Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Climate Change and Energy Security: Statements


11:00 am

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. The role of this House is to give time to issues and go into detail on them which may not be easily addressed in a legislative discussion. The broad issues of climate change and energy security which we address today are worthy of our time, attention and discussion.

This debate is timely. The price of oil peaked at approximately $100 per barrel during the past week and we will send representatives to the UNFCC conference on climate change in Bali within the next two weeks. A common understanding on why we will take a position and what position we will take will be of benefit. We need a wider debate throughout the country on these two issues, particularly climate change. While it is a news story and has been topical in recent years, a sense may exist that it has become an old story overnight. People feel they have heard it and are now ignoring it.

The Irish people need a far greater understanding of the true extent of the challenge presented by climate change and the importance of our response. The people need simple understanding of the significance of the science of climate change, which is now undisputed and clear. The gap in understanding the issue is stark. A recent survey which asked English people their views on climate change showed that in a country which is home to some of the leading climate change scientists and where the newspapers and other media take a leading role in highlighting the issue, at least two thirds of the population do not have a core belief that the science held up. It behoves us as politicians to lead our people by understanding the science of climate change.

According to the latest IPCC report we should fear allowing the world to go beyond a 2° increase in average global temperature. This will require a stabilisation of global emissions within ten to 15 years followed by a reduction of at least 50% in emissions over the next 45 years. This will require developed countries which are historically responsible for most of the emissions which remain in the atmosphere for at least 200 years to consider cutting our emissions by 60% to 80% over this period.

This is at a time when projections show that energy use, the main cause of our emissions, is likely to increase by 50% rather than decrease. The scale of this challenge in the remainder of our lifetimes is beyond any other challenge undertaken by mankind. If we ignore this challenge, the threat posed is beyond any catastrophe, war, famine or natural disaster which occurred on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. As politicians responsible for leading our people through the dramatic change ahead of us, we cannot ignore this.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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What about the energy conservation programme?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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I will come to the energy conservation programme, but, first, I want to set out the broad facts of the issue.

The reason scientists set the tipping point at 2° is because going beyond this could induce catastrophic effects which could cause the deaths of millions of people but also because of the danger that going beyond this would cause a runaway catastrophic effect such as the melting of the polar ice-cap or the releasing of methane from frozen tundra in Siberia where the temperature already increases at a multiple of the average global rate. This methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide which is the main climate change gas. The IPCC report stated the summer melt of the ice-caps is occurring at over 10% per decade and the projections of the melt are 30 years ahead of what the models predicted. Other possible local effects are the collapse of the Amazon rain forest and a major release of carbon into the atmosphere. This would cause further runaway climate change.

We must break certain misconceptions of the Irish people such as that this will be an attractive or benevolent prospect for the Irish climate. It may not be felt immediately as harshly here as in other areas of the planet. However, in a country with most of its cities by the sea, such runaway catastrophic change could lead to severe flooding in cities such as Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin. This would have major consequences for us as a people.

We must move away from the common response people have when asked about climate change that China and the United States Government are the problem. They ask why should they act when every week a new coal-fired power station is opened in China. This is irresponsible and ignores the global situation we face. The power in China produces the goods we use. As a leading emitter of greenhouse gases we have a responsibility to do our bit. We cannot ignore it ourselves and then state that the Chinese Government must act. While the Chinese and United States governments have crucial roles, if we do not lead they will not take part in the solution.

We must shatter the myth that the science might not be true. People who watched the highly irresponsible and reckless Channel 4 programme, "The Great Global Warming Swindle", immediately thought they could continue as they were and did not have to listen to all the doom and gloom. This was the response I heard when I canvassed prior to the general election. This irresponsible attitude must end. We must be clear and honest with the people that the science is irrefutable and the evidence is certain, and we cannot pretend the science does not hold up.

We cannot tell the people we have an easy technological solution and we will find an easy fix around the corner. No one in the scientific community has shown or believes in an easy fix. It is not for us to hide behind such simple, trite or unfulfilling answers to this problem.

People might consider that the energy security issue undermines the climate change issue, but it does not. It reconfirms the necessity for us to make the urgent switch away from fossil fuels. Ireland is highly exposed with regard to the amount of fossil fuels we use. Approximately 90% of our energy comes from imported fossil fuels. The average in the European Union is64%. Approximately 60% of our energy comes from imported oil. It is increasingly apparent by the day that we can no longer guarantee the easy availability of this oil.

The publication two weeks ago of the International Energy Agency's latest world energy outlook was stark in the language it used. It stated that continuing as we are will lead to an alarming situation. Last week, newspapers reported on comments made by the chief economist of the International Energy Agency on the simple fact that the world, which uses 85 million barrels of oil per day, will need a replacement for 37 million barrels per day in new production during the next six or seven years, one third to cope with increasing demand and two thirds to cope with the depletion already occurring in the existing oil fields.

We obtain the majority of our oil from the North Sea which is depleting by 7% or 8% per annum. According to the most optimistic prognosis whereby all goes well in Iraq, Venezuela plays a willing role and Iran and the United States do not get into a row, 25 million barrels are available from all the oil fields in the world. The International Energy Agency shows that we will have a supply difficulty during the next six or seven years, even with the best case scenario. This is why oil costs $100 per barrel.

Already, a difficulty exists in supplying for demand. As a people, we have to prepare for the geological certainty that supply will decrease and fail to meet rising demand. An interesting study on the peak in global oil production was conducted by the US Department of Energy several years ago involving Bob Hirsch, who also advised us last year. It found that rather than simply running out of oil, there will be a peak point, after which availability and supply will decline year on year. That point may have already arrived, as Texan oilman T. Boone Pickens recently claimed on the grounds that oil supplies have been stuck at 85 million barrels per day for the past two years, or it may occur in ten or 20 years time. However, the majority of research indicates it will occur within the next decade. The US Department of Energy study showed that, regardless of the time of arrival, preparations should commence two decades in advance on changing the entire infrastructure because the investments required are long-term. The cars we purchase today will still be on the road in 15 years time, the roads will be around for 100 years and our power stations will last 40 years.

We can see the peak right in front of us, clear as day. The oil company advertisements in the The Economist indicate we are approaching an oil supply crunch. As legislators, we have a responsibility to recognise that fact and to look beyond the next election. We know the change is coming. With 60% of Ireland's energy dependent on imported oil, this is one of the most exposed countries in the world, so it behoves us to change our policies and reduce our dependence on oil.

We cannot rely on gas to solve the problem. Gas will help as an interim technology but we are equally exposed to supply issues. Even if we bring gas from the Corrib field ashore, it will provide for half our needs for approximately six years but it will not be a long-term solution. North Sea gas fields, from which we get 85% of our supplies, are depleting by a similarly rapid annual percentage to that of North Sea oil. We will get a temporary fillip from Norwegian gas but that country recently made a strategic decision against connecting its largest gas field into the UK and Irish markets. We are inextricably linked to the UK market in this area. We will be utterly reliant on Russian gas coming through pipelines stretching all the way to Siberia. Therefore, while gas is an interim fossil fuel we equally have to reduce our dependence on it. We are overly dependent on it for the production of electricity and in other areas. We cannot rely on the Russian Government to ensure secure supplies to Ireland at the end of the pipeline.

That scenario requires debate on how to completely change our energy infrastructure, farming methods and transport system in order to cope with climate change, peaking global oil production and difficulties in obtaining gas for our economy. Our response must be part of an international approach and the debate in Bali is crucial in that respect. I attended last year's climate change talks in Nairobi, at which the issue of what comes after the Kyoto Agreement was addressed. I got a clear sense from the meeting that the current negotiations are the most important in the history of mankind. I also realised that the diplomats and politicians attending the meeting will not take the issue seriously until there is widespread public pressure at home.

We will have to change our electricity supply systems. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, was correct in saying that extensive grid development will be required to support renewable energy. It will be politically difficult but we will have to face the task in order to deliver on electricity. In regard to heating, we will have to set ever higher building standards. That will be difficult for some people in the construction industry but we will need a collective vision on it because the timeframe involved is much longer than the next four years. The area of transport will have to be utterly transformed, which will also require changes in the planning system. Again, that may not be politically easy but the best intentions in planning policy have produced a spread in this country and a dispersed population. We have to make the switch to sustainable communities. The experience of my 15-year life in politics is that none of these hard decisions has been made. Ultimately, politicians are wedded to the status quo. Today's debate needs to be about the extent and nature of the changes we need to make. I regret I did not have sufficient time to set out these issues but I will return to them in my closing remarks.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Bannon, by agreement.

I agree with the Minister that the need to combat global warming, or climate change, has assumed monumental proportions. It is not as crucial for the likes of me as it is for the young people who are sitting in the Visitors Gallery. The issue will affect their futures. It is about time we stopped fooling ourselves by pretending the evidence is inconclusive. Climate change is probably one of the biggest problems facing humanity and it is being brought about as a result of our own activities.

