Thursday, 27 October 2016
UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Motion
That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Paris Agreement, done at Paris on 12th December 2015, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 18th October 2016.
Today has the potential to be a turning point which, in hindsight, will be seen as the advent of major cultural, political and technological change in our country. I use the word "potential" purposely. Agreements may be the prelude to actions, but they are not deeds in themselves. The Paris Agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has the potential to build on progress. It is the basis for doing more and allowing communities here, in concert with countries around the world, to take decisive actions which ultimately will safeguard our shared future on this planet.
The word "global" in the term "global warming" accurately summarises the incontrovertible science underlying the threat facing the planet. It is also, in its vastness, potentially daunting, even discouraging. How can any one country, especially a small one, make a difference? How can any one of us meaningfully contribute? It is the task of politics, one to which I intend to apply myself in order to bridge the chasm between global challenge and national responsibility and Ireland's obligation and the responsibilities of every citizen. The saying "one cannot change the world" may be tired. On climate change, it is a pressing fact that the world will not change without you. On the international stage, the response is evident within the European Union and the United Nations. Ireland has been and pledges to remain a highly active participant within both arenas. The Paris Agreement was adopted last December. It was the result of unprecedented engagement by governments around the world. It sets out a global action plan to put the planet on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2° Celsius. It is not just a blueprint for the future; it is also the best hope for any future. If that sounds apocalyptic, it is a fact.
Climate change is decades-old. Its causes are deeply embedded in our way of life. Sustaining what we know is familiar against the detrimental change that has begun and that is wreaking a cost in Ireland already requires that we change before climate change changes everything irrevocably. As the first Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, although not the first to be deeply concerned about the issue, I acknowledge the drive and political will in the run-up to the Paris Summit in 2015 that enabled 195 countries to reach the first ever legally binding global climate agreement. Given the complexities and challenges, the agreement is a significant step forward. The fact that I am here today, less than one year after the agreement was negotiated, to present it for ratification by Dáil Éireann in accordance with the Constitution, is evidence of the Government's ambition. It is evidence, too, of my determination as Minister to drive the process forward at home. The world cannot meaningfully address climate change without leadership and the participation of the European Union and the European Union cannot lead or deliver without the full participation of its member states. Ireland, as a member state, cannot meet its obligations without the participation and commitment of all its people and every sector of society. They will not be forthcoming, nor can they be organised, without effective political leadership. That leadership must begin with the Government and me, as Minister. The leadership required in a task as life-changing and life-enhancing as this is broader. On climate change, it is a fact that the world will not change without you and neither will Ireland.
The ambition and commitment of the Paris Agreement is, I hope, soon to be affirmed by its formal ratification in Dáil Éireann. We will then have irrevocably embraced commitments in principle to act in concert with our fellow members of the European Union to deliver on specific targets to be agreed in detail.
The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. Our contribution, yet to be agreed, will, undoubtedly, present significant challenges. For Ireland, however, I stress that, despite such challenges, we are committed to playing our role. This is the turning point of which I spoke. Major cultural, political and technological advances are required to tackle climate change. A Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the importance of meeting these challenges. As Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I am fully committed to prioritising climate change as a policy area in which radical and ambitious action is required. In budget 2017 a significant start has been made and more than €100 million will be invested in energy projects that will save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions every year. This will support around 3,000 jobs and reduce our overall dependence on imported fossil fuels. A total of €7 million is being allocated to kick start a renewable heat incentive and the biomass industry. More energy efficient homes mean people spend less money on energy, enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle in their own homes and gain improved health benefits which, in turn, takes pressure off health services.
A national dialogue on climate change will be the basis for concerted action and, I hope, consensus on the major cultural, political and technological advances required to tackle climate change. Nothing already in train provides a simple answer, but what is planned will underpin the political commitment about which I spoke. Now, our challenge is to do more. In Ireland we might be inclined to think we are immune, but make no mistake, Ireland’s climate is changing, too. Winters will become wetter and summers, drier. We may see milder winter temperatures which may benefit some sections of the community, but this will be offset by the potential for heatwaves during the summer. Rising seas will also increase the risk of coastal inundation. Storm surge events may increase in frequency and there are likely to be increased flows to river catchments, with obvious consequences in terms of flooding. I know that no one in this House requires reminding of the consequences. Let us be clear that the potential impacts for Ireland are serious and have partially arrived.
Energy and climate action are inextricably linked. Using less energy and using it more efficiently are the most cost effective and accessible ways for us all to take action on climate change. In Ireland people in Cork are leading the way. According to the last census, there are nearly 200,000 households across Cork city and county, almost one in four of which has received the benefit of a Government-supported energy efficiency upgrade. Global issues almost too huge to grasp can be distributed as opportunities and as obligations - one household, one business, one country at a time - across the world. That is the political action required. This is the obligation to which the Paris Agreement will bind us when brought into force on 4 November. The agreement reflects our prioritisation in tackling the negative effects of climate change through our national policy position adopted in 2014 and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. These policy and legislative structures are driving the significant increases in expenditure on the climate change measures I have outlined and which extend to health, energy management in the public sector and low carbon measures in the agriculture sector.
The scale of global activity to bring the Paris Agreement into force has been hugely impressive. The United States, China and India have all ratified the agreement. The European Union and ten of its member states are also across the line, with others soon to follow. I will travel to Marrakesh shortly as head of the Irish delegation. With the goodwill of the House, I hope to be in a position to add one more country to that list. What is happening today is not a conclusion; it is the beginning. It is the beginning of new obligations and new opportunities.
