Wednesday, 4 May 2016
Climate Change: Statements
It is great to see such a large crowd here today. I feel like calling a quorum, but I will not. This is probably the most important issue facing us in the world and not one single representative is inside the Chamber. I am sure the Acting Chairman will agree it is incredible and he may wish to speak to people about it.
I find it deeply ironic that this House is debating climate change today. As reports came through last night regarding a deal to support a minority Government, there was one major issue missing from the text of the documents. Just like the response we have had to this debate with nobody turning up, the major issue missing from this now infamous document is climate change. The global cause of this generation is missing from this famous document. To me that demonstrates in particular that Fianna Fáil, the co-conspirators in this no-confidence, so to speak, agreement with Fine Gael, has absolutely no global focus, no environmental focus and that the poorest of the poor throughout the world, who are suffering most from the effects of climate change, are absolutely nowhere on Fianna Fáil's radar. What we can see in the Chamber illustrates it right now.
Incidentally, it is incredible and astonishing that this document took 70 days to write. That is ten days per page to write this famous document. A third level college was the right location for these talks, because the Trinity treaty, as it were, is the greatest example of student politics at its worst.
It was my experience that over the course of the passage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, Fine Gael had to be dragged into the process reluctantly and did not take seriously the principle of climate justice. However, at least overall Fine Gael did something. Fianna Fáil's overall game is power with absolutely no responsibility. I regret to see that we are not witnessing the dawning of a new day of politics, but maybe pints with the people are more important to Fianna Fáil than the world's poorest. Deputy Rabbitte, representing her party, is very welcome.
I also ask those who call themselves of the left to examine their climate change credentials when it comes to their water policy. While many things have been said about water in this House, the fact remains that the greatest energy user in the Irish public sector is our water treatment system. It consumes 490 GW hours of energy each year, which is a lot for those who do not know.
I am sure those who call themselves of the left know exactly how to reduce energy usage in the water system without Irish Water and me waiting to hear their details. The truth is that to reduce energy use in water treatment, we need to develop a software system that monitors energy usage across the water system. We then need to put in place a modernisation programme underpinned by investment, upgrade old assets and drive innovations, which the local authorities did not have the ability to do. The creation of this software is something that most of those on the left have opposed for no logical reason. I have no doubt they oppose Irish Water's energy target reduction of 33% by 2020 - which is now in doubt - which will be one of the single most significant carbon reduction initiatives for which the State has direct responsibility.
There is also the issue of the water framework directive and Article 9, an environmentally focused directive. I guarantee that all of us in this House will return to this issue soon.
One of the things of which I was most proud was playing a role for this country in the construction of the Paris agreement in 2015. I had the honour of leading the Irish delegation during the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for securing a global agreement on climate change. The Paris agreement represents a hugely historic milestone. It is the first major multilateral agreement of the 21st century and one which paves the way for a global transition to low emissions and climate-resilient economies. The agreement sent a signal that this shift is clear and irreversible.
Two weeks ago, I was at the United Nations headquarters in New York to sign the Paris agreement on climate change on behalf of Ireland. The agreement was the result of unprecedented engagement by 180 global leaders in December 2015. It forms a legally binding commitment to pursue actions necessary to hold increases in global temperature to well below 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to increase the ability of countries to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. This document has the capacity to instigate a reshaping of the global economy. The dynamic nature of the agreement is a key achievement, enabling us to strengthen ambition over time. Enhanced transparency and accountability will be a key feature in this regard.
There is unequivocal evidence that the earth's climate is warming and it is undeniable that the causes are man-made. This warming is causing discernible climatic and environmental changes, more frequent extreme weather events, such as the record rainfall events and consequent flooding in Ireland in December, rising sea levels and the melting of glaciers and polar ice. In the longer term, these changes threaten to cause serious damage to our economies, our infrastructure and the environment. They will put the lives of millions of people in danger and will cause the extinction of many animal and plant species. Ireland's contribution to tackling the challenge of climate change will be reflected in the EU's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels and once our own targets within the EU goal have been finalised.
It is worth reflecting that the overall outcome of the Paris agreement means that the long-term objective is to pursue substantial decarbonisation of the energy, transport and built environment sectors as well as pursuing neutrality in the agriculture and land use sector. This long-term vision is a highly ambitious one, demanding real and meaningful change in how we live, work and travel. Achieving both our immediate mitigation targets up to 2020 and those that will be set on an incremental basis up to 2030, 2040 and 2050, will not be easy.
It was important in the context of the Paris agreement to be able to point to the importance of our climate change legislation which will allow for a reshaping of our own economy over time. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 provides for such a framework. It establishes in law the national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy in the period up to and including 2050. It also provides a statutory basis for the institutional arrangements necessary to pursue and achieve that national transition objective. It is not designed to introduce new policies but to put in place a permanent legal framework to ensure we in Ireland make progress towards decarbonising our economy and our society.
These arrangements focus on both mitigation and adaptation. Climate policy must not only address how we mitigate but also how we plan to respond to the impacts of climate change itself. The Paris agreement clearly recognises climate change adaptation as an issue that concerns not just the poor and vulnerable in developing countries. We are all affected by climate change and thus adaptation must also become an urgent policy priority. In this regard, the 2015 Act addresses responses, mitigation of harmful emissions and adaptation to the consequences of a changing climate. Reflecting the need for a whole-of-Government approach, the 2015 Act provides that relevant Ministers will be required to contribute on a sectoral basis to a national mitigation plan, work on which is well under way.
I take this opportunity to deal with the issue of carbon reduction targets for Ireland, something that commonly featured throughout the debate in the House. Speaking personally and not for the Department, I believe there is a place for a long-term legislative target for emissions in Ireland, perhaps to 2050. However, the introduction of such a target should only be considered once the EU 2030 agreement is complete. Otherwise we would enter those negotiations with one hand tied behind our back. The focus on carbon reduction does not have the priority it should have and we will count the cost of this by way of floods, unpredictable weather patterns and loss of economic opportunities. A legislative target would help us mitigate that. However, we are correct to seek to sustain one of Europe's most sustainable forms of food production - the Irish family farm.
Greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are warming the earth and causing changes in the global climate. These changes are having increasingly severe human, economic and environmental impacts and will continue to do so over the coming decades. The cause of climate change and the case for mitigation and adaptation action in response to it are no longer in any doubt. The signing of the Paris agreement sent an unequivocal message to business, stakeholders and citizens that all governments are committed to playing their part in tackling climate change. Global motivation to accomplish our common goals in this area is steadfast. That resolve, underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, must be mirrored here in Ireland if we are to transform our ambitions and international commitments into meaningful actions to meet our targets and secure transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy by 2050.
With the right political leadership, this can be tackled. However, I regret to say I have not seen this addressed in the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Trinity agreement published last night. If Fine Gael is serious about helping the poorest of the poor in the world and building a climate-resilient low carbon economy, I expect climate commitments will feature in the programme for Government. Otherwise, it would amount to a betrayal of the world's poorest and of those communities, including many in this country, currently living in fear of major flooding, of which we are all well aware. To date, leadership has been absent in government discussions but if we are serious about a low carbon future, the Trinity treaty simply is not much of a start.
The climate change challenge is global and, perhaps because we are a small island surrounded by water, we might think that other nations with larger populations and higher emissions should take the lead. It is true that they should take the lead but as a small island country, we should not be behind the door in calling on them to reduce carbon emissions. That does not mean that we are let off the hook just because we are small country with a small population. We also have significant responsibilities because we have had the benefits of being part of a developed country and we have been emitting carbon and methane for a number of decades.
The term "climate change" came into my consciousness 25 or 30 years ago, when significant concerns were raised by scientists who predicted that our climate would change, with increasing desertification and much more rainfall and precipitation. As the predictions were for 25 or 30 years down the line, none of us thought too much about it. I certainly did not, and although I kept an eye on things, I was not in a position to think much about it. Many of our citizen felt similarly and looked to us to provide political leadership on long-term planning.
We are now at the stage where climate mitigation and adaptation is the context in which we must place all public policy. All of our future actions will be judged on the decisions we make on this issue but we must be united in this effort. We are the transition generation and I think of my children and future generations, who will look back at us and ask what we did about this. As a high emitter, we must not forget the developing countries who can point out how we have benefitted and ask if we will deprive them of the opportunity to improve their economic growth, society and quality of life. Are we asking them to do the same? We must always remember this, as it will be women and children in those developing countries who will be affected most.
There are a number of actions to take. We are looking at 30 years to act but we should really focus on the next ten to 15 years. We should not be shy about aiming for 100% decarbonisation and being fully renewable by 2050. We can do that but we must be united in doing so. As I noted, we are an island nation and it is up to us to put this on our own agenda and that of global high emitters. There are a number of actions to take but we must put our low carbon transition and mitigation plan in place as soon as the new Government is formed. We must work on that first statutory low carbon plan up to 2050, with an obligation on all of us to come to terms with it.
I very much welcome that we were present at COP21 and we ratified the Paris agreement last week. I was delighted to see the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, representing us. We have a large job to do with regard to planning, transport, and digital and built infrastructure. Connecting with our people to discuss the issue and emphasise its importance will be crucial. I am in favour of establishing a citizens' convention solely to consider climate action and post-carbon Ireland. We must decide on how to engage meaningfully with our citizens. It seems that Met Éireann is underutilised in this way. It is beamed into everybody's house every day and surely there must be some mechanism by which it could contextualise climate change in an easy to understand manner. That could be an unrivalled opportunity for us.
We must work more within schools. There are some fabulous initiatives, including the Power of One and the green schools initiative. By the time our young people get to second level, we have lost them a little and we need to develop programmes where we can continue to keep climate change to the fore, particularly the types of changes that society will have to make. In our third level institutions, where people study social policy, climate change could become part of the degrees. We need to lead the way in terms of Government and public procurement in order that there are stringent efficiency standards applied across all sectors. We will be looking at electricity generation, the built environment, transport and agriculture, which have plenty of challenges. I know we can meet them.
We can consider the transport sector. If we are trying to get people out of their cars and into public transport, it must be affordable and attractive to people. We must look at that. We must consider how to incentivise people to change from petrol and diesel to hybrid and electric cars. Charging points should be installed at every new development, whether it is a private house or apartment development. Even if the property is being refurbished, surely it should be possible to do this. If we can do this, people will transition when they see an opportunity. There are some really innovative ideas. For example, we could allow people travelling in an electric car to use a bus lane, as that would certainly encourage people to transition to such transport. We will have to examine the use of all the public sector vehicles and whether they should be electrified or run on biofuels. Much needs to be done and we need to lead the way on it.
With respect to buildings, a home retrofitting programme would need to be established. Residents of homes with south or west-facing roofs should be encouraged to put up solar panels. Local authorities also have much to do, including future-proofing homes to passive home standard. Offaly County Council led the way before Christmas with a development in Banagher of social housing of a passive standard. It is a wonderful example and I would love to see it repeated throughout the country.
Offaly has weathered the difficulties that communities were experiencing with private developers potentially seeking planning permission for developments relating to energy generation. There were examples of how it should not be done, as the communities were not engaged. Having a recommendation that communities be engaged with is insufficient as it should be mandatory to do so. Anybody developing renewable energy infrastructure should connect and engage with communities in a meaningful way and offer them incentives. What is wrong with offering somebody free electricity if they are living in close proximity to a wind farm development? What is wrong with offering them an opportunity to get a share in the profits? I do not see anything wrong with that and it would certainly be beneficial and help people to come to terms with such development. There should also be opportunities for engaging citizens who want to become their own energy communities. For example, in Templederry a local community developed its own wind farm.
They are connected to the grid and they are generating electricity and reaping the rewards themselves. That is something we should also be looking at. Of course it is not for every community, but if there are communities that are motivated, they should be given every opportunity to do that. There are other opportunities in terms of biomass and biogas. Again, we need to provide adequate incentives to encourage the development of those sectors.
We have a moral obligation to consider the impact of high carbon usage on people living in the lower latitudes. There are some islands that are already impacted. I am thinking of the Marshall Islands.
I am looking at the time. I will wrap up with a quote from Richard Feynman, a theoretical physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said "[f]or a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled".
Apologies for being late earlier. I was not delayed in any of the establishments referred to by the Minister, Deputy Kelly.
As a party, Fianna Fáil has had a strong record in introducing progressive measures to tackle climate change, which is, perhaps, the single greatest threat to our children's and our grandchildren's future. We are committed, along with other parties, to ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, renewable energy targets and a climate justice programme to meet our existing EU 2020 obligations, as well as our new obligations agreed at the Paris conference on tackling climate change. The COP21 agreement on new targets beyond 2020 will present great opportunities as well as challenges for Ireland and the next Government. By signing the agreement as a member of the European Union, Ireland is now committed to reducing greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030. As has been said by previous speakers, it is essential that as a country we live up to this agreement and meet our emissions reduction targets and renewable objectives across all areas, including electricity production, agriculture, home heating and transport. We also need to do more to ensure that Ireland meets its climate justice commitments, including making progressive contributions to the cost of adaptation, mitigation and emissions reduction measures in developing countries. Ireland's sporadic contributions to the UN's green climate fund by the outgoing Government have been a black mark on our international reputation.