In Ireland, this trend has not only continued but the rate of increase has accelerated, with potentially horrendous consequences. Everything, from farming, through manufacturing to running our cars and heating our homes, generates the greenhouse gases that cause the problem. The Kyoto Protocol, which set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is an attempt at an agreement to control the likely rise in temperatures. Under Kyoto, a collective EU target was set of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8% before 2012. Emission targets were set for each country and, as an incentive for changing behaviour, a trading system was established in which the major polluters could buy and sell carbon permits. Following the treaty, the Irish Government agreed to legally binding limits on the production of greenhouse gases and, based on 1990 as a benchmark year, agreed to cap the rise in emissions at 13% above the 1990 level by 2010. In 1990, Ireland produced 54 million tonnes of greenhouse gases but our output has since increased by more than 30%, which means we are greatly exceeding our legally binding targets.

The Environmental Protection Agency's figures for 2005 indicated that gas emissions have increased to 69.95 million tonnes. By far the greatest increase, at more than 160%, was experienced in the transport sector. Road transport accounts for 96% of that sector's figures. Emissions by the energy sector increased by up to38%. Agriculture is responsible for 28% of emissions, energy 19%, the residential sector 10%, industry 9%, commercial and institutional 4% and waste 2.5%. It is about time we found out where the problems are arising in individual sectors. Ireland now rates as one of the worst performers in the EU in terms of cutting our gas emissions. This is not a pleasant record or one about which we can boast.

It is a pity the debate is subject to time constraints because the House seldom has an opportunity to discuss climate change and energy security. Unless we are prepared to face up to the facts, climate change will create a much different living and working environment and radically alter the economy, threatening our prosperity and well-being. A year ago, the landmark Stern report, compiled by British and former World Bank economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, warned that ignoring climate change could precipitate a major economic upheaval on a par with the depression of the 1930s. This is the prospect we face.

As the Minister correctly noted, the forthcoming Bali conference will be essential in terms of setting targets for the future. The International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, estimates that temperatures will rise by between 1% and 4% by the end of the century. However, a recent International Energy Agency, IEA, report which examined rapid emissions growth in China and India forecast that the world could warm by a potentially disastrous 6% by 2030. Any increase above 2% would be likely to have a significant effect on sea levels and weather patterns. For the first time, the IPCC also notes alarming possibilities such as the relatively rapid melting of polar ice and the future melting of ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica.

Climate change and energy security are inextricably linked. As the song goes, one cannot have one without the other. The current means of providing our energy supply cannot be sustained. As the Minister correctly noted, between 80% and 90% of Ireland's energy comes from imported fossil fuels, which leaves us extremely exposed in terms of availability and price. We must make changes now. By 2020 our energy use will have increased by a further 30% on current levels. As the Minister indicated, 85% of gas consumed in Ireland is imported, principally from the North Sea where supplies are being depleted by 7% to 8% per annum. We are dependent on Norwegian gas for as long as it is available to us. However, Britain and Ireland have been refused entry into one of the largest gas fields in Norway located, I believe, at Troll.

When gas supplies run out, including those located in the west and south-west, we will be totally dependent on Russia unless an extraordinary find is made in the meantime. We must explore every possible avenue to change the way in which we produce energy. The recent Government White Paper entitled Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland must not be left to gather dust in Departments, it must be acted on.

It has been a great pleasure and honour for me to be elected Chairman of the new Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. As an all-party committee we will not treat these issues as political footballs. I hope the work of the joint committee will be of great benefit in dealing with the horrendous problem we face. We also hope to secure the co-operation of members of the public by speaking in simple language and producing documents that will bring home to everyone that each of us has a contribution to make in this regard. It helps, for instance, to switch off lights or computers when they are not needed. Every evening we see lights blazing in Government Departments, yet politicians lecture everybody else on the need to conserve energy.

Starting with small steps will lead to big things. It is a question of education and the new committee will try to educate people in simple language and alert them to the action they can take at home, in the workplace or in terms of travel and transport. As with Deputy McManus, rather than using my car, I hop on the DART a couple of times a week. This is a simple step.

I welcome this debate as the beginning of a process and hope the committee I chair will provide further opportunities for debates in the Chamber when it produces reports.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Speaking on climate change is necessary but not futile. We all know that on issues of this nature actions speak louder than words because alarm bells are ringing across the world. We must wake up to the threat posed by climate change. Having seen the reality and the movie, we must now see concerted action. Concern among members of the public is growing as they become increasingly aware that they must modify their carbon footprints and take individual responsibility for the protection of our environment for generations to come.

Erratic and extreme weather conditions have become common in recent years. This year, Britain experienced the worst summertime floods in its history, leaving several people dead, 600 injured, requiring the evacuation of approximately 3,500 people from their devastated homes and swamping and destroying food crops. Ireland is not far behind Britain in this respect, having this year experienced the wettest summer and heaviest rainfall recorded in June and July since records began. At the same time, temperatures held to seasonal norms.

The Minister must significantly increase renewable energy sources, in particular, combined heat and power, CHP. In other countries in Europe, such as Finland and Denmark, significant percentages of heat demand are supplied by district heating systems and CHP stations, with 50% to 60% of homes supplied by district heating systems. Combined heat and power stations and district heating systems provide a wide range of benefits, including improved energy efficiencies of up to 50%, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient use of bio-fuels and space savings.

Converting the Lough Ree power station in my area of Lanesboro to combined heat and power and distributing the heat energy through a district heating system would make sense in today's energy conscious environment. Such a conversion could be replicated throughout this country. At Lanesboro, this would require converting the power station to a combined heat facility and building a network to distribute heat energy to residential, commercial and industrial users.

As I stated, combined heat and power and district heating are common in many countries across Europe. Finland and Denmark are two such countries which have significant percentages of their heat demand supplied by district heating systems and CHP stations. District heating, the most common heating system in Finland, is used in nearly all cities, towns and built-up areas. Some 2.5 million Finns live in homes heated by district heating. A wide range of benefits are gained from combined heat and power stations and district heating, including improved energy efficiency in the case of the former.

If rolled out, these technologies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by distributing the heat produced in the generation of electricity to households and removing the need for these households to use fossil fuels for heating space and water. In addition to eliminating emissions from home boilers, a CHP station which centralises the generation of heat can more easily be operated on alternative bio-fuels that distribute these fuels to households. It would also improve air quality.

The recently published reports on climate change have identified beyond doubt the significant challenges facing us all in light of global warming. Ireland and particularly the Minister, who is at the helm on this issue, face a challenge to reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions. The CHP system should be an important element of the Government's response to this challenge. Ireland can learn much from countries such as Finland and Denmark, which are leading in the implementation of CHP and district heating systems. Scientific evidence points to the need for urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the short and medium term. The IPCC has indicated that in the longer term global emissions would need to be reduced by up to 70% or to 1990 levels.

Two of the world's top polluters, China and Japan, agreed to what is in essence a vague pact on climate change yesterday. Progress may seem small, but the pact will serve as a basis for negotiations at the UN meeting next month in Bali and should make it easier to negotiate a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Tommy Broughan.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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The Minister delivered a very different speech from the script circulated, so I will respond to the two speeches. Nobody doubts his genuine views on climate change. It is worth noting that thanks to environmental groups, including the Green Party, the message has been taken on board. I am very conscious of the fact that within this House there has been a significant shift in terms of attitude and approach to what is the biggest political challenge facing us. It is important now for the Minister to talk in terms of implementation. It is easy for us to trade statistics and percentages across the House, but that does not lead us where we need to go.

The evidence from the most recent report of the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change established by the United Nations, is unequivocal. The human contribution to global warming is not in doubt. Let us take it as given, the evidence is overwhelming. For a long time that was not the case. For ten years the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats tried to ignore this and deliberately bought their way out of their responsibility to face up to the challenge. They had a kind of pollute now, pay later approach, which meant significant sums, hundreds of millions, had to be put aside to pay for carbon allowances. We can all see now what is coming. At Bali, a process will take place that will lead to much higher limits and targets being set. We will have to live up to these and will not be able to simply buy our way out. If we tried to do so, that would cause suffering to our economy and taxpayers, and, most important, we would not be playing our proper part in trying to protect the planet.

Other countries are changing. It is interesting that Australia, which refused to sign the Kyoto Agreement, has now, because of public pressure, begun to implement a ban on conventional light bulbs. How many Ministers here will it take to change a light bulb? These are the kind of questions we need to pose. Both Sweden and New Zealand have already committed to becoming carbon neutral. In the United Kingdom, as soon as the IPCC report was issued, Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded by stating he was ready to consider increasing his government's target of a 60% cut in Britain's carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 to an 80% cut. He talks about Britain becoming a world leader in the new technological revolution to beat global warming.

What, however, has our Taoiseach to say? What do we hear from him? The silence is telling. Unless the Taoiseach drives this from the top, we will fail. Whatever agreement follows the Kyoto Agreement will need to be signed by Prime Ministers. It is not sufficient to have just Ministers for the environment on board if we are to bring in the changes needed. In choosing to enter Government with Fianna Fáil, the Green Party had to sacrifice many of the promises it made before the election. I understand why it entered Government, but it will not be forgiven, if at the end of its term of office, it has failed to make the breakthrough on climate change. To reduce our carbon emissions to the necessary levels will require courage, leadership and new thinking. It will only happen if there is a concerted effort from all the key Ministries, led from the front by the Taoiseach.

