Thursday, 11 November 2010
Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security: Motion
That Dáil Éireann notes the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled "Second Report on Climate Change Law", copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 13th October, 2010.
I will begin with a quote from Kofi Annan who stated:
Climate change is a silent human crisis. Yet it is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time. Already today it causes suffering to hundreds of millions of people, most of whom are not even aware that they are victims of climate change.
These words remind us of the challenge that faces our global community. The challenge to which I refer has been masked by the economic crisis, but climate change is a real and pressing danger. It is caused by the developed world but it impacts most on the poorest of the poor.
There is a compelling need to enact climate change legislation in Ireland. Science informs us that global warming must be capped at 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophe. Recently, EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard issued a stark warning when she referred to the floods and mudslides affecting parts of the world, the extraordinary heatwave in Russia and the monsoon floods in Pakistan and Ladakh and stated that these extreme weather events either reflect climate change happening or are a foretaste of it.
While our focus has naturally been on the economic crisis, we cannot afford to ignore the reality of climate change. The recent Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report shows a significant reduction in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions due to the recession. However, as the EPA's director, Dr. Mary Kelly, states:
We need to use this opportunity to embed fundamental emission reductions in the economy in order to meet the very stringent EU 2020 limits and to move permanently to a low carbon economy. We should not rely on a recession to meet our targets for the future.
The only way to respond to Dr. Kelly's call is by enacting a climate change law.
I thank the Government for providing time to debate this issue but talk is not enough. It is clear that there is all-party agreement in favour of the Bill that is included in the joint committee's report. It is worth noting that, despite repeated promises from the Government, it is the only legislation to be published in this area. Time is running out, for both the Government and the planet. I urge the Government to take the next logical step by adopting the Bill. I make this call not only because the Bill has all-party support but also because it provides a robust, statutory basis for the Government, the Parliament and society in general to tackle climate change.
I want to thank the Chairman, Deputy McGinley, and the members of the joint committee for their support and for their agreement in respect of the Bill to which I refer. I also wish to thank Mr. Ger O'Donovan and Ms Claire Power who drafted this excellent and complex item of legislation. I extend particular thanks to the organisations and individuals who critiqued our proposals along the way.
We have heard a great deal with regard to the need for cross-party consensus in respect of the budget. The Bill we have brought forward is proof that parties can work together on issues of global significance. If the Government has the courage to adopt it, this would reflect a national determination to set Ireland on a new course in respect of climate change.
Many promises have been made by both parties in government but we are still waiting for action. In May 2008, the Taoiseach made clear his commitment to leading change in respect to how we interact with our environment. He stated that we should no longer see the environment as something that limits our development. In April of the same year, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, informed a Green Party convention:
You all know that when we made that momentous decision to enter Government our primary motivation was a desire to tackle the defining issue of our age – climate change.
On 7 October last, Senator Dan Boyle promised that a Bill would be cleared for publication within a fortnight. However, we are still waiting.
The Government is in its death throes and there is still no sign of a climate change law. I do not underestimate the difficulties involved with drafting legislation in this area. It is already clear that there are blockages within and between Departments. The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Finance and the Taoiseach are all being cited as creating obstructions. The Cabinet sub-committee on climate change did not meet in the past 12 months. The only meeting that was scheduled had to be cancelled as a result of what were termed "unresolved issues". The Bill I am presenting on behalf of the joint committee is specifically designed to overcome turf wars and the silo mentality of Government Departments and ensure real co-operation between the latter. It is vital that the Government delivers real co-operation as well as leadership otherwise its efforts will fail.
The joint committee's report sets out a fully drafted Bill that builds on the previous report on climate change law. The explanatory memorandum published by the joint committee in 2009 described the architecture needed to meet the challenge, namely, new institutional arrangements, more transparency, greater accountability and policy formulation. The joint committee proposes that responsibility for ensuring our targets should rest with the Taoiseach. This is a crucial distinction from other climate change legislation and is an important step forward. As leader of Government, the Taoiseach has responsibility across all Departments and can literally hire or fire Ministers. One of the great frustrations the joint committee has encountered is the lack of an integrated approach across the relevant Departments. I refer here to the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and local Government, Transport, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
We have already seen, in the context of resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland, that an all-party approach is crucial, with the Taoiseach being accountable to the Dáil on a weekly basis. That principle is embedded in the Bill that has been drafted by the joint committee. The other provisions in the Bill are the setting of targets; the establishment of a climate change office in the Department of the Taoiseach, with staff drawn from the EPA and Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI; the setting up of an independent commission of experts on climate change; the establishment of a multi-annual carbon budget and a carbon dividend fund; the preparation of a national climate change strategy; and the introduction of an adaptation strategy. The details relating to these provisions are contained in the joint committee's first report and the Bill is informed by a comparative assessment of legislation in other countries such as the US and Britain.
One point that has continually arisen in the debate on climate change is the need for business to have certainty in respect of the targets that are set. This matter certainly informed the debate on climate change legislation in Britain. It is also clearly part of the debate in this country, a fact which I welcome.
I welcome the statement by the Irish Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change promoting climate change law. Investment in low carbon technologies means new jobs and commercial development. The Bill provides business opportunities arising from that certainty. In its submission to the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, it set out clearly the business perspective on the need for legislation. It called for: "The Government to introduce a climate change law establishing a 2050 emissions target, carbon budgeting and a climate change commission, the Department of the Taoiseach to take overall responsibility for climate change policy."
That is precisely what the Bill recommended in the report sets out to achieve. This is further evidence of the importance of this Bill being adopted by the Government. The group states further:
Ireland can become a leading destination for green investment, innovation and enterprise. We can replicate Ireland's past success in attracting investment and establishing global hubs in key sectors such as financial services, IT and pharma-chemical industries. There are a range of opportunities for Ireland in this new era, from renewable energy to smart information and communication technologies to developing a sustainable agrifood industry.
This is the business case to put Ireland on a new low carbon path. We can create jobs and reduce emissions at the same time but we need a good statutory framework within which to make that transformation and that is what the Bill provides. We need smart Government which is fit for purpose and has eliminated the red tape and lack of joined-up thinking that characterises so much of what we currently do in regard to climate change.
This is not just about us. Rather, it is about how we, as a global community, face the great challenge of our age. In the same way that we rose to the task of creating a fair and peaceful agreement in Northern Ireland we need a united effort led from the top, driven from below and underpinned by legislation at home and internationally. The Kenyan Nobel prize-winner Wangari Maathai said, "Climate change is life or death. It is the new global battlefield. It is being presented as if it is the problem of the developed world but it is the developed world that has precipitated global warming."
I hope the Government will adopt a positive approach to the Bill. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has urged cross-party support and consensus building of late. Here is his opportunity. The publication of a climate change Bill is included in the programme for Government. We have an all-party agreed, fully drafted Bill and it is now up to the Government to ensure the good work done by the Oireachtas committee does not go to waste. The clock is ticking for Ireland and the rest of the world.
I welcome the presence of the Minister of State in this debate. He contributed to the joint committee before he became a Minister of State and was very positive in his approach to this Bill. With no disrespect to him, I regret that a Cabinet Minister is not in the House because I understand that heads of a Bill will, it is to be hoped, be presented to the Cabinet next Tuesday. It is essential that the issue is taken seriously by the Cabinet, which is where decisions are made. We have had many promises and have made a big effort in the all-party committee which is the only body in this House that is currently functioning and focusing on climate change, a fact which I find extraordinary.
A proposal came from the Green Party, for which I commend it, that there would be an all-party Oireachtas committee. It has worked extremely well, first under the leadership of Deputy Barrett and now under Deputy McGinley, but there is nothing else. The sub-committee barely met last year and has not met at all this year. I appreciate that other issues are very pressing - nobody under-estimates that - but climate change will not go away. If we bumble on hoping that things will work out or depend on the recession to keep our carbon emissions deflated that will not meet the challenge.
This is an issue on which, it is to be hoped, there will be some global consensus but the fact that it is so difficult to create global consensus means there is a greater onus on us as one country to get our act together, provide the statutory framework and work together. I am committed to working with the Government on this if it shows that it has really got the message, in terms of how we do this, and how we get over the problems of interdepartmental rivalries, fragmentation and bureaucracy, which is the continual complaint of people in the business sector, the NGO sector or at community level who are meeting the challenge in their own way and find Government is not able, equipped and fit for purpose. That is what this Bill sets out to do and that is why I urge the Government to take it on and debate it on Second Stage.
Ciarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Legislation, regulation and behavioural change are at the heart of what is required to tackle climate change and I welcome this timely second report from the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security.
