Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Framework for Sustainable Development in Ireland: Statements

 

1:25 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this opportunity to discuss the recently published framework for sustainable development for Ireland, Our Sustainable Future. The debate is also timely as the start of the Irish Presidency of the European Union looms ever closer. Our ability to support and promote sustainable development in Ireland will be critical in meeting the social, economic and environmental needs of the population now and into the future. This is as true in the international and European context as it is here and that is why the issues we are debating here today will resonate throughout our Presidency of the European Union.

On assuming office, I felt it was important to start the new parliamentary cycle with a clear policy framework for environmental sustainability over the medium to longer term. This is the first comprehensive policy statement on sustainable development in Ireland since the inaugural Sustainable Development: A Strategy for Ireland was published in 1997 by my colleague, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. The framework on sustainable development resulted from what was a protracted process of cross-government consultation, which also involved consultation with other key stakeholders and civil society, on a draft document which I circulated at the end of 2011.

The public consultation phase included a stakeholder information seminar which was attended by a wide range of stakeholders. I was quite struck at the level of engagement of stakeholders across a diverse range of sectors. What was most encouraging was evidence of increased interest from the business sector in the development of the framework. Ensuring the strong participation of business in sustainable development is critical to its success, not just in terms of the economic pillar, but also in integrating the social and environmental dimensions. Irish business has already stepped up to the plate on this issue, the agrifood sector being an obvious example, where companies increasingly see the risks associated with food security, untrammelled resource use, and the threat from climate change. The intensive consultative process which was led by a cross-departmental high level group on sustainable development brought added rigour to the finished product and I was pleased to note the broad welcome that it has received across all sectors.

Our Sustainable Future was launched in June last and was Ireland's main national contribution to the Rio+20 conference held in Rio de Janeiro at the end of June, at which I represented the Government.

While considerable progress has been made in Ireland since the inaugural 1997 document was published, significant gaps remain and an updated policy was long overdue. We needed this new framework to systematically ensure that sustainability considerations are integrated into all economic and other policy development processes, concentrating on the key problem areas where progress has been slower. We set about this task, taking our lead from the EU sustainable development strategy and from Europe 2020 and its flagship initiative on resource efficiency. The challenge facing us is neatly described in the aim of Europe 2020, namely, to place Europe on the road to a smarter, sustainable and inclusive future.

This framework adopts a whole-of-government approach to policy making, reflecting the important inter-linkages between different policy areas and providing a context within which policy conflicts and trade-offs can be examined and resolved at an early stage. It takes a medium to longer-term view of how Ireland can transition to a resource-efficient, low-carbon, climate resilient economy, while recognising and adapting to the current priorities of economic recovery and fiscal stability. It is no longer appropriate to think of growth as just focusing exclusively on economic issues. We also have to factor in the environmental impacts and associated costs. We must look at the quality of that growth, its effects on the environment and society and at the jobs it creates. There is a growing global consensus that our current systems of production and consumption are not sustainable and need to be replaced by a more mutually supportive interface between environmental protection and economic and social development.

The Rio+20 outcome document, The Future We Want, reflects the global consensus around advancing the green economy agenda. The action oriented wording on the green economy contained in the outcome document provides a good basis for future policy development at the international, EU and national levels. The document specifically recognises that each country can choose an appropriate approach, in accordance with national sustainable development plans, strategies and priorities. The OECD and the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, have played leading roles in developing policy and research on green growth. As part of our preparations for the Irish Presidency, I recently met with Achim Steiner, director general of UNEP, to discuss these and other issues. Ireland will have responsibility for co-ordinating EU input into the UNEP General Council to be held in Nairobi in February next. The fact that we have put in place a framework for sustainable development places us in a good position to lead the debate on these issues during our Presidency.

My colleague the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will shortly publish a policy statement on the green economy which has also involved the whole-of-government approach that underpins the Our Sustainable Future document. The potential for the transition to the green economy to create decent jobs is well documented and we are committed to using our time in Government to promote this objective, as expressed in the Action Plan for Jobs 2012. This framework offers the context for that development, including public and private sector inter-linkages, government support for enterprise, and coherent cross-government action.

