Dáil debates

Friday, 23 January 2015

Report on the Outline Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013: Motion


11:55 am

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann considers the Report of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht entitled 'Report on the Outline Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013', which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 20th November 2014."
I am pleased to be here this afternoon to discuss the report on the outline heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013 by the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The many developments at national, EU and international levels since the publication of this Bill in November 2013 and, more particularly, the publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 make it timely to review the recommendations contained in the report as we chart our way forward.

Climate change is happening. We face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible damage, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action. The time has long since passed when the vast majority of people accepted the science and reality of climate change, and they have demanded action. The scientific community has convened conferences, published reports, spoken out at forums and proclaimed, through statements by virtually every national scientific academy and relevant major scientific organisation, that climate change puts the well-being of people of all nations at risk.

Climate Change is one of the key issues facing the world today and it is vital that we formulate the necessary policy and legislation to help Ireland move to a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable economy and society. The average global temperature has increased by about 1.4° Fahrenheit over the past 100 years. The sea level is rising and some types of extreme events, such as heat waves and heavy precipitation events, are happening more frequently. Earth's climate is on a path to warm beyond the range of what has been experienced over millions of years. As global temperatures rise, there is a real risk, however small, that one or more critical parts of the Earth's climate system will experience abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible damage. Therefore, we must find agreement on actions that will ultimately turn the temperature down.

We have taken a bit of a battering over recent weeks. The recent sequence of storms has caused chaos and havoc, battering homes, businesses and farms across the country. Last summer was the hottest recorded since records began. This clearly demonstrates to us that climate change is not some abstract academic idea or a phenomenon that might happen at some time in the distant future; it is very much here.

Climate change is real and the power and frequency of the pattern of unpredictable weather is a testament to that fact. Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk and foreclose options to address the risk. The carbon dioxide we produce accumulates in Earth's atmosphere for decades or centuries, or even longer.

It is not like pollution from smog or wastes in our lakes and rivers, where levels respond quickly to the effects of targeted policies.

The effects of CO2 emissions cannot be reversed from one generation to the next until there is a large-scale, cost-effective way to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases. If left unchecked, it has the potential to severely damage not only our environment, but also our economy and our quality of life. It may also have major economic consequences for our essential indigenous sectors such as agriculture and food production. There is also a growing economic and political consensus that the costs of inaction will greatly outweigh the cost of action. By making informed choices now, we can reduce risks for future generations and ourselves and help communities adapt to climate change. People have responded successfully to other major environmental challenges such as acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer with benefits greater than costs and there are ways to manage the risks of climate change while balancing current and future economic prosperity but paying lip service to the problem will not make it go away.

The Government has committed to legislating in this area. Legislation is the best way to make sure that all Departments across Government, and all Departments across time, take climate change seriously and take action consistently. We have to hardwire action and accountability on climate change into the political system. In response to that demand, the Labour Party became the first party in Ireland to publish a Climate Change Bill in 2009. The programme for Government committed to publishing a Climate Change Bill to "provide certainty surrounding government policy and provide a clear pathway for emissions reductions, in line with negotiated EU 2020 targets".

This report represents the culmination of lengthy and wide-ranging consultations by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and Gaeltacht and led to the agreed outline of climate change legalisation. Months of lengthy hearings provided all stakeholders with a chance to air their views on the draft heads and this report reflects many of the observations made. The report contains credible proposals on how to ensure that our climate policies are rolled out in an efficient and effective manner. I welcome the fact that key recommendations in the report on the heads of the climate action and low carbon development Bill 2013 form the key pillars of the recently published Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015. The Bill has taken into account some key points of the report, including the establishment of the expert advisory group overseeing Ireland's progress on tackling climate change and proposes that it report annually on the progress being made by Ireland and can publish the report 30 days following presentation to the Minister.

Another recommendation included in the Bill means all relevant Ministers will report on an annual basis to the Dáil. This will greatly increase the level of scrutiny of the carbon reduction measures being implemented across Government. Overall scrutiny of the progress being made on climate change will be strengthened by the production of a new low carbon road map every five years, instead of seven as originally proposed. Most important, we will ensure that Ireland's EU targets become our national targets and put a legal obligation on the State to show how it intends to comply with them. The report and the Bill also state that any EU or international target Ireland signs up to will automatically become legally binding, whether that is for 2030 or 2050, and the national roadmaps would then be required to match that target.

This is the first time that a coherent and legislative response has been developed to the threat of climate change. The Bill will be one of the most important to come before the Dáil and the Seanad this year, and potentially years to come. This legislation sets us apart and will make Ireland one of the few EU member states to have adopted climate change legislation and one of the first to put a legal obligation on its Government to develop policies to plan for existing and future climate change commitments.

With challenges also comes opportunity. We must remember there is an opportunity for Ireland to develop a green low-carbon environment and industry that is green aware. Our economic recovery is not divorced from environmental issues. The two go hand in hand. Our economic recovery presents a chance to rebuild in a more sustainable way, creating jobs in agriculture, food, marine and tourism-based initiatives. Effective legislation can help make Ireland a hub for green enterprise and innovation. Many Irish companies have established their credentials as world leaders in providing green goods and services internationally and their innovations are contributing to EU and international efforts to lower emissions and decarbonise our economies. Our beef and dairy production is among the most carbon efficient in the world. Irish food producers have a vital role to play in providing a sustainable source of food into the future. The "Origin Green" brand has become a unique selling point for Irish food and drink worldwide. With regard to the wider economy, by improving resource efficiency, introducing different business models or offering more sustainable products and services, companies can expand their markets and create new jobs, while transforming existing ones. It is our job now to ensure Ireland has a strong legislative response to the threat of climate change. The time for action is now. I look forward to an informed and robust debate on this report and forthcoming legislation. We are ambitious for action on climate change policies, and this report is a tangible and positive step forward in the right direction.

I would like to record my sincere appreciation to all members of the joint committee and I would like to acknowledge the role played by the clerk to the committee, Mr. Eugene Ó Cruadhlaoich, and Professor John Sweeney in helping us compile the report and the facilities and support provided to us by the Library and Research Service of the House. As other members will attest, we sat through public hearings in the basement of Leinster House 2000 during exceptionally fine weather two years ago to take submissions. While other colleagues were on a break, we experienced at first hand the effects of climate change. It was almost an anomalous sign that we should get the work done as quickly as possible. All the contributions, particularly by the committee members, were valued and valuable. We invited in disparate groups from academia and the science and NGO sectors. For example, we heard from the IFA and IBEC and many people made submissions to the committee. The report was compiled on that basis and it was significant that there was unanimous agreement when it was published in late 2013.