In the Seanad last week I said I appreciate the considerable amount of work that went into producing the report and the importance of having a cross-party perspective to influence and inform the development of future policy and legislation here. This is particularly valuable in encouraging and building public support for strong climate change legislation. I had the privilege of being on the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and would like to put on the record of the House the commitment Deputies such as Deputies McManus and Coveney have given to the committee over the past three years. A cross-party approach is required if we are to get buy-in for the action required.
In the past year the wider interest in climate change within the developed world has slipped to a significant degree. Gone is the high profile that global warming had in the national and international media in the run up to the Copenhagen conference in December last year. Gone are the compelling news stories and feature articles that appeared in the print media and the accessible and very effective documentary programmes on television. Above all, I regret to say, that gone also is the general expectation of agreement on a new ground-breaking international treaty this year to succeed the Kyoto protocol.
Within this vacuum, despite the overwhelming international scientific consensus and empirical evidence, we have seen the rise in the media of so-called climate change scepticism, which is clear proof if ever it was needed that complex and inconvenient truths are very often vulnerable to simple lies. Why has that wider interest and attention slipped so dramatically? Why are we not supposed to be as engaged on global warming matters now as we were this time last year? What do we propose to do about it? These are real and important questions and the joint committee's report serves as another timely and important reminder that the threat from climate change remains as great today as it was last year and the year before.
Despite the current domestic and international economic problems, climate change is still the greatest medium and long-term challenge facing the world. Earlier this year new data from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies showed that 2009 was, despite an unreasonably cool winter in much of the northern hemisphere, the second warmest year globally since records began in 1880. I heard Commissioner Hedegaard say she believes this year will be the warmest year we have had on record which, if it is true, is a very sobering fact.
2009 was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the hottest year on record, and tied with a cluster of other years, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007, as the second warmest year since record keeping began. In other words, the past decade was the warmest decade ever recorded. Globally, we have seen the impacts of climate change - massive flooding in countries such as Pakistan and unprecedented heat waves in Russia. In Ireland, within the past year we have witnessed some of the most severe weather events ever experienced, including unprecedented flooding and cold spells, which have resulted in major economic and social costs.
However, Ireland's geographic location currently insulates us to a large degree from the impacts of climate change. Many millions of people, particularly poor people who contributed the least to the problems of climate change, are already coping with the impacts of global warming and bearing the brunt of its impacts. One need only look at the state of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa to see that there is a real crisis which is no doubt influenced by the impacts of climate change. Whether it be droughts, to increasing floods, to lower agricultural productivity or to more frequent and severe heat waves and storms, many rightly fear that matters will only get worse.
Climate change is also a significant human rights issue. As the former UN Commissioner and recent founder of the new Climate Justice Foundation, former President Mary Robinson, has stated in the past, the negative impacts on people of changes in climate do not always involve horrific headlines and images of hurricanes, floods or refugee camps. More commonly, they will be cumulative and unspectacular. Those who are already poor and vulnerable will continue to be disproportionately affected. Carbon emissions from industrialised countries have human and environmental consequences. As a result, global warming has already begun to affect the fulfilment of human rights, and to the extent that polluting greenhouse gases continue to be released by large industrial countries, the basic human rights of millions of the world's poor to life, security, food, health and shelter will continue to be violated.
The urgency of mobilising an effective global response to climate change demands consensus at all levels, from local to wider international level. Primary legislation is a hugely significant step in terms of underpinning our commitment and determination and cross-party consensus on key elements of the legislation will serve to reinforce that signal for stakeholders and observers.
In seeking to keep a sharp focus on climate change in Ireland, we must aim to keep it above political point-scoring and tactics. I am happy to respond to the motion on that basis and I look forward to hearing the other views across the House.
There are two clear and understandable reasons the wider public interest and attention slipped so dramatically. The first is the global economic downturn and the fall-out from the international banking crisis. The immediacy of both the issues and the required responses have consumed attention around the world. This fall-off in public interest may have created the impression that the climate change agenda has slipped in terms of priority and action but that is not the case as far as the Government is concerned. While the economic situation may be dominating media interest, work on the climate change commitments in the programme for Government continues to be progressed as a matter of priority.
I have heard it said that in these challenging economic times we cannot afford the green agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. If one looks at the new jobs that are being created in Ireland and the impetus and momentum internationally on new job creation, it is the green collar economy that will provide the jobs of the future. I recently read Van Jones's book entitled "The Green Collar Economy", and we are already seeing much of what he describes in action here in Ireland. Whether that be in renewable energy, the smarter travel programme, changes in the way in which we look at agriculture, there are strong signs that employment improvements are being found within the low-carbon sector.
I would ask can we afford not to address climate change. The Stern review prepared for the UK Government that forms the economic analysis for the UK Climate Change Act 2008 estimates that the cost of inaction on climate change significantly outweighs the expected cost of co-ordinated global action. Without effort to tackle climate change, the review predicts that the loss of GDP from climate change could cost the global economy significantly more than the global cost of action to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Furthermore, such a view is hugely short-sighted and potentially damaging for a small open economy with a strong focus on high-end inward investment such as Ireland. It also ignores Ireland's other major resource challenge - peak oil and Ireland's overwhelming dependence on imported fossil fuel energy. Just this week the International Energy Agency published its annual World Energy Outlook. It projects that crude oil prices will rise from €60 per barrel in 2009 to €113 per barrel in 2035 and oil demand will continue to grow steadily with all of the net growth in demand coming from non-OECD countries, almost half from China alone. Addressing climate change and peak oil are two sides of the same coin.
To have a sustainable economy, we must first have a sustainable environment. There is now a widespread international consensus that the development of resource-efficient and green technologies will be the major economic driver of the 21st century. As countries worldwide sought to boost their economies in the economic crisis through stimulus packages, there was a clear pattern of investment being directed towards infrastructure for less polluting transport modes, such as public transport, intelligent traffic management systems, low-carbon energy production, smart electricity grids and clean transport and energy-related research and development. Clear signs of transition towards a low carbon economy are emerging across the world, with countries attracted to the greener option because of its potential to create large numbers of new jobs. For example, while Europe was for a long time the world leader, the 2010 Renewable Energy Attractiveness Index now cites the US, and particularly those states with renewable portfolio standards, and China as the best investment opportunity for renewable energy. The global green-technology sector is expected to grow at 10% per annum over the medium to long term. In the context of securing national economic recovery, Ireland can ill afford to be left behind.
Unless we face up to our environmental challenges, Ireland cannot hope to meet its economic objectives. Climate change is the most significant environmental challenge facing us today - I wold say it is the greatest challenge facing mankind - and urgent and decisive action is required if we are to avert its worst impacts. We cannot afford to overlook or defer our own response and our role in supporting the case for agreement on a comprehensive global response.
The second reason the wider focus has slipped is the outcome of the Copenhagen conference. The heightened hopes and expectations of so many people were dashed by the failure of the process to deliver a legally-binding agreement that would trigger the comprehensive global response to climate change that is so urgently required. Just a couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Mr. Yvo de Beor and discussed the reasons for the failure of Copenhagen.
The Copenhagen Accord was a poor substitute for the anticipated new treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. In fairness, the accord contained some important provisions, particularly on the objective of limiting the increase in global average temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and on financial support for developing countries. However, it is not a legally binding instrument and its existence adds an extra layer of complexity and challenge to the international agenda.
Let us look ahead to COP 16. The immediate priority for the 194 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to pursue a programme of work to ensure real and substantive progress at the 16th conference of the parties which will get underway later this month in Cancun, Mexico. I hope there will be cross-party consensus that we can have representation at ministerial level in Mexico and I look forward to taking the matter further with the Opposition parties.
I want to see a high level of ambition for the Cancun conference, a level much closer to that which the EU set for the Copenhagen conference last year. However, I recognise the need for compromise in order to allow the process to recover from the disappointment of Copenhagen. It is now widely recognised that a new international treaty cannot be finalised at Cancun but I believe the parties can, and must, re-invigorate the process and take a significant incremental step forward. Such a step might constitute a set of decisions on key elements of the agenda that are already mature, and agreement on a programme of work to finalise a new treaty text as quickly as possible thereafter.
That would establish a realistic prospect of a comprehensive agreement at the following conference in South Africa in 2011 but it would leave just one year to mobilise the new treaty in order to avoid a gap when the Kyoto Protocol expires in December 2012.
Ciarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I will try to proceed quickly.
