Thursday, 22 November 2007
Climate Change and Energy Security: Statements (Resumed)
The Minister of State has given me another job. Global warming is discussed on a regular basis at the Council of Europe. My party in Europe, the EPP, has produced a draft document on climate change and it is hoped the European Union will pursue the matter further. I congratulate my Fine Gael colleague, Deputy Seán Barrett, on his appointment as Chairman of the new Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. It is great to have this committee established and I hope its members will focus on their responsibilities.
Global warming is a reality. Throughout the world, we can observe the effects of rapid warming within a short period of time. Within the past century, global surface temperatures have increased by an average of 0.74° centigrade. In recent years, global temperatures have spiked dramatically. As Deputy Coveney stated, 11 of the past 12 years, between 1995 and 2006, rank among the 12th warmest years of recorded global surface temperatures since 1850. These figures speak for themselves. To many ordinary people, 1° might not sound very much. However, in locations such as the Arctic Circle, small changes are amplified and 1° can be significant.
The effects of climate change accelerate so quickly that statistics are out of date before they are printed. Combating climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world and following the agreement reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, in Valencia last weekend we can no longer ignore the warnings. It cannot be disputed that global warming is a reality.
The United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, visited the Arctic region recently to see what is happening to the glaciers. The President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, also visited the region with the Danish Minister with responsibility for the environment. We owe a great debt to the winners of the Nobel peace prize, the IPCC and the former US Vice-President, Al Gore, for their efforts in helping us understand man-made climate change and laying the foundations for the measures needed to counteract such change.
An IPCC report drawn up by more than 2,500 of the world's top scientists concludes that global warming is now indisputable. The poles are melting, the patterns of rainfall are changing and heat waves, floods, storms and droughts are all becoming more prolonged and severe. Without radical action, the world faces major catastrophes such as Greenland's ice sheet disappearing, the Amazon rainforest becoming a dry savanna and Australia's Great Barrier Reef dying. A great deal of emphasis is placed on Africa. During the next 30 years, between 75 million and 250 million people there will be short of water.
I will now consider what faces us in Europe and previous speakers spoke about what will happen here as a result of global warming. One negative impact will be more frequent coastal floods and inland areas will also be affected. In recent years, floods occurred in central Germany and Prague. I saw this when I visited Prague a number of years ago and went to a restaurant near the Charles Bridge which had been submerged in floods the previous year and still had the marks. Florence was also flooded a number of years ago.
Coastal flooding will affect Ireland. The area in which I live, Ballynacally, County Clare, will suffer greatly if the seas rise. The Fergus embankments are in an extremely poor state and have been subject to flooding in recent years. Unfortunately, the OPW will not take responsibility for maintaining these embankments. It takes responsibility for some embankments towards Clarecastle. However, this is not the casedown the coast on the Fergus estuary from Ballynacally, Kildysart, Labasheeda and Killimer Knockerra.
The OPW is conducting a study on the condition of the embankments which will be available next year. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to put the necessary capital funding in place to repair the embankments. If this does not happen and we experience the flooding promised for the next 20 years, many low-lying areas will be flooded. Farmers will be put out of business, the environment will be affected and houses will be flooded.
Another negative impact of climate change is the increased risk of forest fires. Many of the recent fires, particularly those in the United States, were started designedly. We saw the impact of forest fires on the environment in Greece. They burned out of control because of the heat waves which Greece and other countries experienced during recent years. Africa will experience drought. Those of us who live in rural areas know that wells are polluted or dried up.
One does not need a computer to see the effects of climate change. One need only look out the window at the garden. Migratory birds which fly north to breed arrive three weeks earlier than usual, bats wake earlier from hibernation and flowers blossom much earlier in the year. Every day, we hear of new diseases such as avian flu, West Nile virus and SARS.
While climate change is predictable, our worst fears could be avoided with straightforward measures at little cost if the Government takes action. Must we choose between the economy and the environment? Previous speakers, such as Deputy O'Rourke, spoke about the little things ordinary people can do to improve the environment. Those of us who stay in hotels see notices about towels and the excessive use of detergents. Deputy O'Rourke mentioned turning off lights.
If we think outside the box, we can effect change. In the mid-west, the Limerick Clare Energy Agency was established in 2005 through co-investment from Limerick and Clare County Councils. Counties Clare and Limerick have tremendous renewable energy resources. We are fortunate that the local authorities, local businesses, rural development and third level colleges all work together to solve our climate change and energy problems. Perhaps the Shannon Estuary has the greatest potential for development. The wave energy of the Clare coast could make a major contribution to the regional and national electricity demand if captured. A programme of investment of upgrades at the Moneypoint power station in Clare is already under way with regard to retrofit and scrubbers.
Public transport is also important and would be improved if the western rail corridor were in place. According to the 2002 census, 34% of households in County Clare had second cars and 83% of all households had at least one car. We need to put a good public transport system in place. As Al Gore has said, it is time to rise again to secure our future.
A conference will be held in Bali next month and 16 Asian countries have already signed an agreement on climate change and reducing greenhouse emissions. Let us look forward to a new beginning and a replacement for the Kyoto Agreement within the next two years.
It was reported yesterday that the Government is to spend €40 million next year on carbon credits. Until such time as the year on year spending on credits is reduced, I will take anything said on the Government benches about this issue with a pinch of salt.
As a newly elected Deputy, I find this an extraordinary week. On two of the most important issues pertaining to Ireland, young people and climate change, we have been offered opportunities to speak at length but no legislation or other concrete proposals have been brought forward. I thought I was elected to address these and other issues through legislation but I see this week that is not the case. Considering these issues as only worthy of a talking shop adds to the cynicism for politics outside these Houses.
I wish to speak specifically about the correlation between climate change and energy production and the demand for food. There is a danger that the technological advances in agriculture that have dramatically increased crop yields in the past 50 years could be eroded due to the real and present danger of climate change. Given that solar radiation, temperature and precipitation are the main drivers of crop growth, agriculture is still highly dependent on the climate. Energy production is also a function of crop growth. It is therefore obvious that any significant change in climate on a global scale will impact on local agriculture and thereby affect the world's food and energy supplies.
It is important for this house to discuss the correlation between climate change and energy security in the context of food production. According to an article in The Guardian newspaper, record world prices for most staple foods have led to 18% food price inflation in China, 13% in Indonesia and Pakistan and 10% or more in Latin America, Russia and India. Wheat has doubled in price, the cost of maize is nearly 50% higher than a year ago and rice is 20% more expensive. Next week, the FAO is expected to state that global food reserves are at their lowest in 25 years and that prices will remain high for years. The article in The Guardian also stated:
Boycotts have become commonplace. Argentinians shunned tomatoes during the recent presidential election campaign when they became more expensive than meat. Italians organised a one-day boycott of pasta in protest at rising prices. German left-wing politicians have called for an increase in welfare benefits so that people can cope with price rises.
There is a simple explanation for why this is happening now. Increases in food prices stem from an increase in oil prices. Record oil prices are forcing a flight out of food production in favour of energy production. US farmers are leaving cereals to grow biofuel crops. Coupled with this change, extreme weather conditions and growing demand from countries such as India and China are causing a serious spike in grain and rice demand. It is estimated that the competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists and its 2 billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as the epic battle of our times.
The Government cannot produce a motion on climate change and energy production without factoring in food production and its effect on energy security. Climate change has already begun to have serious effects on food supply. Therefore, policymakers in this country will need to adjust their thinking. We can achieve self-sufficiency in the area of grain production but this must be done in a way that meets security of energy and food supply. If the United States is seeking to reduce petrol demand by 20% before 2017, we must wake up and take note in this country.
We now have a scenario where oil price increases create a demand for food for energy production. Climate change and inclement weather patterns are forcing a spike in food prices and biofuels from grain production are experiencing unprecedented demand. This has serious permutations for third world farmers. Oxfam has already warned that the EU policy of substituting 10% of all car fuel with biofuels threatens to displace poor farmers in Third World countries. Changes in climate are causing a catastrophe which is forcing the price of food upwards. One optimistic economic analysis predicts that markets will automatically readjust to food shortages as higher grain prices make it profitable once more to grow crops for people rather than cars.