I very much welcome the opportunity, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, to support the position advanced by the Minister and the Government. We will be supporting the passage of the motion before the House. I take on board the Minister's assertion that this is an important agreement. We have seen agreements reached between member states, especially to achieve stability in economic matters, and it is often the case that when a particular point is reached and one of the larger countries has failed to achieve its targets, the targets are changed. I hope the commitment shown by the Minister to ensuring Ireland will be in a position to reach its targets will be accepted by other countries, particularly the larger ones and those that have a much more negative impact on the environment. It will be incumbent on Ireland, as a nation and through each Department, to begin a process of identifying the strategies needed to achieve the targets set. Action plans will have to be put in place, of which timelines will have to be part. There is no point in allowing matters to drift towards 2030; there will have to be yearly targets. While this does not form part of the overall agreement, it will fall to the Minister to set the yearly targets in order that they will be clear to everybody, rather than attempting to do it closer to the end, which has very much been the way governments around the world have dealt with the issue.
Formal ratification of the Paris Agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is very important and to be welcomed. The emissions reduction targets agreed at the landmark COP21 Paris climate conference present huge opportunities, as well as huge challenges, for Ireland. Ireland's targets should be consistent with those of the European Union. We have consistently supported the international process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, but a new national priority in respect of carbon transmissions represents a major shift in approach to climate change policy. While they are important indicators of progress, we must also have a longer term and wider vision for creating a prosperous and sustainable Ireland.
Fianna Fáil has a strong record in introducing progressive measures to tackle climate change which is perhaps the single greatest threat to our children's and grandchildren’s future. We are committed to an ambitious environmental programme that will include tackling climate change. We previously published the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 on 23 December 2010 which passed First Stage in the Seanad before the Dáil was dissolved. By contrast, the previous Government repeatedly ducked and dived in tackling climate change. Its policies lacked strategic vision and fundamentally failed to progress the decarbonisation of the economy. I hope the new Government will not follow this path. It is clear from what the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, has said and discussions I have had with him that he is absolutely committed to making this change. We all have a responsibility, including those of us who represent rural or agricultural communities, to address the serious issues facing us, to which there are solutions. Solutions can be found to address them.
Fine Gael's and the Labour Party’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 in the last Dáil marked a serious retreat from the 2010 legislation published by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government. Instead of setting clear targets, it had vague aspirations. Climate change poses a serious threat to this island nation across a broad range of areas, from agriculture to infrastructure and massive coastal erosion. Alarmingly, under the Government, this will be the second last EU country to ratify the hugely significant COP21 agreement that was brokered in Paris in December 2015 and under which 195 countries agreed to restrict the increase in global average temperatures to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. The agreement will enter into force on 4 November, ahead of the next conference of the parties, or COP22, which is to be held in Marrakesh.
In July the European Commission published draft emission targets to match the ambitions of COP21 with legally binding emissions reduction targets for non-emissions trading scheme, ETS, sectors which include agriculture and transport and encompass waste and residential emissions.
The EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% on 1990 levels by 2030. Government has said that the analysis is ongoing to assess the full implications of these for Ireland. That analysis needs to come to a speedy conclusion and, from that analysis, we then need to see the plans in place with yearly milestones clearly identified so that we do not allow a situation to evolve and develop where we are working towards targets without really knowing where we are at until it is too late and then find ourselves having to move the targets to avoid penalties. Ireland has had much work to do considering the EU 2020 target for Ireland was to reduce emissions by 20%. The EPA has estimated that Ireland will reduce its non-ETS emissions by between 9% and 14% below 2005 levels by 2020, which is significantly below our 2020 reduction target of 20%.
It is imperative that the Government negotiates a deal for Ireland that maintains a high level of ambition, is fair and cost-effective and can be implemented from a technical perspective in attaining overall EU 2030 emission targets. The final text regarding such will have to be agreed with the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers, while binding EU 2030 emission targets to be distributed within the Union will have, as I stated, serious implications for Ireland.
Under the Commission’s proposals, Ireland would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. This draft target allocated to Ireland, including those flexibilities, represents a significant challenge to all sectors of the economy. The sooner we have a plan in place the sooner we can address these challenges and the better the outcome. The proposal also includes flexibilities related to the transfer of ETS allowances and the inclusion of land use, land use change and forestry credits. The inclusion of these flexibilities in the draft proposal may ultimately reduce Ireland’s non-ETS 2030 target to just a little over 20%.
The Government must outline to the Dáil as soon as possible all the costs and requirements for energy, transport and agriculture, which are the three main sectors outside the emissions trading system. Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions profile is unique within Europe, being heavily weighted towards agriculture due to the lack of heavy industry within our overall economy. It is important to stress that, since 1990, agricultural emissions have reduced by close to 10%, while other areas such as transport have increased emissions by over 120%.
During the EU negotiations, it is essential that Ireland gets a fair deal in negotiations over the technical details associated with greenhouse gas, GHG, reduction targets and their measurement. Ireland needs to push for land use, land use change and forestry to be recognised as a major contribution to GHG target measurement. The inclusion of land use, land use change and forestry within the scope of the draft EU proposals are a welcome development and represent a sensible approach, which broadens the tools available for Ireland to reduce GHG emissions.