People often remind Members of actions that are not taken or that do not happen quick enough. I would like people to cast their cast minds back to the controversial manifesto the Labour Party used for the 2011 general election. It stated, "Labour's Climate Change Bill will provide certainty about Government policy and a clear pathway for emissions reductions in line with negotiated EU targets", while the programme for Government states, "We will publish a Climate Change Bill that will provide certainty surrounding government policy and provide a clear pathway for emissions reductions, in line with negotiated EU 2020 targets". In 2007 when the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats-Green Party Government was formed, the Green Party talked a great deal about introducing climate legislation but that never happened for obvious reasons. It was one of the great pities of that Administration. While it will always be remembered for the economic circumstances that brought about its demise, this was one of the key areas in which I had hoped legislation would be introduced during that era, particularly when there was a booming economy and the pressure on our environment was more severe. However, it is happening now and I look forward to chairing the Committee Stage of the Bill. I thank all those who were involved or associated with the production of the report.

12:15 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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As the House will be aware, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 was published last Monday. I acknowledge the substantial work done by the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and, in particular, its Chairman, Deputy Michael McCarthy, in laying the groundwork for what has become the published Bill. Publication of the joint committee's report was an important milestone in shaping the debate on the legislation. The report informed, in a genuine and meaningful fashion, the further development of the heads of the Bill.

While the report did not make recommendations as such, it outlined a number of possible courses of action that might be considered in the further development of the heads of the Bill. As the joint committee made considerable efforts in preparing its report, it is only right that I spend some time addressing each of these possible courses of action. In the first instance, the committee proposed that Ireland's existing annual greenhouse gas emission limits, as agreed under the European Union's so-called effort sharing decision of 2009, constitute the required mitigation objectives of the Bill for the period 2013 to 2020. The Government agrees with this approach. However, as the targets set down under the effort sharing decision are already legally binding on Ireland, there was no need to explicitly include them in the legislation. It should be noted that the Bill, as published, explicitly refers to the European Union's effort sharing decision as one of the existing obligations on the State which must be respected.

The second possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that Ireland's annual emission limits for the periods to 2030, 2040 and 2050 should ultimately be agreed by member states under the EU Roadmap 2050 or any future burden sharing arrangement agreed at EU level. I am pleased to note that the committee and the Government are at one on annual emission limits up to 2050 and that they should arise from EU negotiations, rather than be unilaterally self-imposed in the Bill without regard to the wider EU and international sphere.

The third possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the intervals between proposed national low carbon roadmaps for emission reductions should be not greater than five years. An interval of seven years was proposed in the original outline heads of the Bill. Nonetheless, having regard to the committee's views, I am pleased to note that we took on board this advice and the published Bill specifies a five-year rather than a seven-yearcycle.

The fourth possible course of action is that the preparation of sectoral roadmaps for emission reductions should be subsequent to the publication of the national roadmap for the relevant period and should, in aggregation, be consistent with the prior targets established by the national roadmap. With respect, this advice is to somewhat misunderstand the process of preparing national roadmaps or national mitigation plans as they are now called in the published Bill. In this regard, the preparation of sectoral mitigation measures will be closely co-ordinated across Departments so as to ensure that, when aggregated, the subsequent national mitigation plan will provide for meeting the relevant mitigation targets. This co-ordination will be facilitated by extensive modelling work undertaken across the main emitting sectors.

The fifth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that national policy for future agricultural emissions to 2050 should be predicated on the basis of zero emissions growth relative to 2013. This does not appear to be a realistic option having regard to Food Harvest 2020, the medium-term strategy for the development of the agrifood, fisheries and forestry sectors for the period to 2020. Moreover, it may be in contradiction of the committee's proposal in respect of carbon neutrality in agriculture, an issue to which I will return.

The sixth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should investigate non-national-based emission management strategies at European Union level such as an agricultural emissions trading scheme, in which efficient and sustainable Irish agricultural practices would be rewarded with increased emission quotas. This advice did not specifically relate to the further development of the legislation; therefore, I will not dwell too much on it. However, suffice it to say I appreciate the intent behind the proposal in that it recognises Ireland's unique emissions profile, in which agriculture features prominently, not because of any lack of agri-efficiency but solely relating to the size of the agriculture sector relative to other sectors.

The seventh possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that, in preparing the sectoral roadmaps for agriculture, a target of carbon neutrality should be established for 2050, with measurable progress towards it scheduled for 2020, 2030 and 2040. The intent behind this proposal is correct; carbon neutrality is the appropriate avenue of policy development in respect of future greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture and land use sector, including forestry, by making use of appropriate carbon sinks. I am certain that the sectoral mitigation measures proposed for the agriculture sector will fully reflect this goal.

The eighth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that, for the purposes of the Bill, low carbon development should be interpreted as near zero emissions for 2050 in the energy, buildings and transport sectors and carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector. Since publication of the committee's report, further consideration was given to a national vision for low carbon development. The outcome was communicated with the publication, last April, of the national climate policy position, which sets out a long-term vision of low carbon transition based on an aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of at least 80%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment and transport sectors and, in parallel, an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. Given that Ireland will likely be subject to binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets up to 2050 as part of the EU process and that a long-term vision of low carbon transition has been set out in the national climate policy position, the Government does not consider it either appropriate or necessary to include a national 2050 target in legislation.

The ninth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the Bill should provide for the establishment of a national green climate fund ring-fenced within, or separate to, the environment fund. It would be used to support climate mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries and constitute Ireland's contribution to the international green climate fund established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. While I applaud the intent, the reality of our fiscal situation militates against this course of action. In this regard, any future funding by Ireland of the international green climate fund should be part of the annual Estimates process, rather than a matter of statutory obligation. That is not to say nothing is being done in this regard. Despite difficult fiscal circumstances, Ireland has maintained significant support, including public finance, for climate action on adaptation in developing countries. Although the vast majority of Ireland's annual climate finance flow through Irish Aid, Ireland's overseas development programme, which falls within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, it should be noted that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government also made a contribution of €33 million over two years during the fast-start finance period 2010-12 in supporting the Global Climate Change Alliance and the Least Developed Countries Fund. Moreover, as articulated by the Minister, Deputy Alex White, in his Lima COP plenary address, despite our recent difficult economic circumstances, Ireland has maintained flows of public climate finance at fast-start finance levels, delivering approximately €34 million in grants in 2013. We expect to match this in 2014 and are actively exploring all options for scaling up our mobilisation of climate finance, including in the green climate fund.

The tenth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the expert advisory body should consist of a chairperson and not more than five other members, all of whom should be independent of State or stakeholder interests, and that it should be supported by a technical secretariat, comprising the heads of the EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Teagasc and the ESRI. The Government does not share the committee's view in this regard. Pursuant to the published Bill, the expert advisory council will comprise a chairperson and between eight and ten ordinary members, four of whom shall be exofficio members comprising the heads of the four agencies. In appointing a chairperson and the ordinary members it is important to note that the Government will consider the range of qualifications, expertise and experience necessary for the effective performance of the council. The inclusion of the exofficio members will help to underpin this much needed expertise and experience on these matters, as well as providing a link with relevant agencies working in the field so as to ensure effective implementation. Accordingly, the Government is not minded to alter this arrangement.

The eleventh possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the expert advisory body should exercise its functions independently and obtain the assistance of the technical secretariat in acquiring and processing data relevant to its activities. I do not believe the composition of the expert advisory council, as proposed in the published Bill, in any way prevents the advice emanating from this quarter from being anything other than independent and of the highest quality. Having the exofficio members on the council directly, rather than relegated to some technical secretariat, means that the advice provided by the council will be well informed, robust, up-to-date and, just as important, capable of being implemented in the real world.