More than anything, after the devastating flooding we have seen over the last six months, the next Government needs to get serious about introducing measures for adapting to climate change. Ireland's position on Europe's north-western extremity increases its relative vulnerability to extremes in weather. It is projected that the increase in the number of heavy rainfall days per year, leading to wetter winters, will lead to an increased flood risk. A rise in sea level has already been observed and is projected to continue to rise into the future, increasing risks to our coastal communities and assets. Although there is great uncertainty about what the effects of climate change on our country will be, better protecting our communities against coastal erosion and inland flooding should be seen as "no regrets" strategies, since most impacts of climate change are not new but rather the intensification of known hazards. As the recent volatile weather conditions have ruthlessly exposed inadequate flood defences in communities across Ireland, we know a more comprehensive, lasting defence structure must be put in place to withstand future challenges and protect those communities from inevitable future threats.
It is unfortunate that the outgoing Government has been such a laggard in introducing innovative schemes to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction and climate justice targets. In its country report, Ireland 2015, the European Commission states that Ireland is likely to miss its EU 2020 target by a wide margin and that climate related policies are insufficient. We know what policies are needed to meet our EU 2020 targets. The problem has been the implementation and the lack of integration across Departments. Although the latest emission reduction figures are encouraging for some sectors, they show that much more needs to be done. While progress has been made in some areas, especially electricity production and agriculture, to meet our 2020 emissions reduction targets, almost no progress has been made in other areas since 2011, notably home heating and transport. Fianna Fáil is committed to meeting our 2020 targets in these areas and has detailed policy plans for accelerating progress to achieve these. As an independent party in opposition, we would seek to achieve those goals during the course of the next Dáil, rather than being led by somebody's interpretation, as was said by a previous speaker in respect of the arrangement we entered into with Fine Gael in relation to facilitating a Government led by that party.
The targets agreed for after 2020, which will be negotiated within the EU by the incoming Government will be even more stringent and present real challenges for Ireland. In EU negotiations over how to share the burden of meeting the COP21 targets beyond 2020 within the EU, we need to be upfront in trying to get a fair deal for Ireland over the technical details associated with greenhouse gas reduction targets and how they are measured. For example, the high sequestration potential of Ireland's unique grass-based agriculture, as well as the high potential of our forests, boglands and other habitats that absorb carbon, should be accounted for in the calculation of emissions. It is only relatively recently that the European Council has agreed to recognise that the absence of land use change and forestry has been a major gap in the EU policy response to climate change. It is essential that negotiations also recognise the major contribution of sequestration to curbing emission levels.
The climate change debate recently within Ireland has tended to get hung up on a few points of contention. The argument has been made by some groups, such as An Taisce, that Irish agriculture is the elephant in the room, that no progress can be made on meeting our EU obligations without curbing our agricultural output. This argument is both utterly simplistic and wrong. In seeking to meet our targets, policy-makers should not succumb to the simplistic belief that our agricultural output has to be sacrificed. The central question for Ireland following on from the COP21 agreement within the EU will be how much of greenhouse gas emissions can be taken out of the atmosphere by sequestration, what the penalties would be if those targets are not met and how much greenhouse gas Irish livestock and fertilisers can emit. Irish agriculture is responsible for over 32% of national greenhouse gas emissions, compared to an EU average of 10%. Among developed nations, only New Zealand has a higher proportion of total greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture. This reflects the relative absence of heavy industry in Ireland and the dominance of cattle and sheep livestock production in Irish agricultural output. However, Irish agriculture is one of the most intensive, lowest carbon food producers in the world. There is a risk that setting binding targets for methane and ammonia reduction, as proposed by some commentators, could have an adverse effect by shifting food production to less carbon efficient contexts. It is essential that future methane and ammonia emission targets are balanced and do not place unattainable obligations on farmers. Binding targets on methane and ammonia, for example, could become self-defeating if they were to lead to the transfer of food production to other countries, which have lower overall costs but less carbon efficient production methods.
It is simply wrong to paint a picture, as some commentators have done, of agriculture as the only area in which we as a country are currently not living up to our emissions reduction responsibilities. In fact, the outgoing Government has done very little to introduce innovative schemes to achieve emissions reductions and renewables targets across all areas including, as I said, home heating, transport and energy production. Policies to achieve our renewables and emission reduction targets in these areas have lacked strategic vision and investment and have fundamentally failed to progress the decarbonisation of the Irish economy. Carbon mitigation across these areas has to be accelerated because this is where the low-hanging fruit in the Irish economy still lives. Decarbonising our economy will not be easy and will take a great deal of political will. However, our message also has to be a positive one. We cannot succumb to the false notion that meeting our climate change obligations has to be a zero-sum burden for the economy. Our message has to be that there are opportunities for Ireland to achieve win-win outcomes in meeting our reduction targets. For example, only 11% of our land is forested, compared to 33% across the EU.
Afforestation has huge potential in terms of helping us to meet our emissions targets. At the same time, the economic returns from forestry are strongly competitive and have the potential to produce a high dividend for regional development and employment. Irish companies are already at the forefront in nascent industries in green technology and environmental services that will be the engines of economic growth for the future economy. Our policy focus over the next few years has to be to ensure that such sustainable growth opportunities are multiplied across the economy and that meeting our climate change targets is a win-win rather than a zero-sum game for our economy and our society.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats, if not the biggest threat, to our planet, its life and its species. While we have been able to advance dramatically as a species and develop a whole plethora of new technologies, we have not been and never will be able to fully harness or control nature. The power of nature can have an immediate and devastating impact on our lives and communities. Many of us saw at first hand the floods and the destruction that hit parts of Ireland in early January. Many families are still dealing with the fallout from that rainfall. Human activity, with all its exploitation and wasting of limited resources, which is linked to climate change, is having significant long-term consequences. The increased unpredictability of rainy seasons and longer and longer droughts, combined with the increased level of extreme weather patterns, have thrown many vulnerable people - increasingly, those in the developing world - into starvation and destitution. This year, 20 million people in east Africa are at risk of hunger due to drought as a result of El Niño, which is exacerbated by climate change, an issue I have raised directly with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on numerous occasions. I asked for more focused and direct support from Irish Aid to the directly affected areas. It is precisely those who are living a subsistence life or those on an unstable and uncertain income who are affected the most by the environmental shocks created by climate change. One half of our planet's population starves while the half other half robs its resources and is most to blame for the speed of climate change. We now know that a temperature increase of a mere 2° Celsius compared to pre-industrial times will most definitely have a devastating, irrevocable impact at local and global levels that will be catastrophic for our planet. Like many others, I welcome the Paris agreement on climate change adopted in December 2015. This agreement marks the first time that all states - large and small, rich and poor - agreed to take action to reduce carbon emissions, to increase our collective ambition to hold current temperature rise to well below 2° Celsius, and to pursue policies in line with a safer limit of 1.5° Celsius.
Sinn Féin has welcomed the Irish Government's signing of this landmark agreement, but any new Government will have a huge task to reach these challenging targets. Earlier this year the Environmental Protection Agency again highlighted that Ireland is currently well off track for meeting even the existing EU climate targets for 2020, and that policies currently planned will be insufficient to rectify this. The next Government needs to urgently rectify this as a matter of priority. It will be no easy task, since EU climate targets and policies will have to increase in ambition over time and in line with the Paris agreement. This new challenge means that any new Government will need to rapidly increase its own ambition in order to meet the existing 2020 targets but also to meet the ongoing and increased targets that we will face in the coming decades. These targets require consistent and persistent work. They cannot simply be met by changes implemented over the course of a year or by changes in a one-off budget. If Ireland does not meet these EU targets we will be saddled with significant annual fines. Therefore, it is in our own selfish and financial interest to meet the targets, as well as being for the good of the planet and for future generations.
Ireland is well placed to gain from any transition to a sustainable, low-carbon global economy if we invest now in the green economy and a sustainable energy model. In helping to combat climate change and in helping to reach our long term development goals of eradicating global poverty and hunger, we could, ironically, be well placed to also benefit our own economy. It should be a matter of priority to ensure immediately that the forthcoming national mitigation plan is sufficiently robust to bring Ireland into line with the existing EU targets and place the country firmly on a trajectory for meeting stronger targets post-2020.
On foot of today’s debate, the new Climate Change Advisory Council, established by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, should be asked to provide recommendations to the Government in advance of the publication of a draft plan and to ensure that any new plan is fully thought out and robust enough to transform the way we do business.
Another key part of Ireland’s climate action needs to be a transition away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy. Energy accounts for around 66% of emissions in Ireland and is an area in which significant reductions need to be delivered. No one is suggesting it will be easy. However, it is possible and it is absolutely necessary. It has also been brought to my attention by Trócaire, and from a lobby of numerous constituents, that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, invests heavily in the same fossil fuel industry that is having such a devastating impact on our climate. The ISIF needs to reinvest away from the fossil fuel industry and use its funding in a 100% percent renewable energy investment mandate.
Another major factor in holding back positive action on climate change is the ongoing TTIP negotiations. This week, Greenpeace posted 248 pages of leaked documents that help to shine a light on the TTIP negotiations. The leak reinforces the view - held by many who have lobbied against the talks - that TTIP negotiations are about removing regulations rather than reinforcing them. While the leaks are around negotiating stances and are not actual outcomes or decisions that have been agreed upon, they still raise questions around the dangers posed by TTIP, especially for health and the environment. The leaks suggest that the EU’s precautionary principle is not being defended by its negotiators and is coming under mounting attack by the US negotiators. The EU has by far the higher trade protection standards for human, animal and plant life and health when compared with the US. These leaks indicate that the US side is aggressively pushing to reduce these regulations while the EU remains silent and compliant. The leaked papers also show that the US negotiators are pushing to scrap existing EU rules in areas such as food labelling or in the approval of dangerous chemicals if the rules are so-called barriers to free trade. Essentially, the leaked documents confirm the view that TTIP is a clearing mechanism for a race to the bottom in environmental and consumer protection and in public health standards. The leaked papers also indicate that the US is refusing to accept any reforms suggested by the EU to the hugely controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, the corporate court mechanism which allows big business to sue governments for lost profits, even if the laws in question are to raise social or environmental standards.
The harmonisation of US and EU regulations under TTIP could also put EU climate and energy regulations under added pressure. The US clearly does not have Europe’s broad commitments to climate and energy policy. When policies create differential costs, it will be argued that they are barriers to trade. The existence of the EU emissions trading system, targets for renewables and energy efficiency, and policies such as feed-in tariffs that subsidise renewables, might be seen by some investors as unfairly penalising non-renewable energy sources. There is a danger that an Irish Government or other governments could be brought before this investor court.
If TTIP is allowed to rewrite or overwrite climate and energy regulations, it could mean a slow down or reversal in Europe's progress towards a cleaner, sustainable, low-carbon energy system.
Harmonisation or a dumbing down of EU standards to US levels could also harm the worldwide efforts to reduce carbon emissions and limit the damage from climate change. Most of the information we have about TTIP comes from leaked documents with the remainder emanating from various PR exercises of the Commission and a compliant Irish Government. Ultimately, the leaks highlight the extreme secrecy and lack of democratic input in the TTIP negotiations. These leaks reaffirm and consolidate the concerns that Sinn Féin and many others have put forward regarding TTIP. Surely it is way past the time for these negotiations to be stopped and for the European Commission to come clean and tell its citizens exactly what is being discussed and traded away in their name and the impact it will have not only on the climate but on future generations to come.
If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that climate change is a clear and present danger. Though it may seem abstract and far away at times, climate change increasingly brings reality home to everyone's lives, with heavy rainfall, storms and floods causing distress and dislocation in people's lives. In her book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein points out that the natural world and the economic system are on a collision course and one of them is going to have to change utterly and that either we change the priorities of capitalism, that is, profit and competition, or the natural world may no longer be able to sustain the planet as a place to live for humanity and animal and plant kingdoms. This addiction to expanding profits is not sustainable, even in the short term. Put simply, capitalism is polluting and poisoning our planet in the interests of big business and the wealth of the super rich.
What does this mean for Ireland? Is our priority the rich and powerful or the interests of the people who live here? Combatting climate change requires reducing the amount of carbon dioxide we release through human activities. In construction, reducing our expenditure on heating by improving insulation reduces both carbon emissions and heating bills. New designs for houses with better insulation and heating systems, known as passive houses, can reduce bills to under €200 a year for the average house. However, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has instead demanded that local authorities delete all references to passive houses in their development plans. Incredibly, at the request of the Construction Industry Federation and the building lobby, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, gutted proposals to make the passive house the standard in all newly built homes. Instead of human needs and interests, profits and the market were put first.
In transport, the National Transport Authority has also focused on promoting competition rather than increasing public transport's capacity to cater for the massive shift we need away from cars and onto buses, trams and trains. Policy seems more geared towards facilitating giant transport multinationals such as Transdev and Arriva than on our transport needs or environment. Piecemeal investments in housing and transport will not deliver the kind of change needed to cut carbon emissions. What is needed is a national transport and housing strategy that provides both high quality service and low emissions.
In Ireland, agriculture accounts for 29% of all emissions but after the excuses given by the Taoiseach at the Paris climate conference in December it seems that big business and the beef barons were calling the shots. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "Overall it is evident...that Ireland is not on track towards decarbonising the economy...and will face steep challenges...unless further policies and measures are put in place."
People Before Profit believes that we should massively increase our forests, nationalise all of the State's gas and oil fields, ban fracking and use all of the State's natural resources to switch the economy to a carbon neutral basis as soon as practically possibly. We support the taxing of corporate profits to fund the switch to renewable forms of energy generation and investing in wave, solar and wind power generation. Out of consideration for those who will inherit the earth, it is imperative that we leave it as we found it. I believe it is not the presence of human beings on the earth that is causing grave harm to our beautiful planet but the system that has put profits before people and profits before the environment. Until we challenge the system, there is a stopwatch on all of us and our time is running out.