There are also huge opportunities for Ireland to achieve what can be considered a win-win outcome in meeting our reduction targets. For example, only 11% of our land is forested compared to 33% across the EU and afforestation has a high potential for helping us meet our emission targets. This places a responsibility on the Government to encourage to a greater extent the use of land that is currently not being actively farmed. Some of it is difficult to farm because it is commonage. There needs to be a proactive approach by the State in attempting to get much of that land under forestry. It will have an economic benefit to the State at a later stage anyway, as well as helping us meet our targets. Even the forests planted since 1990 absorb a massive 18% of Irish agriculture’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, economic returns from forestry are strongly competitive compared to other land uses and could pay a high dividend in terms of regional development and employment.
Ireland’s target under the EU renewable energy supply directive is to ensure that 10% of its transport energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. Reducing the carbon emissions associated with transport is also key to meeting Ireland’s GHG reduction targets. Transport will likely account for 30% of Ireland’s non-ETS emissions in 2020. The target allows the inclusion of transport energy supplied from liquid biofuels, biogas and renewable electricity resources. I would argue, however, that some of the targets set by the previous Government, which pursued a grant model to encourage electric vehicle usage, have not worked. The Minister has spoken about the proposals himself. We really have to get real about incentivising the use of electric vehicles as a way of assisting in the reduction of the emissions from the transport sector. We will have to be brave and bold and will have to deploy the State's resources in a manner that will encourage people to use these vehicles. The battery life will not be a problem for those who will just do 20 or 30 miles a day. There is absolutely no reason for them to be stuck in traffic burning fuel and emitting the pollutants we need to address.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion to ratify the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Sinn Féin welcomes the motion as it is essential that the Government takes the issue of climate change seriously. We broadly welcome the COP21 Paris Agreement. However, there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed, both nationally and internationally, if the aspirations of this agreement are to be realised. There has been inaction by successive Governments and this country has been slow to deal with the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. There is a carbon cliff in front of us, so we must play catch-up to meet our obligations and to avoid fines of hundreds of millions of euro.
The Minister stated that Ireland's national policy position is underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. We supported this Act, which was a positive step, but it is fair to say that a number of us, particularly in our party, recognised that it had some shortcomings as it alone is not adequate to ensure Ireland meets its obligations. The Act does not include firm sectoral targets that we tried to have included during its passage through the Dáil. The Act is not adequate in terms of following on from the action plan on climate change which ended in 2012, which had targets based on the Kyoto protocol. Public consultation on the legislation attracted some 600 submissions, most of which recommended setting definite targets in legislation, but that recommendation was left to one side and ignored. There is no definition in the Act of what a low-carbon economy actually means. Further, an expert panel has been put in place, which is welcome, but it is not completely independent of Government.
Will the Minister take on board that further work could be carried by local authorities? I am raising this in a positive way to try to see if we can use the local authorities more to deal with the issue of climate change. There was some reform of the local authorities a couple of years ago, but city and county councils could be given a more significant role with regard to mitigation plans, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable development generally. From speaking to councillors throughout the country, I know they are willing to take on that role and there is no reason not to do it. We have to devolve this responsibility. It will not be dealt with by this House, Government Buildings or any Department alone. They will do some of it, but this has to be driven at grassroots level as well.
Comparing the report from the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht with the Act shows that there is a number of deficiencies. The report indicated that Ireland’s existing annual emission limits, as agreed in March 2013 under the European Union effort-sharing decision or any further modification of these, should have been written into the Act as a target for the 2013 to 2020 period. It is now important to get the positive aspects of the Bill implemented and that we ensure we meet our EU and international obligations. We also submit that we should be a little more ambitious and not allow any slippage. We should get up and get ahead of our game on this issue.
It is telling that the biggest influencing factor on Ireland’s reduction in emissions over the past decade has been the economic crash. We have a carbon cliff in front of us, but it would be much worse only for the economic recession.
We are gradually ramping up emissions again through economic growth and other factors and it is not certain we will meet our 2020 targets.
At COP21 in Paris, the Taoiseach stated Ireland was "driving economic and environmental efficiency in agriculture and achieving results". The agrifood sector is very important and Ireland produces food for many other countries. However, if we are to achieve the results the Taoiseach spoke about, we need to develop other more sustainable farming practices. While the beef and dairy sectors, on which Ireland is heavily reliant, are very important, we must encourage diversification in tillage, particularly by restarting the sugar industry, which was closed down under a previous Government. I have spoken previously about the reasons diversification is needed and highlighted the carbon sink value of the sugar beet crop.
A major influence on how we tackle climate change will be the approach we take to the issue of energy. Ireland is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels for its energy supply, with 88% of total supply currently being imported. To tackle climate change, we must produce more energy from renewable sources. The best way to develop renewable energy is in conjunction with communities and the semi-State sector. The Government must provide supports for community energy projects. Templederry community wind farm in County Tipperary is a good example of a successful community energy project. State companies such as Bord na Móna, Coillte and the ESB can play a bigger role in renewable energy production. However, we should not rely solely on wind energy as a renewable source of energy. I have outlined previously the difficulties caused by putting all our eggs into the wind basket, as it were, and I do not propose to rehearse my arguments on this issue.