The inconvenient truth is that we cannot depend on the Green Party Ministers to bring about the transformation needed. No disrespect intended, I do not doubt their sincerity, but they will not be able to turn the tanker around unless there is a fundamental change from all the relevant Ministries. That can only be led from the top. For example, the Minister for Finance has been asked about the promised carbon budget. We do not know what shape that will take and it is valid for us to ask questions on that and receive a response. We need to know how the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year will be accomplished. Getting information from Ministers on these matters, including the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, can be problematic.

The impression we get is that no attempt to address this matter was made in the preparation of the programme for Government; no attention was given to the structural formation required in the Government to bring about these kinds of changes, for example, the linkages between the Departments of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Transport and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The linkage we need to have going through Government in terms of policy and delivery does not exist. Rather, there is a fragmentation of responsibility, which is a concern and should be addressed.

The Labour Party argued for a new Department to deal with climate change and energy. This would have had the overarching role to steer many of the requirements for administrative structures. The new Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security — I compliment Deputy Seán Barrett on his appointment to this significant and important committee — has no lead Minister attached to it, but a number of different Ministers will be involved. We have been promised a high level commission on climate change, but I am not sure how it fits into our structure. What is this commission? Is it part of the committee or is it something else? Will the Minister clarify that in his response?

The energy efficiency action programme was launched by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, although the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has responsibility for climate change. I am glad the Minister with responsibility for energy is in the House, although climate change is, strictly speaking, not his responsibility. He has, however, a central role ——

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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I do not agree it is not my responsibility. Everybody has responsibility.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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That is exactly my point. However, and this was clear to me from my short time in Government, unless we have structural cohesion, no matter how much talk there is, nothing will happen. We need a clear structure in place where there is agreement and cohesion and where people will take responsibility. This does not seem to be happening. Despite the fact transport is such a creator of carbon emissions, there seems to be no direct linkage between that Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Perhaps this sounds petty, but it is a good example. The Power of One campaign is about individual responsibility, but the Minister cannot even convince any of his fellow Ministers to use cars that reduce emissions. He says he is promoting training and accreditation schemes, but he must be aware that when it comes to the accreditation of renewable energy installers, the blockage in terms of all-Ireland accreditation, is in the Republic, not the North of Ireland. He must also accept that the greener homes scheme, phase one, collapsed because it overran its budget and got into deep financial trouble, while the new scheme has no funding in place as far as we can see. I hoped Estimates might be on the way, but they are not.

Frankly, I think there is goodwill among the public. We do not need to sermonise continually and in any event I do not think it works. We have to test it and see where people are willing to make changes. It is like the plastic bag levy, if they are given the opportunity they make the change but we need to do it intelligently. The approach by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government where he talked about penalising cars over 1.6 litre engines even though they could be more energy efficient than smaller cars does not ring true with me and it can enrage as much as encourage.

There was an issue about reducing the public sector carbon emissions to energy reduction by 33%. That is a huge reduction. We have hospitals and schools in need of structural improvement as well as insulation which will require a big investment of money and we do not know from where it is coming.

We have great opportunities here. We could have an electricity generation system that is completely carbon neutral. That is a possibility. The technology is coming. We should try to be at the cutting edge of developing those technologies to ensure we live up to our legal and Government responsibilities but also to lead the way for other countries.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. This is the first opportunity I have had to face him across the floor of the House. Obviously the general tenor of his speech was an attempt to convince the country of the importance of this issue and it is critically important to our civilisation. An element of his speech defends the purchasing of carbon credits. When he was on this side of the House he would have regarded that as an outrage.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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No. I supported it in Opposition as well. They are part of the Kyoto mechanisms and I support the Kyoto mechanisms.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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My feeling at the time, certainly in respect of the Minister's party leader, Deputy Gormley, was that he was gravely concerned about it because he felt it would reduce the importance of convincing people of the need to change their habits in regard to energy use. He has significantly modified what was his position in the past.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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Not yet.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of smart metres. The deficiency in his speech is that I do not get a sense, after six months in Government, of somebody laying out a programme of significant actions, for what may well be a short enough Government, across the energy and transport areas which would begin to meet our commitments and lead our people in a way is environmentally sustainable. That is the big gap I see in what I have heard and read in the rest of the speech.

Transport remains the sector which consumes the most significant amount of energy, a massive 41% according to the recent SCI report. In that area a striking amount of energy is used in the freight and road haulage industry. I expect the Minister to bring forward significant proposals and yet today we heard nothing of what the Government might be prepared to do in that regard. The huge energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the transport area are the result of the massive and growing dependence on the car. The recent 2006 census figures, presented by the CSO, confirm this along with the growth in the use of the car by up to 1 million people and the reliance of schoolchildren and their parents on the car as the vehicle of choice to get to school and work. The State's chronic under-investment in the public transport infrastructure is strongly reflected in the 2006 census findings. I expect to hear more from the Minister and his party in regard to the slippage in Transport 21 and the failure to set out key initiatives to bring about a fundamental shift in mode of transport.

For example, he was very vociferous in Opposition on the issue of county council and State body car fleets and yet after six months in Government I have heard of no initiative whatsoever in this regard, not even in regard to the Cabinet. There are many proposals on car advertising. SIMI, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, was outside the Dáil over the last couple of nights talking to Deputies and spokespersons and making certain points about VRT levels and so on. However, there is nothing in terms of a policy on, say, a carbon levy, how VRT will work or how road tax will work in the future.

I commend the Minister on the introduction of smart metering from early next year but we have heard another sermon on important truths, of which we are all convinced. However, what we seek from the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Government, is a series of proactive measures to try to change our country's energy usage behaviour.

12:00 pm

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Climate change is clearly an important issue and one that has attracted huge attention, both internationally and here, in recent years. One of the key points being made here is in relation to the shortcomings in the Government's strategy to address the issue, and in relation to meeting the targets set in the national climate change strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government has stated it is confident of meeting a target of an average 12% annual reduction over the next five years, but that has been called into question, as has the apparent absence of any contingency plan in the event of failure to attain annual targets. The key to achieving the reduction targets is obviously a marked increase in other energy sources. That is central to the strategy, and revolves around increasing the proportion of electricity produced by renewable energy sources to 15% by 2010, only three years away. Are we on course to meet that target?

Apparently, Britain and other EU states are casting doubt on their ability to meet the EU's 2020 target of 20% energy from renewables by a long way. Yet when questioned about this last week, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, seemed confident this country will meet the 2010 target of 15% and the much more ambitious target of 33% by 2020. I commend the Minister on his confidence and enthusiasm but many of us have yet to be convinced that sufficient is being done to ensure the targets are attained.

For example, wave and tidal energy are two areas that have been pointed to as having huge potential. There are a number of research projects going on around the coast and Sustainable Energy Ireland has granted €1.4 million to this research. Perhaps I am wrong but would this appear to indicate that work on this sector is still of a very minor scale and that there is no real indication that energy production from wave and tidal generation will increase to the extent it must if the targets are to be achieved? I hope I am wrong but there are many who remain to be convinced that it is being pursued on a level sufficient to ensure this will be the case.

The other key source of alternative energy supply that has been identified is biomass. Under the climate change strategy, the Government has set a target of a 30% share for biomass input into peat stations by 2020. They have also pledged to meet a much more ambitious target for bio-fuels as a proportion of overall vehicle fuel use than the EU. This is very laudable but the day-to-day measures being taken to achieve this must be under constant scrutiny and subject to re-evaluation if they are seen to be insufficient.

For example, are the necessary measures being taken to ensure that enough energy crops will be grown here? Does the grant system encourage both farmers and processors? Could more be done in regard to set-aside land or the forestry sector, for example, to ensure sufficient crops are planted? The danger is that, even if we attain the target with regard to vehicle fuel use, we will be replacing our current dependency on the import of fossil fuels with a new dependency on the import of biofuels. It would be better for the environment certainly but would represent a major missed economic opportunity.

We need to build our own strategic indigenous fuel production. This is why Sinn Féin has argued not only for the need to promote the growing of energy crops for which this country is eminently suited, particularly to the conversion to producing a thick syrup from sugar beet for ethanol production. The Government refused to use its golden share to make that happen and instead Greencore has laid off its entire workforce and moved into property development, speculation or whatever one would call it. To build such plants from scratch would cost many millions of euro and there are doubts about the viability of building brand new plants in the immediate future. The growing and processing of crops is key to meeting targets. The question is whether those practical steps are being taken now — I am doubtful.

There is also a need to promote greater energy efficiency in domestic and commercial buildings. Indeed, I note that those responsible for the Oireachtas buildings are becoming more proactive on this issue. For a while we received e-mails reminding us to switch off computers and so on. This is very laudable and it is undoubted public awareness schemes have a part to play in reducing the unnecessary waste of energy. While this applies as much to households as to places of work, I am not satisfied EU legislation regarding building insulation or the grant incentives to improve energy conservation in the home are adequate to achieve this. This is why my party has called for the inclusion of all those in receipt of fuel allowance in the greener homes and insulation grant schemes. While these involve a considerable initial outlay, they are cost-effective in reducing energy loss, cutting fuel bills and tackling fuel poverty.