If we are to be serious about this issue in Ireland, we must harness existing resources such as wind and tidal power and subscribe to a philosophy of ensuring food security. We must encourage greater food production domestically to offset growing demand. A growing body of opinion asserts that we can become self-sufficient in grain production. We must examine the possibilities for both food and energy production in the future. We must become part of the scientific analysis that seeks new crop varieties that can adapt to changing climactic conditions. We have to encourage a slowdown in population growth globally. However, I do not subscribe to the Malthusian analysis that population growth will outstrip agricultural growth because regulation and rational human behaviour can keep this scenario from arising.
We have to wake up to the fact that if the price of oil rises further it will make fertilisers and transport more expensive, while also making biofuel crop cultivation more profitable. In the past year alone, the cost of food in this country has risen by 4.4%. The era of cheap food is over. The price of milk and flour has increased by 16 and 17% respectively. If we are to get the equation right, we must strike a balance between ensuring energy supply while also ensuring food supply. The flight to biofuels must not come at the expense of food production. While I do not expect much from this Government, future Governments will have to regulate human behaviour and the demand for energy will have to be curbed.
I welcome the Minister and wish him the very best during his period in office. I also welcome this debate and propose, first, to address the issue of climate change. I do not necessarily, on this or any other subject, accept expert views uncritically on trust. Experts tend to be passionate about their subjects, activists about their campaigns. Nonetheless, global warming needs to be approached, first, on the basis of the precautionary principle — at any rate, many of the measures required may be good for us — and, second, on the basis that this is not an island but a country with global responsibility which must take account of global warnings, even when we may not be as directly affected as others.
The following considerations present difficulties in approaching climate change in a strictly Irish context. Climate change has occurred throughout human history and obviously it is difficult to disentangle what may be cyclical from what is contingent on recent human activity. For example, are we saying — perhaps we are — that it would be a disaster for Greenland to return to the milder climate it enjoyed in the early Middle Ages, the Finland of the Norse sagas?
In Ireland there is some difficulty in detecting substantial evidence of climate change and assessing the consequences. I have a table from the Met Office indicating how mean air temperature has evolved during the past century and up to 2006. It shows that the period from 1900 to 1930 was a little cooler than normal, the period from 1930 to 1960 was a little warmer than normal, the period between 1960 and 1990 was average to cooler than normal and the period from 1990 until the present has been distinctly warmer than normal. Looking at the table it is hard to be certain what is cyclical and what is underlying change. For example, climate change has not to date resulted in extremes in weather in Ireland. When did the temperature in any part of this island last exceed 30° Celsius? While I do not have the exact date, I believe it occurred some time in the late 1970s.
Thankfully, although a possibility, there have been no major floods recently. On the other hand, plenty of floods occurred across the water in Britain but perhaps that is coincidental. One concrete change, as someone in his or her sixth decade will notice from childhood times, is that winters are undoubtedly milder. Whereas in the winter of 1962-63 we had at least six weeks of hard snow and ice, nowadays one is lucky if snow lies for 24 hours. Apart from certain Border drumlin areas and the mountains, Ireland is almost a snow-free country.
I noted with interest, when reading Ordnance Survey reports from the 1830s, that John O'Donovan, in a letter to one of his correspondents, was convinced that summers were warmer in his youth. We are sometimes wont to believe any few weeks of the same kind of weather is evidence of global warming. To those of us on the campaign trail in April and May the weather seemed to be sunny day after day and we were beginning to look for sun cream. Then there was a sharp reversal between June and August, which was followed by relatively mild weather until about one week ago. Although people talk about drought when we have two weeks of dry weather, it is a long time since we had it.
I am convinced that consistency, security and quality of water supply is a serious issue. While problems experienced in this area are in many cases due to pressure of population increase and relatively elderly infrastructure, action needs to be taken.
Many other parts of the world have been prone to weather extremes going back as far back as biblical times. In expressing a degree of scepticism I nonetheless believe we are required to be prudent, as was the case when medical experts warned us that a variant CJD epidemic could costs tens of thousands of lives. While the loss of life from variant CJD has been very low, this is sometimes due to human intervention to ensure the worst does not happen. It is important if there is any danger of a tipping point being reached, to take precautions to avert such an eventuality.
I agree with the previous speaker that changes in climate place a greater emphasis on local production. Some of our patterns of activity need to be questioned, in particular, the practice of transporting food that could be produced here thousands of miles across the world. In our domestic context, I am unhappy that rail freight transport has been virtually closed down, although I do not hold exaggerated views on what this sector could achieve. One then has the spokesperson for the Irish Road Haulage Association complaining that his members carry 95% or more of freight and need Government assistance. The reason they carry this volume of freight is that we have allowed rail freight transport, more or less, to go to the wall.
If we want to encourage people to use public transport, we will need much greater car parking capacity. I will repeat the comments I made on this issue in the House last week. Capacity of Luas car parks and car parks at rail stations is at bursting point, which will limit the growth of public transport.
What I find extremely irritating and must cost a fair amount of energy to produce are the fliers that drop out of every newspaper and publication one opens. I am convinced that 95% of them go straight into the wastepaper basket. They are an example of the wasteful society. One of the reasons I share An Post's lack of enthusiasm for the introduction of post codes is that it would encourage the production of even more of this useless literature.
It has been traditional in the past 30 or 40 years for Ministers of all Governments to travel in Mercedes cars. While I accept that people like the most powerful cars, is this the best example to set or should the practice be reconsidered?
On security of energy supply, I would like the gas supplies off the north-west coast to be brought ashore. Every attempt has been made to try to reach some consensus. I do not believe there is a veto. I have some reservations about the ultra-liberalisation of energy supply. As the Electricity Supply Board has served us well, the Government should think hard about whether we would be better off continuing to have one main supplier. I am sorry to see climate change being used to foster and revive arguments about the need for nuclear energy. That is neither appropriate nor necessary for Irish circumstances.
With reference to Deputy Mansergh's reference to the ESB, I wish to acknowledge that Tadhg O'Donoghue has announced his retirement. He has been with the ESB for the past seven years and has served the company and the country well in that time.
I listened to this debate in my room and noted strong contributions from Deputies such as Deputy Curran and his now more Fianna Fáil than Fianna Fáil itself colleague Deputy Finian McGrath. They lost the point of this debate in the sense that they were protecting the Minister and the Green Party from attack from the Opposition.
I am one of those Deputies who had to go around and explain, mostly to Fianna Fáil people who were propagating the green scare, that it would be the end of agriculture if the Green Party entered government, that there was nothing to fear from the Green Party and that as we moved forward, agriculture would become greener. I said this before the election and have been consistent on the issue in the past. I was delighted to invite Deputy Trevor Sargent to Listowel food fair two weeks ago and on that occasion some of the farmers who had been casting doubts on him and suggesting he represented a danger for agriculture found what he had to say interesting. I agree with Deputy Coveney that the Minister has our good will, but Fine Gael will judge the Minister on his record in four or five years' time.
I agree with speakers who have said this is a problem we must all face; it is not confined to one party only. We share a common responsibility for the issue of global warming. Ireland must play its role, but it is a very small player in terms of the global consequences of climate change. We contribute to the problem, but others contribute even more. It will take joined up thinking here and internationally for change to take place and the main world leaders must display a strong political will for change. We have seen the British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, take a strong stand on global warming and other issues and have seen a late conversion from President Bush. I hope similar leadership will come from President Putin and others. Time will tell. We will judge the impact of the Green Party in time, but I know the Minister will show strong leadership on the issue.