As matters stand, Ireland will not meet its energy targets for 2020. The Government must take the initiative to accelerate the development of renewable energy and save on energy emissions as a key part of Ireland’s infrastructural development. There is untapped potential to develop the green economy. Projects such as solar installation and energy efficiency upgrades on homes have the potential to create thousands of jobs and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. A large number of pre-1961 homes will be more difficult to insulate than those that have already been insulated because they do not have cavity walls. While considerable progress has been made on houses built between 1960 and 2007, we must start insulating houses built before 1961.
There is significant potential for the development of renewable energy projects, both large and small. Renewable energy development is a vital element in the fight to reduce our CO2 emissions. It is also central to securing energy security because our dependence on imported fuel is unsustainable economically and environmentally.
While Sinn Féin is committed to renewable energy, we believe the Government's approach is over-reliant on wind energy. A mix of renewable energy sources must be brought on stream. As the Minister will be aware, projects involving other renewable sources are experiencing difficulty in securing connections. Solar, biomass, wave and hydro energy are potentially rich sources of renewable energy and semi-State bodies must be facilitated in taking the lead in these areas.
Diversification in transport is also required. A recent report to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport showed that emissions from transport have more than doubled. This matter must be addressed, including by increasing the number of electric vehicles on the roads. Petrol and diesel vehicles must be replaced and public transport also needs to be improved. Notwithstanding ambitious targets for alternative powered vehicles, sales of electric cars have been lacklustre. At the beginning of October, just 371 new electric cars had been registered in the market. Petrol electric plug-in hybrid sales so far this year have totalled 267, while sales of diesel plug-in hybrid vehicles had reached a grand total of 11. Clearly, we are lagging behind other countries in this area. Accelerating the switch to electric vehicles will require incentives and direct State involvement in rolling out the required infrastructure. In Norway, electric car sales account for 22.4% of new sales. This was achieved through a range of measures over the past 25 years, including direct government intervention. Micro-generation is another area that must be taken seriously.
Global temperatures are rocketing. Yesterday, I noted a reading of 16° Celsius on an outdoors thermometer. It is nearing the end of October and we have not yet had frost. I remember frosts in September. The effects of climate change are before our eyes and we must take them seriously. As a developed country, we must address the issue of climate justice.
Ireland is good in areas such as recycling and food production. We should also become a world leader in reaching greenhouse gas reductions.
The striking thing about the regular pronouncements on the urgency of dealing with climate change and big summits at which commitments are made to take action is that they start to unravel almost immediately afterwards. We hear grand and noble aspirations and much public relations work is done on what action will be taken to address climate change. We then quickly discover that individual players who are happy to trumpet their commitment on this matter quickly begin to back away from taking any real action on it. The facts surrounding climate change have emerged and they suggest the position is worsening, despite all the promises to take serious and urgent action. This has certainly been the scenario that best describes what has taken place in the year since the Paris summit, both in terms of this State and the wider global picture.
The Taoiseach took a script with him to Paris which stated Ireland was serious about climate change and would play its part in addressing it. However, as Oisín Coughlan, director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, pointed out in his blog on the Paris summit, the Taoiseach then gave a wink to the Irish media to the effect that we would not do any of this because to do so could, as the Government sees it, infringe on our national strategic economic interests, in particular, the Government's commitment to the beef sector. Rhetorically, therefore, Ireland will play its part but in reality, we immediately started to engage in special pleading to get us off the hook and back away from any serious commitment to reduce CO2 emissions. This was done because we did not want to upset the ranchers and big farmers. That is pretty much the size of it.
As I was about to leave my office for the Chamber, somebody joked that Deputy Danny Healy-Rae might as well be the Minister with responsibility for climate action. I do not mean any disrespect to the Minister by saying this. According to Deputy Healy-Rae, climate change is an act of God and we should just pray. While that is not quite the Government's stance-----
In all seriousness, while it is not quite praying, it is the Government getting down on its knees and beseeching Europe to give us special opt-outs for the beef sector. That is not acceptable when we have the UN Meteorological Organization stating in the last week we have passed another serious, worrying and dangerous milestone in terms of climate change in that, as was well trumpeted in the media, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now gone 44% above the levels of the industrial revolution and is the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ever. Of course, carbon dioxide is the most guilty greenhouse gas in regard to climate change.
It is a very serious matter and our stance is essentially to push the narrow, short-term interests of a particular sector of the Irish economy. I want to elaborate this point. By that, I do not mean ordinary farmers or rural Ireland; I mean the big ranchers. These are the people who contribute to the stunning fact outlined in the CSO report on the distribution of wealth and assets, which showed that the top 10% of the Irish population own 90% of the land. This is incredible concentration. I have not made the comparison, although I intend to at some point, as to whether that is a higher concentration of land ownership than we had under the British landlords and the aristocracy. I suspect it might be. It is an incredible fact.
We are not going to deal with climate change while that remains the case. There is no doubt the big ranchers, big beef exporters and so on account for a fairly heavy proportion of that quite obscene concentration in land ownership. Successive Governments have essentially been hostage to these interests and consequently do not want to do anything that might infringe on those interests. The Taoiseach was very explicit about that and about where his priorities and allegiances lie, and to hell with the environment and the rest of it because of those allegiances.