Promoting resource efficiency is at the heart of the transition to the green economy as we attempt to use fewer materials and goods to provide the same output. The EU roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe under Europe 2020 sets out our objectives in this regard, while this framework provides the national context for implementation. As part of this approach, I would particularly like to mention the joint Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform action plan for green tenders. This action plan, the first of its kind to be introduced in Ireland, sets out to assist public authorities in successfully planning and implementing green public procurement practices. It does this by highlighting existing best practice and by using international evidence to identify actions to boost green public procurement. Our objective is to ensure that 50% of all public sector procurement will be based on green criteria and we are working closely with relevant Departments to deliver on this objective as a matter of priority.

The framework document is an action-oriented, pragmatic approach on the part of the Government and we are committed to delivering the measures it contains over the coming years. As part of the plan, we have committed to a high level of political oversight, through the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change and the green economy, chaired by An Taoiseach. Departments will regularly report on their progress on the implementation of the measures and actions for individual sectors to a specially established high level interdepartmental group on sustainable development. Membership of this group is in the process of being finalised and I expect the group's first meeting will take place shortly. Representation on the group is at assistant secretary level and I will act as its chair.

The concept of inclusivity is especially important in terms of our wider global responsibilities. Despite the current challenges faced by our economy, we must remain conscious of the global sustainable development agenda and of our obligations towards least developed and developing countries. While the transition to the green economy for Ireland will be focused on reducing our carbon footprint and improving our resource efficiency, this transition for the developing world is much more fundamental in its efforts to eradicate poverty. In this regard, we remain committed to the current 0.7% target for overseas development aid, the millennium development goals and the outcomes of the 2002 world summit.

Increasingly, the focus of our ODA programme is on promoting sustainability and food and nutrition security. However, the means of doing so goes beyond just financial assistance to a broader programme that includes information exchange and technology transfer. This new and more practical approach is much more in line with the long-term objectives of sustainable development and creates greater opportunities for the meaningful involvement of the private sector.

As we prepare to assume the Presidency of the EU next year, we will have the opportunity to consolidate this progressive approach in both the follow up to the Rio+20 conference, as set out in The Future We Want, and also in the wider consideration of the post-2015 development agenda. For many years we have enjoyed a very positive reputation for our support of the developing world, and the timing of this Presidency offers us a unique opportunity to consolidate that reputation by actively working towards the positive implementation of the Rio outcome and the establishment of a positive, action-oriented post-2015 development agenda.

Again, I would like to express my satisfaction with this opportunity to raise this issue in the House. Sustainable development is an issue which I believe warrants the highest priority within the overall policy making system, not just because of the opportunities it presents for green growth, but because we do not have any other option. Sustainable development is defined as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We are already aware that the current patterns of consumption and production are unsustainable for a planetary system that is under significant pressure and so to protect ourselves and the future for our children, we must change the way we do things.

Too often our political and policy concerns are focused on finding short-term solutions to the problems of today, without giving due consideration to the long-term implications of our decisions. This framework seeks to address this challenge by putting in place structures and identifying measures that will protect our economy, our society and our environment now and into the future. We have a clear responsibility to the generations that follow us, both within our borders and in the international context. This framework gives voice to that responsibility and clearly demonstrates Ireland's commitment to be at the forefront of the international sustainable development agenda, while protecting our national ecosystems and resources for generations to come. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other Members.

1:35 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to discuss sustainable development in Ireland. I propose to analyse existing Government policy before discussing the progress - or lack of it - that has been made by the Government in implementing that policy. I will examine the role of sustainable development in two of the primary areas of this country's economy - agriculture and planning. I will also consider the need for sustainable development to be part of our relationships with our international partners, including those at EU level.

Real sustainable development must be at the core of future public policy domestically and internationally. Fianna Fáil has made significant progress over the past decade in advancing environmentally friendly policies and copperfastening the role of sustainable development at the heart of public policy. The words of the current Government must be matched with action. It is vital for the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to stop stonewalling on the climate change Bill. He needs to begin to make real progress on that issue. Sustainable development is about striking the right balance between the economy, social issues and the environment and ensuring that people in Ireland and other parts of the world are able to enjoy economic prosperity, social progress and a high-quality environment now and into the future. Rather than gains in one of these areas being offset by losses in the other two, we need to get all three to work together if we are to improve people's quality of life.