I looked up the most recent research to add something new to this debate. Recently, a team of scientists from the University of East Anglia, the global carbon project and the British Antarctic survey found that atmospheric carbon dioxide growth has increased 35% faster than expected since 2000, which is alarming. This research was published only last week. The study found that inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels increased levels of CO2 by 17%, while the other 18% came from the decline in the efficiency of natural land and ocean sinks which soak up CO2 from the atmosphere. The research shows that improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled since 2000, after improving for 30 years. We are, therefore, going backwards. Since the Kyoto Protocol, we are regressing, leading to this unexpected growth of atmospheric CO2. The study also states that global CO2 emissions were up to 9.9 billion tonnes of carbon in 2006, 35% above 1990 emissions, which are used as a reference in the Kyoto Protocol.
One of the scientists explained one of the reasons for this decline. She said:
The decline in global sink efficiency suggests stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. We found that nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of the winds in the southern ocean.
Therefore, a change in weather patterns combines with man's interference to contribute to the problem.
Recent scientific evidence, published a few weeks ago, confirmed the detection of the human fingerprint on changing global precipitation patterns in the past century. Over that period, climate records indicate sizable shifts in precipitation patterns around the globe. Looking at average conditions over broad regions of the globe, and comparing them to changes anticipated due to human influence on climate, scientists have determined that human-induced climate change has caused most of the observed increase in precipitation north of 50o latitude, a region that includes Canada, Russia and Europe, as well as in the southern hemisphere. Human-induced climate change has also made important contributions to the drying observed in a broad region north of the equator that includes Mexico, Central America and northern Africa. These shifts may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human health, especially in regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel region in northern Africa. The modern scientific evidence, therefore, demonstrates clearly that we are failing in our responsibility.
I draw the Minister's attention to some specific issues. We can all look back at the records of what we ourselves have done on this issue. I refer to a debate in the Seanad in 1986 on the Air Pollution Bill. In that debate I pointed out that scrubbers should be installed in Moneypoint. At that time, Ireland was succeeding in reducing sulphur dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and was achieving one of the lowest levels in Europe. In 1980, for example, the sulphur dioxide emissions were 217,000 tonnes. In 1983, this had reduced to 140,000 tonnes, because of the use of natural gas. We were getting it right back then, but we have now gone in the opposite direction, despite the various initiatives taken, but never fulfilled.
An Foras Forbartha was also in existence at the time. The scrapping of that organisation in the late 1980s was a retrograde step. It has never been replaced. It predicted at that time that sulphur dioxide emissions would increase. I notice, however, that it was only in 2004 that the ESB decided it would pay €368 million for modernisation equipment. That is what it will cost us, but if we had put in scrubbers in the early 1980s, they would only have cost between £40 million to £80 million, approximately €100 million.
I heard Deputy Deasy, who was in a sense criticised by Deputy Mansergh, speak about nuclear fuel. While there is a problem with nuclear waste, the major issue concerns the disposal of carbon, as we will continue to be hugely dependent on coal. It is important, therefore, to look at how we dispose of carbon. I understand it is placed in old oil wells and on the seabed. As a country, we cannot be expected to pay for research and development into its disposal. Perhaps the Minister will refer to this issue.
As regards the proposed natural gas link on the Shannon Estuary, the Minister will be aware that there is local opposition to the project, based mainly on safety issues and the evidence available from other countries. The project represents an important departure, locally and nationally. Perhaps the Minister will allay the fears of those genuinely concerned, many of whom are in favour of the project. However, they have concerns about safety. If the Minister were to visit that part of the country and meet them, it might help to ensure opposition to the plant, the level of which appears to be increasing, will wane.
Some good research work has been done by an American, Hoff Stauffer, entitled, "New sources will drive global emissions". He has said the sources currently used will have outlived their usefulness. What we should be looking at are autos and appliances which ensure reduced emissions.
I join my colleagues in welcoming the fact that time has been made available by the Whips to discuss this important issue. The debate follows the establishment of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, of which I have the honour of being Vice Chairman. I look forward to working with my colleague, Deputy Barrett, and other committee members during the term of this Dáil and discussing many of the issues raised in this debate.
There is no doubt that in the past year the issue of climate change has come into the public's consciousness much more than heretofore when it was seen as an issue that did not affect us and had no impact on our daily lives. One year on there is greater recognition of its impact. Many are willing to put the funny weather down to it. The Government has led the debate on the topic, despite some of the comments heard from the other side of the House.
I particularly welcome the national climate change strategy, published in April this year. It is a comprehensive document and sets out how we will meet our targets and responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol. It brings together the range of actions being taken by the Government to reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. It sets out how we will co-operate internationally with a view to achieving further reductions in emissions across the world. It affects everybody and everybody has a role to play. It is important that the joint committee consider it on a cross-party, non-political basis. It is also important to recognise that such a strategy is not new; it follows the document published in 2000.
Despite what Deputy Deenihan said about our moving backwards on our commitments, one has to look at the way in which the country has developed economically and industrially during the past ten years. When one places the development of the country and its transformation beside our increased emissions, one has a fair perspective.
The national climate change strategy looks beyond the Kyoto Protocol scenario. It shows that the total contribution of measures adopted by the Government will account for 80% of the efforts that Ireland will need to make to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments. The remaining 20% will be made up by our use of flexible mechanisms which will allow us and other parties to support the development of clean technologies in return for emissions credits. Companies, governments and community organisations need to pay far more attention to the idea of carbon credits and how they can be used to offset our daily usage of energy necessary for living and business. Many companies are now beginning to do this in their policies and in the context of CSR and other issues.
The National Treasury Management Agency which has done such fantastic work in debt management and pensions management will assume the State's responsibilities in the area of carbon funds. I look forward to it exercising its skills in dealing with the issue. The public sector will have to lead the debate. The House will be forced to make decisions in conjunction with planning authorities and local authorities in the next year or so. The Government has started by adopting a number of practical measures which may not grab headlines but will lead to a reduction in energy usage. I have in mind the smart metering project which the Minister announced in recent weeks and to which there was a huge reaction in my constituency office from persons seeking information on it. The meters indicate the times when it is good to use electricity, when it will cost more, as well as current usage in one's home. Sustainable Energy Ireland is running a pilot programme and the sooner it is introduced in every house, the sooner the people will become involved in making their contribution.
The Government has moved to require all State bodies to exclusively use energy efficient light bulbs by the end of this year. In that regard, I note the HSE dispute about light bulbs in the south has been resolved. Let us hope there will not be another in regard to the installation of energy efficient light bulbs. What we have to do is challenging but its impact, in terms of what we take for granted, will be extraordinary.
The strategy shows that through a combination of existing and additional measures, we will be able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 million tonnes in the next four years. Additional measures encompass policies adopted in March 2006. The quantified reductions include some 13.6 million tonnes from domestic actions and 3.6 million tonnes credited to the Government. They also involve investment on behalf of the State in developing economies, thus strengthening our role in supporting such economies.
The key practical measures under the national climate change strategy will affect all of us. It is hoped 15% of electricity supplies will be generated using renewable sources by 2010, increasing to 33% by 2020. The renewable sources include wind energy. There will also be a new national ocean energy strategy. Across the country we have already seen opposition to the introduction of wind turbines, to which a conservative approach has been adopted by some local authorities. It is important to bring forward a national policy on wind energy to assist in meeting our targets.
There is a need to support combined heat and power projects, an area in which business will have a role to play in reducing energy output. There is no doubt that combined heat and power projects can help to do this but they are expensive and there is still a lack of awareness about their effectiveness. An awareness campaign undertaken by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment could be assisted.
The easy target in tackling climate change is transport. The investments to be made under Transport 21, which we debated last week, to encourage and make it more attractive for people to use public transport are welcome. The more people we get out of their cars and SUVs onto public transport the better. We have taken huge strides, particularly in our cities. It is important we continue those strides in rural areas. I would like to see further support given to rural transport projects. It never ceases to amaze me that our city colleagues complain about the DART, buses and matters about which we in rural areas know little. The Departments of Transport and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs have made a substantial investment in rural transport projects which are voluntarily run within communities. This is taking many cars off the roads as well as allowing people to retain their independence in their communities. We need to see more investment, which could be included under this heading.