I want Ireland to play its part in the international climate change process. Through our own work - I have attended several Environment Councils in Europe - Ireland is at the fore with the other member states in pushing for international agreement as quickly as possible. The answer lies in global transition and in a significant global step-change to set the world on a new low carbon path. We have to look beyond the current economic downturn and plan to ensure that economic growth is environmentally sustainable in terms of carbon intensity, resource efficiency and climate resilience. I see strong signs of this already happening in Ireland. There are good news stories out there at present. As Deputies Coveney and McManus know, our renewable generation of electricity is approximately 15%, which is the second highest in Europe. This is a real change that has been made in a few short years. The US Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, was here last week and he was looking at how Ireland has been able to achieve such important success in such a short time.
We need legislation but we also need regulation and change in Government policy. Much of that change in policy is happening. In agriculture there is the quality assurance scheme for Irish meat and the UK-based Carbon Trust is involved in measuring the carbon production of Irish meat. This is a good news story in comparison to other forms of cultivation. In the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government there are changes in building regulations and in the Department of Transport in the changes in taxation measures on new vehicles. These are significant changes that are happening here and now.
Yes, we need legislation and we are on the cusp of the heads of the Bill being presented to the Oireachtas. It will be groundbreaking legislation and we intend to get it right. The legislative proposal under development will go beyond ensuring compliance with our EU and wider international commitments. The Green Party in Government is determined to ensure the legislation enacted will not only enshrine the policies and principles to reflect the core national objective of playing a real and progressive role in the global fight against climate change, but will also act as a driver towards achieving a more sustainable future across all sectors of society in Ireland. It is my intention that the Government Bill will be both innovative and inspirational, and I look forward to a frank and honest public debate in both Houses and with all stakeholders when further details are announced shortly.
I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Liz McManus; she and her team have put a huge amount of work into putting together not only a framework document for a climate change Bill but also a Bill itself, and this is what we are debating today. I was in Copenhagen last year, as was the Minister of State, and he will know there is now understanding among all political parties of the responsibility of mainstream parties, large and small, to play their part in ensuring climate change as an issue and a challenge remains central to a government policy regardless of who is in government. It is unfortunate that despite the fact that prior to the conference in Copenhagen last year we spoke about the need for the Government to produce a climate change Bill, or at least a draft Bill, to try to improve Ireland's credibility and negotiation position as an EU member, we still have not seen that legislation a year later. I do not want to introduce a party political negative element to this debate because that has not been the spirit of it so far-----
----- but it would have been unlikely that we would have seen a climate change Bill or a draft Bill next week if it had not been for the consistent and determined work of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security to force the Government to publish something. That is unfortunate. With no disrespect to the Minister of State, it is also unfortunate that we do not have either of the two senior Green Party Ministers present for the debate. To have a Cabinet Member present making commitments on behalf of the Cabinet and the Government would have been helpful in adding credibility to what is being said by Government parties.
I am sure many people in Ireland today, if they were listening to the debate this afternoon or were reading what we are debating, would ask themselves what climate change has to do with the enormous challenges that Ireland faces now. It is a more difficult challenge for us, but an equally important one, to convince the public, business people, people who find themselves out of work and people struggling financially that carbon emissions and the problems they create are still relevant to the running of Ireland in the midst of an economic, employment and fiscal crisis. I say to these people that this is the case. I am conscious of the fact that parties such as mine, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil have more of a responsibility, as so-called mainstream large parties, to sell this message than does perhaps the Green Party, with respect, because people already know and understand its views in this area.
A number of people state the last thing we need now is Green Party policy and that we need to get back to building a mainstream economy. This thought process misses the point. The reality is that the future of the Irish economy will not be built on doing what we did successfully in the past. Building roads, houses, hotels and factories will not solve Ireland's problems. What we need to build in Ireland is a new economy, built on clever thinking, efficiency, telecommunications and all of the technologies that will provide employment in the future to provide incomes for families in Ireland. We need to change our education system to prepare for this. The so-called "green agenda" sold by the Green Party is a much bigger issue than Green Party politics; it is mainstream politics and involves a mainstream economy. Anybody who thinks the Irish economy can progress and ignore the opportunities of which we can take advantage in this crisis is very naive.
What this debate and Bill is about is saying to people that we want, on an all-party basis, to commit future governments to a consistent and determined course of action which will fundamentally change the way in which the Irish economy functions, the way in which Irish people and Irish families operate and live, the way in which we move around, the way in which we produce food, and the way in which we communicate with each other. All of these have an impact on our environment and on the energy that provides for our lifestyles.
I take the point about the need for regulation and for persuasion on the need to change lifestyle, but ultimately what is required is certainty. One cannot rely on regulation and persuasion without a requirement to deliver on targets set down in law because we all know how politics works. When times get tough the easy decisions are taken, the easy cutbacks are made, and the invisible savings that are often the most calamitous in terms of their long-term impact are the soft options taken by Government. We need to cut expenditure and raise taxes to the tune of approximately €15 billion over the next four years. After this the challenge will continue. It is in this context we must ensure climate change and all of the issues and responsibilities around it are more than a feature - that they are a central plank in any Government's future overall economic strategy. I was sceptical at the start of this process about the need for climate change law. I thought that if governments do not meet their targets there was not much we could do about it, such as putting them in jail, for instance. However, I have changed my view completely. Our Bill proposes a legal obligation on the Taoiseach to set targets, to ensure that his Government meets those targets. We are asking any future Taoisigh to continue to do this by setting five-year carbon budgets and meeting legal obligations. This sends a strong signal to those who want to invest in the Irish economy, to invest in renewable energy, one of the few areas with significant private investment capital and gives such people certainty that the political and economic direction being taken by Ireland is consistent with their interests. If the climate change challenge is to be linked with economic recovery and job creation in law, this will give certainty to investors.
Unless the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has changed his mind, there is still a difference of opinion as to how to deal with climate change law. I know there are reservations within the Green Party about giving the primary responsibility to the office of the Taoiseach. I suspect the Government view will be that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, or a Minister for climate change, will be a climate change champion to win the arguments in Cabinet, set targets and make things happen. This may well work, depending on the personalities around the Cabinet table but it may well not work if the Minister with responsibility for this area is not sufficiently persuasive or powerful of if a Taoiseach dismisses this argument.
I am in agreement with my colleague, Deputy McManus, who has been very good on this issue, that the ultimate responsibility needs to lie with the head of Government. This is the main issue in this legislation. I ask the Minister of State to make the arguments that have been agreed in the all-party Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. The appropriate politician in Ireland to set down the ground rules and the targets, the performance indicators, is the Taoiseach, supported by an independent commission and by an office for climate change and energy security within the Department of the Taoiseach. This means the leader of Government, who is a member of a mainstream political party, with credibility outside niche environmental sectors will decide the policy as to what makes economic sense for Ireland in the face of the economic challenges over the next four to five years and also for the next 40 and 50 years. I also agree with the target set in the draft legislation of an 80% lower emissions figure by 2050 from a base year figure of 1990.
I hope we make progress in certain aspects as a result of today's debate. I hope we can give a message to the Government that any legislation needs to be supported by all political parties in this House because the likely scenario is that at some stage in the next 12 months there will be a new Government. I am not arrogant enough to say who will be in this Government.
We are passing legislation in a very unusual way. For the first time in my political experience - with the possible exception of Northern Ireland issues - we are trying to put together legislation which all parties will buy into and will support if in Government in the future. We are trying to put a new institutional framework in place that can survive different parties in Government with different agendas, priorities and ideology over the next 40 years. It is regrettable that the Government has decided to adopt the tactic that it will not accept a draft Bill from the all-party committee which it could change and amend but instead has decided to produce its own Bill. I hope the Government will take the elements of this Bill which it can live with and produce a Bill that mirrors what the committee and the rapporteur in particular has tried to do over the past 12 months. No political party and no Minister has a monopoly of wisdom on this issue. We should not try to play politics nor look for recognition or thanks for being the first to introduce a climate change Bill. For the first time in our history we should aim for Government and Opposition, collectively, putting together legislation which all future Governments will be able to implement.
Ciarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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On a point of order, we introduced a climate change Bill five years ago.
That comment from the Minister of State makes it all the more disappointing that he has not taken on board what the Opposition parties are now saying. In many cases the Opposition parties have learned from many of the arguments made by the Green Party five or six years ago and they now accept this should be mainstream opinion. Now that the Greens are in Government, they believe that only a Government party has the capacity to bring a Bill forward and this is disappointing.
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If I may make a brief comment, the proposed legislation will include much of what the committee has proposed. It will be a genuine attempt to incorporate the elements of consensus.