A recent Society of St. Vincent de Paul survey found that 79% of lone parents, 78% of elderly people and 81% of local authority tenants struggled to pay for energy and heating costs in their homes. There are many reasons for this but it is proven that many people in this situation live in buildings that are badly insulated, meaning they must use more heat, which worsens their plight in regard to meeting bills.

I strongly urge the Minister to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to include people in receipt of the fuel allowance, where practical, in the greener homes scheme. As I noted, it will greatly increase the current expenditure under the scheme but would quickly prove to be cost-efficient and would reduce the level of fuel poverty by reducing expenditure among the most vulnerable categories to which I referred.

It is most important that there is a strategy to deal with climate change and that important mechanisms are in place to keep it under constant review. We need to ensure there is annual reporting to track the progress of meeting targets on the reduction of emissions. Only in that way can shortfalls be addressed and ameliorative actions taken to ensure targets are adhered to and, if possible, exceeded.

With regard to energy security, it is of course vital our offshore gas deposits come on stream. However, this should not happen as at present where not only is there no guarantee that the gas from Corrib, for example, will be prioritised for domestic use, but the State stands to gain little in the way of revenue. It would be the height of idiocy if such an important resource was to be used solely to benefit the companies that hold the licence and remain free to use it as they see fit, rather than it being public policy, as it is in other countries such as Norway, to ensure the national interest, in terms of security of supply and fiscal benefits, comes first.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I am honoured to speak in this debate. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on his appointment. I note he took a definite strategic decision to speak in global and messianic terms — I do not know who would be able to pick him up. There was no mention of the Minister's script, which I believe was the correct option for him to take. I cannot stand scripts. They are the most convoluted, contrived mechanism for talking, whereas there should be plain talking. The Minister clearly decided to talk in macro terms when he had the opportunity to do so. While I am not complaining about the Minister as he does not decide how much time he has to speak, he was given scant time to paint a global picture.

I do not wish to sound patronising in making the following point, but I find when attending political meetings that in general party members say they are glad the Green Party is in government because they somehow feel green issues will be looked after. This is not good enough, however. The Minister must infuse the Cabinet with his messianic zeal, as he sought to do in the House today.

I wish to deal with one issue that jumped off the page at me. I hope the Minister does not leave the House until I make my point. We have all been weaned on the idea of the Kyoto Protocol being good, very good, but I find it fraudulent that it allows for countries to purchase carbon credits, a concept with which I have great difficulty. While I accept I am a member of a Government party and that most parties subscribe to the Kyoto Protocol, it is wrong that countries can somehow pass up on reducing emissions in favour of buying carbon credits from unknown sources in some remote part of the world.

It is stated that Ireland is not alone in purchasing credits among countries that have targets to meet under the protocol. It is also stated that climate change is a global problem, which is the excuse given for the use of carbon credits, and emissions reductions achieved in any part of the world play an equal part in solving the problem. That is a cop-out. We will not work hard at emissions reduction if we can make up the difference with carbon credits from some remote, unpronounceable part of the globe, and then sit back smug and satisfied.

A new Kyoto protocol is planned for the period 2008 to 2012. I hope we will in some way begin to distance or remove ourselves from this aspect of the protocol. I find it bogus that one can somehow shrug off what must be done because some other group or small island in a remote ocean is not using energy. On an intellectual basis, I find this concept difficult to cope with and fraudulent.

I am not sure how the Minister would make this point in a speech or script. In global terms, we of course agree with the Kyoto Protocol, but we must recognise that the protocol was in some ways an interim, get-you-there measure that was meant to apply until we got to grips with what all this means.

I lauded the global, messianic way in which the Minister spoke. It was good to hear the macro element dealt with in this way. However, we must present in sexier terms the global challenge which faces us all. Talking in global terms is fine but we must present the issue so each man and woman who gets up each day and goes to bed each evening will see it affects him or her.

Young children are greatly interested in this issue. My eldest grandchild is only five years old so I do not ascribe to him any marvellous intellectual prowess. However, I hear him talking about what he is being told in school — he tells me not to leave my kettle plugged in, which is fair enough. At least he is getting that message, so the next generation will be that bit different. While the Minister spoke on a macro level, I find the Power of One campaign very interesting because people can relate to it, which is the whole point. There is no point in talking about global matters if people cannot understand what they can do in their homes every day to save energy. The same applies to the workplace. The subject of climate change can be made more interesting for the public on a micro level and we should be doing more about facing up to it. This major topic relates to individuals and their ability to effect changes in this respect. The Power of One tag is evocative. I would like to hear the Minister's view on that strategy, which is hugely important. We all know that we must unplug our televisions, radios and kettles as well as switching off lights. They are mundane everyday actions but they matter a lot. Ordinary people living in remote rural areas have a role to play in this regard, just as others do in a big emporium or plant that is conducting a large-scale business.

Everyone can keep energy-saving policies at centre stage but the issue must be made attractive to the public, which is where the Power of One comes into play. Sometimes, one may say that it is all about America and George Bush is not the slightest bit interested in climate change, which he is not. One may say that China is not interested either, given its 18% economic growth and air pollution. People may ask what is the use of unplugging a kettle in the face of such international examples but if everyone thought like that where would the world be? We would not be on the path to dealing with climate change, which is undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing us. The Minister said it was greater than any famine or both world wars combined. We have recently commemorated world war dead and some good television programmes were broadcast, particularly on Channel 4. In such programmes one can see, for example, how thousands died in a useless endeavour to control a hill in France. While we are all going to die some day, it is sad to see death on such a large scale occurring needlessly. We should take action on climate change for the sake of our children and grandchildren. It concerns the continuity of the human race. In a strictly historical sense, small as Ireland is, our role will be defined by how the country acted in the face of this challenge which concerns future generations. In years to come, I do not want my five grandchildren asking what their grandmother did in Parliament about climate change. If we do not act now it will affect them in future. Each of us faces that challenge and it is not a burden to be borne lightly. It is a heavy burden to which we must pay cognisance. The Minister should address those who want to hear how they can meet this global challenge in their own individual way. The Minister has a big task ahead of him and I wish him well in undertaking it.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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This is one of the most important debates in which I have ever participated in this House, and I have been here for quite a while. Climate change and global warming constitute the greatest problem facing humanity today and I do not say that lightly. People may say that problems such as drought are more important and approximately 1 billion worldwide do not have access to clean water. The difficulty is, however, that that figure will double or treble if the current rate of increase in global warming continues. People may say that poverty is a bigger problem and I am all for supporting those involved in the relief of poverty at home and abroad. It is clear, nonetheless, that global warming will cause the poor to become poorer. Hunger is a serious problem also but global warming will ensure that those who exist at subsistence levels will starve if it remains unchecked. People may also say that flooding is a major problem and we have seen what happened in Bangladesh in recent weeks. Imagine what will happen to such low-lying countries, however, if global warming continues to prompt a rise in sea levels — they will be directly in the firing line of catastrophic flooding, worse than hitherto experienced.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Cork city.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I will come to the home patch but I want to refer to world health matters first, including malaria which will spread as a result of global warming. I was discussing the matter with a family who were in Africa during the summer and I unfortunately had to read up on malaria, which is back big time in Africa. One must recall that we had malaria in southern Europe up to 50 years ago. I am not saying it is heading our way but it is certainly an issue to be considered. Such issues should prompt us to reflect that the biggest problem facing humanity today is global warming and climate change. In simple terms, it encompasses and exacerbates all the main problems confronting us.

Closer to home we have not escaped the effects and will not do so in the years ahead either. There is clear evidence of this from the flooding that has occurred in Cork city centre and in Dublin. There is incontrovertible evidence that flooding will become worse. We already have unnatural weather patterns and new animal diseases as a result. I had never heard about bluetongue until a few months ago, yet one can take it as almost certain that it will continue to spread because midges, which carry the disease, do not recognise national boundaries. There is little we can do about bluetongue apart from vaccinating animals as a precautionary measure. We have witnessed problems such as coastal erosion and flooding in low-lying areas. Last summer we saw the forest fires in Greece, which can be traced as a consequence of global warming. We have many forest areas here also.

Some people take an apocalyptic view of these events and maybe they should, but I prefer to be guided by scientific evidence. It is quite clear that global warming is already well under way and is likely to accelerate. Recently, I was fortunate to hear Dr. Martin Manning deliver a lecture on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in Dublin. He is one of the authors of the latest report by the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change. It is scary stuff and all the scientific evidence clearly points to obvious conclusions. The report was completed in Valencia by 150 experts who drew on international resources and expertise. It presented unequivocal evidence on the effects of global warming on the world's climate system. If anyone doubts this they should look at the scientific facts, which I find convincing.

The first conclusion from Valencia is that in the 21st century the earth's climate will be different from anything experienced during human civilization. Second, this is different from past natural changes in climate because it will affect humans and we are causing it. Third, reducing carbon emissions to the atmosphere can limit the magnitude of the change. That is as far as they would go, although a number of scary comments were made, including that scientists could not keep up with the pace of change and, therefore, could not predict fully the consequences. It was stated at the meeting that we had an opportunity to manage the avoidable and avoid the unmanageable. That is the challenge that confronts us.