CIE, as the biggest public transport provider, is being required to move to biodiesel. Many people are interested in using biofuels in their cars but availability is restricted at present. We need a further debate in the House, perhaps at committee level, on the growth of biocrops as opposed to the growth of food crops. This will be one of the major challenges facing the entire climate strategy in the next year to 18 months as we make a choice between energy and food. We already have enough challenges on the food side without this further one.
In recent years the Government has pushed the building and construction sector towards cleaner emissions levels. The revised building regulations published earlier this year by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, aim for a 40% improvement in current thermal performance standards. With the new building energy rating certification which was introduced in 2007, a variety of companies are already involved in training people to inspect energy ratings and educating people about energy rating in their homes. I had the pleasure of working with one such company in my town.
A number of issues arise with regard to energy protection. As a Deputy for County Mayo, I am only too well aware of the issues in regard to the Corrib gas field. Much work, investment and time has gone into assuaging concerns in regard to the safety of that project. Huge investment in terms of people power and Government time has also been made. It is time we proceeded with the project. Many outside experts have accounted for its safety and the country needs the energy supply from it.
I reiterate the concerns expressed with regard to the separation of the ESB. The old ESB had a community focus, even regarding a matter as minor as that of Christmas lights, which the ESB used to provide at a highly discounted rate. Such matters must now go to tender because of the competitive market. In the rush to liberalisation, we need to ensure community participation and focus is retained.
In the coming period I look forward to the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security having the chance to discuss these issues. The final commitment in the strategy is that it must be reviewed each year by this House through that committee, which will ensure the House has a role in maintaining our obligations.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this matter. Prior to becoming a Deputy three years ago, I became involved in an environmental issue which led me to believe we must take our environment seriously. That issue involved hazardous waste which was not being managed properly and caused grave concern in my area.
The major change in recent times is with regard to the number of young people who are aware of climate change throughout the world, particularly in our country. They have not experienced a hard winter such as was experienced 20 years ago and I am not sure what they would think if they did. Eight or ten years ago, we were told Ireland would be covered in sand because we would have no rain but that has not happened.
Fine Gael believes the twin challenges of climate change and the need to adjust our energy usage patterns are the most urgent facing Ireland and the world. Addressing these challenges is a priority for Fine Gael. The unsustainable growth in greenhouse gas emissions needs to be halted and reversed if our climate is not to be irreversibly damaged.
Fine Gael is disappointed the Government has failed to meet Ireland's responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol and our greenhouse gas emissions are twice the overall target. Ireland's biggest contributor to CO2 emissions is the transport sector, which contributes 33% of Ireland's energy related CO2 emissions, a share higher than any other sector, including industry. Years of underfunding and underdevelopment of Ireland's public transport sector has led to Ireland becoming car dependent and to the growth rate in consumption of fossil fuels in the transport sector since 1990. Fine Gael is constantly promoting the fast-tracking of high capacity commuter public transport services into Dublin and other cities. We will reform vehicle registration tax through the establishment of a system of energy efficiency labelling for vehicles, with lower rates of VRT for those cars with more efficient engines.
Fine Gael supports the Stop Climate Chaos call to action. The Government must meet its commitment to reduce by 3% per year greenhouse gas emissions and to produce one third of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. Any slippage from these targets is unacceptable because this is the best chance to tackle climate change.
The current environmental topic in my county concerns EirGrid's proposal to put a 400 KV power line through Meath, which is meeting a serious challenge. I have not witnessed such a challenge previously, despite having been involved in football and farming. Some 24 local groups from counties Cavan, Meath and Monaghan have gathered, night after night, to address this subject. They are totally opposed to the idea of this cable being laid overground, particularly as the public has not received enough expert advice on health.
EirGrid has acted in a poor fashion in the way it went about developing the project. It advertised the details of the project in the newspapers six weeks ago and it was up to local people to find out about it, whereas the Government was aware of the project last March.
I am disappointed because when I asked the Minister a parliamentary question as to when the Meath-Cavan 400 KV power line project was first submitted to his Department for consideration and when his Department approved the decision for EirGrid to proceed with the project, his reply stated that the Minister has no responsibility to the Dáil in this matter, which falls within the remit of EirGrid and the Commissioner for Energy Regulation.
My party wants what is best for the people, as does the Green Party. In March, this was in the public domain at Government level, although I realise Deputy Ryan was not Minister at that time. The information was withheld, probably for electoral reasons, but it is now on top of us.
The people of Meath and the Fine Gael Party agree we need the interconnector and alternative sources of electricity supply. However, we do not want overhead power lines running through the county when nobody can clearly state it does not have an impact on health.
The Minister should listen to Professor O'Carroll. The people of Meath are confused at this stage because the Fianna Fáil Deputies in Meath have made public statements that Fianna Fáil wants the line put underground but the Government will not allow it. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, also commented this morning. I am not sure who is in government.
I hope the Minister will meet the groups involved. The people of Meath want the extra power supply but they are clearly saying they want the power line put underground. Nine miles of cable was put underground in Cork last year and this has also been done in other countries. Power lines will be laid from Wales to Ireland and from Rush to Dunshaughlin, which are to be put underground. Why can lines in the rest of the country not be put underground?
While this will build slowly, there is no doubt it will become a national issue. I am surprised by the fact that 300 to 400 people are attending meetings in every parish. They include people from Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and Fine Gael. To a person, they are saying they have had enough and want answers. The manner in which Eirgrid tried to ram this down our throats is not acceptable.
No one is ramming it down anyone's throat. All parties agreed we should have interconnection to the north east, including the Deputy's party, and instructed EirGrid as such. EirGrid is carrying out every party's desire in that regard.
In order to clarify the matter, Fianna Fáil representatives in County Meath say they want it underground but that the Government will not allow that. Somebody must provide clarification. Who is in Government? Is it Fianna Fáil, the Green Party or no one? It is a bit like some other decisions that were supposed to be made a week ago, which are still sitting on the table.
I would like to answer that point. As Minister, I am in charge and I have every confidence in the State's ability to deliver projects safely for the benefit of all the people.
EirGrid keeps saying it is going overground and it refuses to provide a proper costing. Fine Gael wants a proper costing undertaken to ensure people know what is happening. It appeared in a newspaper six weeks ago that they are going to ride roughshod over County Meath, but it is unacceptable and will not happen. Members of the 23 different committees will not accept what happened in Shannon or in some Departments lately. They are a united bunch and the issue of the cable must be addressed in a proper fashion. People must be given the rights and wrongs of the matter. This morning, Fianna Fáil's deputy leader said it was too dear but money should not come into it if there are questions about public health. I hope the Government will clarify who is in charge and what Fianna Fáil is doing. What is Fianna Fáil at this stage?
Everyone, and young people in particular, are keen for Ireland to play its part in reducing global warming. Fine Gael will support whatever must be done in that regard. I did not intend to become involved in an argument with the Minister over EirGrid but I ask him to take a keen interest in the matter because it will land on the steps of the Dáil within the next month or six weeks. Nobody should underestimate what the people of Meath will do to ensure this does not happen.
I have every confidence that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will deal with the issue the Deputy has raised. It was a bit like question time here for a while but it is worthwhile to have such exchanges.
Like all other speakers, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate but the time for talking has run out. It is time for action. Those who argued that this was not an important discussion now have their answer because there has been a tremendous involvement in the debate, which I welcome.
Some speakers referred to the involvement of the Green Party in Government and I add my voice to those who have welcomed that involvement. They are good colleagues, including my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. They have a solid parliamentary party with whom we are working well and we will make a difference. I commend the Taoiseach for having the foresight and vision to form and lead this Government very effectively. We do not recognise that often enough. The timing was right for the involvement of the Green Party in Government.
