypocritical.
I have withdrawn it. The Deputy just wants to filibuster and make sure we do not deal with the issue. Let us deal with the issue at hand. We are here discussing carbon credits. A succession of Deputies have come into the House and said they support the Kyoto Agreement, yet the issue of carbon credits is fundamental to that agreement.
With regard to carbon credits, one of the big issues in Sir Nicholas Stern's report concerns how the carbon credit mechanism can and will work and will be the best way forward. We should also listen to what Mr. Al Gore and Kofi Annan have to say on the matter. Kofi Annan argued at length in Nairobi for the proper use of carbon credits, and to that extent I agree with Deputy Eamon Ryan. Tony Blair has also put the case. The European Commission in its report on Ireland yesterday argued the case for us getting on with the job of purchasing carbon credits. The issue was also central last week in Nairobi.
I was interrupted. The carbon mechanism is a perfectly legitimate way forward. It is an appropriate way which every logical environmentalist around the world supports. I commend the motion to the House.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 58 (Michael Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, John Browne, Joe Callanan, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Davern, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Mary Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 49 (Dan Boyle, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Joe Costello, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Eamon Gilmore, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Paul Kehoe, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Ryan, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.