I hope that is the case but I have learned to adopt a wait and see approach with regard to this Government. I hope the heads of the Bill will be published next week and I assure the Minister of State that my party will give it as fair a hearing as I can provide. I look forward to the Bill coming before the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security for a frank and open discussion. It is somewhat unfortunate that the draft Bill has not been before the committee before now, considering the political expertise in that committee.
Bhí mé ag súil go mbeadh an Teachta Chris Andrews anseo agus má thagann sé, beidh cuig nóimead agam, ach fan go bhfeicfimíd, mar a deirtear.
I thank Deputy Liz McManus and my fellow members of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security for putting together the draft legislation. It is an important demonstration that this issue must have cross-party agreement because the legislation will need to be used by a number of future Governments, regardless of whether they serve their full time. This is how climate change needs to be addressed and it is very heartening that we have such awareness in this House at this time. Based on my recent membership of the committee it is encouraging to see the proactive nature of the contributions of those who have presented evidence, covering matters such as the economic effects of the high price of oil and gas, the business opportunities in the smart economy, the technological issues that Siemens covered recently and afforestation that Coillte discussed yesterday. All of this highlights that this is not an easy area in which to introduce legislation. It needs to take account of a number of economic factors as well as potential and therefore it needs to be broad as well as long term. I hope it will result in a fair hearing because by its nature it needs to take on board a number of sometimes quite competing interests. However, we need to distinguish between the people who, as the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, said, clearly articulate the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and those who come from a business as usual point of view. Some of those people are very powerful, which makes it all the more difficult to get one's scientifically-based evidence across. Because of the economic crisis, it does not allow for the - I was going to say luxury - necessity of a full debate, on which we need to focus.
There are good examples of countries that are embracing the changes. We are embracing them in terms of our own measures in the smart economy, retrofitting of housing, renewable energy developments and better planning. However, there are good examples including Güssing in Austria, Växjö in Sweden and Freiburg in Germany. In addition, Sweden has a national target of moving beyond oil by 2020. Those are the kinds of measures that highlight that to be competitive the resistance to change has to give way to a necessity to change in Government, the public service and all the political points of view in this House, which is not easy because change is particularly painful from an economic point of view.
I welcome that we will have the announcement of the Government's Bill, which is long overdue and which comes as a result of considerable debate between Departments and a wide range of sometimes competing interests. Credit is due to the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security for keeping the pressure on. I believe we will have a legally binding requirement to plan CO2 reductions for the first time, which is a breakthrough. At a time when we need to increase employment and meet our needs, we also need to move beyond a fossil-fuel economy, which will be to everybody's advantage and enhance the competitive status of the country.
I thank Deputy Sargent for sharing time. I commend the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security on its excellent work in producing its Bill. It is heartening that Members from all parties worked together constructively on an issue of not only national but also global importance. It would be nice to see the same sense of working towards the common good extended to other policy areas.
The Bill produced by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security has assigned responsibility for co-ordinating and enforcing action on climate change to the Department of the Taoiseach. While I understand the reasoning behind this, as explained by the committee, I am not sure that the Department of the Taoiseach is the most appropriate office to drive such reform. However, I agree that rather than responsibility being spread out among various Ministers and Departments, there should be a more centralised point of responsibility. I welcome the proposal to establish an office of climate change and renewable energy, and a climate change commission.
The current economic difficulties are not surprisingly the most pressing concern to every Member of this House and the public. However, the interlinked issues of climate change and energy security are without doubt among the most pressing global issues of our time. As a country we must work to reduce our emissions across every sector and play our part in ensuring security for future generations. The impact of global warming was witnessed at first hand last year when we had an unprecedented amount of rainfall resulting in devastation for countless families across the country. Rather than it being a freak event, experts at the time attributed it to the very real impact of climate change. The devastation of last year's rainfall drove home the need for real action on this issue. Last month it was reported that Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions had fallen for the first time in 20 years. A number of factors contributed to this, including, primarily, the recession. However, I have no doubt that measures taken to improve our efficiency have also contributed to this reduction. Despite this dramatic reduction, Ireland's emissions are still 10% above our Kyoto target. While I understand the work on the Government's climate change Bill is well advanced, I call for the heads of the Bill to be published as soon as possible. This issue is simply too important to be delayed any longer and I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure the legislation proceeds at speed.
It is ironic that even on one of its core principles, the need to address climate change, the Green Party will have achieved little in its period in government. It will point perhaps to the carbon tax that was introduced last year but as I pointed out at the time, it was merely another excuse to impose a new tax and had no impact on measures or programmes to address carbon emissions. A carbon tax if it is to work effectively should be revenue neutral whereas the measure introduced here was simply another means to increase revenue and in common with most of the other measures implemented, has fallen disproportionately on people who are already feeling the impact of the current austerity programme. Indeed it has been argued by experts in the field that an effective carbon tax, one that would reduce the use of carbon fuels would also reduce the amount of revenue from that source as logically if it was a success, then the use of transport using carbon fuels would fall.
The Green Party may claim that its introduction fulfilled part of its commitment to having the Government implement measures to protect the environment and to attain the ambitious targets set for the reduction in CO2 emissions, but there is little in it that will tackle the real underlying causes. Instead it has imposed an added burden in terms of taxation and will in no way help to change patterns of transport and overall fuel use.
For example, nothing in the manner in which it has been implemented will encourage people to use public transport rather than cars. It has been pointed out by people involved in the bus transport sector that if the Government was serious about encouraging a significant modal shift, it would not have imposed this tax on buses.
The other issue is that the tax has increased the level of fuel poverty. Taxes on domestic users of fuel, along with increases in the prices charged for electricity and gas, have significantly added to the cost of energy for households. Increasing numbers of people are unable to pay their bills or keep their homes adequately heated. This also leads to health problems and an increased burden on the health services, apart altogether from the impact on the households and individuals affected.
My comments may appear to diverge from the subject of this report and the proposed Bill but I make no apologies for raising the immediate consequences of introducing a carbon tax as a so-called climate protection measure at a time when ordinary people are being attacked on all sides. Pious gestures toward climate change count for little when the parties proposing them are sharpening their knives for an unprecedented attack on the lives of the ordinary people of this State.
I am pleased that the proposed Bill sets out fuel poverty as one of the issues to be taken into consideration when framing an overall strategy to deal with the issue of climate change. Among the other factors referred to in the section on carbon budgeting are the likely effects on the overall economy and economic competitiveness. It is a sign of the times that such issues are taken into consideration. During the economic boom they were rarely referred to in the debates on tackling climate change but the downturn means immediate economic factors are far more important and need to be taken into account.
Serious issues must be addressed. The level of carbon emissions needs to be reduced. Under the Kyoto Protocol, this State is committed to preventing CO2 emissions from rising more than 13% above their 1990 levels. Currently, they are over 20% above the agreed target. Not only does that leave us in breach of our international obligations, it also makes us liable to annual fines of up to €180 million. The proposed Bill sets a target for a reduction of 80% below 1990 levels. Kyoto marked only the first step in tackling global warming. Experts estimate that CO2 emissions must be reduced by between 80% and 90% by 2050 if run-away climate change is to be avoided. That is reflected in the targets set in the Bill. Not only have we a moral obligation to future generations to prevent global warming, but it also makes economic sense. The general consensus is that it is cheaper to take the necessary measures to deal with the challenges presented by climate change now rather than deal with the consequences later.
Climate change is not the only reason to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We are still heavily dependent on oil supplies that may become more difficult to access and are concentrated in a number of politically unstable nations. A considerable amount of oil remains in the ground but it is getting harder to find and more expensive to extract. We also realised a few years ago when Russia threatened to restrict gas supplies to Europe that energy supplies are susceptible to political uncertainty and even blackmail. We could have addressed some of the problems of supply ourselves had we developed a proper energy and exploration policy for the oil and gas off our own coasts. Instead, however, we choose to abandon all pretence of a State strategy and handed our resources to companies on terms that are the most generous on the planet.
The problem of climate change must be approached in a positive manner so that moving away from older manufacturing systems based on the heavy use of carbon fuels is not seen as an barrier to economic growth but an opportunity to boost the use of newer and cleaner technologies that do not present the same threat to the environment and which are more sustainable both in terms of the environment and future economic growth. The key to this change will be greater utilisation of renewable energy sources, which will not only have radical implications for the industrial economy but also for agriculture. There is potential for greatly increased production of energy crops and entirely new economic sectors based around the production of energy from the wind and sea.
I note that the proposed Bill recommends the establishment of a body with responsibility for renewable energy. We certainly need a more proactive strategy to promote the development of renewable sources such as wind and wave power. A number of projects have been initiated around the country but it appears the impetus behind many of them has fallen victim to the recession and a lack of imagination on the part of the Government. Not only would such projects help to address the immediate issues of replacing harmful fuels but they would also contribute significantly to employment and growth.