Ignore the reality of climate change and we risk dislocating the world economy to a greater extent than it was dislocated during the Great Depression, the First World War or the Second World War. That is according to the Stern report on the economics of climate change presented to the British Government in 2006. In fact, the author of the report says that he underestimated the position. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 human beings may die every year from issues now related to climate change such as malaria, malnutrition and heat stress.
This discussion needs to focus far more on a key question, namely, whether the world organised as it is, with resources including energy resources controlled by a tiny capitalist elite, is compatible with sustainable environmental policies. I believe that big business and its drive for profit is the number one threat to the environment in the world today. In 2013, the Climate Change Journalstated that 90 major companies were, between them, responsible for 63% of the cumulative global emissions in the world in the past 250 years.
The collapse of the Stalinist dictatorships in Russia and eastern Europe, whose own environmental records were disgraceful, gave way to capitalist globalisation in the 1990s and noughties with capital free to move to wherever labour costs were lowest or environmental regulations the flimsiest. As early as the early noughties, a World Trade Organization official could boast that the WTO was enabling challenges to almost any measure designed to reduce global gas emissions. By 2011, the Carbon Tracker initiative, a London based think tank, was able to state that big energy multinational corporations now owned and controlled 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon. Let us put that in context. In order to keep global temperatures to the 2° Celsius maximum by 2015 that has been mentioned, the most amount of carbon that can be used up and burnt is 565 gigatonnes. This is, in other words, one fifth of what these corporations are saying they will burn in order to put forward their prospectuses on the stock exchanges and so on.
Deputy Gino Kenny referenced Naomi Klein. I will quote her excellent book as well. She states, "[The] industry has announced...to [its] shareholders that [they have] determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet's atmosphere can begin to absorb." These big business interests are controlling government policies and hugely shaping them. In the US alone in 2013, big oil and big gas spent $400,000 a day lobbying congress and government officials. Pro-market governments tweak the situation, but no more, which is why we have had 19 climate change conferences since 1992 without major progress on these issues. At the last conference, the Paris conference, the final document did not even mention fossil fuels and made recommendations that were not binding on governments.
It is clear that bold measures which strike against the agenda of the profiteers are needed. We need massive investment internationally in public transport. We need massive public investment in renewables. We need to step up massively the research in green energy and that will only come about through public investment. We need to convert the car industry to renewable sources of power. Again, public ownership is necessary. How can these measures be funded? According to the United Nations, a 1% billionaire's tax could raise $46 billion. According to the European Parliament, a moderate global financial transactions tax on shares and derivatives could raise €650 billion.
However, we cannot control what we do not own. Therefore, to plan rationally and defend living standards while maintaining sustainable environmental policies it will be necessary for big oil, big gas, the car industry, the banks and the 170 giant multinationals that control 40% of the world economy to be taken into public ownership under popular democratic control. A glimpse of the wealth that would be available to promote and defend the environment was shown following the revelations in the Panama papers of wealth hidden away in tax havens.
A little over 100 years ago the great Polish socialist Rosa Luxemburg, speaking on the subject of capitalist militarism and the First World War, said that the choice facing humanity was a choice between socialism and barbarism. In the context of the looming global environmental crisis, her comments are perhaps even more relevant today.
I was not here in person earlier but I watched the Minister on screen. He remarked on the fact that no one was present, and I was reminded of Report Stage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, when no one was in the Chamber except for the Minister and me, and the Minister had to be there. Anyway, that is another matter.
It is regrettable that the Minister used his opening remarks to have a go at the new Government arrangement, perhaps to grab a headline. Anyway, I have a little more sympathy for the Minister, having listened to the spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, who tried to tell us that agriculture was not a problem in respect of climate change. It is an absolutely established fact that livestock emissions are equivalent to the emissions from all forms of transport. It is this type of blinkered denial that will put our planet on a collision course unless we deal with the reality of the causes of the problem.
At the Paris climate conference last September, Ireland signed up to a deal that committed us to reaching a peak on greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and keeping the global temperature increase well below 2° Celsius, as well as pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
After 2020 we will have to rein in our remissions extensively, but the plans are not in place to realise this. The intended nationally determined contributions submitted by countries during the Paris negotiations served to put meat on the bones in respect of how this would be done. However, they will not deliver the targets set out. Even the targets are inadequate to deal with the consequences, as they would limit the global temperature rise to 2.7° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Such a rise would be catastrophic in terms of the implications for life as we know it, and it would primarily, although not exclusively, affect the poorest people in the world. As Naomi Klein put it, such a change will mean a hotter, colder, wetter, thirstier, hungrier and angrier planet.
During the debate on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, we argued that the targets put forward at Paris were completely inadequate. We said we needed to be committed to an 80% reduction by 2050 to keep the planet from crossing the Rubicon. If I heard the Minister correctly earlier, he said that the Paris agreement was his political highlight and his greatest moment. If so, then it is a somewhat regrettable moment, because in fact the agreement is a shameful document.
We have spoken many times in the House about the various contributors to climate change. One particular contributor has fallen out of the spotlight recently. I make this point in the context of agriculture being one of the key offenders. One of the contributors that has come in under the radar is the aviation sector. It is the most carbon-intensive mode of transport, but the sector has been incredibly quiet during all the international talks. I wonder whether that is possibly because the United Nations COP 21 talks were funded and sponsored by Air France and airports throughout Paris, among others. This must be addressed. I make this point as a former airport worker - it is where I earned my livelihood. Dublin Airport and its carriers are the biggest employers in my constituency. I make the point as someone who accepts that Ireland is an island nation. I fully accept that air transport is going to be the key mode of international transport and vital for access to markets for a country like Ireland. That is a fact and we cannot ignore it. However, we cannot look at this in a one-sided way. Any discussion on expansion in aviation must be seen in the context of achieving targets laid down in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. If we are to succeed, then all sectors have to play their part, including the aviation sector.
Let us examine some of the decisions recently in that regard. We are saying one thing but doing something very different when it comes to things that have an impact on our climate. We saw the recent fanfare as a result of the DAA's announcement that a second runway would be developed at Dublin Airport after many years of waiting. We were told it would be great and that thousands of jobs would be delivered with the construction of the runway. If a far more environmentally friendly option such as the metro north was to be delivered, it would similarly bring thousands of good environmentally friendly construction jobs, and I imagine they would pay equally well. Anyway, we were told this would be brilliant and that it would bring large numbers of tourists to Ireland, develop connectivity and so on. However, a plethora of flights to Alicante or Malta does not bring tourists to Ireland or boost the local economy. In fact, one could argue that the only economies to benefit would be the economies in Alicante, Malta and so on.
When we make decisions in aviation we should not make them solely on economic grounds. We should undertake a cost-benefit analysis that takes in environmental considerations as well. In that context, a questionable decision of the last Government was highlighted clearly by Andrew Murphy of the Brussels-based Transport & Environment lobby group. He highlighted a number of decisions we made. Last August the outgoing Government, of which the Minister, Deputy Kelly, was a member, announced €42.5 million to prop up loss-making airports throughout Ireland. This involved taking money from the capital expenditure budget in some instances and putting it into certain airports, including the airports in Kerry, Donegal and Waterford, and, of course, Ireland West Airport Knock, in the Taoiseach's constituency.
It is a fact that Ireland's internal connectivity has improved considerably. It is far easier for people to get to Dublin, Belfast, Shannon or Cork airports, no matter where they live in Ireland, than it was before. There is no need to boost loss-making local airports whose carriers go to many foreign destinations. Clearly, some parts of the country would benefit from subsidy. The Dublin to Donegal route and the Kerry to Dublin route are examples. There is a considerable distance to be travelled in those cases, but it would be far more efficient to put money into the public service obligation scheme, which subsidises specific routes, rather than backing up loss-making airports.
Another big question is the second runway at Dublin Airport. Dublin Airport is close to capacity, although not quite at capacity. We should consider all the incentives that the aviation sector gets. The aviation business is exempt from fuel tax and VAT. There is no level playing field in this regard and we need to look at these areas. Climate change campaigners were gutted when the industry was excluded from the COP 21 commitments. Some of the foremost environmental campaigners have commented on the aviation sector. Dr. Alice Bows Larkin stated, in Climate Policy: "Ultimately, an uncomfortable and familiar conclusion for aviation remains: a moratorium on airport expansion at least in wealthy nations is one of the few options available to dampen growth rates within a timeframe befitting of the 2 °C target." We must consider the plans for Dublin Airport on that basis. Planning permission was given in 2007, almost ten years ago. Our knowledge of climate change and its environmental impact has improved considerably since then. It would be completely negligent on our part if we were to allow that development to take place without evaluating it according to modern standards and on the basis of modern criteria. In fact, the airport is not beyond capacity. The problem is the morning slots between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. All of the airline carriers want to use these slots, although not necessarily to benefit passengers. Some of them will benefit, such as those among the business clientele going to Heathrow. That makes sense. However, a person going on holidays to Malta has no wish to get out of bed at 5 a.m. only to sit around all day waiting to check in to a hotel.
The decision to have such capacity at that time is to suit the airlines, allowing them to get their aircraft back so they can send them out again on a return leg. Already the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, despite the restrictions put in by An Bord Pleanála for the very good reason of limiting flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., intends to build the runway and say afterwards it cannot live with that restriction. It will blackmail the local communities, although we know that noise pollution is incredibly damaging and not just a minor irritant. Long-term exposure to noise is linked to increased high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and so on. Analysis of noise in schools located near runways has shown that it inhibits children's learning. All of these factors have an impact on human health and on broader environmental considerations. When we have these debates we should get down to brass tacks and forget about the lofty statements. Such statements are important but the Government needs to evaluate decisions against those lofty aspirations. When it does it will see it has failed miserably in terms of climate change.
I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate because the manner in which we tackle or fail to tackle climate change has major implications for our future social and economic development. It affects the sustainability of our environment and our economy. It also affects several major employment sectors, including agriculture, tourism and multinationals. It is critical to the long-term development of our country. We know that climate change has multiple aspects. It is undoubtedly a global issue. It involves all major industrialised countries and those big countries have a particular responsibility, given the impact their industrial policies have on climate. The energy policy of multinationals is absolutely critical. Europe has a key role to play and Ireland should be much more vocal in Europe’s response to the issue. The West's exploitation of developing countries is a major contributor to climate change. There are many aspects to the problem.
Ireland should be leading the way on clean energy and we must play our part. We know what needs to be done: the key to tackling climate change is improving energy efficiency and ensuring that a much greater share of energy sources comes from renewables. Last month, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, published a report detailing the measures required to achieve targets set down for Ireland on use of renewable energy and energy efficiency. If we do not take sufficient action now, Ireland faces very substantial non-compliance fines in 2020, running to hundreds of millions of euro. Not only will this cost us very significantly in a financial way, but we will continue to be stuck with an ever-increasing reliance on imported energy, with ordinary households and businesses paying exorbitantly high utility bills and, of most concern, the continued damage to our planet by unacceptably high CO2 emissions. While some very welcome progress has been made, the improvement in energy efficiency and the switch to renewable energy has not been anything like fast enough.
The grant system operated by the SEAI has been very welcome. It is generally well run and the public values the grants but the schemes are still not without their flaws, particularly in how they relate to low income groups. The qualifying criteria for the warmer homes scheme should be significantly broadened to include groups who do not necessarily qualify for the fuel allowance or certain social welfare payments, for instance, those with a medical card or those outside the income tax net. The provision of replacement windows should be included in the grant scheme. The SEAI could set down criteria for the circumstances in which window replacement would be permissible or not. It does not make sense to fund heating controls and installation when so much of the heat in the house is escaping through faulty, old, single-glazed windows. There is still a requirement for up-front cash from the householder. It would be far better for uptake if home owners had the option of paying for their share of upgrade works through their utility bills. This has been proposed for some time but is not yet a feature of the scheme. There is no reason for people not to get the upgrade works done now and then pay as they go when experiencing the savings in energy costs.
A similar barrier exists on the uptake of electric cars as the up-front cost of these vehicles is quite prohibitive and unaffordable for most families. There needs to be much greater allocation of resources for local authority homes because many of these have very poor insulation and are not at all efficient. Many of the tenants in these homes are low income families and it costs them dearly to maintain adequate heat in their homes. At the time I very much welcomed the pilot schemes funded by this Minister. They were very good and very effective. A couple of these pilot schemes, to insulate local authority housing, were run in my constituency, in Ballymun and brought significant dividends for everybody concerned. The homes were much warmer for the families living there, they reduced the cost of living for those families and they were highly energy efficient. They were very welcome, very successful and should be expanded.
The SEAI needs to play a key role in this and to adjust the type of approach it has been taking. It states that 75,000 homes and businesses will need to be upgraded for improved energy efficiency every year between now and 2020 if Ireland is to achieve the 2020 energy efficiency target. It also states that energy efficiency improvements are required in vehicle stocks, in large industry, the public sector and in small and medium enterprises. Between 200 MW and 250 MW of additional wind capacity must be installed every year up to 2020. Approximately 270 MW of wind capacity was installed in 2014 but the average installed capacity over the past five years has been only 177 MW. Supply of between 440 million and 508 million litres of biofuels must be secured for blending with fossil fuels for transport in order to increase the biofuel consumption levels to 8% by 2020. In 2014, some 167 million litres of biofuels were used in transport so we are a very long way off those targets.