In the first instance, there has to be a radical break from that sort of thinking or we are going to suffer. It is not just the planet but also future generations, who are the most important group. To sell out future generations, to sell out our children and grandchildren, because of narrow, short-term interests and the profits of a small minority, is unacceptable and retrograde. Even as we speak, this is impacting on us. The serious flooding has done immense damage to small farmers and others primarily in rural Ireland, although it has affected urban areas as well. It has cost us a fortune. It has been a disaster and is almost certainly going to recur. This is the real impact of climate change and Ireland, according to some reports which I have quoted before, is the most susceptible country in all of Europe to this sort of environmental catastrophe and the damage flooding can potentially do. It is already affecting us and costing us a fortune, and it will cost us a fortune into the future. We have to act urgently but we are not doing so.
As my speaking time is running out, I wish to deal quickly with what has to happen. I did not hear the Minister's comments on the money. Oisín Coghlan makes the point that the €175 million mentioned by the Taoiseach at the end of last year was just recycled money and there was no serious commitment to extra money for climate change action. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there is any serious increase in investment in a number of areas where serious investment is needed to deal with climate change. Let me flag a few of the key issues. We need a huge increase in investment in public transport. That means cheaper fares and more subsidies for public transport, yet we are moving in the opposite direction by cutting subsidies and increasing fares. There has to be dramatic and radical action on this issue.
In the area of forestry, which is potentially a win-win in terms of employment, jobs and climate change, we are failing disastrously, evenvis-à-visour European partners. We have the best conditions for growing trees in all of Europe but the lowest level of forest cover. While I do not have time to elaborate, the Woodland League tells me that due to the market-led approach to forestry, farmers who were growing trees are cutting them down too early because the grants run out too early and because their approach to forestry is dictated by the market. They sell when the price is high rather than leaving the forests for a long time, which means deforestation is taking place. Incredibly, due to state aid rules, Coillte, the State forest company, is prohibited from engaging in afforestation. In addition, we continue to stick with the monocultural model, which is the least effective in terms of climate change, flood mitigation and so on.
With regard to insulation, we need a huge, State-led investment in the whole area of retrofitting and insulation, which would have a major impact. There are other areas I do not have time to deal with. Overall, are we are getting serious or we just doing the special pleading and the rhetoric?
We had very passionate speeches at the Paris conference. I think we can all agree climate change is extremely dangerous for our generation and also for future generations, which are facing a grim reality. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that, if we continue as we are, 50 million more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050. The World Bank tells us that, in 15 years time, if we keep going as we are, 100 million more people will join those who are already in extreme poverty.
The Paris Agreement is about multilateral action on climate change. We are now approaching the first anniversary of the agreement so we ask what can be achieved. One example brought to my attention is Ethiopia, where today there are 10 million people dependent on food aid due to persistent drought that has been worsened by the impacts of El Niño. We know the figure for carbon dioxide emissions in metric tonnes per capita in Uganda is 0.1 and in Ireland it is 10.5. Those countries which contribute least to greenhouse gases are the countries most impacted by climate change, and these countries are already suffering conflict, hunger and desperate poverty, as the Minister will know at first hand from his involvement with AWEPA.
The main causes of global warming, as we know, are burning fossil fuels and emissions. The fossil fuels account for two thirds of the emissions causing climate change yet, in 2015, some 70% of new energy investment was in fossil fuels. We are told that 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned if the Paris goals are to be met. It is vital that we do more to phase out fossil fuels. Some countries are having success and are using more wind and solar power than fossil fuels. Given the fossil fuel divestment movement, analysts are seeing that it is risky to invest in fossil fuels.
With regard to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, will the Government divest public money away from fossil fuel industries and, instead, adopt a 100% renewable energy investment policy for the fund? The Minister, Deputy Noonan, replied to a parliamentary question by stating the issue of fossil fuel divestment "may" be considered as part of the process of the autumn review of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund strategy. While he used the word "may", I hope that becomes "will". That would be an affirmation of the Paris Agreement.
Prevention of further climate change is better than reaction to climate change. Various reports tell us that it is up to 20 times cheaper to prevent further climate change as opposed to dealing with the effects and the costs of not being active.
I acknowledge the work of Trócaire and other NGOs that are in the countries of the Global South and other countries. They see at first hand the effects of the policies of the developed world. These effects include drought, food insecurity, malnutrition, starvation, ill health, early death and infant mortality, not to mention the effect on the animals that farmers and others need. So much is caused by what we are doing in our world.
The climatic events are exposing the vulnerability of the plans in place to fight poverty. It is believed they are putting the sustainable development goals under threat. It is not just an environmental issue: it is also an ethical and moral one.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this. I fully support the ratification of the agreement. It is an urgent call to action. I am afraid the debate is over. With the greatest of respect to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, the Sarah Palin type of politics is over. That debate is gone. The debate is no longer on whether our emissions are having an effect: it is on the severity of the impact and the window of opportunity we may still have as we learn to take responsibility for our rates of emission, which are contributing to global warming. In this regard, I welcome the Minister's statement that he intends to apply himself to bridging the chasm between global challenge and national responsibility. We have no choice at all in this matter.
The EPA has pointed out that we are not going to meet our targets. The advisory council has pointed out that the fiscal space will shrink by €3 billion to €6 billion because of our failure to meet targets. The Minister has not addressed this at all in his speech. The cost of not addressing our failure to curtail our emissions was not addressed, but the Stern report, among many others, has pointed out, along with my colleague, that it will cost up to 20 times more if we do not reduce our emissions. At some stage, sense must prevail. While I welcome the Minister's speech today, I am disappointed with the details. He referred to the national mitigation plan that must be produced by the end of this year. There is no sign of that or the draft. There is an action plan to be produced by June of next year. Will it be issued? What are our plans?