This is crucial to ensure those charged with implementing mitigation policy measures enjoy buy-in from the start.

The twelfth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the expert advisory body should be empowered to publish its annual reports subsequent to submitting them to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the committee. I am pleased to note that in the published Bill this advice has been taken on board and that the expert advisory council has been given the power to publish its annual and periodic review reports directly, after a short set period, following their submission to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The thirteenth possible course of action proposed by the joint committee is that the annual transition report to Dáil Éireann should be concluded by a statement from the Taoiseach as chairman of the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change detailing the progress made in emissions reductions in the preceding year and outlining the programme for achieving the required reductions in each sector for the forthcoming year. The Government does not consider it appropriate that this role should fall to the Taoiseach, as climate change policy properly falls within the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. Accordingly, the Government believes it should fall to the Minister to make an overview statement as part of the annual transition report to Dáil Éireann, which constitutes an important exercise in transparency and openness.

As the House has heard, several of the joint committee's proposals were accepted in full and unequivocally. On others, however, agreement could not be reached. On others again, the intent, if not the letter, of the proposal found favour. That is probably the way things go.

I again thank the joint committee for its extensive work on the outline heads of the Bill and, in particular, its chairperson, Deputy Michael MacCarthy. It is obvious that the report was given genuine and detailed consideration and I am satisfied that it has promoted a better and more inclusive Bill than would otherwise have been the case.

12:25 pm

Photo of Robert DowdsRobert Dowds (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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As a member of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, I acknowledge the work done by it on the report, for which I cannot claim any credit because I was not a member at the time it was working on it. However, I know that a great deal of work was put into it by its members. It is very important that this work was done. I also welcome publication of the climate change Bill, to give it its brief title. It is the most important legislation the Government will introduce and something that will put people, not just in Ireland but throughout the world, to the pin of their collar. People seem to be hardwired to deal with imminent problems. It seems we are not hardwired to deal with a long-term problem or something that will hit us very hard in 20 years. That is the real problem people in Ireland and other countries have in tackling the issue of climate change. It is absolutely vital to the well-being of all of us on the globe that we tackle the issue quickly. I hope that on this occasion we can see that our long-term interests must be protected immediately, rather than looking for short-term gains which may contribute to the problem down the road.

To bring the public with us, we have to continuously emphasise the extent of the problem and use the dreadful weather events which occur from time to time to emphasise why it is so important that we make a huge jump in tackling climate change and to ensure the temperature of the world will not increase by more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. If we use the opportunities which, unfortunately, are going to arise with increasing frequency, it may help to get the public to understand and us to accept that we must change the way we do things. However, it is important that this be done not just in Ireland but elsewhere also. In that regard, a useful step was taken in the discussions between the United States and China, the two countries which produce the most carbon. What they have agreed to is in no way adequate, but it is important that they have begun to make that step and I hope there will be further steps down the track, to be taken as soon as possible.

The other aspect which might help people to accept the great need for change is that climate change problems also provide new economic opportunities, for example, in solar or wind energy production. This, however, will require investment. New doors will be opened and people will see the benefits. However, there is no question that if we do not address these issues urgently, we will increasingly be in serious trouble, with low-lying communities in danger of being flooded, to name but one of the huge problems we face.

On the report and the Bill, I realise - the Minister of State, Deputy Áodhan Ó Ríordáin, made this clear - that there is a gap between what the Bill offers and what the report advocated. When we come to discuss the Bill, it will be our duty to try to ensure we have maximum effect in bringing us towards a more carbon neutral country and world. I will go into this matter in more detail at that stage.

Given that Third World communities are, in a sense, on the front line in dealing with the adverse effects of climate change, it is right that there be a transfer to them to assist them in deal with their difficulties. It is very important to mention a couple of recommendations made in the report. It is important that we try to include in the Bill some definition of what we mean by low carbon emissions and specific targets to be met. It should also be emphasised that the climate council is independent and can come to its own conclusions. I welcome the five-year mitigation programme because this issue needs to be looked at on a regular basis for many years. I will come back to it when the Bill is being discussed.

I thank the Minister of State, the Chairman of the joint committee, Deputy Michael McCarthy, and committee members for the work they have done on this issue. As we can see, there will be difficulties. There are, for example, problems in trying to install wind turbines around the country. There will also be difficulties in trying to bring forward low carbon emission energy projects, for example, so as not to tread too much on the toes of local communities.

It is important that we focus on the long term necessity of addressing this major problem which stares us in the face.

12:35 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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It is very timely that we debate the report in the week in which the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill was, finally, published. It gives the House a chance to see the weight of such committee reports and the bearing they have on policy making. It is a coincidence that they both happened this week because this was due to be debated in December but was postponed because the Friday sitting was used for Government business. Ironically, the same week the heads of the legislation were published in 2013, we debated my energy security and climate change Bill, which the Government did not accept. I did not envisage it would take so long to get even this far.

I thank Professor John Sweeney, who, with the committee, put much effort into the preparation of the report. I thank all those who came before the committee and contributed. There were some very interesting contributions that many of us felt would be valuable when the time came to debate the legislation. Many of us thought the report should have gone much further and should have made very specific recommendations, however we went with a balanced report because we thought it would increase the chance that most of the recommendations would be included in the legislation. Unfortunately, some of the key issues it highlighted have not found their way into the legislation. The Bill got more scrutiny than most legislation. This is the seventh such Bill that has been presented in the past ten years, including my Bill in 2013 and two by the Government, including this one. We have a history of proposing legislation on this without passing it.

The committee engaged in two weeks of intensive deliberations across the sectors. Representatives of the agriculture sector made some very interesting contributions, and agriculture will present us with the most difficulties in making sectoral plans. I was very impressed with the BirdWatch Ireland representatives who talked to us about the carbon sink the bogs could provide. Given that the hearings were broad ranging, it is disappointing that some of the conclusions did not find their way into the legislation. The overwhelming weight of witness opinion favoured legally binding emissions reduction targets. This was reflected in the definition on page 17 of the report. The Minister is wrong; a definition of the criteria was included in the report, which specified:

(1) Near zero emissions for 2050 in the Energy, Buildings and Transport Sectors;

(2) Carbon neutrality in the Agricultural sector.
The report stated very clearly:
Since the objective of the legislation is ultimately to change behaviour and facilitate the achievement of national goals in respect of climate change mitigation, a measure of what the ultimate effort entails is necessary. Only by having a specific objective can indicators of progress be monitored.
The Bill contains no such language and no specific objectives other than those of our EU and international commitments. It contains no sector-specific targets or interim targets. If we do not have a balance in our sectoral plans, one sector will have to compensate for another sector that does not contribute an equal share. For example, we could have to counter what we do not do in agriculture with a major investment in mitigating the damage done by the transport sector, for example by delivering a very efficient public transport system. We could have to consider the retrofitting of people's homes. An initiative at European level would be needed to deliver on some of these initiatives.