It is important that the recession is not used as an excuse by some developed industrialised countries to renege on their pledges under the Kyoto Protocol to assist developing countries in their efforts to combat the effects of climate change and limit their emissions as their economies grow. This is causing a major political rift between rich and poor states in the United Nations. Less than $1 billion of the $18 billion in adaptation aid pledged by rich countries had been delivered by the time of the Copenhagen summit. According to the UN, between $50 billion and $70 billion needs to be invested annually to help poor countries adapt to extreme floods and droughts.
What happens here may matter little at the global level if the major world economies are not prepared to do what is required in order to address these issues. However, we have to do something and the Bill sets out several useful proposals on framing an overall strategy. It appears to cover all the key areas that would need to be taken into account in framing such a strategy and it references appropriate knowledge and the likely impacts on the overall economy and society. It is important that regular assessments are made of the targets so that further provisions can be made where they are unlikely to be attained. That has been one of the key failings in this and related areas of renewable energy production and domestic bio-fuel production capacity.
In regard to the latter, it is ironic that later today we will discuss the scam pulled by Greencore in destroying the last vestiges of the Irish sugar industry. Deputies from the Green Party as well as my own party spoke about that scam, whereby Greencore was given a State asset for a nominal fee. The asset was used for personal gain by Liam Carroll and others associated with Greencore.
I visited Carlow seven months ago and I am glad to say people there have formed a committee to restore sugar beet processing for the production of either sugar or ethanol. Unfortunately, the buildings that Greencore stole from the taxpayers of this country were demolished, with the notable exception of the tower. I suggest that the purpose of leaving the tower in place is because it will dictate the skyline in any future application for planning permission. Over the years, the processing facilities in Mallow, Thurles and Tuam have all been closed. A fantastic indigenous industry which served this country for more than 80 years has been abandoned.
I hope the strategy being proposed today will be implemented in full. Sinn Féin will support any policy that addresses the issues affecting our environment and, in particular, that guarantees clean energy security. Yesterday, we heard a presentation from Spirit of Ireland, which is encouraging in so far as it offers opportunities for five western counties to create jobs and contribute to the national energy grid.
I am delighted to support the motion before the House, which seeks acceptance of the climate change Bill that has been proposed by the all-party committee. I know the Government has produced its own Bill. It does not matter which Bill is considered as long as one of them becomes law. It is important that a Bill is brought before the House so that we have a framework in place and strategies and plans to implement it.
We have been talking about climate change for 20 years. Over the years, many cynics have denied the existence of climate change. Nowadays, there is universal acceptance of the reality of climate change. If urgent action is not taken, it will be cataclysmic for the world at large. It would probably wipe out many countries. One way or another, climate change will change the world as we know it. All the assumptions we have made and taken for granted about world economy will have to be reconsidered.
I do not think the Government has been serious about climate change in recent years. The Kyoto Protocol was accepted in principle, but no real effort was made to comply with any of its targets. The target for Ireland was to limit its increase in emissions to 13% of the 1990 baseline. This target was completely ignored during the Celtic tiger years, with the result that emissions grew almost exponentially. Ironically, the recession has done for emissions what the Government failed to do. It now seems we might comply with the 2013 target, entirely as a result of the reduction in economic activity and the consequent decrease in emissions.
The Kyoto targets have now been superseded by EU targets. We have given a commitment that by 2020, we will have reduced our dependence on fossil fuels by 90% and will be generating a third of our energy needs from renewable resources. Anyone who knows anything about the current situation will understand how difficult it will be to achieve such a significant target. It is meaningless to set such targets in the absence of strategies and plans. I know from listening to officials from State bodies and Departments talking about the targets they set each year that the output statements which are produced at the end of each year rarely bear any resemblance to the targets set at the start of the year. They change the target for the following year. The target cannot be changed in this case. Our targets will not be met unless we have a clear strategy and framework and a plan to implement them.
We cannot rely on the recession to look after climate change for us. Our climate change policies should be robust and should transcend good or bad economic times. In short, we have to change the way we produce and use energy. I appreciate that there is conflict between many competing interests, as Deputy Sargent said. There is conflict between environmental costs and energy costs at the early stages. Fine Gael believes that Ireland's natural resources, if properly harnessed, could not only make Ireland less dependent on imported fuel and give us much needed fuel security, but could also make Ireland an exporter of energy. We should aspire to achieve that as the perfect long-term solution to our energy problems. It makes environmental and economic sense to do so as quickly as possible.
Fine Gael's NewERA document outlines our proposals for investing in renewable energy. If that is to happen, it is absolutely essential that the second interconnector is finished as quickly as possible. We should start to plan a third interconnector so that we can buy and sell energy. It would allow us to export excess energy. In addition, it would allow us to access foreign-produced energy when there is a reduction in wind or wave energy, or any other intermittent form of energy.
Regardless of the merits of the carbon credits system in the early days, when we were trying to get acceptance of the reality of the climate change crisis, its day has passed. It is no longer an acceptable way of meeting our commitments. It does not mitigate climate change - it simply allows countries to salve their consciences. In some cases, the system of allocating credits inhibits efforts to switch to more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Even worse, more often than not it is done at the expense of poorer Third World countries that are trying to develop their economies, while allowing us to remain profligate. Its day has gone.
Mitigating or arresting climate change can be achieved only if there is total government buy-in to the idea of changing consumption patterns and production methods. We do not have the right regulatory framework at present. We do not have the grid, or the right system for gaining access to the grid. On the production side, much has been said about the great position we are in on the periphery of Europe. It is often suggested that we have a unique advantage in producing wave and wind energy. However, when one compares Ireland to the least suitable countries in terms of wind, for instance, our record is woeful. People seem to think we are doing well, but we are woeful when compared to other countries.
The political will to drive, facilitate and foster these industries on the kind of scale that is required simply does not exist. Innovative companies that sought to capitalise on our indigenous potential were driven out of the country in sheer frustration as their efforts were thwarted at every turn. The Government of the day failed to give the kind of leadership and implement the kind of regulatory framework that would have allowed such companies to continue to produce and create jobs in Ireland. The tragedy is that such companies are now building wind farms in other countries, thereby assuring their future sustainability and their jobs. Once again, Ireland is losing out.
Biomass is potentially a partial solution to our energy needs. Our damp climate and rich soil is ideally suited to biomass. The Fine Gael policy in this area involves a marriage of effort between Coillte and Bord na Móna. A collaborative effort is needed to sustain indigenous jobs, to reduce imports and to decrease our carbon footprint. If we are serious about tackling climate change and reducing our carbon footprint for the sake of future generations, we must grasp the nettle and not merely continue to pay lip service to the notion of sustainability.
The ordinary members of the public who use energy - domestic householders and those involved in industry - can make a huge difference on the demand side. There is great goodwill to save the environment and change our patterns of behaviour, partly because of the increasing cost of energy but primarily because there is widespread recognition of the damage fossil fuels and greenhouse gases are doing to our planet. The role of the Government is to help us to change our ways and to incentivise and facilitate change. I do not refer merely to the imposition of carbon levies. I accept they have a role, but they are not the whole story and cannot be expected to achieve miracles.
We need meaningful retrofitting of our older building stock. Homes that were built as recently as ten years ago are woefully wasteful of energy and hugely expensive for occupants. Such investment during the Celtic tiger years would have been far preferable to the kind of building that took place. It is not too late, however. We need to expand the current installation schemes, which are valuable. We need to introduce something much more comprehensive. Schemes of this nature should be much more accessible. We need to vary them and make them more flexible so that they meet the varying needs and pockets of people. We need to expand them if we are to make a difference to our housing stock, which will be with us for another 100 or 200 years.
Huge benefits could be achieved in the public transport sector. We need to try to get people to make a modal switch from the car to public transport. The relatively small investment that was made in public transport showed the willingness of the public to embrace public transport and make that switch. People see public transport as socially, economically and environmentally preferable. As we see throughout the country, including in our cities, the absolute tragedy is that buses are being taken off the roads and people are being forced back into their cars. If the Government is really serious about bringing in a Bill and trying to change public behaviour, it will invest in public transport. I know the economy is on its knees. There is a tendency to see a Bill like this as irrelevant, or as a luxury we cannot afford. I suggest it is precisely what we need if we are to invest in a sustainable future.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate and to comment on the climate change Bill the Government should have brought before us. With the shadow of a terrible recession over us, some people suggest that the last thing we should worry about is climate change, emissions and so on because we have a pile of other problems. That is not right and it would be foolish for the Government or its successor to turn its back on policies that would mean a major change in the way we do the business, think and invest.