I acknowledge the Government's specific policies in this area, as set out in its framework for sustainable development. I recognise and empathise with the objectives of the Government framework, which are to "identify and prioritise policy areas and mechanisms where a sustainable development approach will add value and enable progress towards the strategy aims", to "highlight and promote existing sustainable practices that, with the correct support, can underpin sustainable development more generally", to "strengthen policy integration, coherence and co-ordination and bring a long-term perspective to decision-making", to "set out governance mechanisms which ensure effective participation within Government and across all stakeholders", to "set out clear measures, responsibilities and timelines in an implementation plan", to "set out how progress is to be measured and reported on through the use of indicators" and to "incorporate adequate and effective monitoring, learning and improvement into the Framework process". These objectives will remain mere objectives as long as the Government delays the laying of proper foundations for their development.

As I said earlier, the Government has yet to publish a climate change Bill, which should be an integral part of any strategy to combat global warming. It needs to set a series of targets across society to ensure environmentally friendly practices. Rather than prioritising this issue, the Government has allowed it to languish on the C list of its legislative agenda, which relates to Bills that are due to be published next year. When Deputies ask about legislation each day on the Order of Business, it is becoming more frequent for them to be told that a Bill will be introduced next year, as opposed to this session. Next year will be a long year. The Government's actions are not matching the rhetoric that was evident in the soundbites that were rushed out before and after last year's general election. Both of the parties that are now in government made such commitments. The Labour Party said that no property tax would be introduced while it was part of any Government. It said that red-line items such as child benefit would not be touched.

The new Government said things would be done differently. Reference was made to burning bondholders, abolishing the Seanad in the new Administration's first year and safeguarding against cuts in welfare and tax increases. Having boxed itself into a corner on such a wide range of issues, the Government has destroyed the huge level of trust that was placed in it by a large majority of the people of the State. That is not great for democracy. It does not give us much confidence in the leadership qualities that the Government aspires to as it tries to lead the country out of the recession and to prepare policy frameworks on a wide range of issues that will benefit the economy and the environment into the future. The trend that appears to be emanating from Government circles in recent months is evident in many of the examples I have mentioned, including the climate change Bill languishing on the C list.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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We will not agree to Fianna Fáil's climate change Bill anyway.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Government is producing worthy documents but failing to legislate for them. That is my opinion. As the Minister said, it is only my time I can account for. It seems to me that during the short span of my time in this Chamber, all we have got from the Government is mere window-dressing.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy and his colleagues have to account for the sins of the past.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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If the Government is to bequeath a viable planet to the next generation, which is one of the pressing challenges of sustainable development, it must take radical action rather than allowing its climate change Bill to languish on the C list. As a Kilkenny man, the Minister knows that not too many C teams win all-Irelands.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I know that well.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The ESRI has raised concerns about the compatibility of the ambitious targets set in the Food Harvest 2020 agenda, which was initiated by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the previous Government in conjunction with farming bodies and representatives. As I said last night on Private Members' business, I am glad that the Government has continued the Food Harvest 2020 policy and set about working with all stakeholders to make sure its targets can be achieved by 2020. This approach was vindicated this week when an announcement was made by Kerry Group. I welcome the faith in this economy that is being shown by such a fantastic indigenous company, which is a global market leader. We have to recognise the importance of the agriculture sector to our economy.

I would like to refer briefly to CAP reform. There is an onus and a responsibility on the Ministers for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Community and Local Government to ensure the €1.6 billion envelope is retained. It should be retained and no doubt it will be. The Government has our full support in its efforts to ensure that is what happens. The mechanisms used for the disbursement of those funds can be adjudicated on with other parties, with a view to ensuring money goes to those who need it most. We must make sure we are not hampered by environmental issues that might prevent us from being able to draw down the majority of the funds that will be available. The practices that were sanctioned by previous Governments under schemes such as REPS and AEOS must be maintained. Given that there has been an underspend of €200 million in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it is unfortunate that AEOS has been diminished. That money could have gone a long way towards copperfastening sustainable development in the agriculture sector and thereby reducing the threat that may arise in the course of the CAP negotiations. As we said last night, we will hold the Government to account while supporting its efforts to meet its goals. If we feel it is not performing as it should, it will be held to account for that.

Ireland has a reputation for green production, with farmers focusing on work that involves environmentally sound practices. There should be no need for them to be punished, considering the background work they have done. There is no logic in shipping beef and other food that is produced in South America in dubious environmental circumstances halfway across the world when it can be produced here with less of an environmental impact. It is critical for sustainable development to take an international perspective and recognise the core role of farmers as custodians of the unique countryside environment.

The 2002 spatial strategy centred on the need to focus future planning and development on nine gateway cities and large towns and nine medium-sized hub towns. Many of the larger gateway cities experienced population growth that was lower than the national average while strong growth took place within commuting distance of those gateways.