The report was very prescriptive on individual sectors, recommending a target of carbon neutrality in agriculture by 2050 with interim report targets in 2020, 2030 and 2040. Under this Bill, I can conceive of no possible way this goal can be achieved, especially given the intensive production targets envisaged in Food Harvest 2020. I would like to be proven wrong on this. No thought has been given to the specific recommendation that the Government encourage sustainable forms of agriculture by investigating an agricultural emissions trading scheme at EU level. While perhaps this is not directly for this legislation, a wider debate and initiative could happen.

The report recommended incorporating the principles of climate justice into domestic legislation. Those least well equipped to handle climate change will be most affected by it in Bangladesh, southern Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands. We have an international obligation. The Government has, again, ignored this recommendation and is determined to do as little as possible on climate justice by declining to sign up to the international Green Climate Fund, which is designed to help the poorest and most disadvantaged to make the changes necessary to reduce emissions. Most industrialised countries are the ones which have caused the most damage.

The committee’s report refers to the expert advisory body. There was a very strong consensus and a push on the part of the Labour Party that this body be an independent body, and it is critical. Deputy Ciarán Lynch, or possibly the Minister of State himself, constantly made the point that it should be along the lines of the Fiscal Advisory Council. However, the legislation has dropped this recommendation. Energy security came up several times during the debate. It is vital that we have fossil fuel reduction targets. We are very dependent on fossil fuel imports, with more than 90% of our fuel imported and only 80 days of reserves. We spend approximately €8 billion per year on importing oil and gas.

At no point in the process of the preparation of national and sectoral plans did the urgency of action seem to dawn on the Government. This lazy, irresponsible approach has been reflected again in the inclusion of an incredibly long wait, until 2017. It is not 12 months but 24 months. The Government is passing the responsibility on to the next Government. It should be heavily criticised for this aspect alone. The more we push it out to the future, the more we put the obligation onto future generations who will not only pick up the pieces of the financial crash but also the tab for the environmental damage of previous generations and today's. We have a responsibility into the future.

The EPA has estimated that starting in 2016, our non-ETS emissions will be at such a level as to make it impossible to achieve the 2020 targets. These are the people who will monitor the situation and have oversight of it. Therefore, we should pay attention to them.

Let us look briefly at the initiatives being taken by the Government, even before we come to this legislation. We collect a carbon tax, but this is not a real carbon tax, as it is not spent on initiatives that will produce a change in behaviour. In regard to public transport, we need a fiscal expansion that recognises the investment coming from both domestic and European funds if we are to be serious about achieving targets. In regard to the Aarhus Convention, it must mean something, rather than the notion that consultation is some sort of box ticking exercise. We must deliver on the Aarhus Convention and make it meaningful to communities. The failure in this regard is the reason we are at war over different types of production of renewable energy.

12:45 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015, which was published last Monday, is a serious disappointment. It is a further disappointment that much of the work done by the committee, which went out of its way not to be impractical, has been undermined. The Bill published last Monday is repetitiously vague throughout. At times the repetition looks as if it is a printing error, as the same statements are printed over and over again. Worst of all, the Government has kicked the can down the road to the next government, by extending the deadline for the next climate plan to 2017.

The Taoiseach made himself clear on the issue on Tuesday evening, when he spoke about Ireland being in a position to negotiate with the EU about the targets. The only issue we should be negotiating on is the possibility of achieving better targets sooner. We, the people and the world cannot sit around waiting on shortsighted, pro-business, GDP-obsessed neoliberals to play a game of musical chairs to determine which cabal of Ministers will finally get saddled with the difficult job of having to do something about tackling climate change. The stakes are too high and the problems too deep and widespread. The biggest problem is the Government's cosy ties with big business and the capitalist elite. The current Government has never expressed concern about the fact that under current licensing terms, the Irish State retains a 0% royalty share in any oil or gas found in the Shell Corrib project.

According to a 2007 study commissioned by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Ireland offers one of the lowest government takes in the world. What kind of lobbying got us into that position? The recently passed lobbying Bill ensures that many people will still get cosy jobs in the industries the Government is supposed to be regulating and that the conversations that go on between the economic players, politicians and civil servants can remain as secretive as the Government pleases. We need a monumental ideological shift to make this Bill work, and a neoliberal government, whether the current one or the next, will not facilitate it. The interests of the markets, bankers and multinational corporations remain paramount.

Let me explain the reality of the situation the Government is steadily ignoring by quoting from Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything. Every Member should read this all-encompassing book. It does not treat climate change in isolation, but covers almost every issue we discuss here and every dimension of how society is organised. Sooner or later, we will have to cop on to ourselves. She states:

In 2011 the London based Carbon Tracker Initiative conducted a study that added together the reserves claimed by all the fossil fuel companies, private and state-owned. It found that the oil, gas and coal to which these players had already laid claim - deposits they have on their books and which were already making money for shareholders - represented 2,795 gigatons of carbon (a gigaton is 1 billion metric tons). That's a very big problem because we know roughly how much carbon can be burned between now and 2050 and still leave us a solid chance (roughly 80 per cent) of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. According to one highly credible study, that amount of carbon is 565 gigatons between 2011 and 2049. And as Bill McKibben points out, "the thing to notice is, 2,795 is five times 565. It's not even close." He adds: "What those numbers mean is quite simple. This industry has announced, in filings to the SEC and in promises to shareholders, that they're determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet's atmosphere can begin to absorb.
Will the Minister of State please tell the House what proposal there is in this Bill, or in the Government's imagination, even to begin to deal with this problem? I refer to the problem of the unfettered power of the fossil fuel companies to destroy any chance of reaching the targets alluded to in the Bill. Why is the Corrib project even going ahead? Why is the Government even entertaining the idea of fracking in Ireland? Does it have, as is happening in the UK, employees of fossil fuel companies placed within government to work on energy issues free of charge? Why has it refused to tackle in the lobbying Bill, the revolving door cancer within politics which should simply be called "jobs in lieu of bribes"? Why do we allow, aside from the dreadful fact that we are promoting terrorism, the planes of one of the biggest polluters on the planet, the US military, to pass through Shannon Airport on a daily basis?

Many serious steps need to be taken, but the first should be a serious "polluter pays" tax regime. Professor Stephen W. Pacala of the Princeton Environmental Institute has estimated that the top 500 million richest people on earth are responsible for over half of the world's carbon emissions while 3 billion of the poorest people emit essentially nothing. Overpopulation is not the problem. Rich people being allowing to treat the earth like a garbage dump is the main problem. A series of progressive carbon taxes, such as a millionaire's or a higher billionaire's tax and severe punitive measures for multinational corporations must be implemented in order for us to reach the needed targets. Only the rich enjoy the benefits of their massive incomes. Trickle down economics is a myth and the richest 1% will own half the world's wealth by next year. The deprivation rate in Ireland has risen to 31.5%, up from 27% last year. Taxes that are progressive and fair to begin with are now even fairer by default. A carbon tax is a progressive tax and the revenues collected can be put to use in investment in a carbon free Ireland.