The roll-out of electric vehicles must be greatly accelerated to the point where within five years electric vehicles must account for 20% of all new cars sold in Ireland. To put that in perspective, in 2015, electric cars accounted for 0.23% of all new car sales, comprising a total of 562 vehicles sold that year. The requirement is for a hundredfold increase in electric vehicles. That is a very significant request. There has been a great deal of slippage in that over recent years and it will require a very determined effort to get close to the targets. A total of 300,000 homes, or 3,000 services or public sector buildings, or 200 large industrial sites must be encouraged to install renewable heat options such as biomass boilers, solar, thermal and biomass combined heat and power, CHP, systems.
A renewable heat incentive policy has been recommended as part of the draft bioenergy action plan.
I refer to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. At the same time as we are attempting to address all of the arguments, one would have to ask why the fund is investing in some of the most carbon-intensive activities on the planet. One interesting contribution I read recently was an analysis of the annual report of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. According to Joseph Curtin of the school of accounting and business in UCC and the Irish Institute for International and European affairs and Dr. Paul Dean of the environmental research institute in UCC, Ireland is investing millions in carbon-intensive energy companies. The market value of these holdings in 2014 was €72 million, spread over fossil fuel distribution, oil and gas exploration and refining and petrochemical industries in shale, oil and gas and coal. Most of the investments are in North American companies and the remainder are Russian and European. We should speak with a single voice. Our decisions on the fund are in direct contradiction to what we should be doing in regard to climate change. We need to change that investment approach.
I hear agreement in the House. We would need to be blind not to see that climate change is now arriving at a speed and scale we cannot ignore. March was the 11th record month in a row for temperatures, which were about 1.3° Celsius above the 1952 to 1980 average. Fort McMurray in Canada was today evacuated because wildfires started a month early. The melting of the Greenland ice sheets started at an incredible scale a month earlier than usual, and with it a large body of cold water in the north-west Atlantic, the one cold spot in this record year for heat.
Storm Frank, on 30 December, broke all records in terms of what one would expect in reaching the North Pole. A cold body of air should not allow such a cyclone to reach the North Pole. On 30 December there was a heatwave at the North Pole and temperatures were 35° Celsius above what the expected temperature. It was above freezing in the North Pole on 30 December. Some 80% of the Great Barrier Reef north of Cairns was severely bleached during its summer, which is our winter. Part of that is countered by the El Niño effect, but the vast majority of it happens because of what science tells us is abundantly clear and true.
It is for that reason that a deal was signed in Paris which, for the first time, brought real consensus to an international agreement. We have to act on this. We have to take dramatic action that involves everyone and changes everything. We hear agreement in the House that climate change is an issue about which we should be doing something, but the reality is that we are not doing anything. We are not leading as a country or reacting to the scale of the crisis in the manner one would expect.
The Minister is correct. It is shocking that the Trinity agreement contains not a single mention of this strategic issue and there is no intention on the part of the parties involved to say that they will be good at dealing with the issue because that will be good for Ireland as well as our responsibilities in the wider world. However, I call into question decisions made during the Minister's time in office in the previous Government when we went ahead with incineration as if burning waste for the next 40 years was the right thing to do in a climate change world.
I understand that in every argument between the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the former Minister, Alex White, there was staunch opposition in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to any further development of our renewable supplies, a weakening of the building standards and a White Paper that failed utterly to set the scale of ambition required to address climate change seriously. We cannot be serious about climate change if we are proposing to make the changes the paper proposed in 2100. Expecting our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to step up to the plate will be too late.
It is clear what we need to do. We need a completely fossil-free energy system within three or four decades. We need to change our transport, energy and heating systems in order that they are fossil free and we can play our part. We need to be brave. My colleagues on the left said they would change the system and nationalise oil reserves. We cannot touch the oil reserves in the Irish Atlantic because we know four fifths of fossil fuels have to stay in the ground. We need to step up to the plate and say that Ireland recognises the reality in the storms that are coming our way and can hear it in the fires, droughts and other extreme weather events that are happening in the rest of the world.
If we are not willing to step up to the plate in terms of that level of commitment, we will be followers and will miss out on the industrial and social revolution that will come to those countries that do provide a lead. We can and should provide a lead. It is in our interest as a country to do so, but we are not doing that. The ESRI has told us not to do anything and to wait ten or 20 years, as has the ESB. Most manifestos have nice references to things such as ocean energy. I am in favour of that, but we know that it is a 20- to 30-year 20:1 bet. We need to act now on a large scale and work on four areas.
In electricity, where there is real potential, we can achieve 100% renewable energy from our own energy system. It is doable and will be cheaper, more secure, cleaner and better for our health because it does not pollute the air. We need to switch on solar power on our roofs first in order that people own energy. We need to continue with onshore wind. It is so cheap that we would be mad not to do so, but it needs to be community-owned. There is no reason we should not set an objective whereby we all own our power by the middle of this century. As we change windmills, systems evolve and develop and the technology improves, we can have energy that is 100% community-owned within three decades. It is now technologically possible to do so.
We need to go offshore. Doing so is more expensive but we need to connect with our neighbours in the UK and France. In so doing we can balance the entire system. It is a much more competitive and secure approach and we have a comparative advantage. This is all doable if we have the political will.
At the same time we need to use the technology companies that are here to learn how to balance systems in order that electricity is used efficiently. Electricity will be the fuel of the future in a climate change world. We will use it in our transport and heating systems, as well as to power lights, mobile phones and everything else.
Being good at the new technological skill of balancing demand and variable supply is what we as a country can excel at. It will put us at the centre of a new industrial revolution. There is no reason for us to turn that down. It would be the equivalent of Birmingham in the middle of the 18th century saying it did not want to participate in the Industrial Revolution. Why would we do that when we have everything in place to lead and be good at this?
We need deal with heat. We need to turn off the 1 million central heating systems throughout the country. We cannot keep burning fossil fuels. We need to help our people by insulating buildings and installing new electric heat pump systems, which help to balance power supplies, using our own fuels rather than fuel from the Middle East or Russia. This is doable.
Other Deputies referred to electric vehicles. To change our transport system will take a little bit of political commitment. We need to create the right environment because electric cars are starting to arrive on our roads. It has taken five years longer than we thought about five or six years ago, but it is happening. Every car company in the world is investing in this technology. Why not be a place that welcomes such vehicles and use that approach as a balancing system with variable electricity supply? That is the advantage of choosing an electric vehicle.
If we are serious, the scale of investment has to change and climate change has to be addressed in the final agreement and documents for the programme for Government. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland said if we are to meet our 2020 targets, let alone reach the 2030 ones, we need a threefold increase in investment in retrofitting buildings and a fivefold increase in investment in the alternative transport system.
The programme for Government documents with which we have been presented suggest we are great because we will spend €100 million on green energy, but that is a minute fraction of what we need to spend if we are serious and want to show that we can lead.
The advantage is that it would also help to address some of the problems in cities which do not work because of the car-based system we have. This makes sense, not just from an environmental perspective but economically and socially as well.
Last but not least, the farming system is not exempt. If we exempt it, it will account by 2020 for at least 50% of our non-ETS emissions, those emissions outside the big industry trading system. If agricultural emissions increase because of our other plans then we will have a fundamental problem. We will have to consider what other way we can contribute. Will we say to the rest of the world following the Paris agreement that it should count Ireland out? What would that say about us as a country? How would we feel about that? What sense of moral authority would we have if we were to take such an approach? It makes no sense because, as we heard in the previous debate, our agriculture system needs to change anyway. The current system is not working for the 70,000 suckler farmers to whom Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred. They are not making any money out of the current system. We can get a better system which pays farmers better.
It is not as if we should hold on to the status quo. That might work for the big companies and the balance of payments, for example, when we ship cattle all over the world. The Minister spoke earlier about possible live exports to Turkey. Turkey will be bloody hot in the coming months and those cattle would have a tough time on any voyage. We need to change. We need to think about how we could use our land differently and how we can protect our land. How can Bord na Mona put advertisements in the newspapers with a hare on the cover, as I saw today? The implication is that we are great for nature and we are looking after nature. We are not. We are burning bogs in a way that is utterly reprehensible and should not be allowed. That has to stop if we are serious about tackling climate change.
I say to Deputy Eamon Ryan that he will have to change, because I do not agree with all the talk of climate change. There have been patterns of climate change going back over the years before there was ever a combustible engine working in this or any other country. If we go back to the 11th and 12th centuries, this country was roasted out of it, and in the 15th and 16th centuries we were drowned out of it. In the 1740s we had a famine in which we lost more than 3 million people because of two years of bad weather. The records will prove that to Deputy Eamon Ryan. At the time of the famine we did not have any combustible engine or anything like it. Deputy Ryan referred to cattle and suckler cows. There was not a fraction of the number of cows in Ireland at that time that there are now. Patterns of climate change took place and mankind had no hand, act or part in it. It was just something that happened. If one goes further back, the country was covered in ice during the Ice Age, and if one then goes forward to the 1860s and 1880s, this country was drowned out of it. In one particular year the sun did not shine at all, and there were not yet any combustible engines in the country.
We are being asked to pay a carbon tax that is costing all sectors of the community massive sums of money. It is hurting the young fellow going to work in the morning. It is hurting the fellow with a lorry on the road. It is hurting those with tractors on farms. The question is where the money being collected in carbon tax is going. One place it did not go last Christmas was to pay for home help for the elderly and invalids who were refused home help for Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day. It did not go to them, anyway, and the question is where is it going. We are collecting so much of it that someone has to answer for it or be accountable for it. The carers who sought it for elderly people did not get it until those whom they were supposed to mind had died.
I believe God above is in charge of the weather and that we here cannot do anything about it. The previous Government did not do what it was supposed to do, not to mind attempting to regulate or rectify the weather. One Minister suggested we should put €3.5 million aside to improve weather forecasting, but that will not change the weather.
It has been said that climate change is the cause of flooding in the country, but the flooding is due to the fact that rivers have not been cleaned out. The Flesk river in Killarney and Glenflesk was cleaned out 35 years ago and it was grand for about 20 years. Now it is in a desperate state again, but the view is that now climate change is the cause of flooding and we cannot get funding to clean rivers. If we even got a small part of the €3.5 million - around €200,000 - the river would be cleaned and there would be no more talk of flooding in Glenflesk. The River Shannon was not cleaned out since the English last cleaned it out. Perhaps if that river were cleaned there would not be half the flooding or the need for funding to be set aside to deal with flooding. We must deal with the root of the problem. The rivers are silted up. They are blocked with trees and every other kind of obstruction. We must start there and not get carried away with the notion of addressing climate change by hoping to change the weather. That is my view on climate change. We are only a small country in this part of the hemisphere. The other larger countries and continents must play a role. We should play a proportionate part with regard to our size because, listening to what has been said, one would conclude that we are being overcharged and over-regulated in this regard. The big question is where the money that is being collected in carbon tax is being spent, because I do not think it is having any effect in changing the weather.
I thank Deputy Danny Healy-Rae for offering me a share of his time slot. I only wish I could agree with even one of his sentiments on climate change but, unfortunately, I cannot. The evidence is irrefutable. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Professor Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, which was kindly organised by Deputy Eamon Ryan on one of the first days of the Dáil. I found it most enlightening and, to be honest, quite frightening. The 2° temperature rise alluded to in the Paris agreement, which is a non-binding agreement, would not be fully delivered on even if everybody were to adhere to the principles to which they signed up.
We are in a very frightening place. The weather-related incidents that have occurred in recent years, including flooding, storms, coastal erosion and agricultural damage, were due to freak weather, but the unfortunate reality is that they are no longer freak weather. Such incidents are now common and they are going to continue. We have a duty and obligation to take on climate change and accept our responsibility.
There are simple issues that we could tackle. For example, average afforestation in Europe is 33%, while in this country it is as low as 11%. Immediate action could be taken in that regard. The unfortunate reality is that the economics of climate change are not attractive. What we need to do is generate a whole economy around climate change in order to make the issue attractive. I refer, for example, to retrofitting homes, afforestation, electric cars and the public transport system. We must lead by example. We have no evidence of environmentally friendly public transport systems and we must tackle that. We must become more carbon-efficient. I have been trying to promote a project in Kerry for many years, the LNG project.
While I acknowledge that it is not the most attractive, it would be a huge improvement on Moneypoint across the way, which is our biggest emitter of carbon. It is necessary to act now on climate change to protect our future. While there are not many votes in it, unfortunately, it is our moral obligation and duty, and as a newly elected Deputy I will be pursuing this issue. Whereas my party may not have the reputation of being environmentally friendly, I certainly will do everything I can to change that perception. I hope that Deputy Eamon Ryan and I will have much more in common than not over the next five years because I really believe it is an issue that cannot be ignored any further. As a Dáil, Members must take it on and it is something for which I intend to take my responsibility.