As Deputy Mitchell stated, it is difficult to get ordinary people excited at the moment about this subject, which is close to the Minister of State's heart. Even in good times, it was difficult to get this issue across. I come from a rural background but it is hugely important for where I come from that the climate change strategy be successful. It should be handled in a straightforward and sensible way in order that there will no daft things done that will cause some sectors of the community to be saddled with unjustified and unnecessary costs.
I have a great interest in climate change. The only time people get overly excited about the issue is when there is a huge spike in the cost of petrol and diesel at the pumps or if there is the slightest talk of a scarcity of oil. Everyone then starts talking about alternative fuels but the day the pump runs dry on me in Mountbellew is not the day to talk about what could be done as an alternative because a huge lead-in period is needed to address this issue. If one wants to change a culture, one has to do it in many ways. The overall corporate image has to change and great leadership, particularly political leadership, is needed to get the citizens of a country like ours to genuinely believe that their best interests are served by clean fuels, lower emissions and so on. They do not see that as being of practical financial use to them at the moment.
Fossil fuels, which we import, were cheap. The problem now is the price of petrol and diesel at the pumps is creeping up every month. It was €1.30 a litre yesterday when I was filling my car. It is not long since it was €1.25 a litre and it is only a few months since it was €1.18 a litre. Most people would not notice the cost of petrol and diesel as long as they could get a fill and get on with their work. However, there was a huge spike in the price to €1.50 a litre two years ago and when that happens, alternative energy supplies become hugely important. We need to get down to business to put alternatives in place.
There are always great debates about what agricultural land should be used for throughout the world. Most people suggest it is a farmer's job to grow food to feed the world and that is basically what we do. The problem about this is that for many years, because of market distortions of one description or another in Europe and elsewhere, there were occasions when we had to pay people to keep their land idle. In other words, it suited better that farmers did not sow anything on their land for a few years and this is known as the famous set aside system. That could hardly be right even in the context of this debate. If that land could be used to grow biomass corps such as willow to replace expensive fossil fuels, we would not need half the €6 billion worth of oil we import and that would make a significant difference to our balance of payments. The problem is I am not sure whether the Government or another government will be able to catch on to this.
As a farmer, I will commit my land to a crop that gives me a profit the same as someone who wants to open a supermarket. If one thinks one is going to make money on it, that is what one is there for. Great strides were made and the incentives were reasonably good but the problem is there was a break in the chain and we have a number of processors who have tonnes of product but they are unable to shift of it. In other words, there has been a breakdown in the link between them and the market. I do not know who is to blame for that because I do not know enough about it. The processors could give me a contact to grow willow, for instance, but I am not sure I will get paid for it when I deliver to them and, in turn, they will not pay me unless they are sure they can get it to the market. That chain is broken. If the Minister of State wants to give this process a good name, he had better get over this bottleneck in the system.
There are many aspects to climate change. I am not one of those who buys into the idea because I live in the middle of an area hit by the worst floods I ever saw this time last year. I have never seen water so deep but then I was told by OPW officials that one can only expect a flood of that severity every 200 years. I do not know how sure they can be it will be another 200 years because some of the rivers are extraordinarily high today. However, we watch reports of earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and so on, and I do not know whether it is because they are all beamed into our homes around the world, which did not happen 50 years ago, that our knowledge is greater. However, I have not been convinced by anybody who says anything that has happened had happened before. I do not subscribe to that view and that is no reason to fail to address climate change. We have a huge economic reason to go down this road from the point of view of sustainability. The economics of the future will be dictated by how smart and green we become but there is a job of work that needs to be done and the Government does not appear to be delivering on it.
It is not all bad news. I am impressed by the warmer homes scheme.
It is running well and the administration of the scheme is much less bureaucratic than other schemes in the past. There are all sorts of dark places that we would like the Minister of State to go and other jobs need to be done, but he is on the right track.
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If the Deputy takes me by the hand, I will go there perhaps.
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Perhaps the Deputy will clarify what are the dark spaces.
We might have to do that yet but that is another story.
The scheme is a step in the right direction and there is a huge amount of work to be done, as Deputy Mitchell said. Very few houses were built, even in the past three or four years, that have the type of insulation that would prevent heat escaping. For every joule of heat per cubic metre that is lost, it must be replaced by expensive fossil fuel, and we know where that will lead us.
I am disappointed there are not more people who want to speak on this subject today as it is of huge importance. Why will the Government not introduce a Bill and initiate a debate on this matter among the people?
It has often been said, including by the Ceann Comhairle, that the Government proposes and the House disposes. A debate has been organised on this issue up until 3.30 p.m. but it is Opposition Deputies who have to keep it going. This raises a general issue of how the Oireachtas is viewed by the people. I always defend the Oireachtas when general issues are raised about it and about politics and our political system, but we now have what is known as the "empty chamber syndrome". It is not unique to Ireland; it happens in other parliaments. Often the fault lies on the Government side. A good proportion of Opposition Deputies would be present for various debates and the empty seats tend to be on the Government benches. We need to work on this on a cross-party basis.
The previous speakers have been Opposition Deputies. If Deputy Gogarty speaks on the motion, at least that will have been a response to the point I made, but we all need to work together on this issue. The work we do is important and valuable and we must work together to do our best to make what the Oireachtas does look good from the public point of view. It is important that the Government does its bit in that regard.
The proposed Bill included in the report is an all-party one, agreed by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. I commend the work of Deputy McManus, the people who helped to draft the Bill, including Claire Power and all members of the committee on their initiative in preparing it. We talk of having a better functioning Oireachtas but we need to ensure it is not only the Government that takes the initiative in introducing a Bill and that Bills could be introduced by the Opposition, whether on a an all-party basis or not, and supported in moving forward through the system. A great deal of work was put into the preparation of this Bill and it was done on an all-party basis rather than Government driven. It was a great initiative. It would be welcome if the Government could adopt it, but if it does not do so and it decides to introduce its own Bill, I hope it will work with the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security to reach as good a compromise as possible on the proposed legislation and that it will accept amendments tabled by Opposition Deputies and Government backbenchers.
Our level of emissions has fallen because of the recession. We do not know for how many more years that will be the trend but, hopefully, it will not continue for too long. The issues, which the proposed legislation attempts to address, will emerge again in the future and once our economy picks up we will face the same type of challenge we faced before our economy started to take a downward turn. This legislation is as important now as it was three years ago. It is not the case that because the climate change debate is not as high on the agenda that it is not important to pass the proposed legislation. The reasons for its introduction have been given, namely, that it would provide certainty, it would put addressing climate change on the agenda and make it clear that it is a priority of the Oireachtas, the Government and the Taoiseach. A mechanism is included in the Bill to make the Taoiseach responsible, the objective of which is to ensure that addressing climate change is a cross-departmental, cross-sector challenge. There is a danger of climate change becoming marginalised. It is important, therefore, it is addressed on that basis. All Departments have a influence in how we deal with climate change.
When the proposed Bill, or a similar one is passed, another issue to be considered, which I would bring to the attention of climate change lobbyists, is that much of the language around climate change is, by nature, technical and remote, including all the detail relating to targets, emissions, trading schemes, carbon offsets and carbon credits. It is remote from the way people live their daily lives in their communities. This debate is slightly offputting, as are many political debates. All the talk of bond markets is a big turnoff. People wonder what all this language means when they hear it discussed on radio and television. People need to know what the impact of climate change will mean for them in terms of flooding and other developments. Language is an issue in this debate.
We have all the targets, which would be set out in the proposed Bill, together with all the procedures, processes and offices that have been set up, but if we want to solve the problems posed by climate change, it comes down to the small practical steps that can be taken in local communities by local government, Dublin Bus, CIE or whoever. It translates down to the small practical things people can do. Such measures would energise people about this issue, rather than talk of targets. Despite all the lobbying and petitions, this debate has not filtered out in the public domain, which is largely due to the way this issue is discussed, which makes it a remote from people.
Local government has an extremely important role to play in tackling the issue of climate change. It could intervene in terms of projects. It is involved in planning and it can play a role in local enterprise. When legislation is introduced, we must not forget that this issue is about leadership being shown by the Oireachtas and the Government. The report refers to a bottom-up approach. This is the most important approach because it relates to the practical things that people can do to address the issue of climate change. It is not only about reducing emissions because there is a recession or signing a document on the dotted line but about putting in place measures such as a local wind farm, a project involving a local school to encourage parents to walk with their children to school to reduce the use of cars, or a rural public transport system. Many different initiatives could be taken.