Some months before the election, Deputy Ryan and I participated in a discussion at a local primary school in Knocklyon. Local TDs were invited but we were the only two who managed to make it on the day. We had an extensive discussion with the sixth class pupils. One of the questions posed concerned the possibility of Fianna Fáil and the Greens being in Government. The Minister will recall that I said it was a possibility and it was certainly approved by those young students at the time. We are where we are and I welcome the Greens' involvement. We are collectively determined to move on this issue. I am also pleased to have been involved with the Minister in the formation of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, on which all parties will play an important role.
We have a responsibility as individuals to act on climate change but a joined-up approach by Government is the only option available to us to effect real change. That is happening. Achieving reductions in emissions will require a unified effort. This debate is important in that every political party, Department, local authority and individual must become aware of the impact of their choices and actions. We have heard that fact emphasised throughout today's debate.
Just this week, the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change met in Valencia, Spain. The UN Secretary General warned that the risk of a big rise in sea levels due to the melting of the Greenland and, possibly, Antarctic ice sheets may be larger than previously expected. This could eventually result in a rise in sea levels by several metres. For Ireland specifically, this means we are threatened with wetter winters, more flooding and summer droughts. Rising sea levels will increase risks to our coastal cities and towns and we will have more intense storms. The effects of climate change are now blatantly obvious to all of us.
The Government has taken a serious approach to this issue in producing the National Climate Change Strategy 2007-12. The strategy's purpose is to show clearly the measures by which Ireland will meet its 2008-12 Kyoto Protocol commitment and to identify the areas in which further measures are being researched and developed to enable us to meet our eventual 2020 commitment.
As regards energy use, we must reduce our heavy reliance on fossil fuels and expand the use of renewable energies, such as wind, wave, solar and biomass. The aim is to source 15% of electricity from renewable energy by 2010 and 33% by 2020. The strategy will promote using energy more efficiently and further reducing the CO2 output of large industrial plants through their participation in the EU emissions trading scheme.
As regards our homes and workplaces, the Government has progressively introduced higher energy conservation standards through building regulations. It will build on these and will introduce building standards that are 40% more ambitious in thermal performance than current ones.
Grant schemes are supporting homeowners and businesses to switch to renewable energy, while planning changes have made it easier to install solar panels and small wind turbines. Information on how householders can save energy is being provided through the ongoing energy efficiency campaign, the Power of One. Mandatory building energy rating certification for all buildings offered for sale or lease is being introduced. This will give clarity on a building's energy performance and will provide an incentive to upgrade its energy efficiency. Traditional, incandescent light bulbs will be phased out and the use of more energy efficient alternatives encouraged. Smart meters, which offer greater energy-saving opportunities, will be supplied to all electricity customers.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are growing faster than from any other sector. There are more cars and trucks on our roads and we are choosing bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles. The expansion and improvement of public transport will continue to encourage a switch from private cars. In addition, VRT and road tax will be altered to reward the purchase and use of more fuel-efficient vehicles. The use of bio-fuels will be increased to 5.75% of all fuel used by 2010.
While the energy efficiency of the economy has increased, Irish business and industry can and will become more efficient. Low-carbon technologies will create business opportunities for Irish companies. The Government will work closely with business through the energy agreement programmes, bioheat and combined heat and power programmes, and through support for eco-efficient technology.
The well established schemes in support of waste prevention, minimisation, reuse and recycling will be expanded. There is also a plan in place for the use of waste biomass in energy production and of waste-to-energy projects.
Programmes will be further developed across the public sector to achieve energy savings of 33%. Public sector vehicle fleets will move to a bio-fuel blend. In addition, traffic lights and pedestrian lights will be made energy efficient. A scheme to introduce biomass heating in schools will also commence this year. Emissions associated with all official air travel by Ministers and civil servants will be offset.
I would like to refer briefly to the innovative research on biomass being carried out at the University of Limerick, which is supported by the Shannon Development Authority. That research is focused on the production of biomass through photosynthesis. Their view is that there is a need to focus on solar power and the process of photosynthesis to produce biomass, from which biofuels are primarily derived. In all discussions internationally about the need to reduce our CO2 emissions there is very little mention about the vital role of photosynthesis — the natural counteraction, which recycles CO2 productively, to make food and fuels. It may be a solution of the future to process biomass and produce everything which comes from oil, except toxicity. The programme for Government pledges to continue to support research in the biofuel and biomass areas in order that we can respond to new opportunities quickly. Therefore, there are areas yet to be explored further.
With regard to our EU involvement, the Kyoto Protocol required the EU 15 member states to reduce their aggregate emissions by 8% on 1990 levels during the 2008 to 2012 Kyoto Protocol commitment period. New member states have individual targets under the protocol. The new report from the European Commission, Progress Towards Achieving the Kyoto Objectives (COM (2006) 658), shows that, based on the latest available research in 2004, the EU-15, as it was then, have a gap of almost 8% to close to reach their targets. Ireland's distance to target is 12.4%, based on 2005 data. The report estimates that the EU-15 will reach their target only by using additional measures, carbon sinks and the Kyoto Protocol flexible mechanisms to purchase allowances. Based on 2004 data, seven EU-15 countries are further from target than Ireland: Austria, at 29%; Denmark, at 19%; Finland, at 14%; Italy, at 19%; Luxembourg, at 28%; Portugal, at 14%; and Spain, at 33%.
I look forward to hearing the outcome of the talks in Bali, Indonesia, later this month, as it is hoped they should set the agenda and a timetable for a post-2012 plan, with real and affordable ways to deal with climate change. I reiterate the need for a joined-up approach to tackling climate change. The Government has adopted a very clear cross-departmental approach with the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change, which involves many Departments. The programme for Government commits Ireland to achieving ambitious energy efficiency savings of 20% by 2020 and 33% for the public sector. The draft energy efficiency action plan published recently by my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, commenced this process. We all need to work together towards achieving the savings identified in that plan.
The Power of One campaign is an exemplary scheme, urging individuals to make small changes which lead to major differences. Many Members referred to this. This year the Christmas lights on Grafton Street are energy efficient bulbs, saving 75% more electricity than ordinary bulbs. As the UN Secretary General stated recently, "Inaction now will prove the costliest action of all in the long term." Ireland is well positioned to give the much needed leadership at global level, ensuring we tackle the issue of climate change head on and leave a safe and sound legacy for future generations.
As the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Protection, Deputy Barrett, stated, it is good that young people are in the Visitors Gallery listening to the debate because this concerns their future. In many ways we are trying to put the brakes on the train and drive in the opposite direction. Students from my alma mater, De La Salle, Wicklow, visited the House earlier, a school also attended by three of my sons. It was made official last week at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conference that mankind's lifestyle is leading to climate change because of the way energy is harvested from the ground. The Minister referred to a Channel 4 programme and positive feedback which makes us feel comfortable that climate change is not happening. Such programmes are counterproductive in the effort to reverse what has happened. The current agreements may not be strong enough to affect the rate of change which is advancing faster than most of us believed heretofore.
Ireland has exceeded its Kyoto Protocol target which was based on a legal agreement and the Government has embarked on buying carbon credits. While €270 million has been set aside for this purpose, the figure could reach €1 billion if the Government does not get its act together. The penalty clauses that await it down the line should not be underestimated. This money could usefully be used in researching and applying best and newest technology. Many of the statistics relating to climate change are several years old. The Power of One campaign is welcome but the issue is greater than simply changing a light bulb.
Efforts have been made to develop a coherent energy policy but small-scale practical technology is missing to supply the energy needs of small businesses and communities. We must go back to the grassroots. The agriculture sector contributes 28% of greenhouse gasses and this is difficult to counter because the greatest contributor is dairy cattle which produce butter, milk, yoghurt and other products needed in a world with a vastly increasing population. Private enterprises such as Keenans provide diet nutritionists to administer advice worldwide. With a properly managed diet, the emissions of the world's dairy herd could be reduced by 30%. Keenans is a market leader in this regard and such initiatives are more valuable to a small country than the Power of One campaign. The Minister should take this on board.