It is unusual that I speak on an issue, but to speak on two in a day definitely is rare. At the end of my contribution on agriculture earlier, I stated that what was needed was a land use policy and not an agriculture policy. Deputy Eamon Ryan and I attended a conference around this time last year in the Storehouse in Dublin, which he organised, at which we had a lively debate on the issue. There are a couple of points on which all Members should agree, and I welcome the contribution by Deputy Brassil. First, this is a global issue that cannot be tackled by all the large countries or all the small countries but must be tackled by everyone. Ireland has both an opportunity and the capacity to be a global leader in many ways with regard to the entire climate change effort. I refer, for the sake of argument, to the manner in which it is at the forefront of agricultural research and developing more sustainable and efficient agricultural production, but not that alone. The other thing needed is balance in the debate, as simply to choose one route as being the panacea for dealing with climate change would be a mistake. One cannot state absolutely that it will be all wind or all solar, and even if only from an economic point of view, the target must be to eliminate eventually our dependence on fossil fuel. During Deputy Eamon Ryan's absence from the Dáil, on being re-elected in 2011 I was the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture. Its members heard all the stories about the millions, billions or trillions of cubic metres in offshore oil and gas capacity, but the problem was that nobody had found it. The joint committee produced a report on how, were it found and brought ashore, the country could benefit from a revenue point of view. However, it still has not been found and it simply should be parked. It should not be relied on from either a practical or a philosophical point of view and Members should just forget about that.
I believe a mixture of efforts and initiatives can be taken. To take the simple option, which would be to wipe out all the bovines in the country, I note that much of Africa that now is covered in a desert once had bison and other ruminants roaming over it. When they departed, the grass degraded. I note that serious degradation of soil still takes place every year for each man, woman and child on the planet. If managed properly, grass is one of the best options for sequestering carbon. If it is allowed to degrade, it is a net emitter and eventually decays in the ground, at which point the land becomes useless and must be rehabilitated. It is both a soil binder and a sequester and turning land into anything else involves releasing carbon back into the atmosphere. In my first term as a Deputy, I was rapporteur for both the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in respect of drawing up a report on land use, climate change and forestry. It found that if forestry was allowed to be accounted for in Ireland's calculations, we could bring down our net emissions quite rapidly, literally by the stroke of a pen. However, it was not allowed, although further negotiations obviously have taken place subsequently. Nevertheless, it is important that if one is to accept this is a global effort, where we can produce food in a sustainable way - in many cases in the most sustainable way - we should be allowed to do it and should get some form of credit for doing it.
I again agree with Deputy Eamon Ryan that agriculture should not be exempted, as to so do would mean that a sector that can contribute to everything else would be exempted. The three major emitters are agriculture, energy and transport, and if we have a total land use policy and if electricity is meant to be the best and most efficient fuel for energy and transport available, it must come from somewhere. As storage is an issue, we can get more cars. We can use off-peak wind at night when it is not needed to pump up the water in Turlough Hill power station to have a reserve of clean electricity. I note that while that station was off the grid for almost two years when being recommissioned after almost 40 years in service, the price of electricity rose significantly. However, were one to try to put in place two more facilities like Turlough Hill, there would be an outcry. This is already evident where onshore wind capacity is being developed, and community buy-in must be introduced. The reason it works in other countries is that from the outset, community participation and community benefit is perceived to be part and parcel of the deal. Consequently, nobody, be it the ESB, a private developer, Bord na Móna or anybody else comes into an area without stating what is in it for the community concerned, and eventually those communities are rewarded for being part of the effort. The same is true for biofuel plants and all sorts of recycling of waste that can be undertaken using new technology. This would be instead of being obliged to pay for such waste to be taken away, whereby somebody else gets paid to turn it into energy. These are the types of honest debates Members must have. Another recent announcement is that as an initial phase, a number of compressed natural gas, CNG, depots are to be set up around the country for trucks and vehicles. The eventual roll-out will put in place such depots nationwide, with the result that cars can be used. While this still involves fossil fuel, it certainly is a cleaner fuel than some of the other fossil fuels on which we depend, namely, oil and coal.
I believe I have touched on all the points. We produce food and Bord Bia has given Ireland the Origin Green label. Moreover, the Food Harvest 2020 objectives, followed by the Food Wise 2025 initiative, stated we should be smart, green and clean. These objectives can relate both to the way in which the food is produced and to the energy it produces as part of the overall effort. I will revert to what I stated at the outset, which is that a land use policy is the key in this regard. Regardless of whether such land is used for a wind farm, a solar farm, a biofuel farm or a cattle farm, balance and rational thinking certainly is the way it should be developed.
As for forestry, I acknowledge that we certainly are lagging behind in respect of afforestation. As I speak, people are planting an area of ground of mine. In the middle of that area, which is a bog, there is a quantity of bog oak, or bog deal, as some people call it. Those trees have been there since the Ice Age and go further back than the time Deputy Danny Healy-Rae mentioned. They go back far into the BC era, as it is called. That bog oak is still there and is hard as nails. It was created when a big glacier went through the valley, levelled the trees and left them there. Today, I have men planting that ground again with Douglas fir, Scots pine, alder and sitka spruce. As somebody somewhere along the way will feel it, I hope I am contributing to the global effort on greenhouse gas reduction.
There is no doubt that an unprecedented threat is facing our country and the planet, yet we have not grasped the seriousness of the issues facing us. These are not only issues that our generation must deal with; in years to come, future generations will have to deal with the devastation following years of abuse to which we have subjected the planet. It is incredible that some people still deny that global warming is occurring. One can see the difficulties involved in trying to convince such people that these issues must be tackled.
As global citizens, Ireland's people must step up to the plate and play an active and responsible role in tackling climate change and global warming by reducing emissions. We can no longer sit back and say that because Ireland is small, it is for others to deal with the problem. We have a responsible role to play in tackling our impact on the climate. This is no longer an issue that only impacts elsewhere, as was previously thought. It affects us here in Ireland perhaps differently from other countries, but we are seeing the effects too. We need only recall the disastrous flooding over the past year, particularly in Athlone. In my constituency of Mayo, flooding has had a lasting negative impact on many communities. People have lost farms and homes, while roads have been damaged. In addition, businesses have suffered irreparable damage. The true cost is as yet unknown. How can one put a cost on closing a premises for a month or two, with a consequent loss of business income? They may be able to repair flood damage to a building, replenish stock and reopen their doors, but what about the lost business they may never get back? These are issues that we will have to face again because they will recur, but how do we tackle them and prevent the situation becoming worse?
Scientists have estimated that by 2050 we will need to reduce worldwide emissions to at least half the 1990 levels in order to avoid further harmful impacts from climate change. It is an urgent challenge therefore because we are not that far off 2050 and it requires equally urgent action. Around the world, many of the most vulnerable communities are already struggling to cope with the impact of climate change. I refer to some developing countries where water has become a scarce resource.
The impact climate change and global warming are having on developing countries is quite staggering. Changes in rainfall and drought patterns are having a devastating effect on small farmers in such countries. Climate change presents a major threat to access to water for many people. By 2025, almost two thirds of the world's population - that is, 5.4 billion people - are likely to experience some kind of water scarcity and for 1 billion of them the shortage will be severe.
In recent years, we have seen a dramatic increase in extreme weather events across the world with the highest concentration in our poorest regions. In fact, almost three times the number of disasters were recorded in the past decade compared to the 1970s. Since 2000, the growth rate in the number of people affected by climate-related disasters has doubled. The costs of dealing with climate change effects are rising sharply, impacting more and more on the economies of countries in both developed and developing countries. The true cost of recent flooding here in Ireland is still unknown. Our inaction is costing us dearly not just financially, but also in people's lives and security. The losses we have incurred because of climate change far exceed the cost of low-carbon adaptation.
In an Irish context, climate change will have a major impact on agriculture. It is estimated by Trócaire that climate change could cost the agriculture sector between €1 billion and €2 billion per annum. It is clearly an issue that we will have to get to grips with, but we must also realise that our actions have an impact elsewhere and affect the lives and well-being of other global citizens. Our dependence on fossil fuels is an obvious area to tackle. Burning fossil fuels is the number one source of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions continue to rise, we will be locked into devastating temperature rises. A more diversified, cleaner energy portfolio and increased energy efficiency are critical steps toward reducing our emissions. Ireland is a country rich in natural, renewable energy capabilities, which we should seek to exploit as much as possible. It is an area in which Ireland can lead the way.
The Paris climate conference agreement was a positive step towards coming together as a global community. It put together a plan to tackle those issues. Lower emissions targets agreed at the Paris conference present opportunities as well as challenges for Ireland. The central issue for us will be the negotiations to take place within the EU. While UN emissions targets agreed at Paris and New York are not legally binding, EU targets will be. We should carefully consider what we are capable of doing as a country in addition to the impact of such measures on our way of life.
Irish negotiators must push hard to have land use change and forestry recognised as major contributions to emission reductions. There are opportunities for Ireland to meet reduction targets as a result of those negotiations. For example, only 11% of our land is forested compared to 33% across the EU, so clearly that is a gap we can bridge. We could and should do better in that regard. Forests planted since 1990 absorb a massive 18% of our agriculture's annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the emission targets we signed up to in the Paris agreement are not legally binding - they will be determined by nations themselves - there is an obligation on us to achieve them, if we are serious about playing our part as responsible global citizens. Agriculture will clearly be a key concern for our nation, as it is one of our main industries. It is responsible for over 32% of national greenhouse gas emissions, compared to the EU average of 10%. We should, therefore, strive to do better in that area. This is a reflection of the relative absence of heavy industry in Ireland and the reliance on cattle and sheep production. It is essential that future methane and ammonia emission targets are balanced and fair to farmers. This is the challenge facing us.
However, binding targets on methane and ammonia could become self-defeating if they were to lead to the transfer of food production to other countries where targets are not as strict. We need to be careful how we navigate this course. This has already happened with manufacturing in other countries. Much manufacturing in the United States, for example, has been transferred to India and China. Consequently, it looks as if the United States is reducing its emissions but, globally, emissions remain static because they are being shifted elsewhere. We should, therefore, view ourselves as being part of a global community in the context of tackling climate change, rather than as independent nations. Moving the emissions problem elsewhere does not have the overall impact sought by the Paris agreement.
Transport is another key area where we can make clear improvements. Ireland's target under the EU renewable energy supply directive is to ensure that 10% of our transport energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. We are fast approaching 2020 so it is something we need to focus on. Fianna Fáil has championed the use of electric cars by making them a more realistic option. We need to roll out a better infrastructure in towns and cities, providing charging points at more convenient locations. We should also consider grants and other concessions for those who opt for electric cars. Public transport needs to be improved also, particularly in rural constituencies such as mine where such transport is pretty much non-existent. We should encourage people to leave their cars at home, but there is currently little incentive for them to do so.
The overall targets we envisage and the challenges we face should be framed in terms of opportunities in areas where we can improve and lead the way. We should look on these targets as opportunities to make improvements in how we produce energy, run our agricultural industry, transport and other areas causing emissions. There are new technologies out there that we can embrace. They can assist us in reducing our carbon footprint and we need to keep an open mind on them.
As an island country, we have fantastic opportunities in terms of renewable energy. We have the ability and space to plant more forests, for example. These are basic changes that we can introduce quickly. We should play to our strengths, including examining areas where we can make swift improvements and lead the way.
Let Ireland not follow but be the leader in tackling climate change in Europe and the world and realise our responsibilities as global citizens.
The debate on climate change should not just fill time as we wait for the good people opposite - although some are not exactly on the opposite side - to cobble together a Government. This is an issue of pressing importance. It may not be the most exciting issue electorally or be raised at every doorstep, but the ramifications of the social and economic outworkings of climate change are as relevant to people as any other issue.
While people are worried about a whole range of issues, climate change is not often seen as an immediate threat. This in itself is quite concerning. Just because the ultimate effects of climate change are perhaps a century away, it does not mean the impacts today are not causing havoc. For example, a report published by the World Economic Forum stated that a failure to deal with and prepare for climate change is potentially the most costly risk over the next ten years, ahead of weapons of mass destruction, water crises, large-scale migration flows and severe energy price shocks. Only in 2014, the European Commission warned that the economic cost of sea and river flooding would treble unless climate change was tackled. Last year, we saw devastating flooding cause carnage right across the State and people are still dealing with the impacts of that flooding. Tell those families who have lost their homes because of flooding that climate change is the next generation’s problem and see their reaction.
I want to focus my contribution today on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, and climate change. This week, TTIP made headlines through leaks. The public needs more leaking of documents to get the proposals contained in TTIP into the public domain. This deal extends well beyond reducing trade tariffs and quotas. It will have a colossal impact on public policy from food standards to energy regulation, which will have a significant impact on climate change.
The level of enthusiasm and zeal for promoting TTIP in this State by some parties far exceeds that of other member states. This has been shown in the failure of the caretaker Government to draft a comprehensive political contribution of all relevant Oireachtas committees on TTIP, despite pressure put on them by Sinn Féin Deputies and Senators.
If you want to spend your ten minutes on this debate, I will be happy to accommodate you. I will say to you again: please have the good manners to observe the rules of the House and recognise that this debate is not about TTIP but about climate change.
I am sorry, Chairman, but you are going to have to enlighten me. Exactly what rule is it that you are saying I have broken by making more than a passing reference? Clearly, I have demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate the fact that TTIP-----
I will enlighten you. For your information, it is a standard rule of the House, one which has been recognised and established over many years, that only a passing reference is made to a subject matter that is not the subject matter of the debate. Nothing more.
A reference in several earlier contributions was pertinent to the debate on climate change, namely, the investment of taxpayers’ money through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, in carbon-intensive companies. It forms part of an overall discussion which we need to have in this Chamber. I welcome Deputy Eamon Ryan’s earlier comments on the need for us to have a proper debate on the point at which investments made by the State and its various arms should become an issue of human health rather than the financial needs of the State. Under the current circumstances, one can understand ISIF investing moneys in various profitable companies. However, there are a range of alternative investments. I suppose it would require a ministerial intervention or debate in the House to alter the likes of the investment strategy of ISIF.