Under the Paris conference we must commit to a five-year plan, with each year having more ambitious targets. How are we going to do that? Such is the seriousness of this that we should receive an update every six months in the Dáil.
I sit on the Committee of Public Accounts, as Members know. Representatives of the National Treasury Management Agency appeared before us. The chief executive, Mr. Kelly, whose honesty surprised me, put up his hand and said the agency had not given any consideration to the risk of climate change in its investment policy. Second, he committed to returning to tell us how the agency will change its policy. We require a Government investment in changing from fossil fuels. Some 80% of fossil fuels must remain in the ground; we have no choice about that. We must consider renewable energy.
Climate justice comes into play because, as we sit here, 10 million Ethiopians are facing starvation. Not all of them are starving but they are all on the breadline. The carbon emissions of one Irish person equal those of 80 Ethiopians. How can we stand here and say that is fair or just and not say we have to change that?
I despair over our transport policy. One arm of the Government, represented by the Minister present, is considering positive measures while the other is considering an increasing number of roads. Some 96,000 vehicles enter Galway city daily. Vehicles are producing an increasing amount of emissions but the only solution in town that the local authority and Government are talking about is another road. I despair.
It is quite bizarre that we are here. I find it really appalling that we are ratifying an agreement that, in reality, we have no intention of abiding by. Even as the agreement was signed, the Government knew it did not attempt to meet our targets. That has not changed. The figures show this.
Irish agriculture is due to increase its emissions by 6% to 7% by 2020 while transport emissions are set to climb between 10% and 16% over the levels for 2014. In reality, as I am sure other Deputies have said, we will fall short on our emissions target by 70%. In some ways, we are just pretending to ratify the agreement because there is no agreed plan in place. There are always excuses made and there is always something else that gets in the way. In the past few weeks, the Government, through the EPA, opposed stronger air pollution standards for coal- and peat-fired power stations. Our so-called transitional national plan is really just another dodging of our obligations, a kicking of the can down the road. First, we are told we are too poor and in recession and that we cannot do what is required. Then we are told that the economy is only turning a corner and that we may be able to do what is required. There is always something put in the way of making the tackling of climate change a key priority.
We must compare the approach taken in this State with that of a similar jurisdiction, Scotland. We must keep repeating these points ad nauseambecause Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions fell by 8.6% in 2014 to almost 40% below the 1990 levels. Scotland is ahead of its 2020 target by 42%. We will fall short of our target by about 70%. We actually engage in behaviour that makes circumstances worse. We are furthering our agricultural policy and subsidising fossil fuels rather than solar panels. We are creating a new competent authority for addressing aircraft noise that facilitates the development of Dublin Airport as a major hub, with all the consequential environmental and climate change impediments. We will keep doing this because our policies are heading in that direction. If we do not heed the moral obligation and life-and-death obligation to the planet, the cost should be considered, given that the Government always loves to consider the cost. Some sources claim we will lose between €3 billion and €6 billion up to 2030 if we do not deal with this issue. I really do not believe we are dealing with it. I am not blaming the Minister personally but the Government policies are sending us in a different direction. We are really just engaged in a bit of a stunt today to pretend we are ratifying something when, in reality, we are not doing so.
My views on climate change are already well known. There were changes in the climate way back in times when there was no industrialisation and when there were far fewer animals on farms in our country. There was no intensification of farming in the centuries gone by, yet we had intense heat and long periods of very cold, wet weather, which culminated in the loss of many lives in the famine in the 1740s. This was caused by two years of incessant rain and extremely cold winters.
El Niño and the Gulf Stream have played a significant part in changing the climate over the centuries. Many untruths have been bandied about for many years. They told us about the ozone layer, greenhouse gases and cans of hairspray or whatever but they never told us that it was nuclear testing-----
The Minister and I are the same in that we have nothing on our heads to spray. Anyway, we are managing.
They never told us that nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean 50 years ago actually caused the serious damage to the ozone layer. I am thankful it is now mending and curing. It has nothing to do with policies in any country in recent times.
I am very worried about this agreement because it will have a severe negative impact on farmers. Farmers must be protected because of the consequences if the farming industry goes down. Farming is facing a serious crisis currently. If it is impacted negatively any further, it will hurt the whole country. When farming is doing badly, the whole country will not be doing well.
It is rumoured that the national herd may have to be reduced. I will not support any policy that will impinge negatively on our agricultural production. It is said that if Ireland misses its 2020 targets, the likelihood is that this country will be fined. Three years is too short a period to achieve whatever targets the Minister is talking about. The honest truth is that they will not be achieved in that time. As I said to the Minister, farmers are at the crossroads. Many young farmers are declining to take over the family farm. They are refusing to take it from the parents and are going different directions because they see that they will be doing very well if they have one good year out of every five. Only two or three years ago, farmers were told to increase milk production. What is the story now? There is no fair price for milk, and many of the farmers who went into production for the first time or increased their production have serious financial problems at present. The Government is doing very little to help them. The last Government told them that the Chinese would drink milk but, as I understand it, they are not interested in drinking milk at all.