Ireland has a role to play. I will not make political statements but our record since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol is deplorable. It has been a scandal but that is in the past. This debate is intended to achieve a common approach to a problem that has worsened since 1990, as the State has missed all the Kyoto Protocol targets. A 13% increase on the then 54 million tonnes of carbon emissions produced globally was projected but it is now more than 70 million tonnes. The targets internationally must be much lower than the 1990 baseline of 54 million tonnes. A reduction of 60% in this baseline has been mentioned, which highlights the magnitude of the task facing us.

A complete change in attitude is needed. Above all, significant leadership is required for what should be a national priority. That is happening in other countries. I was particularly impressed by a Westminster committee report on the draft climate change Bill in the United Kingdom. The UK Government is not only setting targets, it is also underpinning them in legislation. I compliment those who introduced a Bill in the Seanad a few months ago to open the debate. We must establish targets we can reach and underpin them with enforceable, binding legislation. The Westminster committee made 77 recommendations on the draft Bill and it would be well worth our while to consider them. I do not say they should be slavishly followed but there is an opportunity where we will not have to reinvent the wheel. Advantage could be taken of the committee's research. Its recommendations should at least be examined and considered to ascertain their appropriateness to Ireland.

Deputy O'Rourke often adopts a basic common sense approach to debates such as this. She referred to the purchase of carbon credits, a let-out in some ways. When the State had loads of money, it was an easy let-out but it should not be. The Government should not rely on the purchase of carbon credits — partly because money is running out — and flexible mechanisms to achieve our targets. A political action plan, which should be underpinned with legislation, is a national priority. The UK recommendations highlight that the plan must be led by the Prime Minister or, in our case, the Taoiseach. The debate concerns many Departments, including the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Transport and Finance. That the Taoiseach is merely chairman of a Cabinet committee on this issue is not sufficient. He should have responsibility under legislation, similar to the recommendation of the Westminster committee.

Major public awareness and total political commitment underpinned by legislation will result in people supporting the political action necessary to do what should have been done long ago. However, it is not too late. Let us start now.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I welcome this debate and the opportunity to exchange views on this matter of national and global importance. I notice the deserted look on the Labour Party benches to debate this issue However, it is unsurprising, given that this time last week and again this morning Deputy Stagg told the House debates such as this were mere parliamentary fillers. Given that the Deputy served as a Minister of State in the Departments with responsibility for the environment, transport and energy and communications, it is all the more disappointing he considers a debate on a crucial matter such as this to be a "motherhood and apple pie proposal".

As the Minister of State conveyed to the House, this is the greatest issue facing our era. Last week, for the fourth time, the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change stated the impact of future temperature change would be severe. With temperatures predicted to increase by between 1.1° Celsius and 6.4° Celsius during this century and sea levels predicted to rise by up to 0.59 of a metre, the world is poised for a potent melting pot of hurricanes, storms, drought and the extinction of up to 30% of its species. Is the Arctic about to say "Goodbye" to the polar bear as Ireland says "Hello" to the little egret?

We do not need to look at the statistics and prognoses of the latest report to know adverse change is upon us. In many of our gardens roses are still in bloom. Swallows only left our shores for sunnier climes a few weeks ago. One swallow does not make a summer but an autumn with many is a weather vane for the change in our climate. Our potato farmers have experienced a summer of devastating flooding and cases of brown rot, a disease attributable, some say, to global warming. Ireland does not need a history lesson on the effects of potato failure but I doubt many Members of the House are aware that successive repeats of the crop's failure will ultimately mean we will have to turn to maize and other crops as a substitute. Dr. John Sweeney of the UN climate change panel who spoke recently at a conference in Kilkenny on the impact of climate change on agriculture warned that the flooding Ireland may become accustomed to might mean farm animals spending the entire year in sheds and slatted houses because the weather would leave farmers with no grass for grazing. Professor Sherwood Rowland who discovered the link between CFCs and the destruction of the ozone layer once said: "What's the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if in the end all we're willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?"

Careless use of the world's resources has brought us to an era of peak oil and irrefutable evidence of climate change and we must be ready to cope with its consequences. A post-carbon society is our new goal. The Green Party in government has fostered new thinking among decision-makers, householders and business people about creating an era of clean, renewable and resourceful energy, replacing the age of oil and gas and our energy supply's subservience to the geopolitical crises of the day, one in which energy will come from wind, wave, crops and sun rather than sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Deputy McManus referred to the need for implementation but she should be aware it has begun. The Power of One campaign this year demonstrated the carbon and income levels that could be saved by an average household. The continuation of green energy schemes and the recent announcement by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of increases in current and capital spending next year for his Department are more than welcome. The proposed planning exemptions for micro-renewable technologies, outlined by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, show forward thinking and innovation. The proposed building regulations regarding energy efficiency and the recently published energy efficiency action plan are also signs of great progress.

Our role in government is to elevate our concerns on global warming from the scientific and theoretical to the political and practical. It is this determination that distinguishes the Green Party from other parties.

Perhaps the start of an old anti-slavery hymn sums up the moment which is upon us: "Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide." This is our moment to ensure that we take the necessary measures to protect our planet and to secure both the national and global economies in the face of the greatest moral imperative of our time.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am glad we are debating this topic. A criticism from Opposition benches was that having generalised debates avoids an obligation on the Government to set down specific targets, which would put it under pressure to try to meet them. Whether that be on subjects such as yesterday's debate on youth issues, the motion on which was very broad, or today's debate on climate change, the preference of Opposition parties would be for a Government motion on these areas, perhaps relating to the Government's White Paper on Energy, on which it would set out clear evidence and targets in terms of ambitious thinking in this area. That would enable us to hold a Government to account in time on commitments made and so on. That would be preferable to having general discussion on an issue, even when it is an issue of this importance. I want to be clear that irrespective of whether it be Deputy Stagg or any other Opposition Deputy, I do not believe any Member has a problem with debating climate change. We need to debate it over and over again to try to change a mindset. Our job is to promote action, offer leadership, set targets and be ambitious.

In terms of this issue I, for one, am glad that the Green Party is in government. I have no faith in Fianna Fáil, as a party leading the Government, to offer leadership in this area. All I have to do is judge it on its record over the past decade when a huge opportunity was presented to bring about ambitious change in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I contend also that my party, a big catch-all party, has not perhaps offered enough insistence and leadership in this area, but that must change. This role is not solely the remit of the Green Party, but by having a Green Party in government, I hope there will be an insistence on offering leadership on this issue at the Cabinet table. From my point of view as Fine Gael spokesperson on energy, I intend to hold the Green Party to account in that area and to push it in the right direction.

In a few weeks time an important conference will take place in Bali. I want to split my comments into two areas, one is the international aspect of this issue and the other is our responsibilities nationally. The conference in Bali will be the 13th United Nations Climate Change Conference. It follows 12 months of active debate and awareness raising about the fact that is now climate change. What the UN will attempt to do in Bali is to find agreement on a structure that will lead to a post-2012 global strategy to combat climate change caused by human activity. An international agreement needs to be found to follow the ending of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. This is necessary to move from what has been the first effort at international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Agreement to a much more comprehensive global effort and commitment on emissions to effectively save our planet from the irreversible consequences of climate change.

Using the correct lingo, the challenge facing the conference in Bali has been described as putting a roadmap in place for a future climate deal. That type of US language is, I hope, an indication that the United States will take this seriously in terms of the commitments it will make at a multilateral level in the future.

The key factor in any new deal at the UNCCC is that all the key contributors to CO2 emissions would show a willingness to buy into a new way of thinking on the issue. Otherwise the effectiveness of any new deal will be limited in the same way that the Kyoto Protocol has been. Without countries like India, China and in particular the United States signing up to an ambitious commitment to reduce CO2 emissions, we really are at nothing. The US contributes almost a third of global CO2 emissions and the rapid economic growth in the giants that are China and India is resulting in huge increases in energy production and industrial emissions. Without commitments from countries such as India, China and the United States, we are going nowhere. However, there are some causes for optimism in that regard. At the G8 summit in the summer I believe we saw the first real willingness to talk seriously about putting a framework in place post Kyoto, and that must be recognised.

I want to outline the facts, as many previous speakers have done. For many years when we have heard and even now when we hear environmentalists warn that Cork city will be flooded and that sea levels will rise by 20 ft, many of us have dismissed those people as extremists or as deliberately exaggerating to try to make a point. The reality is that such a theory is now a fact. The world is getting warmer, the more CO2 that is in the climate, the warmer it gets. The significance of the consequences that will confront us if we do not reverse the level of greenhouse gas emissions being released into the atmosphere is not an abstract theory but a practical reality.

The fact is that the globe is warming. The ten warmest years in history in terms of measuring the warmth of the global atmosphere have occurred in the past 14 years. It is also a fact that there is no scientific dispute on the general consensus on what is happening. The only scientific argument now is how quickly it is happening and how dramatic our response must be to reverse or limit the change. Earlier this year scientific evidence of global warming, as set out in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, put a face on the human reality on what is likely to happen if we do not act in a significant way.