The national spatial strategy update and outlook reaffirmed the Government's commitment to implementing the strategy and set new priorities and objectives, taking on board experiences since 2002. We believe balanced regional development, maintaining as many people as practical on the land, and adequate housing provision, under which people get a house suited to their needs and resources, are essential in achieving sustainable development. Fostering sustainable communities that encompass a strong sense of civic pride and participation is part of the crucial social capital we bequeath to future generations and helps tie society together. Spatial planning helps to secure these viable, vibrant communities through the effective use of space, designing public areas as recreational facilities, putting in place good transport links and constructing mixed communities.

In this light, the Government's retail planning guidelines threaten to undermine the vibrancy of town centres across the country by hollowing out businesses and driving them out of town centres.

1:45 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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That is nonsense.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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This was a regressive move by the Government that damages the concept of sustainable development and, again, exposes the failure of Government to match rhetoric with action.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy should read the guidelines.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is back to the question of rhetoric and action.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy, without interruption.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Government has not matched its actions with the rhetoric when it talks about climate change.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Ask the shopkeepers.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Ask the shopkeepers? I will tell the Minister about the shopkeepers.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Ask the shopkeepers about the planning guidelines.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Ask them about the upward-only rent reviews. Ask them about changes to the means and mechanisms by which rates are valued.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy might wait for the Minister's reply.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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If the Minister wants to bring other issues into the debate, I have no problem debating them. He talks about shopkeepers, town centres and the problems with retailers. We have no problem debating that but we will specifically talk about the role of local government in terms of being a bill on top of retailers.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Then try to be accurate.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Commitments were made by his party and others prior to the last election in regard to upward-only rent reviews. When I asked about it this morning, I was told the legislation would not allow for it, as we were told in last year's budget, but the Government has not found a means or mechanism by which it could address the issue in the meantime. Ask the shopkeepers about rates.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Will the Deputy return to the issue?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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What about the planning guidelines?

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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What about the commitment in regard to rates? The Government said the system was archaic and that they would overhaul it. The Valuation (Amendment) Bill before the House makes no effort to overhaul it. That is the situation with regard to town centres, shopkeepers and retailers across the country. I have no problem debating that.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Will the Deputy return to the issue? We are debating sustainable development.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister with responsibility in that regard has a big problem debating it because he has not effected any of the changes he said he would effect.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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What about the planning guidelines?

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Minister will have a chance to reply later.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to the European Union and sustainable development policy, we will work in close co-operation with our EU partners, and we recognise this is a vital part of achieving sustainable development. The Government must play an active role in establishing and implementing EU policies to ensure that all countries are in lockstep on the issue and no competitive issues arise that disadvantage certain countries.

The Amsterdam treaty made sustainable development a core task of the European Community. In December 1999 the EU Heads of State and Government asked the Commission to produce a sustainable development strategy, entitled A Sustainable Europe for a Better World, for the EU, and it was presented to the Gothenburg summit in 2001. The Treaty of Lisbon states that one of the EU's objectives is to work for sustainable development based in particular on a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. The Europe 2020 strategy adopted by the EU in 2010 sets targets for the decade in the following areas: employment, research and development and innovation; climate change and energy; and education and poverty and social exclusion. The 2020 strategy reaffirms the collective determination to ensure fiscal sustainability, including accelerating plans for fiscal consolidation. It supports a shift towards a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy, and the European Commission has committed to using a range of financing and economic instruments to achieve this objective.

To conclude, I want to reiterate our commitment to sustainable development, which has to be at the core of future public policy, both domestically and internationally. As I said, we have made significant progress over the past decade in advancing environmentally friendly policies and copperfastening the role of sustainable development at the heart of public policy. However, as I have said on numerous occasions during these few words, the Government must match its words with actions. It is vital the Minister moves the climate change Bill a bit further than the C list. He would like to finish his term with more than a C grade. At the moment it is languishing in the "fail" category but I am sure he can find ways and means of bringing it onto the A list.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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We are going the full term, not like the last Government.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have no doubt the Government will do so. I hope the Minister does. He might implement half of what he said he would.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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On behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate the Government's framework for sustainable development for Ireland. Sustainability is a much used and abused and often misunderstood term. If someone wants to sound environmentally friendly, he or she simply peppers his or her contribution with the word "sustainability". Sustainable development has been defined as balancing the fulfilment of human needs with the protection of the natural environment so these needs can be met, not only in the present but in the future. The Brundtland Commission, which the Minister quotes, defines sustainable development as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

This is an important framework document that should be the compass for decisions made by the Government and should guide Government policy. It should not be seen simply as a Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government document or as an afterthought by other Departments, statutory agencies or public bodies. To be effective, the framework for sustainable development must receive the political support and resources it requires to ensure its success. Unfortunately, in response to a parliamentary question I tabled in June, the Minister stated that no extra resources would be allocated for its implementation.