Forestry was referred to. It was said it will help to reduce carbon emissions. However, the grant for planting on marginal land, which is not agriculturally productive in many ways but would create an income for farmers, has been set up in such a way that one must have 80% green ground and 20% marginal ground. On any farm or landholding in south Kerry and many other parts of Kerry it is the other way around: 20% green ground and 80% marginal ground. I ask the Minister to reintroduce the grant for planting forestry. If the Government is saying this will help to reduce emissions, it needs to get its show together and give farmers a proper grant for planting marginal ground because at present it is not there and no planting is taking place.
The Government blames climate change for flooding. The fact is that every river is blocked. The Shannon has not been cleared out since the English cleared it out in the 1800s. Why is that? In the past 20 years, we have seen the introduction of cross-compliance, whereby if the farmer breaks any rule or cleans out a river, the Inland Fisheries has farmers and landowners insistent that they will not go near the river. This has meant that all the rivers have been clogged because farmers cannot afford to lose their payments. That is their bread and butter. That is what they feed their families from, and if they were to lose their payments, that would be the end of them. They could not feed their families, send their children to school or keep going at all, so cross-compliance has ensured that nobody has gone near a river. Take the Flesk river in Kerry which goes down through the parish of Glenflesk. A total of 22 houses and the community hall in the area were recently flooded, and the church was almost flooded. The national primary road we need to get emergency services in and out of our county flooded. The road and the houses did not sink, but the level of water has increased because the water cannot flow freely through our Flesk river and into the lakes of Killarney. That is what is happening. The Government should address these issues and call the Inland Fisheries aside to get it to listen to reason because what it is at is not reasonable. It is depriving the rivers of fish because the bushes are closing in over the rivers and the fish need sunlight to reproduce and exist in our rivers. Inland Fisheries is hurting what it is supposed to favour.
Regarding diesel and electric vehicles, why talk about electric cars when we have nowhere to plug them in to charge them up? It is only pure waffle to say that people should diversify and buy electric cars when there are no facilities to plug them in. They can only travel 100 km at a time. If the Minister were travelling around Sneem tonight in an electric car and going as far as Caherdaniel and wanted to come back to Sneem, he would not get there. It is ridiculous. What is the Government talking about? The farming community is the easiest target. I can see that farmers will be hit so I do not support this agreement. A few years ago, the Government incentivised people to go down the road of getting diesel cars, which was grand, and many people have done that. However, diesel is now almost as dear as petrol. There was talk that the Government would raise excise duty and VAT on diesel. Gladly, it did not, but sadly, the cost of diesel has increased anyway. It is now nearly on a par with petrol. I ask the Minister and the entire Government how it is that when barrels of oil have never been cheaper, oil is getting as dear as it was when a barrel of oil was at its most expensive.
We could do a lot to have cheaper energy. I refer to wind energy and solar panels. There is no policy on solar panels in this country, as far as I can see. People ask me about solar energy. There is no such thing as applying for planning permission for them, yet people are hurt when they hear that solar panels are to be put near them. There needs to be defined policy on solar panels. I fully support wind energy projects. I do ask that they not be put near homes, particularly family homes. They need to be kept a distance away. Some say 700 or 800 m is a fair distance. We need to support the wind energy industry more because it is impossible to get planning permission for a wind turbine project at present. Hydro-energy is an impossibility. Inland Fisheries will not let us clean out the rivers so that people do not get flooded. The Minister knows that installing hydro projects in rivers will not work unless the Government talks to Inland Fisheries and gets its act together in that regard.
I know. The last thing I will say to the Minister is that wave energy is not being explored at all. We have a massive distance of coastline all around us. Wave energy should be supported to ensure that it gets off the ground.
The signing of the Paris climate agreement was an historic and momentous occasion. The fact that it is being ratified at speeds never seen before with any international agreement is a signal of how significant, important and urgent the task before us is. I was in Paris during the talks and I remember the day before the final agreement was reached I asked one of our officials what she thought. She said the devil was in the detail and in the extent of the detail. The agreement does not tell us exactly how we will cut our emissions.
Good day, Danny. We will talk to you later in the corridor.
There are many exchanges of views in this place other than in this Chamber.
The devil, as I said, is in the detail. The agreement does not tell us how we will reduce our emissions, but the extent and the length of the agreement and the legal detail as to how we will have to monitor, account for and increase our ambition make it a significant agreement. The fact that we were able to get consensus among 190 countries shows remarkable strength. Through consensus comes strength.
With terrorism, wars in different countries and the breakdown of international agreement, it was hugely important that we were able to make such a significant international agreement. It gives us hope that the sustainable development goals agreed in New York a few months before the Paris Agreement might also be brought into real life and action.
I wanted to talk to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae because I wanted to tell him the science is absolutely clear. He keeps saying that there have always been changes in nature and refers to a flood in 1752 or whatever. While that is true, I want to put the following point back to him and I will do so later. If such a small variation in the last period of historical record had such effects on our country, what will happen when we move out of any historical precedent or indeed out of one geological period, the Holocene, into a new geological era where we are responsible for changes that are bigger in scale and of a greater magnitude than anything we have ever seen in our historical record or lifetime? The scientists are absolutely clear and certain about what is happening and what we need to do to respond to it.
The thinking has changed with the Paris Agreement. First, the science is clear. What was holding us back for so long was that people, when asked why we do not do something about climate change, would ask why we should do anything when the Americans are not doing it or when the Chinese are building coal-fired power stations every week and so on.