The land held by the agriculture industry holds the greatest potential to deal with our energy dependency issues. A debate on the use of land for food or fuel is on the way. For example, Bord na Mona is eating into its peat reserves annually but its land is the most suitable for biomass production through planting willow which could be renewed. The Government needs to consider this. The energy generated from peat could be recommissioned, which means the State could retain this resource because eventually our peat reserves will run out. In addition, biomass production would not damage the environment. The initiative to provide energy through turf in the initial stages was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the beet sector, through which 60,000 hectares could have been retrieved to produce ethanol fuel, was abandoned by the previous Government.
I have examined what the US agriculture committee is doing. It uses farm energy calculators, anaerobic digesters and considers research on conserving fuel and energy, wind and solar power initiatives, which do not compete with land for food. These initiatives must be examined because energy can be produced without compromising our food supply. The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should fund Teagasc research to support targeted grant aid programmes for the agriculture and food sectors to kick start innovation needed to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel; improve efficiency of energy use by assisting in the calculation of farm estimates; provide electrical energy usage comparisons, efficiency guides and current energy savings cost guidelines; promote the development of agriculture alterative energy sources to run agricultural machinery, appliances, motors or buildings; use small-scale solar appliances which are used currently and underestimated; use anaerobic digesters; wind powered technology and biodiesel.
The Minister referred to transport costs. I am not sure that the correlation between transport and our planning laws is the only reason for the increase in this regard. The greatest contributor to the increase in transport costs are goods being transported by trucks throughout the country, but such costs could be reduced by the provision of an enhanced rail service. The statistic on waste mentioned is interesting.
I do not believe that the logic for the use of 400 kVA or MW lines has not been thoroughly thought out. There is no doubt there is power loss in the use of long lines. The longer the line, the greater the power loss. Upgrading the network to take in more wind power generated on a regional basis has not been examined. The all-island energy status project will take five years to bring to fruition. We will have only mainline feeds through high voltage lines throughout the country. Has the option of regional power supplies which could be run cross-Border and create an all-island energy supply been examined? EirGrid seems to have adopted a logic that the only way to achieve this goal is by running high power lines, feeding off new and not so new power plants throughout the country.
Has the development of alternative and renewable energies on a regional basis, given the advances and potential capacity that exist, through incentives by way of modulation of farm payments to encourage people to get involved in such projects been examined? I am not sure that this debate has been thrashed out to the fullest extent. Regardless of the emotion of the cost involved, is there another way we could proceed?
By and large it is an AC current. In certain instances we will also use DC current. There will be technological advances but EirGrid has an extensive plan for the development of the transmission network which suits and allows us to develop our local energy sources exactly as the Deputy outlined.
The Chair is very tolerant. It is a good job I know the Acting Chairman a long time, and I have not mentioned Tallaght, though if he wishes, I will do so. I am sure he will manage to do that yet.
It is important that this detail is thrashed out. I appreciate that my contribution has strayed into a question and answer session with the Minister. There is an argument in this regard. Two members of my family work in ESB and Eirtricity and they would both put forward arguments that this matter has not been fully thrashed out and that there is an alternative way before we plough on with the scenario that has been outlined.
There are many difficulties and question marks over the position of EirGrid. There are many positives in terms of what can be done with that company, but the process must be transparent. The way in which people are appointed to it must be examined to ensure people have confidence in it.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on climate change and I thank the Minister for being present. Climate change is without doubt one of the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Man-made greenhouse gas emissions are its main causes.
Under the Kyoto Agreement, Ireland made a commitment to limit the increase of greenhouse gases to 13% above our 1990 levels but we have broken that commitment. Current levels of Irish greenhouse gas emissions are more than 25% above 1990 levels, and we need to take serious measures to address that.
I am disappointed that the Government will now have to spend at least €40 million next year to buy credits that will allow pollution in the Republic to exceed limits set in the Kyoto Agreement. It is both costly and environmentally unsustainable to continue to buy our way out of international agreements we have entered into on climate change.
The operators of Wind Energy Ireland, a consortium of business people and businesses who wish to establish offshore wind energy projects are preparing at present to invest €4 billion in these projects but they need co-operation from the State. EirGrid, the State company responsible for managing the electricity grid, would have to upgrade and make significant changes to the grid to facilitate this expansion of offshore wind energy capacity. What plans has the Minister to upgrade the national grid? It is estimated that if this development took place, the savings to the State would amount to approximately €235 million per year and that the electricity produced would meet the electricity needs of approximately half of the State's households. This Minister might address this issue when replying.
I welcome the appointment of Fine Gael Deputy Seán Barrett as chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and wish him well in this demanding and challenging role.
It is stated that the transport sector in Ireland has been responsible for 33% of our energy-related CO2 emissions, which is higher than the emissions produced by any other sector here. Final energy use in the transport sector has been the fastest growing rate of all sectors. Growth of 8% was recorded in 2005. Energy use in transport has been more than 99% dependent on oil products, all of which are imported. This needs to be urgently changed in the future. Additional efficiency gains would have been made if not for the purchase of larger cars by families. We need to tackle the growing trend of the purchase by households of large-scale jeeps and vans.
Under the National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012, the Government has made the following key commitments. One is to hit the Kyoto target of 13% above 1990 levels of greenhouse gases for the period 2008-12 and to cut emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. The current level is 25% above 1990 levels, which is worrying. We have much work to do to achieve these targets. Some 15% of electricity is to be generated from renewable sources by 2010 and 33% by 2020. Biomass is to contribute up to 30% of energy input at peat stations by 2015. A sustainable transport action plan is to be published in late 2007.
However, there are problems with the Government's commitments. The national climate strategy scores poorly on costings. For instance, there is no analysis of how much it would cost to produce 33% of our energy from renewable sources. This would involve mostly wind energy and the cost of producing a new network infrastructure. My party is firmly committed to the green agenda and renewable energy sources. However, a detailed cost plan should accompany Government promises in this area. There is very little detail on how the Government plans to reduce Ireland's emissions by 3% each year into the future. An uncosted plan to switch to renewable energy, improve efficiency and public transport is not good enough. There is a contradiction in Government policy on a carbon tax. There is no mention of it in the national climate change strategy but the programme for Government states "Appropriate fiscal instruments, including a carbon levy, will be phased in on a revenue-neutral basis over the lifetime of this Government." Will the Minister advise as to the whether the Green Party involvement in the Government will mean that the climate change strategy, which was agreed in April, is now redundant?
My party believes that the twin challenges of climate change and the need to adjust our energy usage patterns are the most urgent facing Ireland and the rest of the world. We believe in an efficient, vibrant and competitive energy market where supply is secure and the need to reduce consumption is always recognised.
Climate change is such a serious issue that it is time for the Government to establish a Department of environment and energy, which would co-ordinate policy in this area. We have paid too high a price for interdepartmental inertia, which has given us ten years of rising emissions and missed opportunities. My party in government would establish a centre of excellence for alternative energy, charged with ensuring Ireland develops a world class alternative energy sector. We would incorporate Sustainable Energy Ireland, as it exists, into the centre of excellence, to be located within an existing institute of technology, with outreach points in other academic institutions throughout the country. It would have specific responsibility to encourage, incentivise and develop the alternative energy sector, with the objective of replacing a major percentage of energy imports and securing supply.
The Minister needs to improve grant aid initiatives for householders who wish to convert existing home heating norms to renewable energy technology in their homes. We also need to ensure the energy performance in buildings directive is implemented in full and in a timely fashion. We need to work towards ensuring that 30% of all new buildings are green and powered by renewable sources of energy. As regards electricity, Fine Gael would move towards generating 33% of Ireland's electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025. We would target an increase in renewable energy production to 17% by 2012 as an interim measure and legislate for the complete separation of the ESB from the national grid, while keeping both in State ownership, to ensure a level playing field for all energy suppliers.