In the document's introduction, the Minister states: "I welcome the fact that political oversight will be delivered through the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and the Green Economy, supported by the High-Level Inter-Departmental Group on Sustainable Development chaired by my Department". The reality is different. Unfortunately, the Minster's track record on climate change is very poor. Despite the fact that climate change is mentioned five times in the document, the Minister continues to flip-flop on the issue. So far, no heads of a Bill have been drafted and no contact has been made with Departments to ensure they have an input. Climate change continues to be moved down the agenda, which annoys me greatly. The Cabinet committee on climate change and the green economy meets in secret, with no minutes and no accountability, whereas, under the previous Government, for all its faults, the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change was an all-party committee focused on drafting a climate change Bill.

It must be a priority for this Government to introduce a climate change Bill. It is the cornerstone around which a sustainable future can be built, a point on which I hope we can all agree. The Minister has had the public consultation. We must now have the drafts of the Bill circulated to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Time is not on our side. The consequences of failing to draft and agree a climate change Bill are much too serious to simply ignore it or put it on the back burner.

The framework document states: "Ireland is required to progress down an annual emissions reduction trajectory from 2013, reaching a point in 2020 where emissions are equivalent to 20% below their level in 2005." The document clearly outlines the consequences if the Government fails to introduce a climate change Bill. If we continue with current levels of consumption, we would need three planets' worth of resources to keep us going. Our overall ecological footprint is the tenth highest in the world, and we must change this. The document goes on to state: "Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions are among the highest per person in the world." There can be no more arguments, prevarication or stalling.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Assembly is proceeding with the drafting of a climate change Bill in line with the Westminster Bill. The Minister knows that the challenges and consequences of global warming do not stop at borders. Here is an opportunity to approach this issue in a real, all-Ireland way. In fact, the draft Bill produced by the sub-committee on climate change during the term of the last Government is available, and Deputy Hogan's ministerial colleague, Deputy Simon Coveney, was an enthusiastic champion of the Bill.

Whatever we do in regard to the new Bill, it must have five key components. First, it must contain legally binding five-year carbon budgets.

Second, it must have an independent expert authority looking at the evidence and publishing its advice to the Government. Third, there must be a science-based target for 2050. Fourth, EU leaders have accepted the findings of the global Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there must be a reduction in emissions of 80% to 90% compared to the 1990 baseline figure by 2050. The fifth element is that there must be a commitment to meeting these targets domestically. We simply cannot buy our way out of meeting the targets. It would be far too costly an approach, both financially and environmentally. We must have clarity and certainty in order that business and householders can invest.


The challenge of sustainability must be viewed in an historical context. There has been close a correlation between economic growth and environmental destruction. Right through the industrial revolution the environment and its inhabitants suffered. Forests, rivers and lakes were destroyed in an effort to meet the demands of growth and greater profits. In this country entire counties were deforested to meet the needs of the industrial revolution in Britain. The walls of the House of Commons are panelled with wood from forests in County Cork.


The World Business Council for Sustainable Development states "Business cannot succeed in societies that fail". A major hurdle to the achievement of sustainability is poverty. It has been widely acknowledged that poverty is one source of environmental degradation. Such an acknowledgment has been made in the Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future, and the United Nation’s millennium development goals. According to the Brundtland report,

Poverty is a major cause and effect of global environmental problems. It is therefore futile to attempt to deal with environmental problems without a broader perspective that encompasses the factors underlying world poverty and international inequality.
Poverty has become a reality for more families in the State today than was the case ten years ago. Unfortunately, the level of child poverty has increased for the first time in more than a century. A total of 200,000 children are now living in poverty. More than 700,000 people in total are living in poverty, and the unemployment rate is almost 15%. Meanwhile, the Government continues to bail out zombie banks to the tune of billions of euro. It is not sustainable for the level of poverty to increase, while billions of euro is exported to unguaranteed bondholders.