The measurement or target that seems to have been set for us, which is generally accepted by most experts in this area, is that we need to try to limit the increase in global temperatures to 2°C, if possible. If we can do that, we can potentially avoid the kind of catastrophic situation against which many are warning. The challenge being laid down by the IPCC to achieve that target is one the enormity of which most people have no idea. What is being asked of the world essentially is that we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. What in essence that means for the developed world, for countries like Ireland, the United States, France and Britain, is that if we are to achieve that globally, we will have to reduce our emissions below 1990 levels by 60% to 70% or maybe even 80%. With the level of growth and population increases in the developing world, we will need to take more pain than the people there, if we are to allow development happen at the same time as reducing emissions. The enormity of the challenge is made even more significant when one considers what is happening in the worldtoday.

In 1960, the world's population was 3 billion. By 2000 that number had doubled to 6 billion people. Within 40 years the rate of population increase had been equivalent to the time it took over ten centuries to reach 3 billion, and by 2040 it is estimated that the world's population will be close to 9 billion people, all needing heat, water, light, power, transport, housing, jobs and so on. There are close to 7 billion people on the planet and we are way above our emission targets. This means the challenge we face on an international basis needs to be hammered home again and again. I believe the people are leading the politicians on this issue in the western world in particular and are ripe for change. The politicians and policy makers, in many cases, are dragging their feet. If we give leadership on this issue in an ambitious manner, we may be surprised at the positive response from the public.

I hope we will have a detailed debate on the White Paper on Energy in the not too distant future, which will give me an opportunity to highlight what Ireland can do in an ambitious way in this area over the next five to ten years. If we are going to lobby, as I believe we should, at international level for ambitious change, we need to ensure we are not seen as hypocrites. Ireland's performance over the past ten years has been an embarrassment in terms of promotion of renewable energy sources and as regards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This year we are putting aside €270 million to buy our way out of the problem. Imagine what could be achieved if that type of funding was directed at renewable energy sources and alternatives in terms of public transport and so on, which is the type of thinking we need to have.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on climate change and energy security. At the outset I find myself in agreement with one of the previous speakers, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, who said in his opening remarks that this was one of the most important debates he had contributed to. It is a pity that the Press Gallery is absolutely empty because the issues we are debating today will have profound effects on our lives and those of our children in years to come. A major change is taking place and while it might not be that radical in terms of tomorrow or next week, we are looking at something very significant and fundamental, and it is probably not receiving the attention, mediawise, it should.

I disagree with Deputy Coveney, who would have preferred that a motion was tabled. The problem with debating a motion is that he and I would speak along party lines, either for or against. I prefer Deputy White's position where she said this debate should be an exchange of views where we can tease out the issues, rather than adopting hard and fast positions for or against a motion. That is the way in which we should view today's debate. At the outset, I remind the House that ten years ago we might have been debating somewhat differently. People would be asking whether there was such a phenomenon as global warming and if climate change was occurring. That debate is over and everybody recognises it is a real issue. In looking at the age profile of Members of this Chamber, while not being rude to any of my colleagues, in our time we can physically see the changes. Some people spoke about the dramatic events we have seen.

When I started to drive, for instance, on going out at night I put a newspaper on the windscreen of the car because it was likely to be frozen. I cannot tell when the windscreen of my car was last frozen, because it does not happen. When did we last see snow in Ireland, as we would have on a regular basis when I was growing up? I have plants flowering in my garden at times of the year I have never seen before and I ask my wife whether she has planted something new. Things are different, global warming and climate change is occurring and I believe we all recognise it.

I believe also that companies involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas are probably too powerful and have a vested interest in this whole area. If we were to switch off the supply of oil and gas in the morning, as if it did not exist, those very significant and powerful companies would redirect their efforts massively into alternative sources. However, the incentive is not there for them at the moment. They have spent their money on oil exploration and they want a return. We need to be mindful of that.

When we talk of alternative sources, such as wind and so forth, research and development to make them truly productive and efficient needs substantial further investment. For this country there are options, such as wind, wave and tidal power, solar and geothermal energy and so forth. We have wind turbines, solar panels and a certain amount of geothermal energy production, but we are only scratching the surface. It is a new feature for us, not just something on which the Government must lead. It is something people must buy into and take a degree of personal responsibility for. Whether it is new house that is being built and insulated better than ever before, or whatever, the public at large, as Deputy Coveney indicated, is leading. People now recognise that something dramatic needs to be done. As an island nation, we have not invested significantly in tidal and wave power. What has been done so far may be regarded as small. There could, however, be enormous potential in this area for an island nation. I should like to see further debate, exploration and research and development in that whole area.

I am conscious the Irish economy has grown very significantly in recent years. The challenge facing us is to manage the transition from oil and gas hydrocarbons to alternative sources and at the same time sustain economic activity in this country. It would be easy to make some of the policy changes people propose, but there would be economic consequences. In that regard, this is where the purchase of carbon credits has a part to play, particularly during a transition period.

I want, briefly, to refer to the area of bio-fuels. Much has been said about this area of development and in this country we have embarked upon it. I agree with Deputy Coveney as regards the growth in world population. If we were to allow the growth in bio-fuels to replace oil for our cars, the damage globally would be enormous, because it would have enormous impact on our fuel supplies. We debate in this Chamber and in the western world what is best for us. We all drive our cars and go home to centrally heated houses, and we think it would be easier to get rid of oil and use bio-fuel. That, essentially, is the background to this debate. Taking this to its logical conclusion, we could have most of the arable land producing bio-fuels and it would adversely affect food supply. At times this whole question of economics supporting trade baffles me. I just do not understand it. I cannot understand why land is set aside in the western world, producing nothing. At the same time on other continents tens of millions try to survive on barren soil. There is something fundamentally wrong. I express a serious caution that we should not produce tonne after tonne of bio-fuel and jeopardise the food supply.

Ireland will be fine because we are economically prosperous and have the wealth to buy in food, as well as the wealth to create the bio-fuels. However, this is a global issue and there are other people who will suffer very significantly, It is absolutely beyond me to understand why people who are starving and without economic significance in this world are in many ways being isolated from this debate. I caution that the advancement of bio-fuels must not be pursued in a manner that might jeopardise food supply. That is a separate debate but we need to be conscious of it.

Times are changing and everyone within this Chamber and beyond recognises that we need alternative energy sources. Individuals need to be aware that they must also make the change. One frequently hears many local objections to planning applications for wind farms. I often make the point to the objectors that they are objecting only because they can see a wind turbine but that they frequently do not object to unseen factors, such as carbon dioxide emissions. We need to make tough decisions to allow the development of alternative sources of energy, including geothermal energy, which offers great potential. In my area, Newcastle, County Dublin, there are some surveys in progress which, if successful, will allow whole communities to avail of a non-carbon dioxide emitting energy source. We must make choices in this regard. This debate should be regarded as an exchange of views on climate change rather than a debate on a strict motion.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Climate change is happening already. Even if we manage to reach our emission reduction targets and if temperature increases are limited, it will have a significant impact on Ireland. According to research carried out in universities and other institutes in Ireland, we will experience more extreme weather events, including floods and storms. For example, 100-year floods will become more frequent and there will be coastal erosion and less rain in summer.

Climate change will affect Ireland and not just developing countries. Specific groups will be particularly vulnerable, including the poor, the elderly, farmers, tourism employees, coastal dwellers, those living in river basins who are experiencing water shortages and those living in areas prone to flooding. There will be a great impact on the environment, including on species and habitats.

The impact of climate change on vulnerable people, including the poor and elderly, is highlighted in the draft summary report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, launched on 16 November. It states those affected will not just be those living in poor countries or regions especially affected by climate change, "Within other areas, even those with high incomes, some people can be particularly at risk (such as the poor, young children and the elderly) and also some areas and some activities." Furthermore, it states: "There is increasing evidence of greater vulnerability of specific groups such as the poor and elderly in not only developing but also developed countries."

The Minister, in his contribution, was speaking in global terms and in this regard it is obvious that international agreements and targets are integral to the mitigation process. However, climate change will have an impact on local communities in Ireland, including the aforementioned vulnerable groups. Sooner rather than later, we must prioritise measures at home to adapt to climate change such that communities will be protected as much as possible.

There have been a number of important studies in Ireland on the impact of climate change and an EPA report shows Ireland will experience significant climate change impacts, most of which are now unavoidable, with widespread negative effects for the environment.

We need to put in place measures today to adapt to climate change and we need to climate-proof our county development plans, prohibit urban sprawl, invest in measures that will protect communities from flooding, have early warning systems in place for extreme weather events and ensure water is available for human consumption, agriculture, irrigation and industry. Ireland's tourism industry will have to adapt to the impact of climate change if it is to survive. If farmers have problems obtaining water in Ireland and elsewhere, we must ask whether there will be future food shortages. This issue was raised by Deputy John Curran. We must find solutions to these problems now and prioritise research and development in this area. Much excellent work has already been done by Irish researchers on the impacts of climate change.

We must plan well ahead. We are now planning housing developments that will not be completed for decades to come. Many county councils will begin to review their county development plans next year and the new plans will be drawn up with reference to rezoned land that may not be built upon for many years, if not decades. We must now take into account the effects of climate change and carbon emissions in plans for future housing developments. Mitigation and adaptation are often treated as separate issues but the documentation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that "there is high confidence that neither adaptation nor mitigation alone can avoid all climate change impacts; however, they can complement each other and together can significantly reduce the risks of climate change".