The potential for wind energy in this country has not been realised. My party would ensure there was interconnecting infrastructure with other electricity markets to allow for significantly increased generation from wind. As regards bio-fuels and the role of agriculture, it is time for the Minister to remove all excise duty on bio-fuels produced from all renewable energy crops. Fine Gael in government would make available establishment grants for producer groups comprising up to 50% of set-up costs, subject to a maximum of €300,000 per group. We would examine the current rates of payment under the existing energy crops scheme and whether the sugarbeet crop should be included in the scheme to facilitate development of the bioethanol industry. We would initiate a public competition for the establishment and operation of a number of bio-fuel processing plants, strategically located in selected locations. Capital start-up grants for these plants would initially be given to enable them to become established and begin viable processing operations. We would also initiate a public awareness and promotion campaign to encourage the growth of bio-fuels.
As regards VRT, it is certainly time to reform vehicle registration tax through the establishment of a system of energy efficiency labelling for motor vehicles, with lower rates of VRT for those cars with more efficient engines. My party in Government would create a market for bio-fuels by legislating to provide that all motor fuels must include a blend of fuel from renewable sources. The EU has set a binding agreement of increasing the penetration of bio-fuels in transport to 10% by 2020. Fine Gael in government would accept this target and aim for an increase to 5% as an interim measure by 2012.
It is time for the Government to take action on climate change. We all have a positive role to play in our daily lives regarding energy conservation, but certainly the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition in government needs to drive policy in reducing CO2 emissions and help save our planet. I look forward to the Government ensuring we meet out Kyoto commitments in the future and that we stop paying unnecessarily for carbon credits, wasting taxpayers' money.
It is good to have an opportunity to speak on this subject, which is very much in vogue. It was not in vogue much, however, during the recent general election campaign. I do not believe a question was raised by anybody, certainly as regards any of the areas I had an interest in — I had a passing interest in it at the time.
As a matter or urgency we need to recognise the extent of the problem. Global warming is here. Some of the actions we take may stall its onset or improve matters somewhat. There is a considerable body of scientific opinion, too, which challenges the consensus and argues that global warming is inevitable, follows its own sequence and will naturally correct itself over time. Therefore, I do not believe we should waste too much time worrying about it. What we have to do, however, is make a contribution——
No disrespect to the Minister, but I have studied the various opinions. They point out and prove their case. In order to fully assess a situation it is important to hear what the other fellow has to say as well. That is why we have debates in the House.
I do not, actually. The point I was going to make before I was interrupted is that we have a moral obligation to make a contribution. We need to challenge our carbon footprint and we need to address those issues. We in our economy cannot change the world, despite the fact that sometimes we are led to believe we can.
However, there are various ways and means by which we can go about giving a good example to everyone else. We can improve our economy and become self-sufficient. We said all those things before. In a previous incarnation the Minister and I were in the business of looking at those issues.
We can be positive. Transport and agriculture are two of the worst areas in so far as methane gas emissions are concerned. However, I am not so sure about the authenticity of the statistics. The transport sector, for example, changes from time to time. There has been an enormous change in the whole area of after-burning and reburning as regards internal combustion engines in the last five years. The motor industry has a responsibility, and I fully accept that. It is difficult to anticipate a situation whereby any country can survive without some transport, whether with electricity powered rail systems or roads on which electric engines are used. However, that is an area for future development, with enormous potential and it can make an impact worldwide if replicated.
I can never understand why no one ever addresses the whole question of local authority sewerage systems throughout the country. They are never mentioned in statistics but emit colossal amounts of methane gas. No one ever says a word because Governments are responsible for failing to provide the necessary funding to ensure this does not happen. The Minister knows this, of course, but if anybody doubts what I am saying, he or she should go to Kill, County Kildare, where there is a major dump, and listen to the complaints of the people in the area. They are being virtually poisoned by the amount of methane gas emanating from that facility.
Worse still, if one drives into Leixlip, County Kildare on any night, one gets the unmistakable nauseating smell of methane gas emanating from the local sewer. There have been plans to alleviate that for the last 15 years. We have been told in that time that the solution was imminent and that it would be addressed "next week". The Minister's colleague has indicated in recent times that it would be dealt with now. My impression is that it will not, but it is a serious incursion in an area that can be addressed. The technology is available, so why do the authorities put off until tomorrow what they could do today? After all, Ireland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, according to some experts in this House. I cannot understand why a decision is not being made in an area where a definite effect can be achieved in the shortest possible time, yet nothing gets done. I bet that taxes the imagination of the Acting Chairman, as someone who has to listen to all types of argument in this House from time to time. It taxes mine and everybody else's as well.
Another area I am concerned about is the whole question of supporting sustainable energy houses. The SEI, as mentioned by the last speaker, had a laudable system of grant aid. No sooner had the Government's members sat in their ministerial cars, or cycled in front of the squad cars on their bicycles, than the Minister came in with a slash-hook and sliced the grants in two halves. In one fell swoop, the Minister became a slasher and sliced the grants in two halves.
I do not know what the Minister has been doing. Maybe he has been too tied up with the incinerator or its alternative. I and others tabled parliamentary questions recently on the decision made in the past 12 or 14 months to locate a landfill in the Bog of Allen. Doing so would affect carbon trapping and sequestration. Bogland is supposed to act as a reservoir for carbons and the development of vegetation therein is ideal for this purpose, yet we are to stick a landfill site in the middle of the bog. It is but one of many that is to be located in the bog and this will have major consequences. How much hypocrisy can we take?
Carbon sequestration is affected by the kinds of trees we grow, the number we grow and the location in which they are grown. I am sure other speakers stated our bogland would be ideal for growing trees. Some tree species are four times better than others at trapping carbon but I have never seen this theory promoted in any quarter in Ireland. It is a simple matter and everyone could plant the efficient trees in their gardens. Such a tree would not take up the entire garden but would make a positive contribution to carbon trapping.
We must differentiate between fuels that are carbon-neutral and those that are not. Transporting fuels half way across the world is hardly the most efficient way to proceed. We can and must grow our own and biofuel production must be balanced with food production. The European Union has a very strong role to play in this regard. I do not refer to a cute role whereby the Union would off-load food production to third countries and pretend it could not produce it itself. The Union can balance food production with fuel production. Let each member state have its own share of the spoils and let us not exclude certain industries, such as the sugar beet industry, as we did last year. I tabled a parliamentary question last week and received a reply with a graph indicating massive reductions in Italy, Poland and elsewhere. The Minister should have studied this. There was no reference at all to the United Kingdom or France in the reply. I wonder what happened in this regard.
We need to be serious and realistic about climate change. We can make a positive contribution but should not state it will be disastrous and advocate moving to high ground, nor should we believe we can solve the problem ourselves. For God's sake, will the Government take a leading role by allocating money for the inefficient, outdated, unworkable, badly designed sewage treatment schemes throughout the country that are causing considerable pollution, without eliciting any comment at all, and those emitting considerable amounts of methane gas? It is possible to trap methane gas. Once, when in another jurisdiction, I saw a sewage treatment system in operation and thought it was a swimming pool. One does not see too many of those in Ireland. It was a positive feature in the landscape, made a major contribution to the environment and was aesthetically pleasing.
I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Charlie O'Connor. I am sorry I did not mention Tallaght in my contribution, but I will mention it the next time.
I thank all the Members who engaged in this debate. I welcome in particular the contributions of Deputies Martin Mansergh and Bernard Durkan, which honestly reflected the uncertainty of many inside this House and beyond about the science of climate change. This suggests to me that there is still work to be done on the science. Increasingly, friends ask why they were not told more about it. Perhaps there is a job to be done in this regard. Perhaps I will sit Deputy Durkan down to chat about this further——
——because the story needs to be told and cannot be ignored.