Treating the environment as an afterthought may generate short-term profit at the expense of sustainability. Sustainable business practices, on the other hand, integrate ecological, social and economic concerns. Growth that depletes ecosystem services is sometimes termed "uneconomic growth" as it leads to a decline in quality of life. Minimising such growth can provide opportunities for local businesses. To combat poverty, create jobs and provide an economic stimulus, the Government must develop the green economy. It must not be kept in the hands of a secret Cabinet sub-committee but must instead become a reality for the people of the country. We must involve them in the process.


The notion of sustainability as a business opportunity has led to the formation of organisations such as the Sustainability Consortium of the Society for Organizational Learning, the Sustainable Business Institute and the World Council for Sustainable Development. Research focusing on progressive corporate leaders who have embedded sustainability in a commercial strategy has yielded a leadership competency model for sustainability. The expansion of sustainable business opportunities can contribute to job creation through the green economy.


In my county of Laois there is significant potential for wind energy projects and the establishment of wind farms. If such farms are located sensitively on unused land through local consultation, this industry could provide jobs and energy for communities beyond the midlands and even these shores. Sinn Féin calls on the Government to kick-start the wind power industry with a €600 million investment in infrastructure, in addition to a €400 million investment by the European Investment Bank. We favour reforming and reducing the lead-in time necessary for projects and would mandate the ESB to develop an extra 300 MW of offshore wind generation capacity in the next five years. It is estimated that this industry has the capacity to create 50,000 jobs over a 15 year period.


Tourism is under-resourced and untapped in the midlands, particularly in Counties Laois and Offaly. Laois and Offaly county councils are committed to financially backing the development of a mountain bike trek through the beautiful Slieve Bloom Mountains. However, the project urgently needs the backing of the Government and Tourism Ireland. It has the backing of the local authorities. It ticks all the boxes; it is about job creation and sustainability and will provide an economic stimulus in rural areas of counties Laois and Offaly where there is little work to be found.


Energy efficiency measures could also increase profits by reducing costs and provide jobs. A total of 1.4 million houses in the country are in need of insulation and retrofitting. According to the Institute of International and European Affairs, an investment of approximately €14 billion would be required to bring residential housing stock up to an average building energy rating, BER, of C1. We heard much talk from the previous speaker about C ratings. This measure would save the average household €1,496 a year. It would also help the country to reach its 20% energy efficiency target by 2020.


Sinn Féin supports the framework document, but, more importantly, we aim to hold the Government to account to ensure sustainability becomes the common thread running through all Government policies and actions. The Minister states in the introduction to the document that “the business as usual approach will not suffice.” We agree. We have an opportunity to break the business as usual cycle, but the Minister must prioritise the drafting and circulation of the heads of the climate change Bill. I appeal to him to do so. The Bill will be the litmus test of whether the Government is serious about pursuing sustainability.

1:55 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies Barry Cowen and Brian Stanley for their contributions, apart from the few errors Deputy Barry Cowen made in his contribution, which I will choose to ignore, about sustainable development in the context of planning and Fianna Fáil's record. I will make my concluding remarks without being drawn into that debate.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister does not want to be drawn into it.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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No, I do not.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is one the Minister cannot win.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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A cross-sectoral approach is being taken to implementation. The Cabinet sub-committee meets regularly, unlike what happened under the previous Government.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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How often?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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We have met five times this year to deal with the issues involved. The Deputy might be confused somewhat as regards the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security in the last Dáil.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is it part of the Government's reform agenda?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Yes, it is. The Deputy will hear more about it next week. It is incumbent on all Departments to consult each other before we draw conclusions on any matter. I am adhering to the commitments set out by me last January in the roadmap on climate change. The heads of the Bill will be published, as promised, before the end of the year.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is it on the C list?

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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One does not need an A list to consider the heads of a Bill.

The sustainable future document will be published this year. Nobody has sought it; we will publish it without being asked.

The public service is pursuing a green public procurement policy on a total of €7 billion worth of goods and services. We will publish the details.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, received approval from the Cabinet in recent days to publish his action plan for the green economy. A substantial amount of work has been done in the past year in order to ensure our actions on sustainable development will be implemented. A significant action plan was outlined in the document we published, which was not mentioned in the course of the contributions made.

Sustainable development is about ourselves. It is about inhabiting a place where economic and financial stability are based on a model of development that respects the three pillars of sustainability - the environment, the economy and society. I am sure we can move forward on these issues together.

Sitting suspended at 2.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.40 p.m.