Irish planning legislation is not strong enough. It outlines that councils "may" have regard to flooding studies, the national climate change strategy and ministerial guidelines, but it is not mandatory. They can continue to rezone to allow urban sprawl, one-off houses, building on flood plains and the development of poor public transport links. If we allow this to continue in county development plans, all our climate change targets will just be cosmetic.

The Green Party will just be spouting hot air on climate change if the Government does not put in place, as a matter of emergency, proper public transport, thereby reducing significant emissions and unsustainable development. If it does not ensure local authorities are staffed with inspectors to ensure regulations on energy-efficient buildings are complied with, the regulations will not be worth the paper they are written on. We must decide on where we cannot build because of the impact of climate change. If we build in risk areas, we must invest in the necessary local infrastructure and services that will protect the communities in those areas in so far as this is possible. We must ensure we protect the specific vulnerable groups that need special protection, including the poor, older people, children, farmers and those living in high-risk areas, including coastal areas.

Deputy John Curran referred to carbon credits. It was reported in The Irish Times yesterday that €40 million will be required next year to purchase carbon credits. There are to be negotiations in Bali this year to set down even higher targets on the reduction of carbon emissions than those that already exist. Therefore, the cost of credits for Ireland will increase further unless we get our act together. Taxpayers will end up paying for carbon credits because the Government did not get its act together in the past ten years to provide public transport and prevent unsustainable development. If it had done so, we would not be paying as much next year and in the years thereafter.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is proposing to set up a climate change fund through the Green Party. He was interviewed on "Morning Ireland" yesterday and he stated he would give all his pay increases to the party. He believes this would represent a good use of the money and wants to raise awareness of climate change. Earlier this year, he announced a major public awareness campaign on climate change, to be conducted by his Department. If the Department is to have a campaign, why does the Green Party need to launch its own? This demonstrates that the Minister's proposal is just a publicity stunt. It is badly thought through considering how he responded to the different issues raised about it on Tuesday. It is an attempt by the Green Party — of all parties — to find ways around the legislation to prevent individuals donating over a certain sum to political parties. It is a disgrace.

A report in today's newspaper suggests the proposal not to accept the pay increases was never raised at Cabinet level. The Green Party Members could choose not to accept their increases. The money could remain in the Exchequer and could be used for the Government's climate change awareness campaign rather than that of the Green Party. They could do what was done by the Labour Party, Fine Gael and Democratic Left in 1994 when the first decision of the then Cabinet was to turn down proposed ministerial pay increases. Why are the Green Party Ministers not proposing this in Cabinet meetings if it is serious?

1:00 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important debate on climate change. We are having this debate at an important time, given the major climatic changes that are taking place. It is also a great opportunity to think, plan and change.

I disagree with many of the recent criticisms of the Green Party. I welcome the fact that there are two Green Party Ministers in the Government. It is a progressive development. The Ministers concerned are doing their best and, rather than attacking them and their party, we should support them. I disagree with the Green Party on some issues but it is important that we support it in respect of issues like climate change, recycling and caring for the environment.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I thought the Deputy was supporting them.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I also will not listen to any old guff from some politicians about salaries. Let us face reality. Many Deputies regularly donate sections of their salaries to charities and voluntary groups. They do not look for gold medals or go on RTE looking for headlines. We do not make a big deal of it like some politicians in this House. That is the reality, with which I like dealing.

I strongly support Deputy O'Rourke's comments. She said that at most meetings she attends, she comes across people who say that it is great to have the Green Party in government, and most people with whom I talk say it is refreshing to see the Green Party in government. We have a responsibility to support the party. It is not rocket science. The Green Party has some new and radical ideas and, rather than simply attacking it every day with more guff and hot air, as has happened over the past seven or eight days, the best thing for us to do is to sit down and agree policies on the very important issues of climate change and recycling. It is very important for us to put these issues on the record. The two Green Party Ministers are doing an excellent job.

I also raised this issue in my talks with the Taoiseach in respect of the formation of the Government. Section 8 of my agreement with the Taoiseach is a strong section that deals with climate change and supports sensible solutions from any party that comes up with them. I agree with many parties in this House on particular issues. We have had the talk and hot air and are now looking for action and a solution. I have had enough of the talks about talks so let us go on and take action.

Speaking at a meeting of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, IPCC, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, told delegates that the humbling scenes he had witnessed were as "frightening as a science fiction movie". He said: "In Antarctica, the message was chillingly simple: the Continent's glaciers are melting." He went on to say: "In the Amazon, I saw how the rainforest — the "lungs of the earth" — is being suffocated." He described the fight against climate change as the defining challenge of our age, a position I support. We should listen to the UN Secretary General on this issue. His observations are backed up by the science contained in the IPCC fourth assessment report, which warns of the abrupt and irreversible consequences of climate change.

The message to all Members of this House is simple. It is not just about attacking the Green Party, which we should support, but politicians must agree a deal in upcoming talks in Bali to curb greenhouse gas emissions or the world faces potentially catastrophic consequences in this century or the next. We can do so in Bali and should do so now in Dáil Éireann and get cross-party support on this issue. Let us stop the guff we have heard here for the past nine or ten days, which has involved attacking the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and trying to take them out when they are trying to put forward sensible policies.

Ireland must try to effectively improve industrial energy, move to new kinds of power generating capacity, try to come to grips with the transportation sector and persuade people to buy cars that use less petrol or use energy-efficient appliances. We all have a role to play. It is not just a matter for the Government and the Minister, it concerns the broader society and community. Whether it involves recycling or dealing with energy issues in one's home, that must be part of the strategy. Climate change is a cross-party issue for which everybody has responsibility, which I welcome.

If one looks at the details of it, one can see that climate change is increasingly seen as the biggest environmental challenge facing the world. While the problem springs from industrialisation and the transport revolution, developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change. They are the countries that will be most affected by flooding, drought and crop failures. There is a risk that in many of these countries, the millennium development goals will soon become a receding target.

What can be done? Can issues such as the UN clean development mechanism yield adequate results? What contribution can we expect from the European Commission's proposed global climate change alliance? What greater level of financial commitment is needed and what will be the timetable? How can we better integrate climate change into our development policies, which is a key issue. I must be honest and say that in the 1980s, I was more interested in economic and social issues, particularly during the downturn in the economy, when I worked in the north inner city. These were bread and butter issues concerning housing, poverty and unemployment. We have now moved on from those issues and must look at development issues, as well as climate change. It is very important to focus on those issues.

It is also important that we link this to local issues. In my constituency, the debate about the proposed 52-acre infill in Dublin Bay is an issue about which we must be very concerned. In my community of Clontarf, I support the campaign of Dublin Bay Watch to save Dublin Bay. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach in the talks on the formation of the Government. It is important to connect to local issues because if we start destroying beautiful habitats like Dublin Bay, there is the danger that the immediate area could be affected. I am talking about flooding in Clontarf. It is very important for me to mention these issues.

In respect of assisting areas, I welcome the fact that Dublin City Council is to install flood defences on the promenade. This will consist of a levee along the centre of the grassed area and building a sea wall opposite the shops at St. Anthony's Church in Clontarf. The old Clontarf baths are privately owned and the council proposes to put retractable gates in this area to maintain flood defences. These are sensible proposals in respect of this issue.

There is a link between local environmental issues and the international issue of climate change. Let us accept that climate change is a reality. The evidence is overwhelming and the scientific community is unanimous in believing that climate change is caused by human activities, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels which emit greenhouse gases. Glaciers are retreating, the Arctic is melting, sea levels are rising, deserts are expanding and species are disappearing. These are just a few dramatic results of our energy production and usage. If these results are to be kept within bearable limits, the rise in global average temperatures must be kept to 2° Celsius. According to the latest report of the IPCC, greenhouse gas emissions must peak and decline within the next ten to 15 years. This requires a major shift in our energy and transport policy. It is very important that we point out the importance of these policies. One of the sensible options proposed in this House is the formation of a special committee on climate change representing all parties in the Dáil. This is a positive development, as is the fact that it will be chaired by Deputy Seán Barrett because he will get on and do the job, refrain from having talks about talks, roll out sensible solutions and deal with the issues on a practical level.

It is all very well to come in here, say what one is against and have the wider debate about climate change. I will throw out a few sensible solutions. There are three fundamental measures a Government can take, although everyone bears responsibility. We should all push for an international agreement to keep the rise in global temperatures to 2° Celsius or less. We should examine enacting a climate change law that provides for an annual carbon budget and a 3% annual reduction in Irish greenhouse gas emissions. Another proposal, which is important for developing countries, is to support them in adapting to unavoidable change. I will put my suggestions to the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, to which I have had the honour of being nominated. While discussing these matters we must face up to climate change. We must also address energy and the radical changes we must make in the next nine or ten years.

I suggest those in opposition criticising the Green Party listen to some of the sensible policies the party has. The Opposition should support the Green Party in government, give it a break and cut out guff, hot air, heckling and point scoring. The Opposition should listen to sensible solutions. The men and women on the street wish to implement green policies. Let us get on with the job.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I wish to contribute to a debate that is possibly more futile than yesterday's debate on young people. This is a debate on whether to have a debate on nuclear energy. We are getting used to hearing markedly gloomy scenarios on energy cost and supply from the Taoiseach and his Ministers in this Chamber. We heard it again yesterday when the Taoiseach stated that we must get cheaper, more effective and efficient energy from electricity companies and that the issue is hugely important for the future competitiveness of the economy. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, stated electricity supply this winter could be tight, whatever that means.