It is useful to discuss the carbon credits system. The flexible mechanisms system refers to the carbon development mechanism, or CDM, as it is known by those involved in the Kyoto process. A number of Deputies raised this matter and in that regard I am happy to clarify the position I enunciated while in Opposition and which I will reiterate in Government. My position is one of support for the flexible mechanisms because they are part of the Kyoto process, which is the only international solution we have. It is part of a flexible approach on the path towards an annual reduction in carbon emissions. There is clear agreement on all sides that we cannot rely on such mechanisms as the mainstay of our response. If they were regarded as such, they would be highly inappropriate as a form of strategic direction. Using the mechanisms as part of an overall integrated response is the correct approach. I supported this approach in Opposition and do so now in Government.
The international target demonstrates a stark need to effect much more radical change than we believe is necessary. Deputy Coveney's contribution was one of the few that conveyed the scale of change in question. The carbon development mechanism will be discussed and approved by the majority of signatories to the Kyoto Protocol and the international agreement on climate change at the negotiations in Bali. In this regard, we must be aware that the European Union sets as a target a 30% reduction in 1990 emissions, through international agreement, by 2020. This presents a considerable challenge for Ireland.
Consider the commitment to achieve an average reduction of 3% per annum, as outlined in the programme for Government. If a 3% reduction is achieved from 2008 onwards, Ireland's level will be approximately 14% below 1990 levels in 2020. Our current level is approximately 25% or 26% above 1990 levels. Within a European burden-sharing agreement, the level of 14% below 1990 levels is the level to which we are expected to commit. The Taoiseach has already signed up to this agreement at Heads of Government level but achieving our target will not be easy.
To answer the question justly asked by Deputy Terence Flanagan, I fully support the national climate change strategy, as set out. However, given that the 30% European target is set, the strategy recognises that even if we achieve an annual reduction of 3% on foot of current policy, there still will be a 16 million tonne shortfall. This is why we need a debate. As Deputy Coveney stated, the level of change required is way beyond what the average person understands to be necessary.
I welcome the discussions on the electricity grid. In this regard, I particularly welcome the knowledgeable contribution of Deputy Andrew Doyle. One of the benefits of the all-island approach to electricity is the launch of a single electricity market. I hope to be able to launch, within a number of weeks, an all-island grid study that will indicate exactly what is required to develop the transmission network so as to meet radically higher renewable electricity targets as part of our overall response. There will be sensitive and difficult areas throughout the country, even in local distribution grids, where we will need to develop renewable energy resources. That is why it is important for us to look at that overall level and at each project on the basis of a broad national issue rather than always on a purely project-by-project basis.
In response to the point raised by Deputy Deasy, the committee chaired by Deputy Barrett may be the perfect venue for the discussion of nuclear power if people so wish. I will leave it at that.
A number of people, including Deputy Deenihan, raised the issue of the ESB. First of all, I agree with, commend and add to his comments regarding the chairman of the ESB, Tadhg O'Donoghue, who today announced his resignation as and from the end of January. I commend Mr. O'Donoghue on the enormous and invaluable work he has done over the past seven years in steering and directing that company. Such work has been hugely valuable to this State and is greatly appreciated by everyone with a knowledge of how much Mr. O'Donoghue has given.
Following on from the very good work that has been done for years in the ESB, I see a huge and important role for the ESB in this area. Far from anyone looking to break up or diminish the ESB, I believe it will have such a central role in helping to achieve so much in the areas of energy reduction, demand management and energy efficiency in its supply, network and generation business that it has a crucial role in this new green future. I say to the ESB that it has a role to play in becoming one of the best green utilities in the world. It can develop that expertise here to help solve our problems and can also apply it abroad in the process. No break up or diminution of the ESB is planned.
The issue of the transmission assets has already been decided upon. They are already separated out into Eirgrid, which is responsible for their management. That has been the case for several years. The transmission assets followed that as night follows day but there is no diminution of the management, role or purpose of the ESB in that particular process. I hope that this general vision of the future of the ESB is one that will get widespread support in this House.
I previously mentioned heating, its importance and our role in setting significantly higher building regulation standards which might help us meet the targets. The greener homes scheme will also continue to be amended and extended and new technologies will be brought in. The role is not to continually support projects but to give them a volume of supply which makes economic sense for them. One then moves on and uses the same sort of planning on other technologies on a rolling, continuing and evolving basis.
Likewise, it will be hugely important for us to develop scale and transparency in the insulation support schemes we are planning to introduce next year. These schemes will help to fulfil the basic premise of delivering energy efficiency first and foremost, as well as looking at the sort of supply systems one uses.
I agree with the comments of many Deputies that we must be careful about bio-fuels and that such fuels will not be the panacea for our transport system. However, there is a strategic value for both farming and the country in having our indigenous fuel supply from bio-fuels if we can develop it.
I must return to the point I made about why planning is so important. It seems that we certainly need a range of changes in transport, be it in rail freight or other areas, where we can try to reduce our emissions. The fundamental change on which we must also agree is a collective change in every council of this country regarding how we plan our communities . First and foremost, we must reduce the length of trips and then look at the mode of transport people have.
The role of agriculture was also raised by speakers. I was surprised that the debate featured very little mention of the peak oil issue as opposed to the issue of climate change. Given that this country is utterly dependent on oil, which costs $100 per barrel, for 60% of its energy, I was surprised by the lack of interaction in respect of this issue. Agriculture is an area where this issue raises its head. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Sargent, tells me that for every calorie of food produce we create, we spend ten calories of energy input to get it in the form of fertilisers, transport, pesticides and processing, all using oil. Agriculture faces a major policy issue in a world where oil becomes a depleting resource.
Farmers also have a huge opportunity and will be at the forefront of our response to this. They have an important role to play in leading our country, using their knowledge of how to cultivate and grow crops to plant new specialist crops which will provide us with a range of different products that oil might previously have provided, be they materials, heating or bio-fuels. That is a far more attractive future for farming than one reliant on certain vague and limited livestock markets where the price is particularly poor and volatile and where one trades on an international market over which one has no control.
I see a great role for farming in delivering a far more diverse range of crops which provide for this new energy future and in the process, reduce our emissions, recognising that farming accounts for 28% of our emissions. It will not be easy but it is possible and the farmers of this country have more to gain from a green-led Government than any other group because we are looking to them to lead and to provide for our future, our food, our energy crops and the good and proper use of our land, which, ultimately, is our greatest natural resource.
A response will be made to Deputies from the Labour Party who are concerned about the specifics. Today's debate was not one for specifics. Going back to my original comment, I believe it was a necessary debate to ascertain the level of concern, awareness and acceptance of some of the science and energy security issues before us. We will have an opportunity for a debate on the details in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and I look forward to Deputy Barrett's leadership of this committee.
There is no lead Minister, which is deliberate. My colleagues and I will be available on any occasion to discuss matters. It is better to have a cross-Government approach to this issue where Deputies can call in the Minister for Transport and ask what he is doing to face this energy future when he looks at the peak oil situation. Alternatively, they could call in the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and ask what she is doing to deliver this future. She would be the lead Minister on that day. Equally, they could call in the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. I am willing and available to provide resources and skills to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security to do the valuable work it needs to do. Likewise, a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change and energy security has been set up to address this issue. It will provide cross-Government support.
I have one clear message. We could resort to doom and gloom on this issue and be merchants of despair. There are reasons to be concerned and afraid. The picture before the Irish people is one of opportunity. We may lead the world in response to this issue and would benefit from that.
The Taoiseach quoted Edmund Burke in his address to the House of Commons earlier this year. According to Burke, "nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." That saying applies equally in this area. It is in our economic interest to make the change because we are exposed to global peak oil and gas insecurity. It is in our moral interest to give us a sense of purpose, achievement and direction.
We have achieved the main political objectives of the past 100 years. We have achieved independence and economic security and have even solved some of the problems in the North that we thought would never be solved. What must we solve today? This issue is one we must address. We must lead our people, protect them from an insecure future and provide them with a bright opportunity to shine internationally.