One of the first Bills shepherded through the House by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, was the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. It was debated last February and I was pleased to contribute on it. It reinforced our international commitments to tackling climate change and ensured they will be implemented. While we become aware of the environmental implications of our industries and farming across the State, it is important that we introduce robust targets to ensure we achieve the change needed to stave off the effects of climate change as predicted, although not uniformly, by academia and environmental science. We must ensure our nation develops alongside the targets set by other nations through the Paris Agreement.
It will give us a fighting chance not just to become independent in terms of our consumption of fossil fuels but to allow us to find alternatives.
Afforestation was mentioned earlier by Deputy Cowen. This is a very interesting issue because I have had reason to become informed about the use of willow. A project has been grant-aided by the EU to the tune of about €10 million. A group in my constituency is seeking a site to develop such progressive opportunities to develop and afforest our country, which was deforested many centuries ago by the British. Unfortunately, we have not been very good at replanting our native trees and forests despite the fact that there have been concerted efforts over a number of decades to do so. It is something we should look at more in respect of the kind of carbon footprint we will leave behind us.
One of the most important aspects of tackling climate change in this jurisdiction will be the alternatives to our reliance on fossil fuels, most significantly, the importation of oil from the Middle East and elsewhere. It is essential that we develop, nurture and encourage other forms of energy generation in this country and financially incentivise them. The fact that more electric vehicles that are not just reliable but affordable have come on the market is welcome. We are seeing more electricity points for the purposes of charging these vehicles. Of course, one still has to go back to the source of the energy that is charging, which is primarily fossil fuels such as peat, oil and other forms of energy generation. We must address this in the context not just of the commitments we have given through various international agreements but our own legislation, directives and policy directions emanating from this House and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
In the next phase of this Parliament, particularly if the minority Government emerges over the coming days or week, it is essential that Members from all parties and none, and not just Members sitting on this side, make a contribution about the importance of climate change. I was fortunate to be in the Chair for the past 90 minutes during this debate. Quite a number of constructive offerings were made by all Members. This is a very important part of the new type of Dáil arithmetic we find ourselves with.
Other issues include coastal erosion, which has been quite prominent in recent times, and the extensive flooding that has occurred in recent years. Mitigating against the devastation caused to livelihoods, homes and businesses by those floods must be addressed. Other issues include rising sea levels and increased vehicular usage that are causing major issues not just in terms of public transport but in terms of carbon output by those vehicles. While I would not encourage the switching off of a million or so central heating systems, I understand what Deputy Ryan is talking about. I agree with him, although perhaps not in the same kind of timeframe. As I said at the outset, I do think it is a debate we should be having with regard to the economics of climate change and its long-term effects on the State and its citizens if we ignore it or make gestures towards addressing it without tackling it head on. I am thankful for the opportunity to address this issue again, as I have done in the past. I hope to make a valued contribution to legislation in this regard as we move into the next few years.
The Paris agreement on climate change last year was significant in that the world collectively recognised not only the fact that climate change exists but that we all have a part to play in combating it. The conversation has moved on from whether the phenomenon is real or imagined. We are not just talking about which studies are valid and we no longer entertain sceptics.
Language around this global problem has shifted to include terminology like "climate justice", which acknowledges that climate change affects everyone but not equally. Climate justice is a term indicating that there are environmental, social, economic, and political implications of climate change all around the world that impact most on those who depend on their surrounding environment to meet their basic needs like food and shelter or on those who are already living in poverty. Climate justice acknowledges that there are people who are disproportionately affected by climate change and who therefore should not disproportionately carry the burden in solutions to climate change. It also acknowledges that there are people who do not have access to basic resources which may protect them from the consequences of climate change such as shelter, money, technological advances or a political environment which vindicates their human rights.
Both at home and abroad, climate change must be met with an equitable effort-sharing approach in order that all countries and domestic stakeholders act according to their responsibility and capacity in line with international climate and sustainable development obligations. I echo Trócaire's key recommendation to the Government, which I find especially relevant to the situation facing rural communities due to the inequity in burden sharing caused mainly by Ireland’s renewable energy policy. Trócaire states that we must prioritise a just transition domestically and globally and establish adequate social and environmental safeguards to ensure policies do not result in unintended impacts on the rights and resilience of vulnerable communities.
Wind farms have dominated the renewable energy conversation in Ireland and have disproportionately impacted on rural communities like those in Donegal due to the delicate balance of rural living and the surrounding environment. The dominance of wind farm production has led the current Government to ignore newer technologies and more sustainable approaches to renewable energy. Last year, I published a policy document on biomass emphasising the potential this renewable energy form could have for rural Ireland both economically and environmentally. Biomass could effectively target residential and small-scale industry carbon emission production, create jobs, stimulate the local economy and reduce the environmental impact that wind farms have on rural communities. The Government is introducing a heat incentive for industry and rightly so, but we must empower residents to help combat carbon emissions as part of equitable burden sharing. This means also introducing a domestic heat incentive to facilitate this. This is what equitable burden sharing means for rural communities, and for that reason I have called for a moratorium on wind farm construction until all other forms of renewable energy are explored and have sufficient investment.
The Government joined the international community in signing the Paris agreement and is now obliged to introduce policies and implement them over the next number of years to bring about climate action in this country. However, this year, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, highlighted the fact that Ireland is well off course in respect of even meeting existing EU climate targets for 2020 let alone keeping global temperatures to below 2° Celsius. We are so far behind that ambition and action will have to increase exponentially over the next few decades just to keep up with older obligations never mind new ones.
In December 2015, the Government launched its White Paper on Ireland's transition to a low-carbon energy future. Its vision is for Ireland to be a country where greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector will be reduced by between 80% to 95% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels, falling to zero or below by 2100. Energy accounts for around 66% of carbon emissions in Ireland and so industry and agriculture must face their fair share of burden sharing in our transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. As part of industry's burden sharing and the Government's acknowledgement of fairness required in any climate change approach, I urge the new Government to take on board Trócaire's call for this Government to join the global fossil fuel divestment movement. By joining the movement, the Government can bring State investments in line with international climate action obligations, starting with divesting the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund of current investments in the fossil fuel industry and giving the fund a 100% percent renewable energy investment mandate.
NUI Maynooth has already become the first Irish university to put in place a fossil-free investment policy, which the Government could take inspiration from. Ireland needs to ensure it does its fair share of the global effort to combat climate change by protecting those who are vulnerable to its consequences. We must reflect climate justice in the international development priorities set out by the new Government and place emphasis on the eradication of global poverty and hunger, which are exacerbated by extreme weather and climate change. Ireland's carbon emissions are already equal to that of 400 million of the world's poor people. Where is the sense in saying that we are only a small country and asking how we can possibly have an impact if we reduce our carbon emissions? We are having a greater impact than a dozen or more poor countries combined. Taking action on climate change is one of Trócaire's five key policy areas that the new Dáil must focus on. I urge the same, and acknowledge that both at home and abroad climate change affects everyone, but not equally. Equitable burden sharing must be echoed in Ireland's climate change policies.
Unfortunately, Kerry's Deputy "Palin" Healy-Rae has left the Chamber, but I refer him to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in particular to their fifth assessment report and its headline. The Deputy might read the details. I will give him a copy of it. It is at least 95% likely that human activities, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, are the main cause of warming since the 1950s. It goes on to give key indicators that have already been outlined by various Deputies, particularly by the Green Party leader.
Ireland is a party to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, along with 195 other countries, which arose from meetings in 1990. That was theoretically the turning point. I say "theoretically," because since then our global emission rates have increased by 61%. The debate is no longer about whether our emissions are having an impact. That debate is over, and the question is now about the severity of our impact and what window of opportunity is left in which we may still take action and learn to take responsibility as a country for our emissions, which are contributing to global warming and over which we have control. The acting Minister complimented himself once again on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. He deserves some praise for it, but the Act utterly fails to provide for the urgent action necessary. It fails to define what "low-carbon" means and it has no legally binding carbon emission targets. It fails to recognise and provide for climate justice or recognise that those who are suffering and will suffer the most from climate change and global warming are the least responsible for global warming. To put it another way, those least responsible and least able to withstand the impact bear the brunt. There is no mention or provision for that in the Act. It provides for an independent advisory council, but at the same time the Minister has utter control, with an ability to remove the chairperson when he sees fit, and he does not have to follow the advice it gives. The Act utterly fails to recognise the urgency of the problem. I refer all Deputies to an article by emeritus professor John Sweeney from NUI Maynooth, in which he talks about a window of opportunity of two decades. We do not have any longer than that to take action to achieve the radical cuts in emissions required to avoid dangerous climate change. The Act utterly fails to recognise that while Ireland is a small country, it nevertheless has a very large carbon footprint. Each Irish person is responsible for as many carbon emissions as 88 people in Ethiopia. That is the carbon footprint of one person in Ireland. As has been said repeatedly here, much of Ireland's carbon emissions come from the agriculture, energy and transport sectors. The percentages have been outlined, but they are likely to increase right up to 2020. Ireland meets over 90% of its energy requirements by importing fossil fuels, spending €6.5 billion per year in the process. The agreement that I cannot mention, which is known as the TTIP, is very relevant to climate change because it utterly fails to provide for climate change and is primarily being pushed by the fossil fuel industry. We will not mention it for the moment, in deference to the Acting Chairman, but allow me to mention the elephant in the room-----
-----which will be one of the main problems resulting from a failure to deal with climate change. It is an agreement that the Government is championing.
I agree with the leader of the Green Party when he says this is a golden opportunity and we should be leading. It is an absolute golden opportunity for us to take the business opportunities offered by alternative energy and to lead the way. If I might be parochial, in Galway we are proceeding with an inner-outer bypass at the cost of €30 million per kilometre for 16.5 km of road. How that ties in with our responsibilities to reduce emissions is absolutely beyond me. Yet that is what the Government is allowing to happen - €30 million per kilometre and no provision for public transport until that road goes up.
I probably will not use all of my ten minutes. I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on what is an extremely important and divisive issue. We have seen from earlier contributions in the Chamber that some people do not believe in the existence of climate change or the effects it will have on us. It is important because as our population grows and the world's population increases we are seeing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. As a global community, there is and should be an onus on us to try to reduce our carbon footprint and think about those who are coming after us, the next generation, our own children and their children after that. It becomes a decisive issue when we start talking about how we tackle this problem, where we tackle it, when we start tackling it and what technology we use to do it. We all saw the devastation over Christmas when families were flooded out of their homes and people's livelihoods and farms were under water for weeks. We saw this not only in Ireland but across the UK and further afield. We cannot deny that as the population increases it means further development on our land, which means further gas emissions which leads to where we are today. The saying goes in Ireland, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute; it will change." This month alone we have had snow, rain, sleet and sub-zero conditions, so things are certainly changing, but not for the good.
How do we tackle this problem? There are a million and one different ways and a lot of it has been touched on. For me, there are two massive issues that we need to deal with. The first is that we need to move beyond the energy sector. There needs to be a cross-departmental approach to this. Moving forward, we are looking at transport, agriculture, industry as a whole, waste management and education, and as individuals we are looking at what we do in our own homes. We need a climate goal that transcends the different sectors and Departments. In order to do that, we need Departments to work with each other on this. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not the easiest thing to do. In the past six years, having worked in Leinster House and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and having become a Deputy, I have seen that Departments have their own interests to protect and it does not always mean that we work together for the better. The most recent example is the argument over wind energy guidelines. It is very apt for what we are talking about today. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government wanted to publish new guidelines that its experts put together with its own views, those of others and those of thousands of people throughout Ireland who put together their own submissions. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources did not agree with the proposals of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government because of its own expert views. Where has that left us? It has left us with a stalemate and in a situation where people do not trust us and believe what we are doing. This leads on to the biggest problem that we face when it comes to addressing the problem of climate change, which is public perception, public acceptance and, above all, consultation with the public on the energy sector. I do not think green energy will succeed unless we bring communities with us. At the moment, for a lot of people the perception is that when it comes to the larger corporations, businesses and even the semi-state bodies, they can and will do whatever it takes to build their wind farms, solar farms or pylons without the proper consultation and guidelines or without applying the most up-to-date technology. It is our own fault as well as the fault of previous Governments. In order for us to be realistic in setting and reaching targets, we first need to be realistic in how we work for and engage with communities on this issue. It needs to start from the top. We cannot shove this down people's throats because there is a timescale.
We need to bring people along with us on what is such an important issue. If we do not, we will have failed before we even start. We have failed the people whose houses were flooded at Christmas and we will fail those whose houses will inevitably be flooded in the future.
The next Government needs to publish new wind energy guidelines that work with communities and bring them on board. We need to publish more extensive guidelines on solar energy. We also need to ensure that the most up-to-date and efficient technology is used not just by the energy sector but by all our communities. We need to work together on this.
I have been called worse.
Many homes in my constituency of Cork East were damaged in the latest spate of flooding in December of last year and January of this year. In some parts, homes that had never been flooded before were destroyed. Others had been flooded on numerous occasions. Although not the only cause, climate change has a huge role to play in these incidents of flooding. When coupled with a severe lack of insight and foresight when it came to the planning of these buildings, it was certainly a recipe for disaster, as is evident from the winter that has passed.
I am in possession of a 2013 study carried out in my constituency. It predicted flooding in a particular area of my town where three homes were destroyed in December 2015. However, the report was never acted upon. Even though the survey had predicted that more than a metre of water would lodge there, nothing was done to prevent it. Perhaps future planning developments could incorporate the engagement of those living in the community, as they are the ones who have the experience, rather than outside parties who come in and decide they know what is best for people without ever having experienced the direct impact. It is also worth noting that although some houses may not have been flooded, many more were affected by the flooding issue.