The idea of green jobs is important, as is the way in which we can combine addressing climate change with economic growth to ensure we have cleaner growth for the future. How can we make sure our economic growth is not out of kilter with our ambitions for the environment and addressing climate change? The phrase "green jobs" has been put forward but people do not really spell out what such jobs would involve or they may not know what they will involve in practice. It is an issue to which we need to give much more thought. Green jobs are talked about as if they relate only to the construction and waste management sectors but we need to focus on the scientific area as in the invention of products, say, to help conserve energy and to help our economic growth and the development of start up enterprises around such projects. We need to give more consideration to the areas of research and development we need to promote. Development in this area is not only about wind energy. It is important to involve all stakeholders in this process and that includes local communities, voluntary groups and so on.
As I have said previously, substantial research has found that societies with more income equality do better in their performance in terms of the environment, among many other areas. Measures taken to better organise society to address climate change should also have as their objective not only to avoid exacerbating inequality of income but to secure greater equality of income. Such an approach would create a better society.
I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Liz McManus, who, during my period as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, championed the need for legislation on climate change. Thanks to her work as rapporteur to the joint committee, we produced a report on the issue and were subsequently assured that the Government would introduce legislation on climate change. We asked that our report and the views expressed to the joint committee be taken into account when it was being drawn up but, lo and behold, nothing happened. Deputy McManus is to be congratulated on producing climate change legislation.
I welcome the decision to establish the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and pay tribute to the work it has done. It was a great honour to serve as its first Chairman. Unfortunately, as with everything else in this House, good intentions were quickly abandoned and the joint committee came to be viewed as a nuisance, as a body that interfered, as it were, with the Executive.
The Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security also produced an offshore renewable energy development Bill. Published in November 2008, the Bill introduced new ideas on how the massive potential of the offshore renewable energy sector could be developed through structures for planning and zoning in areas of our seas that are suitable for offshore renewable energy development.
While a great deal of work was done on the Bill, two years later it is gathering dust. We first submitted it to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources as this appeared to be a reasonable course of action and I am sure the Bill is still somewhere in the Department. The joint committee was informed, however, that legislation in this area was a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and that our Bill would be examined.
When one hears this one becomes despondent. It is no wonder members of the public question what the Oireachtas is doing when we establish committees before proceeding to ignore them. The Order Paper is full of reports waiting to be debated. Good work is being done by Members of both Houses who have gone to much trouble and done considerable research to produce reports. As with everything else unless a report emanates from the Government, it may as well not exist.
Dáil reform has been promised. I have cited one example of legislation that secured all-party agreement. If I were a Minister, I would grab the opportunity provided by a committee reaching all-party agreement on a Bill. I would go to the committee with my ideas and work with it to produce legislation. I would not be afraid that my position would be undermined because a Bill was produced with input from a committee. It appears that unless something is produced by a Department, it cannot be right. The current approach reflects an attitude of "What would a committee know?"
While debates of this type may help fill the day's business, they are a waste of time unless action is taken. The Government has been in power since 2007. Green Party involvement in it created a great deal of hope that it would exert influence in this area. I would be the first to state that the Minister of State opposite me, Deputy Cuffe, played an important part in the early deliberations of the joint committee. Why go to the trouble of establishing committees if one is not prepared to use them or devote time to debating the reports they produce?
All the work produced by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security was properly researched with professional advice and following submissions from members of the public. This is the ideal way to prepare legislation as opposed to the current approach whereby the Executive produces a Bill, Second Stage is taken in the Chamber and the Bill is then sent down to the bowels of LH2000 for Committee Stage where two men and a dog, if dogs were allowed entry, examine it. In the meantime, one has a file full of representations from various interest groups seeking amendments that would avoid certain outcomes. A select committee then fights to have amendments introduced. However, amendments tabled by the Opposition are ignored because only Government amendments are accepted. These are the facts.
All the Minister needed to do in the case of the legislation we proposed was to produce heads of a Bill, ask the committee to examine it, invite members of the public to submit suggestions, have the committee report back within one month or six weeks and then draft the detail of the Bill, taking into consideration the various ideas that have been expressed. Such a Bill would pass through the House quickly because few amendments would be tabled on Committee Stage given that outside bodies would be part of the process from the outset.
Climate change and energy security are too important to ignore. Unless we address energy security and generation, we will be forced to fight a permanent battle to deal with CO2 emissions. Ireland has tremendous potential to benefit from clean, renewable energy. We should be a world leader in research in this area. Engineers should be trained on how to service wind turbines. Many ideas have been presented but we have not done anything about them. We are standing still and talking while everyone else acts. That is a terrible shame.
Not one of the buses serving Dublin runs on alternative fuel. On a visit to Sweden, we found that every bus features the slogan "Powered by Renewable Energy". What example are we showing in public transport? Years ago, we asked the Minister to ensure public transport providers and local authorities led by example by using renewable energy to power their vehicles. Here, too, nothing was done.
In my current position as Fine Gael Party spokesperson on foreign affairs, I realise the importance of climate change for developing countries. Millions of people are being shifted from one part of the world to another because the impact of climate change, whether constant flooding or drought, is making life unsustainable. At a time when the population is growing and the supply of water diminishing, people in Ireland are washing their cars with drinking water. What example are we setting? As soon as one raises the prospect of water metering there is an outcry from those who state they will not pay for water. We assume water will continue flowing every day. While people should not be required to pay for what they would normally use, excess water usage should be paid for. We should also raise awareness of the importance of water conservation.
We must lead by example by switching off machines and lights when they are not in use. How many times have Deputies leaving the House seen lights left on in Government Buildings, yet we lecture others about the importance of switching off lights? If everyone did the little things, their combined actions would add up to one big thing. The issue is one of awareness. This is not about wearing sandals and having a ponytail. Climate change affects everybody, not only the select few who campaign on the issue.
Each individual must be made aware of the importance of energy, the way in which it is or could be produced, the inward investment renewable energy could attract and the jobs that could be created, the need to conserve water, solar power and so forth. One could dwell on this subject indefinitely but the Government must give a lead. If the Government does not have time to so do, it should take up the good work being done by this joint committee and other committees on which people are spending much effort and time. Although Deputy McManus is a member of a different political party, she and many other members of the joint committee have shown great commitment to this issue and they deserve respect. The Government should not think that legislation can be ignored simply because someone else produced it. Moreover, it should not give false promises that a Bill will be published within six months, only for it not to materialise. What legislation from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is being debated at present? Members are debating a Bill about a mayor for Dublin at a time when there already are four mayors in Dublin.
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It is because the four cannot agree with one another.
I understand that €100 million has been committed over three years by the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, to assist poorer countries to tackle climate change. Consequently, either the Minister, when responding to this debate, or someone from the Government side should indicate the current status of this initiative to Members.
The content of the Bill has already been anticipated in the joint committee's report. Members often speak in this House about the partisan nature of politics and I agree it is understandable that in certain circumstances, the House will divide on political or philosophical issues or on managerial issues pertaining to how the country should proceed. However, an issue such as this, on which a cross-party report has been produced that has been accepted by all political stakeholders and with the Green Party in power, should surely be out of the starting blocks already. At this point, Members should not only be talking about heads of agreement and so on.
There is a sense that because the economy has taken such a downturn, an issue such as climate change can move to the back burner. I reiterate a point made by Deputy Barrett by questioning the reason the election of a mayor for Dublin is being prioritised through changes in legislation. Why does that measure take greater precedence than an issue such as climate change in the legislative programme before Members?
I refer to today's Order of Business in the Dáil and the furore, partly started by me I admit, on the decision by the European Court of Auditors to critique a Government decision on the closure of the Irish sugar industry. While one may ask the reason this is pertinent to the subject under discussion, I was town mayor of Mallow at the time when the sugar factory there closed and one issue I sought to put on the political agenda was an examination of the potential for ethanol production. It was considered that if Ireland was moving out of sugar production and if the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries were going to be given a greater slice of the market under the Everything But Arms initiative, then this was a WTO decision to which one would, to a certain extent, be obliged to buy in to. At that time, I was strongly of the opinion, based on sound advice, that there was potential at least for a survival mechanism for the plant for two years. Thereafter, once the market had opened up, it would be a case of sink or swim depending on how the global market went. It is now evident that the global market for sugar has increased but in the absence of the continuation of sugar production at the Mallow plant there could have been a move towards an ethanol production facility.