A perfect illustration of how the Government's lack of concern for the environment and how incapable it is of doing anything about it arose late last year with the publication of the Government's strategic blueprint for investing in transport. An Taisce said that the policy proposed in the document: "reflects either ignorance of, or indifference to, the global scientific consensus on climate, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Irish Government commitment to a low-carbon future by 2050." The document fails to assess the fuel source and emission impact of existing and future transport infrastructure or the need to protect coastal and rail infrastructure from storms. Vitally, the Government has no place for rail transport in its future transport plans. It goes as far as to argue that: "Unlike car ownership and use, public transport usage is generally adversely impacted by rising incomes." I am not entirely sure what it means by this poorly phrased argument, but it seems that the Government's main reason for not investing in the universally accepted eco-friendly mode of transport is that when everyone is so rich from all the austerity it has imposed on them, they will be too affluent to take the train. The argument is so weak it gives the lie to what is really going on. The National Roads Authority has become a monster and a self sustaining industry that is too big to challenge and, seemingly, too big to fail. The NRA could have been abolished in 2008 or 2009, but the decision was not taken to do that. Now it has grown too big and has got its tentacles into too many areas, making it impossible to do away with it.

The policies we need, to quote Naomi Klein, "need to be fair, so that the people already struggling to cover the basics are not being asked to make additional sacrifices to offset the excessive consumption of the rich. That means cheap public transit and clean light rail accessible to all; affordable, energy efficient housing along those transit lines; cities planned for high-density living; bike lanes in which riders aren't asked to risk their lives to get to work; land management that discourages sprawl and encourages local, low-energy forms of agriculture; urban design that clusters essential services like schools and health care along transit routes and in pedestrian-friendly areas; programs that require manufacturers to be responsible for the electronic waste they produce, and to radically reduce built-in redundancies and obsolescences." Instead, the Government is dismantling and letting rail infrastructure rot, while overcharging for a less frequent and under-funded service. We now have the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform looking at plans to abolish free travel passes for spouses and companions of the elderly. This is not the way forward. Neoliberal conservatives are not capable of providing Ireland with security against climate change. The interests of the polluters have been served for far too long.

12:55 pm

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to the debate on this most important Bill, the Climate Action and Low Carbon (Development) Bill 2013. The Bill continues to lack real teeth, with no clear targets being set. The exhaustive hearings of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Cuilture and the Gaeltacht and its subsequent recommendations on which there was consensus have effectively been ignored by the Government. The Bill marks a regressive move back from the ambitious framework of targets to 2050 included in previous legislation, including Fianna Fáil's Bill in 2010, the all-party 2010 Bill and the Labour Party's 2009 Bill. It will delay action on the issue of climate change for a further two years as the Government kicks the can down the road.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, is following hard in the previous Minister, former Deputy Phil Hogan's footsteps in his failure to include a strategic target to be met by 2050. This exposes his failure to rise to the pressing challenge posed by climate change. Removing the responsibility for setting targets and leaving it to the European Union is an abrogation of duty. For the Labour Party, it is yet another broken promise as it fails to legislate for the goals included in its own legislation in 2009. Instead, it has settled for flawed and emasculated legislation.

Environmental groups roundly criticised the heads of the Bill for their lack of vision in setting out a meaningful strategic framework to address the issue of climate change. The Bill does not include the Government's own definition of "low carbon"; does not guarantee the independence of the climate advisory council and does not include the principle of climate justice. The failure to include specific targets to be met by 2050 will give rise to sectoral interests potentially hijacking the process and depriving the Bill of its long-term impact in shaping policy formation. Attaching targets linked with EU and international agreements alone is a cop-out. This was the Labour Party's position before it performed a U-turn on the issue on entering government.

The idea of having an expert advisory council is welcome, but the council must be given real resources and clear powers if it is to have a real impact on climate change policy. In the Bill it lacks real independence. The Oireachtas must debate its advice and reports and, unlike what is proposed in the Bill, the Government must consult it when developing a carbon strategy.

The Government has delayed the adoption of a national mitigation plan, with sectoral policy measures, by at least another two years. Ireland's last emissions reduction plan expired at the end of 2012, just before our challenging 2020 EU targets came into force. The Government promised a new plan by early 2014. In April 2014 the previous Minister, former Deputy Phil Hogan's draft Bill mandated that there be an action plan within 12 months of the climate law coming into force. The Bill gives the Government two years from enactment to come up with actual measures to reduce emissions.

The measure on the annual transition report is welcome and the report should be fully debated in the Oireachtas in holding the Government to account on its climate change strategy. A rigorous accountability system needs to be put in place to ensure public bodies will be the drivers of reform on climate change and play a leading role in innovating and implementing the Government's strategy. Specific public body climate change reports should be developed. This has to be driven at local government level also.

The principle of climate justice has been entirely ignored in the Bill. The Government has voiced support for the principle at the United Nations and co-hosted a conference on the issue, with Mrs. Mary Robinson, during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. Was this simply a cynical exercise on its part?

Fianna Fáil is committed to having an ambitious environmental programme which includes tackling climate change. We published the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 on 23 December 2010 which completed First Stage in the Seanad before the Dáil was dissolved. It set out Fianna Fáil's commitment to legislating for a process that would allow us to plan for greenhouse emissions reductions and adaptation to climate change. Fianna Fáil believes this must be done in a way that safeguards economic development and competitiveness. Ireland's strategy should be consistent with EU targets and we have consistently supported the international process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. A major change in our approach to climate change policy should be a new national priority, as we are no longer solely focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While such reductions are important indicators of progress, we must also have a longer term and wider vision for creating a prosperous and sustainable Ireland.

The climate change Bill should enable us to pursue the objective of having a smart economy which is highly productive, competitive, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable. We support the broad thrust of the findings of and recommendations made in the NESC's report. Five guiding principles for action on climate change should underpin Ireland's strategy to become a carbon-neutral society. These are economic prosperity, recovery and social development; incremental and permanent decarbonisation; responsibility, integrity and leadership; reform of public institutions and governance; and societal engagement. The fifth report of the International Panel on Climate Change revealed the massive scale of the challenge facing the world. It is a serious wake-up call in terms of the need to recognise the overwhelming scientific evidence and the impact climate change will have. It must give fresh impetus to the need for an international climate change framework to be agreed in Paris by the end of 2015 following the failure of the talks in Copenhagen. The European Union and within that framework the Irish Government have to take the lead in these matters.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak about the report and the fact that we have the Bill which has been long awaited. I thought it was going to be a little like Johnny Logan's song, "What's Another Year?" I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Áodhan Ó Ríordáin, is into music. We have been waiting for the Bill a long time. I introduced a Bill over one year ago which reflected Sinn Féin's position on the issue of climate change. It dealt with the crucial issues of meeting targets, incrementally in a measured way, holding successive Governments to account and, particularly, avoiding carbon cliffs. We are at a carbon cliff because we are behind the curve in dealing with these issues. We are not where we should be, even in terms of meeting our 2020 targets. There are huge concerns about how we should move forward.