Boil-water notices and backed-up sewerage systems are some of the issues reported to me. At present, Whitegate in east County Cork is in the second month of an eight-month boil-water notice. People there are very frustrated and we are not getting any answers on it. These issues need to be addressed immediately.
Flooding hits many areas in an indiscriminate manner, destroying homes, businesses and farmlands - in other words, prized possessions and people's livelihoods. The impact on some households was structural, resulting in property damage costing in some cases above €60,000, which is a very significant amount of money for anyone who cannot get flood insurance. The same applies to business owners. These small and medium-sized enterprises that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael claim to want to empower are an integral part of our overall economy. They were left in the dark to a large extent, picking up the slack for something that was completely out of their control. Granted, the Government cannot control the weather, but it can control the establishment of a system to help those most affected and some preventative actions to stop this from happening on an annual or biannual basis. On that note, I commend the members of the respective local authorities, the Army and the Civil Defence, as well as members of the local communities and all other organisations on their hard work over that difficult period, as well as the hotel and bed and breakfast owners who opened their doors to those in need.
Although the jury is still out on climate change for some Deputies in this Chamber, a large majority of us realise that this is the most major issue facing us in the next 20 to 40 years. The evidence is overwhelming, and if we do not act now it is predicted that it will be too late. We are hurtling towards 2020 at an alarming rate, and by the sounds of things we will need to get Volkswagen in to alter the measurement of our emission levels. We have been issued guidelines and limits that are binding, and are potentially facing billions of euro worth of fines, all for not doing enough to reduce our carbon footprint. It is hard to imagine that we have predicted our extinction as a species and outlined exactly how we should go about preventing our extinction, yet are still pursuing policies that bring us closer to our imminent end.
It was certainly a major achievement to get more than 170 signatures on the deal agreed in Paris in December at the first time of asking, but what matters is making it legally binding. While I welcome the Paris deal, it does not go far enough and is only a step on a long, hard road.
There are powerful reasons to pursue the Paris summit objective. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, each of the past 11 months was warmer than the 20th century average. Yet governments still resist the commitment to greening their economies that will turn the Paris deal from an exercise in global co-operation to a watershed for addressing global warming. For the Paris Agreement to work there must be a clear signal that the age of fossil fuels is over, a commitment to improve national climate action, and ways to make polluters pay for the damage they cause. The Paris Agreement has achieved progress on two of the above aims, but mostly failed on the third. Justice and corporate accountability were the weakest points of the Paris deal.
After Paris, there can be no doubt that the time is up for fossil fuels. Governments chose convoluted language, but the only realistic way to achieve the new long-term goal is to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. Politically speaking, the Paris Agreement goes further than the commitment to decarbonise made at the G7 summit earlier this year. We already know that the pledges governments made at Paris are not good enough and will still lead to a very dangerous and destructive world. The Paris Agreement does not force governments to change quickly. That is in blatant contradiction with the new goal to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which can only be achieved if we make drastic emissions cuts in the next ten to 15 years. The agreement does help slightly by setting a review date of 2018 for current commitments. It also makes it clear that there will be regular reviews every five years and that countries will always have to improve what they commit to.
Overall, the Paris Agreement fails the justice test. Fine words such as "climate justice" and "human rights" are included only in the non-binding part of the text. Indigenous people's rights are not given the protection they deserve. Just as with emission cuts, we know that the current money available to help those affected to adapt to climate change is not enough. The Paris deal does too little to change that. "Loss and damage," which refers to negative climate impacts that cannot be adapted to, has, however, been included in the agreement, and that much is welcome. However, the Paris Agreement fails to support the idea that major carbon polluters should be made accountable for the damage they have caused. Inaction on climate change violates human rights, and while Paris is an important step forward, the agreement is just one stop on the long road to climate justice. The key issue is not what is in this deal but what will happen next.
It is essential that the Government take the issue of climate change seriously. A major influence on how we tackle climate change will be how we approach the issue of energy. Ireland still relies heavily on fossil fuel for its energy supply, the majority of which is imported, with all the inherent dangers, costs and potential long-term shocks to our economy.
In order to tackle climate change, Ireland must produce its own energy from renewable sources. Sinn Féin believes that the best way to develop renewable energy is in conjunction with communities, and the Government must provide supports for community energy projects. It should not be about privatisation or big industries coming in to take over the renewable energy market. It needs to be more community-based and there must be more consultation on all the different renewable energy options that must be implemented in the State. Existing State companies such as Bord na Móna, Coillte and the ESB must take a serious role in renewable energy production.
As it stands, Ireland has not set its energy targets for 2020, which is regrettable. Whatever configuration of Government is put in place in the coming days needs to do that. It needs to be a priority if we are to take our responsibilities in this area seriously. It is therefore imperative that the Government take the initiative in developing a workable renewable energy policy that delivers climate justice and ensures that Ireland play its part in achieving a safer, cleaner and greener planet. That is what Sinn Féin wants.
The agreement reached in Paris is an important step forward.
This State and other countries have far more to do to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and move us towards a green and sustainable future.
We heard about the Paris accord from the past few speakers and I acknowledge as well the Buswell's briefing. I was delighted to join representatives of Trócaire a week or so ago when they presented to invited Deputies the organisation's plans to tackle climate change. It is great to see an Irish non-governmental organisation taking a leadership role in such a challenge, and particularly Trócaire which made its name in fighting hunger and providing more traditional Third World aid. I salute the organisation and congratulate it on the initiative.
I intend to touch on three headings relating to climate change: energy, transport and home heating or insulation. We have seen a significant focus on energy and a disproportionate focus on some aspects of renewable energy. There has been little mention of transport and insulation or home heating in Government policies and targets. My understanding is that in terms of the renewable energy directive, there is a target of 40% from renewable energy sources for electricity, 10% in transport and 12% for heating. We have not made any progress on the 22% assigned to transport and heat and we do not appear to be moving in the right direction.
There is a disproportionate focus on some forms of renewable energy, particularly wind. There are multiple different renewable energy formats, including wind, biomass, solar, tidal, offshore wind, etc. In this country to date, we appear to have focused almost exclusively in the renewable energy sector on wind, particularly "big wind". This refers specifically to developer-driven industrial scale wind farms. These are evident in my own constituency of Kildare North, Meath, in the west and right across the country. They have been very controversial and divided communities. There are many concerns about their efficiency. Some of the concerns arise from the concept of a spinning reserve. When one has an industrial scale wind farm, a fossil fuel powerplant is still required to spin the wheel if the wind stops blowing and there is no power to move the wheel. There are also the thousands of tonnes of concrete used in erecting these turbines, not to mention the roads that must be widened and improved to allow passage in and out for the turbines. These are massive local concerns. Wind has a place as part of a mixed basket of renewable energy sources but overly emphasising big wind in a developer-driven way is a serious concern not least in north Kildare, but also on a national level.
The guidelines we have seen are a concern. We in this House, in the industry and anybody with an interest in the issue would realise these guidelines are well out of date. That has been acknowledged. Technology advances rapidly and with anything to do with engineering, science or technology, we must move with the times and ensure that regulation is at the same level as technology. Moore's law in the 1960s predicted the advent of the microprocessor and Intel uses it to this day to move forward; such is the way with technology. Unfortunately, our guidelines have not moved and several years on, there are apparently guidelines sitting on a Minister's desk waiting to be signed. They have been there for at least two years, if not more. This continues to promote debate and controversy. If the guidelines were at least implemented, it would give communities some succour and comfort that the issue is being taken seriously. Instead we appear to be determined to repeat the mistakes of the past and proceed with large-scale industrial developments in the absence of guidelines, even as we know them to be inadequate. That is a serious concern.
The home heating and insulation element has a target of a 12% saving in energy for the climate change targets for 2020. We appear to have taken few steps in that direction. At some events, including the Trócaire event I attended recently, I asked the panel what single step could be taken to address climate change challenges and the immediate answer was "insulation". It is simple and does not get the same degree of attention as the renewable energy sector and other elements, but it is a powerful method to address immediately some of our climate change challenges. We should immediately bring in a retrofit programme for insulation and finance it by means of grant aid. We should go further and examine the form of energy in use in the home. If we shifted from oil to natural gas, it would be a significant step. We should do this by supporting the expansion of the natural gas network throughout the country. The home heating grants for gas connections for estates and other residential schemes should be advanced and the heating method should also be supported by a natural gas for home heating public awareness process and advertising.
Under the renewable energy supply directive, 10% of renewable energy is to come from the transport sector by 2020. This target allows the inclusion of transport energy from a variety of renewable energy sources. In Ireland, as elsewhere, it is likely that biodiesel will be the strongest contributor to the target. As part of reaching the 20% target, we must also support electric vehicle usage. The Government has pursued a grant model to encourage usage of such vehicles but that has not worked. As a result, a target of 10% of vehicles using such technology by 2020 is patently some way off; only 0.2% of vehicles are currently electric, so it seems it will be extremely difficult to make the 10% target by 2020 at this rate. The ESB decision to begin charging electric vehicle users for charging points is a retrograde step and has the potential to disrupt a burgeoning market. By applying a flat rate charge to users, fuel economy is a significantly less attractive argument.
My party, Fianna Fáil, has proposed a number of measures to encourage the switch to electric cars, which we believe will lead to a critical mass of consumers switching to electric by 2020 if implemented now. These include a roll-out of infrastructure to all towns and intercity routes, making it easier for people to use it. If people know this infrastructure is available as they set out on journeys, it is far more likely they will become familiar with it and more inclined to use it. They can, therefore, make the transition to purchasing an electric car. We could make the ESB fast charge points free to access for all users, supply a purchase grant for electric vehicles and instigate a moratorium in which we would charge no motor tax or road tolls on electric vehicles for five years. These would be significant steps in advancing electric vehicle ownership.
There is also a need to raise awareness of the benefits of electric vehicles. There is a very low awareness of these and perhaps there is even some concern or confusion in this regard, particularly relating to fuel economy and the nature of usage of electric cars. There is a need to have information campaigns and bumping towards the 10% target requires immediate action. Electric cars comprise 0.05% of car sales so the target is very challenging to say the least. Cost competitiveness for such vehicles should be considered. Rolling out charging infrastructure across the major routes would require over 7,000 charging points around the country. I have mentioned making the fast charge point free to access for all users and VAT and motor tax rebates should be extended.
Lip service has been paid to electrifying the public transport fleet but in reality very little, if anything, has been done. Dublin Bus recently ordered a supply of new vehicles, and it is to be welcomed that public transport is expanding. However, diesel vehicles have again been procured. That is caused by institutional inertia and it is not the fault of the purchasing manager in Dublin Bus; rather, it is the fault of the Government for failing to incentivise and communicate the targets to such bodies in a timely fashion. The next Minister should ensure that any funding for a new fleet should at least target a percentage of electric vehicles among any new purchases. The National Transport Authority has a role to play here too.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this matter once again. This is an issue that affects the country in its entirety and it will affect our economic performance over the next number of years. It will also affect the extent to which we rely on imported fuel in the years to come and the extent to which we are prepared to comply with carbon reduction guidelines that are, unfortunately, enforceable. If we do not make these changes, unfortunately we will be penalised, and that would be totally unnecessary.
I compliment those speakers who have acknowledged the need to address the issue of climate change. It is very important that we do so now as the scientific evidence is that in a number of years, we may begin to reap the whirlwind of negligence or a failure to respond to the issue. Deputy Eamon Ryan spoke eloquently on the subject.
Having shared a committee with him in a previous existence in this House, I agree entirely with almost everything he said, except for one thing - that is, that we are not doing enough. We may not have done enough so far, but it is not our intention to remain that way, and it is the intention of this - and, I am sure any - Government to proceed along the lines necessary in order to meet the carbon reduction guidelines and, as a result, make our contribution to what is obviously an issue that needs to be dealt with.
I also disagree with Deputy on the need to destroy the cattle herd in order to comply, because that is a major part of our economy and it is entirely possible to meet the carbon reduction guidelines and, at the same time, expand our agrifood sector. There is no contradiction in it at all, provided we adopt the right principles and accept the need to do something on an ongoing basis. The farming community were the very first to recognise the need and they have already set themselves targets in order to meet the guidelines over a certain period. We also need balance. There is no situation in which we should ever come to the conclusion that there is only one way to resolve this particular issue, and the issue can only be resolved if we decide to cease some integral part of our economy and revert.
The other thing we should not do is bury our heads in the sand and pretend we should not have any responsibility, that we can do nothing, that it is beyond our powers and that some body outside this country has imposed restrictions on us that we should not be subjected to. We would be very foolish to go down that road, for a whole host of reasons.
In particular, the various alternative forms of energy that are available need to be examined and developed. I do not agree with my constituency colleague in respect of the need for fossil fuel facilities burning alongside wind energy. That is not true. It is quite possible to have in tandem hydroelectricity and wind energy, and it will be necessary, as it is in many other countries. I do not accept the propaganda that was promulgated during the course of the recent general election to the effect that wind energy was totally unnecessary, that we could get on without it and that in fact it was a duplication and we did not need it. This missed the argument entirely. It is necessary for us to recognise that everybody has a responsibility. We can all make a worthwhile and viable contribution to this particular debate, provided we recognise that we have to do something about it. If we decide to ignore it completely, as Deputy Ryan has already said, there will be consequences, which we will not like.