When people attempt to discuss the cleanest and potentially the most cost effective energy source — nuclear energy — as a solution, people around here run for the door like frightened children. There is much footwork in the Chamber today. In the debate on climate change and tackling global warming, if one accepts nuclear energy is the cleanest source, why are we not discussing it?

I have examined the comments of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Earlier this year he stated that with a country of our grid size there is a real difficulty with nuclear power because the most cost effective size for reactors today is too large for the Irish system. However, according to EirGrid, the people who manage the national grid, there are several plants on the grid in the 450 MW range and new technology means that 600 MW plants are commonplace. According to industry sources, 600 MW is the most commonly cited size suitable to Ireland's grid. Globally, nine reactors under 700 MW are being constructed.

The ESRI agreed with the Minister at the start of the year, stating that the economically feasible scale of a nuclear power station would exceed the capacity of the Irish market to absorb its output. Last month the ESRI changed its position substantially. It called for a comprehensive economic study to examine the cost of the Republic's ban on nuclear energy and questioned the rationale behind the Government's target to source 33% of power from renewable energy from 2020, which will require a sharp increase in wind penetration.

In the latest debate about having a debate on nuclear energy the Minister stated it was extremely expensive, takes too long to build, and that we have no skills in the area. The Minister has no idea how much this would cost because no one has undertaken a comprehensive study in this country on the cost and cost effectiveness of a nuclear plant. The new reactors are built in 14 months, not an extraordinary period. It is unusual to say that we have no skills in the area. When one has a problem but no expertise, one can bring it in to solve the problem. Our historical experience with nuclear energy is considerable. The person who first split the atom and received a Nobel Prize for physics was Mr. Ernest Walton, from Dungarvan, County Waterford. We have plenty experience in nuclear energy, more so than many countries.

There is no scientific or economic rationale behind the Government's refusal to commission an analysis of the long-term benefits of nuclear energy for the country. It has more to do with electoral politics. If the Green Party cannot make difficult decisions it is an indication that the party is as politically expedient as anyone else. There is an elephant in the room in the debate on energy. We may not need a debate on nuclear energy but we need the Government to analyse the utility of nuclear energy as a component of our energy needs, cost and security in the next 30 years. There is no simple answer but I ask the Government to determine its viability in the interest of the economy.

We are overly dependent on fossil fuels and our sources are drying up. In the next five years we will pay hundreds of millions of euro in fines, or carbon credits as the Government likes to say. Some 90% to 95% of our energy is derived from fossil fuels, we are the third most dependent on oil in the European Union and are more dependent than the United States. The EU average cost for a megawatt hour is €14.16 for domestic and €8.63 for industrial use. Ireland's cost is €16.70 for domestic and €11.32 for industrial use. By comparison France's price is €5.78 for industrial use, less than half Ireland's figure. France generates 75% to 80% of its electricity using nuclear power. Our economy is suffering and this will continue because at least 90% of our energy is being imported and both domestic and industrial users are paying above average for electricity. Not long ago we paid 5% less than the European average.

Besides setting aside €200 million to pay the fines, or carbon credits, the Green Party is considering a petrol tax and penalising gas guzzlers, namely, cars with engine sizes greater than 1.6 litres. These include Ford Escorts and Toyota Corollas. That measure will be really popular. It will not be called a carbon tax, rather it will be called an increase in motor tax or VRT. Meanwhile the Minister for Finance is saying that taxation matters are a matter for him. While politicians jostle to justify their ideologies, our economy will have some tender moments. The people in power are unprepared to engage in the cleanest and most cost effective source of power, nuclear energy. That is a classic profile in political cowardice and prevarication.

During the summer, the ESB indicated that, with more research, nuclear and clean coal will be options for the long-term policy mix. A Forfás report stated that our ability to attract high levels of foreign direct investment will depend on the country's capacity to deliver a secure and uninterrupted energy supply at competitive prices and the building of a nuclear plant could be justified. Forfás has been joined by IBEC, the ESRI and the ICTU. We are very dependent on fossil fuels and will continue to pay a heavy price and fines as a result.

The Minister says that renewables can pick up the slack but I do not believe that. Renewables will not close the gap in energy consumption in the coming years. The Taoiseach referred to hard decisions on energy and climate change. At the very least we must determine the best options. We must analyse the potential benefits of nuclear energy by commissioning a comprehensive financial assessment of the costs involved and the possible benefits to our economy and in preventing global warming. It is not a difficult decision, it is basic government. That is where we need to start.

Photo of Michael FitzpatrickMichael Fitzpatrick (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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As a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Our planet is warming up and our climate is changing because of man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Many human activities — manufacturing, farming, driving our cars and heating our homes — are responsible for generating greenhouse gases. The resulting gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are contributing to a gradual warming of the planet. This warming is already disrupting climate patterns and without strong counter-measures, it will intensify. In Ireland we are threatened with wetter winters, increased flooding and summer droughts. Rising sea levels will increase risks to our coastal cities, towns and villages and we will experience more intense storms. This is the doomsday scenario that the experts are telling us will come about, unless we begin to combat the effects of climate change.

The national climate change strategy sets out, in a detailed and specific way, the comprehensive measures the Government has put in place to enable Ireland to meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The strategy brings together the range of actions being taken by the Government to reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. It provides the necessary overall Government co-ordination to meet Ireland's Kyoto Protocol commitments and builds on progress made since the original national climate change strategy was published in 2000.

The strategy contains measures relating to all sectors of the economy, including energy, transport, agriculture, the residential sector and businesses. It includes existing measures put in place on foot of the previous national climate change strategy and, subsequently, through the National Development Plan 2007-2013, Transport 21, the White Paper on Energy and the bioenergy action plan. It also includes a series of additional measures to deliver the overall objective of putting Ireland on a path towards a low carbon economy.

The strategy shows that the total contribution of measures adopted by the Government will account for 80% of the effort that Ireland will need make in order to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments. The remaining 20% will be made up by Ireland's use of the flexible mechanisms. These will allow parties to the Kyoto Protocol to support the development of clean technology in the developing world in return for emissions credits. A sum of €270 million has been allocated under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 for investment in such projects over the lifetime of the strategy.

The Carbon Fund Bill will provide the necessary legislative underpinning for the National Treasury Management Agency to undertake its role as purchasing agent on behalf of the State. The public sector will be required to measure, report and reduce its emissions. Public sector bodies will have specific targets to reduce their emissions and will be required to indicate progress in their annual reports. The Government will require the exclusive purchase of energy efficient light bulbs for use by public bodies by the end of this year. It is planned that the Government will publish another climate change strategy for the period to 2020, when Ireland's post-2012 commitments are known.

The current strategy sets out, on a sectoral basis, a combination of existing and additional measures that will reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions by over 17 million tones of carbon dioxide equivalent in the period 2008-12. Additional measures for the purposes of the strategy encompass policies and measures adopted since the previous projections were completed for the Government in March 2006.

Ireland is playing its part and will meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. However, this is just the first step. The international community is working towards an agreement on strengthened global action to control emissions. This will follow on from the Kyoto Protocol. The European Union, including Ireland, has already committed to further significant reductions in emissions by 2020. Achieving these reductions will require sustained effort. All of us — the Government, public authorities, businesses, farmers, families and individuals — must play a part. Working together we can achieve our targets without compromising competitiveness, economic performance or quality of life. We will benefit from harnessing more renewable energy, using energy more efficiently and embracing low carbon technologies.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland must limit the growth in its emissions to 13% above 1990 levels over the 2008-12 period. Measures already in place and additional measures outlined in the national climate change strategy will effectively reduce our overall emissions from almost 80 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year to our Kyoto Protocol target of 63 million tonnes.

The national climate change strategy 2007-12 builds on Ireland's first such strategy and its purpose is to show clearly the measures by which Ireland will meet its 2008-12 Kyoto Protocol commitments, to illustrate how these measures will position us for the post-2012 period and to identify the areas in which further measures are being researched and developed to enable us meet our eventual 2020 commitments.

We must reduce our heavy reliance on fossil fuels and expand the use of renewable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar power 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 reduce the CO2 output of large industrial plants through their participation in the EU emissions trading scheme. Grant schemes are supporting homeowners and businesses to switch to renewable energy and 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 Power of One campaign. 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.

While the energy efficiency of the economy has increased, Irish business and industry can and will do more. Further efficiency gains are achievable. Agriculture and forestry can make a big contribution to reducing greenhouse gases. The strategy envisages considerable expansion of forestry and energy crops, continued support for these industries and incentives for farmers to become involved. Agriculture is also a significant source of greenhouse gases and is responsible for 28% of Ireland's overall emissions. The strategy is targeting further reductions through improved environmental management on farms, with reduced fertilizer use and better manure management.

Climate change cannot be ignored. We have the strategies in place and must now enact them in order to ensure future generations will reap the benefits.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Before I call Deputy Pat Breen, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt, wishes to make an announcement regarding Irish representation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.