The national climate change strategy expired in 2012 and what the Bill proposes is, unfortunately, totally inadequate to follow on from it. There is no excuse for this, especially in the light of the fact that the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht - an all-party committee - put forward proposals in its 2013 report. I hope that as the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage, we can work in the same spirit. The previous Minister, former Deputy Phil Hogan, gave the impression that what we had set out in our report which attracted 600 submissions would be considered favourably. Unfortunately, many of our recommendations were ignored or have been diluted. I know that the Minister of State is here on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and has put his best foot forward in terms of outlining the Labour Party's position. I can assure him, however, that the Bill is a long way from what that party's position used to be on climate change.

The report of the joint committee and the Bill are two very different documents.

The possible courses of action set out in each are very different. Despite consultation and the committee's report, the former Minister revised the heads of the Bill, which was published in April 2014, and again ignored the advice and recommendations of the committee. It is regrettable that happened.

We are all concerned about climate change. Very few people now seriously doubt whether it is happening. Our weather and atmosphere are being turbo-charged by emissions. Where extreme weather events used to happen once in a lifetime, in Ireland we now experience them every year. Deputy O'Dowd said humans do not deal with problems that do not seem to be immediate to them. We have grown accustomed to the habit of saying that problems are for somebody else to solve. All parties in the Dáil share the concern that we cannot offload these problems to somebody else.

I have heard the argument put forward that we are such a small country it does not matter what we do, and it is up to China, the United States and Russia to address the issue. It is not, because it is affecting us. It affected Ireland last January and February when there were storms as a result of rising sea levels and tides which were brought about by global warming. We saw the effects on the south and west coasts. We have to deal with the issue and have a moral obligation to do so. Unfortunately, I can see Commissioner Phil Hogan's fingerprints all over the Bill.

Some of the points we raised and possible courses of action we pointed out have been taken, and I welcome the fact that there will be five year rather than seven year plans. The committee proposed other progressives measures, which are included in the Bill. One of the major gaps is the reference to low carbon emissions and the absence of that definition. The Government will say it was the policy position put forward in April 2012, but it is not in the Bill. The starting point has to be a definition of what is meant by the term "low carbon society". We must also define what we mean by the term "low carbon".

Ministers have confidently predicted that Ireland will pass EU targets. I recall the former Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, when he held the energy brief, justifying plans to build large wind farm projects in the midlands to export energy on that basis. I recall that he stated Ireland would be in a position to export electricity created from renewable targets because we would have surpassed our targets for electricity generation from renewables. However, that implies that this would have been part of meeting or overtaking the EU targets on carbon emissions, if renewables were gradually but progressively replacing fossils fuels as a source of energy.

Does the absence of targets in the Bill indicate that such confidence has evaporated? We know the wind farm projects have taken a turn for the worse. Have the Government and relevant Ministers with responsibility for these matters revisited that? Do they know where matters stand in that regard? Perhaps the Minister of State might inform us as to whether he believes this country will meet the targets for renewable energy generation. If not, perhaps he can explain why all of that was not factored in when targets for the reduction in emissions were set, something which could have been included in the Bill.

All of this highlights the total absence of a guiding strategy for energy, which is intimately tied to the reduction in carbon emissions. The only option in an economy and society such as ours is to replace our overwhelming dependancy on imported fossil fuels, which are the source of such emissions, with renewable and native sources of fuel. The country is unique in terms of geography, in particular in the European context, with regard to the potential for generating energy from renewable sources. Wind has occupied the main focus to date, which is not correct as one can only do so much with wind energy. The grid can only take so much energy from wind at a particular time during peaks of high wind. We have not fully considered the potential of the untapped energy from wave and tidal sources. That must be done. We are trying to play catch-up. It is directly linked to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Bill, as it stands, is not fit-for-purpose without having specific targets to be achieved within specific timeframes, such as 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050. We need to have our own targets, rather than those which are handed to us by international bodies or the EU. We are dodging the issue by not setting out clear targets. I hope there can be all-party co-operation on improving the Bill because it is very much a Fine Gael, as opposed to a Labour Party, Bill. A number of areas need to be addressed.

The definition of a "low carbon economy or society" needs to be addressed. Our party feels very strongly about sectoral targets because there will be a row between different sectors. The parcel will be passed around but this is not a parcel which can be passed around. Climate change is happening here and now, and we have to deal with it now. While I welcome the fact that the national plan is now a five year, rather than a seven year, plan, we have questions about the expert advisory council. It is very important to have it but the committee was very clear in setting out how it should be constituted and operate independently, which is very important.

We must take climate justice into consideration. The Bill is weak, has a number of gaps and has moved a long way from the possible courses of action on some issues which the committee report set out. I will table amendments on behalf of Sinn Féin in that regard. It is an issue with which we must deal.

There is a very conservative, Tea Party and republican school of thought in the United States, some places in Europe, Ireland and the Chamber to the effect that we should not talk about climate change because we cannot afford to do so. We cannot afford not to talk about and deal with it. As a state, we should embrace a low carbon economy in terms of economic development. We should become a leader in green technology and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We should use this challenge as a plus for our food, tourism and technology industries, and turn it to our advantage. I hope we can do that. I look forward to debating the Bill and making amendments to it.

1:05 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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One of the fundamental reasons that politics is widely discredited in the eyes of large numbers of people is because in almost every area, rather than listen to the people who work in particular sectors or industries - those who are passionate about things or the communities affected - and taking a lead from and involving them in making important decisions, we instead listen to a tiny number of people who just see these areas of endeavour or sectors as an opportunity to make money.

We always listen to the minority who see our planet and resources as an opportunity to make money and never listen to the people who care passionately about these things for themselves, to those who are affected directly or to those who work in these areas. At the bottom of most of the problems we face in this country and internationally is that folly of getting things completely the wrong way around and upside down in terms of how we deal with problems, set objectives and chart a way for our society. As Deputy Wallace alluded to, it is the reason we have economic crises which affect everybody, even that tiny minority who control all the wealth and have all the influence at government tables.

If one only listens to a tiny group of the wealthiest people and big business interests, one is guaranteed to get it wrong. What is good for a small minority, or what it thinks is good for it, runs counter to what is good for the rest of society, ultimately backfires even on them and leads us into the sort of catastrophic crises we are seeing. That is a generally true statement and there is no clearer example of how we are getting things wrong in that way than the issue of climate change. It is clear in the debate around the Bill and the response of the Government in dealing with the issue that it is engaged in a classic example of doing things completely the wrong way. People who care about these issues are asked for their views in submissions and 90% of them say we need binding targets. They submit that the issue is so serious that binding targets are required to deal with it. The matter gets to an Oireachtas committee and the views of the public, those who care, and the stakeholders are diluted. The committee says we cannot have binding targets as that is a bit extreme. Perhaps, it says, we can have a definition of low carbon so that at least we have some sort of roadmap to reducing carbon emissions and meeting international targets. It goes further up the line and all of that is ignored. The view of the 90% is ignored and the slightly watered down version of the Oireachtas committee is ignored. Instead, the Government listens to the big agriculture lobby. I stress that it is big agriculture. It sees binding targets as likely to infringe on its short-term - I stress "short-term" - view of making profit.