Timing is everything because this year, the House has transposed the bio-fuels obligation legislation, which seeks to ensure that each tank of petrol has ethanol or alternative fuel sources as part of its constituent composition. The Labour Party strongly believed that stimulation of an ethanol production market within Ireland was possible but to be able to so do it would be necessary to put in place a set of tariffs. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, rejected this position. I am not trying to score political points because if I understand his position correctly, he wished to go back to ascertain what would be the Commission position on such a proposal. Members opposite will correct me if I am wrong in that assessment. Nevertheless, there is a precedent in respect of ethanol importation as I understand that other countries are placing a tariff on importation to stimulate local production within their countries.
I represent the constituency of Cork East, within which is located the Whitegate refinery. I am reliably informed that for a number of years, the big oil companies operating at Whitegate have been storing up undenatured ethanol that more than likely has been imported from third countries such as Brazil. While it is probably derived from former forestry sites, Ireland has not even started localised production.
In respect of climate change, I refer to the attempt to wean ourselves off petrol and to substitute it with alternative energy sources. One does not do this by allowing big oil companies to control the political agenda, thereby enabling them to meet their obligations under the bio-fuel obligation scheme by imports from locations such as South America because that does not make any sense. At that time, when Members were doing battle on this Bill, I would have thought the Minister, Deputy Ryan, would have been ahead of the curve. I would have expected him to play, dare I say it, the green jersey card by asserting that Ireland would stimulate local demand. This comes back full circle to my point about Irish sugar and how, at a time when Ireland is importing substitute ethanol to put in its cars, it could have an ethanol industry that could provide the same service. This is where political thinking in Ireland has become so disjointed.
We must begin to think more laterally about how to achieve our aims. We must start by ascertaining where we want to go and what is our target. Thereafter, we should look towards achieving that target without fear of being perceived to be too nationalistic. I do not use the word "nationalistic" in the narrow sense by which most people define it. I mean having some pride in our ability to produce such ethanol ourselves to be able to stimulate local production. This could then offset many of the challenges Ireland faces vis-À-vis the production of carbon resulting from the importation of substitutes.
On the issue of forestry, the stated Government target in the revised programme for Government is to achieve 10,000 hectares per annum. At present, I understand that approximately 7,000 hectares is being achieved, therefore, Ireland still is off-target. Forestry is a productive indigenous sector that has a multiplier into the local economy.
There is a justification, even in these constrained economic times, for continuing the subsidisation of that sector. If, for instance, a Government can justify the subsidisation of foreign direct investment type jobs, whereby a grant or subsidy is given to a company for each job created, the same logic can apply where we seek to upscale indigenous sectors. If we are to target climate change, forestry will become a fulcrum in terms of achieving targets.
With the impending budget, I ask the Government to take a look at this again. Funding this sector will create an economic multiplier that will assist local economies. I ask the Government to bear that in mind.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this important matter. I compliment Deputy Liz McManus on the good work she has been doing as rapporteur of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and on producing this report.
It is not good enough that this is how legislation originates in the House. This legislation was promised by the Government, which is now in its fourth year. Climate change legislation was always seen as one of the priorities of the Green Party. One would have thought this legislation would have been enacted by now. It is not good enough to see a Minister of State in the House for this debate. There is no sign of a Cabinet Minister. One other Green Party Deputy has spoken and two Government Deputies shared time. That is the total contribution on the Government side. What sort of commitment is that to a debate on the steps we should take and how we should fulfil our commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and to European targets, which is one of the most important discussions we could have?
Ireland is best placed, throughout the entire European Union, to develop renewable fuels. Yesterday, I heard a presentation from a group of businessmen who proposed a €3.5 billion project which would be worth €16 billion to the economy. They have already negotiated with the British Government to sell it electricity. A number of projects of this nature are eminently viable and should be put in place very quickly. In the short space of a couple of decades, we could be a net exporter of energy to the United Kingdom and the Continent. This is a massive but viable project. It would benefit those parts of the country that have been looking out for investment and development and have high levels of emigration.
The Government should have put this issue at the forefront and legislated for it. I have listened to Deputy Liz McManus, week in and week out, raising this issue on the Order of Business and asking where is the Government's promised climate Bill and why it is not yet on the stocks. I hope the Minister of State takes the message from this debate that it will be a sad reflection on the Government if it comes to an end without putting a climate Bill in place, especially as the Green Party is a coalition partner.
I urge the Government to take the proposed Bill as it is and present it to the Oireachtas as a Government Bill. There is precedence for Opposition Bills being taken. This is an all-party Bill that has been agreed in committee. No one should feel bad about accepting it, especially as the Government does not have its own Bill and there is no sign of one coming at present. It is promised but not here. Perhaps, at the end of this debate, the Government will give a commitment that that will happen.
Tackling climate change is the biggest challenge of our age. We are probably the biggest importer of fossil fuel energy in Europe. We are aware, therefore, of the carbon input to our environment. Ireland has made international commitments, which we have not lived up to. The Kyoto Protocol commits Ireland to remaining 13% above 1990 levels but recent figures show us to be 25.5% above 1990 levels, even allowing for the current recession. The reduction we have achieved is simply because of the recession. It is not because of actions we have taken to reduce our carbon emissions.
Good intentions are not enough. We require a robust framework that will translate aspirations into action. It needs to be driven from the top in a co-ordinated and integrated fashion and it needs to be grounded in legislation. That is what the proposed climate change Bill is all about. The Government must take up the challenge and support the Bill.
This is about taking our responsibilities seriously but it is also about opening up opportunities for innovation and job creation in new technologies that can harness nature's resources in order to safeguard the future of our world. We cannot opt out of dealing with climate change. We have been living in the carbon equivalent of a property bubble in this country. Ireland is the fifth highest emitter per capita of greenhouse gases in the world and the second highest in the European Union. Each citizen here is responsible for emitting 17 tonnes of greenhouse gases per annum, up from 15 tonnes per annum in 1990. Rather than making progress we are still going in the wrong direction.
Politically, everyone has signed up to the need to address climate change. There is now a broad scientific consensus that we need to prevent temperatures from rising by more than 2% above the pre-industrial level. International experts, the intergovernmental panel on climate change and the Stern report on climate change have called for reductions in carbon emissions of 80% by 2050. This Bill puts in place a framework and mechanism for reaching that target.
Figures presented by various people working in this area show that we can be net exporters of renewable energy well before 2050. That would be an incredible target, rather than simply reducing emissions by 80%. Let 80% be the standard for other countries but let us take the initiative.
The Bill sets a national objective of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 along with an interim target of 20% by 2020, with a transparent compliance system and regular reporting. The targets are in line with what the science demands if we are to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change. However, we can do better than that.
Until now, there has been no legislative mechanism by which to achieve or monitor our climate change targets. This Bill makes the Taoiseach accountable for these targets. The Taoiseach will set the carbon budget and targets, report to the Oireachtas and outline the proposals and policies for meeting them. Other provisions in the Bill include: the establishment of a climate change office in the Department of the Taoiseach with staff drawn from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sustainable Energy Ireland; an independent commission of experts in climate change; the establishment of a multi-annual carbon budget and a carbon dividend fund; and the preparation of a national climate change strategy and adaptation strategy.
On the international level, it is the poorest countries that contribute least to the problem of climate change. These are the ones that are now bearing the brunt of its impact. In this Bill, we have addressed the international social justice aspects of climate change by including a provision to implement greenhouse gas reduction projects in developing countries. Here in Ireland, the poorest and those already suffering from fuel poverty must be protected and this is also taken into account in the Bill.
There is so much we can do. This measure is at the centre of Ireland's future economic activity and at the cutting edge of new technology. It should be acted upon regardless of the circumstances, bearing in mind that fossil fuels, which are damaging the climate, environment and world, must be dealt with. We have a mechanism before us for dealing with this matter that is beneficial to both the environment and economy.
It is obvious that this issue should be addressed. If we do not show leadership by introducing overarching structures and development principles and giving direction, our approach will be all over the place. We do not need an ad hoc response. This matter is so important that we need Government leadership. The Oireachtas is all about showing direction in respect of something that is eminently desirable. We cannot be leading from behind or waiting. We must not expect somebody else to act or leave the matter to the private or other sector. The problem must be dealt with in a proper, organised fashion, with the proper context and framework. That is what legislation is all about. It is not about interference but about providing a framework that will maximise the approach to dealing with renewables and alternatives to fossil fuels, which are predominant throughout most of the world.
We must do what we have always been trying to do and what we have been discussing every day in this House, that is, create more jobs, revive the economy and get out of the recession. These matters are all related but we are waiting for the initiative to be taken in this House and for the Government, which has a strong green component, to ensure it is taken as quickly as possible.