We can now proceed to develop those alternatives that are already working and that have been proven to work. We also need to develop other alternatives, but some of the alternatives will only be effective some time in the future and we cannot wait for 20 or 30 years. That is a fact. We cannot wait for 20 or 30 years to develop some of the alternatives; we must move on. That is, of course, subject to proper planning, conditions and restrictions in the usual way, as well as setbacks and so on for wind turbines. The situation is this: if we ignore what has to be done, we will certainly pay a high price for it.
Transport is an area in which we can do quite a lot in a short period. For instance, the ordinary domestic motor vehicle can be dealt with in the shortest possible time. Of course, we have to generate the electricity from an alternative source; otherwise, we will continue to generate it from fossil fuels, which we have to import at present. That is not making a contribution. If we recognise that over the next five or seven years there has to be a fairly substantial transition to electrically driven domestic cars, we are on the right road. If we fail to do something about it, we are not going to succeed. Incidentally, quite an amount of work has been done on that already, and as time goes on. However, there have to be incentives. It is very important that incentives are recognised as a means of encouraging people to go in that direction. Home heating has already been referred to. It is an area that has considerable potential, with an improved quality of life for the homeowner, improved value to the home, and compliance with the guidelines, with a view to achieving even more than we have already considered.
The other issue we need to refer to is the calorific value of the various alternatives. Many of the alternatives will make a contribution, though not necessarily an equal one. Some will and some will not, but we cannot rely on microgeneration as a means of resolving our problem; it does not work that way. The national grid has to depend on reliable sources, that is, the ones that generate fairly substantial amounts of electricity at a particular time. Once we put those in place - and they are being put in place in many parts of the country - then we have something we can rely on into the future. We do not want blackouts. While every contribution in microgeneration is helpful, they will not in themselves resolve our problem.
We often say that a few years ago when Deputy Ryan was a Minister the expectations in terms of the national requirement were greater, and they have now changed. If we expect to remain the same way forever and not develop our economy or create jobs for the future, that is fine, but we must recognise that our ambition must be to create more employment in the future in this country, because that is what is required of us. In that case, we have to have a greater capacity in terms of the essentials, one of which is obviously electricity.
The last point I want to make - oddly enough, in passing, and I must be careful because I am making a reference in passing - relates to the recent census form, which we all examined. One could give only one answer to the question about home heating. I happen to have a combination of three systems: oil, a wood-burning stove and electricity by way of storage heating. There is no provision in the census to say that because one can make one answer only, which was not very enlightened on the part of those who created it. I want to draw attention to that because anybody who has alternatives of a renewable nature should say so.
The last point I want to make relates to the use of trees as absorbers of carbon. Deputy Andrew Doyle made reference to the Douglas fir and various other trees. There is huge potential there. People will say in the local authorities and the planning offices that the trees have to be native deciduous beeches. They do not; in fact, the Sitka spruce is the best tree of all. The Douglas fir is also excellent for carbon sequestration, as are a number of other conifers. What we need is balance - a mixture - because the one will provide the shelter for the others to grow. Incidentally, the burning of firewood is carbon-neutral. We sometimes forget about that. If it goes through an industrial process, it is not, but if it goes from the chainsaw, for want of a better description, into the fire, it is carbon-neutral and it does no damage to our economy because it only exudes what it has absorbed.
I would love to speak on this subject for longer, because it activates the minds of many people in my constituency as well.
It goes without saying that this is an extremely important subject and I am glad that we have the debate on it and that Members have the opportunity to contribute. It is a subject to which this Dáil should return on a constant basis, reviewing targets and progress and keeping abreast of all international developments. I want to refer in particular to the fact that over the course of the past five years, as a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, along with Deputy Durkan, we engaged on a constant and consistent basis with non-governmental organisations, both Irish and from abroad, on the whole area of climate change and particularly on the area of overseas development aid.
It was a subject upon which we had very good exchange and dialogue. I commend the great work undertaken by so many Irish NGOs and their international partnerships. They tried to get across to the public - which is not an easy message - the need to deal in an effective manner with climate change and the need to assist so many developing countries.
On a number of occasions during the last Dáil I asked successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Trade what percentage of overseas development aid would be spent on climate justice or climate-related initiatives. We operate a substantial overseas development aid programme as a small country, and it is very important that a significant proportion of that spending is devoted to climate justice or climate-related initiatives. In the past ten days the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, replied to me saying that the policy commitments were reflected in the policy document "The Global Island: Ireland's Foreign Policy for a Changing World." The report refers to the impacts of climate change on weather and ecosystems and their adverse effects, particularly on the poorest people in the least developed countries. It behoves all of us to ensure we have a good ODA budget regardless of the challenges that always exist with regard to the public finances. It becomes more challenging in better economic times to try and reach the expected targets - which are accepted by so many developed countries - and in reaching the UN target. The monetary amount increases as the economy grows and there are always competing demands on the Exchequer regardless of good economic times. It is obviously more challenging through adverse times or times of austerity.
For the record, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, outlined to me that the official ODA programme for 2016 is €641 million. All of us who take an interest in the least developed countries and in trying to assist the poorest people in the world would like to see that fund steadily grow. We should try to work together in this Dáil to ensure that we incrementally achieve the important UN target to which we have pledged. I understand that 7% of funding under the Irish Aid programme for 2016 will be devoted to climate-related initiatives in developing countries. It is a sizeable amount of the ODA budget, but the initiatives have the potential to be of great benefit and provide a great return to the communities served by the fund and to wider society. It would also be a good return to the Irish taxpayer, who has selflessly provided this funding over the years, even in the most difficult of times.
Deputy Durkan has made strong contributions to debates on overseas development aid. He may recall a discussion we had with Professor John Sweeney and others at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is of concern that there can be ill-informed commentary with regard to the role of the agricultural sector. Those of us who come from rural Ireland and are familiar with agricultural systems know that our farmers work to a very high, demanding and exacting standard. Our food is produced on a top-class sustainable basis. That is the way we want to continue. The standards that are imposed on farmers reduce and restrict their ability to produce, and that is a cost to the individual farmers. However, in fairness to the farming community, it has embraced the new environmental standards. Farmers have also embraced exacting and very demanding animal husbandry standards. Over the past 20 years, different programs were put in place whereby farmers were obliged to reduce production, with some compensatory payments, through schemes such as the rural environment protection scheme and the agri-environment options scheme. These partially offset the reduction in income that arose from lower production, and the countryside benefited big time from those schemes. The environmental scheme is not funded to the level that we would like. I hope it will be possible to improve the measures that are in place today.
At that particular committee meeting, if I recall correctly, witnesses referred to a need for farmers to diversify. However, diversification is not straightforward and sometimes a simplistic attitude is taken that farmers can switch from one production system to another. That does not happen. It should be acknowledged that we are very fortunate in our grass-based system, which makes dairy and beef our primary outputs. It is not that easy to diversify while maintaining a viable income and ensuring that the farm remains in some way sustainable.
It is often lost in the debate that we have very sustainable food production systems in Ireland and throughout Europe. If food production in Ireland or Europe was to be significantly reduced, food would be brought in from less sustainable systems elsewhere. This would add to the whole emissions problem and would be a totally negative and adverse development. Our approach to livestock for dairy and beef gives Ireland particular advantages in this sector. This is why our farmers are, understandably, very reluctant to diversify away from that approach. Diversifying into new products and new farming systems poses huge challenges, not just in set-up costs but also in trying to identify and access new markets. It must be recognised that in the past 20 to 30 years our farming practices have improved considerably and our food processing sectors have diversified, and they have been exceptionally good at adding value and developing new products. Diversification has happened in the agrifood sector and it has been particularly advantageous as well as being necessary. It is important, in this whole complicated area which embraces so many elements, that we are cognisant of the very demanding and exacting standards that we have on our farms and in our food processing facilities.
I received correspondence recently which referred to a speech I made in 2008 at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels. France held the Presidency at that time, and Michel Barnier was the French agriculture Minister, later to be a member of the European Commission. I asked Mr. Barnier to put onto the Council agenda the need for coherence between the climate change and food security agendas in Europe. I highlighted that where systems and farming practices are modern and sustainable, production in those systems must not be restricted and replaced by products coming from less sustainable systems such as those in South America. That would defeat the whole purpose of our attempts to reduce emissions.
We welcome the agreements that have been made over recent years, but there is a great deal of work still to be done, and progress is needed. There are very serious issues facing the global community and we all have a contribution to make. We all have obligations to bring about change in our own daily practices and in what we do as an island and as a country. There are no easy solutions. However, in general commentary, the agricultural community and the food community are believed to be responsible for some of the negative aspects regarding emissions and climate change. That is not fair, nor is it justified. We want our farming practices to be of the highest standard. We need our food production systems to be of the highest standard. This is why we need coherence in the whole area of climate change and food security.
We are all well aware that the world population is growing significantly annually. There is an increasing demand for food. With increasing organisation and growth in population, there is additional pressure on the food production systems. We, therefore, have to try to ensure that adequate food is produced in a sustainable way and, at the same time, that we also meet and deal in a much more ambitious and progressive way with the real issues of climate change. From that point of view, there is a significant necessity for ensuring that we try to ensure that enough food is produced to feed the growing population of the world in sustainable systems.
In 2010, we put in place the Food Harvest 2020 strategy. It was an ambitious and realisable strategy for the agrifood industry. At the time, when that committee which I put in place was working on it, the environmental sector as well as other sectors participated in it. The strategy was unanimously adopted and its targets have been met. There is no reason we cannot increase food production in a sustainable manner and still meet the quite rightly onerous demands on us to contribute in a significant way to climate change issues.
Paul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions this afternoon to this very important debate on climate change. There were a large number of contributions, some of which were very worthwhile, from Deputies on all sides of the House. A large number of localised issues were raised in the debate as well as ideas that we and the Government can enact and which will result in improvements in the whole area of climate change.
We have all seen the increased prioritisation given across the globe to tackling the challenges created by the effects of climate change. Happily, on this issue at least, this determination has been echoed in the life of our Government. From Ireland’s ambitious commitments to reduce our own emissions to the first ever climate legislation this country has ever seen and, of course, to the role played by the Government and the Irish delegation in the drafting of the Paris agreement last December, we can certainly hold our heads up high as we look back on what we all have achieved.
As we know, the Paris agreement on climate change represents an historic milestone. It is built on a series of binding nationally developed commitments by global leaders and an undertaking to increase their ambition and scope over time in order to restrict global warming and help countries to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. This flexibility of strengthening actions over time paves the way for a world of low emissions and climate resilient economies. The goal in the Paris agreement of recognising the specific vulnerabilities and needs of developing countries is one of which Ireland has been particularly supportive. The signing of the Paris agreement at the opening ceremony in New York two weeks ago was the first step in bringing the agreement into force across the globe. This will be followed by its ratification, which can proceed once the commitments made by the European Union and their implications for its individual member states are finalised later this year.
Ireland’s contribution to tackling the challenge of climate change will be reflected in the EU contribution of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. Once these details are finalised, the EU can proceed with the ratification of the agreement. When it comes into force, world leaders will truly have their feet on a clear and irreversible path towards tackling of global temperature rise. This commitment is echoed by Ireland’s first climate change legislation. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 provides the structures which will steer Irish society towards decarbonised energy, transport and built environment sectors as well as pursuing neutrality in the agriculture and land use sector. It establishes, in law, the national objective of transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy in the period up to and including the year 2050. It also provides a statutory basis for the institutional arrangements necessary to pursue and achieve that national transition objective. It is not designed to introduce new policies but to put in place a permanent legal framework to make sure we in Ireland make progress towards decarbonising our economy and our society.
These are long-term visions. They are highly ambitious and demand real and meaningful change in how Irish people live, work and travel. Meeting immediate 2020 commitments and raising our benchmarks incrementally to 2030, 2040 and 2050 will not be easy. Ireland’s climate change legislation recognises the need for joined-up thinking and action. The relevant Ministers in the new Government will have to contribute, on a sectoral basis, to a national mitigation plan. They will be required to develop sectoral adaptation plans, as will the local government sector, under the terms of a statutory national adaptation framework to be approved by Government. The Act also established the climate change advisory council on a legislative basis. This council will make recommendations to Government and Ministers in relation to these plans, frameworks and measures. It will play an important role in guiding Ireland’s policies and actions in order to give effect to the ambitions and commitments made in the Paris agreement by the Irish people.
We have seen in Ireland the effects of global climate change. The measures put in place by Government and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will help to ensure that Ireland is well equipped to take the necessary short and long-term measures to minimise Ireland’s impact on the climate. They highlight the seriousness with which the outgoing Government has addressed this subject at national, EU and international levels. Continuing with this level of response will need commitment from the new Government. Starting with the ratification of the Paris agreement and continuing with the actions and goals needed to meet our targets and secure the transition to a low carbon and climate resilient economy will not be lightly achieved. The signing of the Paris agreement by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, sent an unequivocal message that Ireland shares in the global commitment to playing our part in tackling climate change. Global motivation to accomplish our common goals in this area is steadfast and that resolve must continue to be mirrored here in Ireland.
I thank again all those who contributed to the debate this afternoon. As this is a very important subject and a large number of people in this House feel strongly about it, I have no doubt that this will not be the last debate on climate change, be it on legislation, statements or other aspects. A large number of Departments, be they related to agriculture, the environment, finance and every other one along the way, can affect the whole issue of climate change. All these Departments can make a difference. As I noted already, this is all about joined up thinking.