1:15 pm

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy obviously read the submission.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is what the Minister said. He was talking about agriculture.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy obviously read the IFA submission.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I did not interrupt Deputy McCarthy.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy did not read the submission.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I have read what lots of other people have said and I listened to what the Minister has said. That can be the only explanation for the failure of the Government to include binding targets or even a definition of low carbon. It is the only explanation I can find for the fact that it has rejected the recommendation to have a fully independent advisory body on the setting out of plans and instead to have that body dominated by senior officials from State agencies.

Why do we not listen and why are we diluting demands for specific and concrete action on what is a national and global emergency? Why do we shy away from that and why do we dilute it? Why do we refuse to listen? It is because we are not listening to those people to whom we should be and are instead listening to some minority set of interests. In the end, it is self-defeating for them. As we face the prospect of significant parts of the land mass of Ireland literally sinking under water and as we see the impact of flooding, including its devastating impact on agriculture, it is shortsighted and self-defeating from every point of view, including that of agriculture itself, to fail to understand that we need binding targets. We must be serious and concrete about moving to a low carbon economy and meeting our international targets in this regard.

In my last few minutes, I will set out a specific example at a sectoral level of our endemic attitude to these matters. I refer to forestry, an area about which I have spoken a great deal in the House. Forestry is something we know is a carbon sink. We know what the mitigating effects on carbon emissions of planting a particular number of trees are. There is also a positive spin off of significant employment. We had targets, which we have consistently failed to meet, to plant 25,000 hectares of forestry by 2000 and 20,000 hectares per year until 2030 to increase significantly our forest cover and approach something like the average European level. We are now far below that average. Average cover in Europe is approximately 30% to 35% but it is 11% in Ireland. We set targets to do something about it but have consistently failed to meet them in an area which would contribute significantly to addressing climate change while creating employment. It would be a win-win, but we do not do it. When the Forestry Bill came before the House, I suggested to the Minister that we should have binding targets but was told we could not. My amendments were ruled out of order because they would have incurred a charge on the Exchequer, but the Minister could have included them.

Why does the Government not include these targets? Why does it not want to do it? I got the same stuff when we discussed this in committee about the potential consequences for agriculture and the need to look at land use. The short term interests of one sector prevents action on something that will affect our entire society and our entire planet. It is shortsighted to respond to these things in this way. I do not understand it except to conclude that the Government and its Departments are held hostage by minority interests which will, in the end, drive this planet over the edge just as in recent years they have driven the global economy over the edge. They do not have the interests of society, our planet and our natural resources as a whole at heart; rather they have a short-term interest in profit and wealth. In diluting the demands of environmentalists and others to include specific targets, the Government has sadly shown which side it is on in this debate.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy's time is up.

1:25 pm

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Dublin South East, Labour)
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I probably cannot compete with Deputy Boyd Barrett's eloquence. I pay tribute to the quality of the submissions to the committee. I pay tribute to the Chairman who did an exceptionally good job to ensure everybody had a chance to contribute. It was a very warm summer when we were in the committee room Friday after Friday week after week going through every sector and listening to them very carefully. Regardless of their sectoral interests they had a shared common aim and concern. I pay tribute to the committee, the staff, the Senators and the Deputies who gave of their time so freely. I also pay tribute to the community groups, BirdWatch Ireland, the agricultural sector and all of the organisations who made very thoughtful and useful contributions which form a body of work which will continue to be referenced.

When Deputy Boyd Barrett was making his contribution BirdWatch Ireland popped into my mind. The quality of its contribution was particularly excellent and much thought was put into it. I remember seeing BirdWatch Ireland on the witness list and wondering whether it would consider only a very tiny area. It touched upon many of the issues raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett, including the hundreds and thousands of trees we need to plant throughout the countryside. It mentioned ill-advised planting and the damage to our rivers through acidification. Sometimes people throw out simplistic and populist solutions. Everybody is in favour of planting trees but not everybody is in favour of planting trees on the bogs which stretch throughout the country. It is an enormous carbon sink. One could plant hundreds of thousands of trees, but it would not match the carbon sink of one bog and the value it contributes to the climate and our biodiversity.

I could touch on the many very well thought-out contributions made to the committee. Deputy Stanley, who has left the Chamber, was here for most of the morning. He spent hour after hour in the committee room. Some people continue to perceive the expert advisory council as lacking independence in its advice-giving functions but this is a double-edged sword. Nobody would thank us for an expert advisory group which is too far removed from the real world but nobody in the Government wants the expert advisory group to be a lap-dog of the Government. They want well thought-out and well-researched advice. There is a need for a level of expertise on the council. As the member of the committee who proposed the expert advisory committee, I can inform the House it is in some ways modelled on the Fiscal Advisory Council. As a member of the Government I am anxious to ensure the expert advisory group has the expertise required to provide advice, and that its membership includes people with particular agricultural, industrial and carbon measurement expertise so the advice will be truly valued. The Minister of the day will have to explain if he or she does not take its advice. My intention as a public representative, member of the Government and Minister of State is that the advisory body will be expert and independent. I hope to be here for many years to ensure I can hold the expert advisory group to these high ideals.

Many fine contributions have been made and many included references to the hard numbers for migration targets. I probably had the same view, and I listened to the advice of people with expertise in the area. It was much discussed. Migration targets will be agreed by all member states of the European Union, including Ireland, on an incremental basis over the coming decades. The report states these will be transcribed into legislation and I very much support this idea. There is no point in us setting hard figures if we find they are below what is negotiated in the EU as they would immediately be redundant.

As I walked into the Chamber, Deputy Boyd Barrett was stating the Government had taken on tiny minorities in the agricultural sector. Agriculture is an extremely important industry and it employs hundreds of thousands of people. We must ensure these people do not lose their jobs and we must give equal importance to ensuring we do the climate as little damage as possible, and possibly no damage. The agricultural sector was equally anxious to examine areas in its industries with a view to becoming a low carbon part of the economy. We must not work with a tiny sector of the agricultural community but with the hundreds of thousands of people employed in it and ensure we can reduce carbon emissions while ensuring we maintain employment. Yesterday I travelled through east Clare. Given the number of people involved in agriculture there, it is not a tiny sector. It is important to local shops, veterinarians, pubs and shops. Without a thriving agricultural sector we would lose hundreds of thousands of jobs.

What I believe is important is the climate we leave to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The independent expert advisory council will play a significant role in the coming years. A recommendation in the report, which I believe will be accepted by the Government, is that the Minister makes an annual report to the House. This means we will discuss climate change here on an annual basis so it will not slip off the agenda.

On the previous Government, I will pay tribute to the Green Party which had it as a priority to bring forward a climate change Bill. I apologise if I misrepresent them in stating it was reported that they stayed in government to have a climate action and low carbon development Bill enacted. Unfortunately, their partners in government blocked that and the Bill was watered down to such an extent that it stated that one could not challenge it in a judicial system. Such language is not in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015, which is extremely important.

I am happy, as a member of the Government, an elected Deputy in this House, and a former member of the committee Deputy McCarthy chaired, to say that we have a good report a number of elements of which the Government has taken on board, but for the first time since the foundation of the State we will pass a Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill and place it on the Statute Book to be built on for decades to come.

We will look back in five or six years time, taking out the noise. I understand Deputy Boyd Barrett must portray everything the Government does as being wrong or not good enough, that it will damage hundreds of thousands of people and disaster will unfold, but this is an incremental improvement. I think it is groundbreaking and it will be improved on in future years and decades. It will be remarked upon that the Labour Party and Fine Gael in government introduced a climate action and low carbon development Bill.

I apologise to the Acting Chairman, Deputy Tuffy, and thank her for indulgence in letting me run over.

1:35 pm

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I thank all those who made valuable contributions here this afternoon, including the Ministers of State, Deputies, Ó Ríordáin and Kevin Humphreys. I thank them for the insightful contributions. Indeed, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, before he was a Minister of State, was a member of the committee and worked hard in the background, along with myself and others, to bring about the report. We spent many long days, in committee and elsewhere, meeting the different stakeholders and interest groups to bring about this important piece of work.

As I have stated earlier, this is one of the key issues facing the world today and it is vitally important that we formulate the necessary policy and legislation to help Ireland move to a low carbon and environmentally sustainable economy and society. This report represents a culmination of lengthy and wide-ranging consultations on climate legislation.

As a committee, we were concerned about Ireland's ability to meet its targets and the direct economic cost of not doing so. That is why we listened carefully to the evidence presented to us and why we drew the Minister's attention specifically to the ideas and suggestions put forward by witnesses.

I can safely say that the report provides a sound basis for ensuring that we strike the right balance between ambition and practicality. It contains both realistic and practical recommendations ensuring timely and effective implementation on our ambitious climate change policies. The report aims to copperfasten and streamline existing administrative work on reaching our mitigation targets in a way that is coherent across the whole of Government and transparent for all to see.

I would encourage the Minister to consider the appropriateness of each and all of the recommendations and to include those which he believes are beneficial in the next Stage of the Bill. I hope the Minister is favourably disposed to looking at the constructive and well thought-out amendments that no doubt will be put forward by Members who spoke here this afternoon.

I can assure everyone here today, having heard all the evidence and having heard the contributions of various Members, that there will be no shortage of proposed amendments to the Bill when we reach Committee Stage.

One of the issues I want to touch on is this one about there being no targets. This is untrue. If people took the time to go to the committee hearings while they were going on, if they took the time to read the submissions or, better still, if they took the time to read the report, they would know this. Ireland is already subject to legally binding mitigation targets up to the year 2020 as part of the European Union legislation, and further mitigation targets up to 2030 are currently being negotiated. This process of target-setting under the auspices of the EU will likely continue up to the year 2050. Accordingly, providing targets in the report would be both redundant and would potentially interfere with the binding targets set under European Union legislation by which we are legally bound. Moreover, our long-term vision for targets for low carbon transition has already been set out in the Government-approved national climate policy position of April 2014. In other words, there is no need to include further targets in the report.

There was a comment, by Deputy Kirk, that we are kicking the can down the road. There is no kicking of the can down the road. The recently launched Bill will be one of the most important Bills to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas, this year and for years to come. It will make Ireland a progressive minority in the European Union because Ireland will be one of five member states to introduce climate change legislation. Only four other EU member states have adopted climate change legislation so far. Ireland will be one of the first EU countries to put a legal obligation on its Government to develop policies to plan for existing and future climate change.

Over the past couple of years, but particularly during the process of compiling the report when the committee held public hearings, I was struck by the contributions of Deputies Catherine Murphy and Stanley. They attended all of the meetings, of which there were many on non-sitting days during a fine summer in the basement of Leinster House - I could think of many other places to be. Theirs were thought-out contributions. We met a considerable variety of NGOs, academics, scientists, employers' bodies, the IFA and other interest groups, and they all made well-researched thorough, insightful and intelligent contributions to our proceedings. Information was gathered through the public hearings and the many written submissions that we received. I was looking through them as some of the contributions were being made. We had contributions from: Professor Peadar Kirby from University of Limerick, UL, Brian Ó Gallachóir, University College Cork, UCC, and the Irish Corporate Leaders on Climate Change, that is, Bord Gáis, Bord na Móna, Diageo, KPMG, NTR, Siemens, Sodexo and Vodafone. We also had contributions from many private individuals, and from Irish Dairy Industries, Food and Drink Industries, Meat Industry Ireland, Trócaire, Irish Business and Employers' Confederation, BirdWatch Ireland, Stop Climate Chaos, the Electricity Association of Ireland, the Environmental Pillar, An Taisce, Professor Ray Bates from National University of Ireland, NUI, Dublin, Friends of the Earth and Ceartas – Irish Lawyers for Human Rights and the Institute for International and European Affairs. At all of those different meetings, these witnesses came in and laid out their stall, and they took the time to research the matter and to make those contributions. Those who did not get a chance to do so made submissions online.

There were a couple of Members here who read scripts. Deputy Kirk read a script and so did Deputy Wallace. It is a pity they did not take the time to come down to the basement when we were holding those public hearings to make their submissions. That is the difficulty of reading out a script. Sometimes one will read it out blindly. That is what points to the contrast in the contributions this morning made by members of the committee who took the time to do that.

I would also say to those who have criticised or singled out any particular organisation which made contributions to take the time to read its submission, read the Official Report of the committee - it is all online, transparent and in black and white - and then go to the report. Clearly, some never read or saw the report of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of the 31st Dáil and 24th Seanad, "Report on the Outline Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013", of November 2013. It is worth reading. Those who will take the time to do that would have a more informed and better contribution, and have a better basis on which to make that contribution.

I thank all of those who contributed to a fine volume of work. In the coming weeks, the committee will spend more hours down in the basement of Leinster House amending that legislation as its members see fit. I hope that the political will that has inspired this report will be reflected there by Government. I hope the Minister will be favourably disposed to looking at amendments from those who have genuine concerns on this Bill which is reflected in their attendance at committees and their contribution to the issue, and not in coming in here criticising for criticism's sake.

As I stated in my earlier contribution, this commitment was in the Labour Party manifesto. This commitment found its way into the programme for Government. It is difficult to take criticism from a member of a party that did not bother its behind to do anything about it in four years of Government, despite the junior party bleating continually about climate change.

People who supported that Administration are in no position to criticise either the report or the climate legislation. This is a red letter day for climate action in this country. It deserves to be treated with the integrity and the diligence that has been reflected by the vast majority of those who made the time to attend, to contribute and to develop this fine volume of work. I look forward to the next few weeks. I want to express my sincere appreciation to those who made constructive contributions on the subject, not just this afternoon, but for the last two or three years. I advise the Johnny-come-latelies, those who have only just discovered there is climate change when they saw the list of legislation published for this term, that it is worth taking an informed view on this important topic.

Question put and agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at 1.50 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 January 2015.