The second reality is that it is now clear that everyone has a chance as well as a responsibility to take part in the transformation we need to make. Every village has the same opportunity to be part of what is the biggest and most important project facing us. It is an inclusive project now, rather than an exclusive project.
The third change in the thinking is that addressing this incredible challenge of reversing the increasing emissions, which are causing the problem, and starting to store carbon rather than emitting carbon will lead to a better economy. This is not a hardship or something that will make our country poor or a worse country in which to live; it will make it a better country. By addressing this challenge we connect with the fundamental changes that are already taking place in the world today. There is a digital revolution on the back of the increasing data processing capacity we have. A clean-energy revolution is taking place: that is for real and irreversible. It is clear that renewables and efficiency are winning. That is an area where we have particular comparative and competitive advantage as a country.
We are starting to see changes - a revolution - in the transport system that will come with those two other digital and clean-energy revolutions. Combined together what we are talking about here is not marginal change or change to the existing system, it is changing the entire economic system. It is a chance to move to a fairer, more socially just, stable, healthier economy in every way. It is not a marginal change or an additional little clip on the budget here. It is not sticking to the existing system and preserving it: it is changing the system for the better.
Let us consider what that means. We need to do four fundamental things. We need to eat better, travel lighter, waste less and be energy clever. I am afraid that on all four measures we are fundamentally going in the wrong direction. Nothing that the Government is doing is bringing us back and changing our direction so that we get in touch with those revolutions that are taking place. Let me take each in turn.
In terms of how we eat, Mary Robinson was right. She was correct to say that the scale of change we need to make is such that we have to start to change our diet and eat less meat, which is better for us anyway. None of these changes is negative change: they are better for our health as well as for the environment. If we ignore that as the Government is doing and suggest we can just press ahead by pushing the beef industry and pushing as much infant formula as we can to the Chinese to try to compete with the New Zealanders, we are not being honest in signing this ratification. If we are serious, we need to make the changes to our diet and our food system.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae thinks he has a scheme that can protect farmers. I disagree with him. By starting to adapt to climate, it will protect farming better. It will not just avert the flooding which is certain because a warmer atmosphere carries more moisture - that is the fundamental reason for having so much more flooding - but it also gives farmers a role. They are the key people on the front line who need to take on this challenge and will benefit from this challenge because the work they have to do is important. That work includes growing fuels as well as food, tending the land to store carbon as well as preventing flooding, catching the wind and managing our land-use system because that is what we need to do. It is a better use of our nature and leads to a better country to live in.
We have a big advantage. Ireland will not be among the countries worst affected. We will not be like large sections of India, the Middle East and parts of the Americas which will be uninhabitable on our current course. We will maintain an environment that is very habitable, but we need to tend it and manage it to cut out the carbon. That gives farmers a role and protects their lifestyle, rather than trying to go the other way and shift as much as food as we can around the world and keep going with an unsustainable system. That is not a clever way to go.
In transport, we need to travel lighter. We need to change fundamentally our unsustainable transport policies. At the moment we have a 4:1 ratio in favour of road transport over public transport. The alternative of the creation of urban space that is really attractive to live in is the real challenge of our time. It is not a minor shift in the budget here or there. We need a fundamental shift in the whole policy. There is no understanding of this. Why is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, not in the Chamber to give his view given his central role? I do not get any indication that he has the slightest interest in the issue.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is responsible for energy. The first thing we need to do is to throw out the energy White Paper published last year because it does not have the ambition we are signing up to in the Paris climate accord. It proposes making the change by 2100, which is too late. We need to recognise that this is a better alternative; it creates jobs. We should not be ratifying this if the Minister is saying, as he said yesterday, we can continue to burn our peat turf. If as he said, we have to preserve the jobs, I can guarantee we will preserve far more jobs - better jobs - and really bring life to the midlands by going the clean energy way. However, we cannot sign the accord and keep burning peat. It is hypocrisy and shows we are not serious. It means we are not leading in the alternative clean-energy future.
In industry, we need to switch to a new circular economy where we waste nothing. We do not do that when we are building a massive incinerator in Poolbeg to burn 600,000 tonnes of valuable resource material every year. We do not do that when we cannot get agreement here in the Parliament just to monitor, measure and put a price on our water, which is one of the materials that will be so valuable in a climate-affected world. If we are serious, we need to start monitoring, measuring, putting a price on and respecting our natural systems. Nothing here indicates we are serious even though we are signing the Paris accord.
We in the environmental movement have to raise this issue higher. It is too important now to be seen as a pigeonhole. It is too important to have an empty press Gallery and empty seats here, indicating not the slightest interest in this subject. It reflects how this House views this issue and I fear it reflects how we view it in the country. We, as the environmental movement, need to change the whole story and open up people's eyes that we can have a future we can be proud of, a future we can be good at and a future that will create jobs and a socially just economy for all our people.
Let us sign this accord, but let us change our ways to show we really mean it.
I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. Bar one contribution, I agree with the vast majority of what has been said. Even in respect of that contribution, we need to address many issues there in the context of where we are going. The Deputies' contributions are useful in informing a wider-ranging debate on the issue of climate change. Recognition of the challenge of global warming has received broad support across the political spectrum. The Paris Agreement represents the first international commitment of its kind. For such a global agreement to enter into force less than one year after it was agreed sends out a message of global commitment to address the challenges of climate change.
I understand some of the concerns raised and appreciate the queries surrounding our obligations once the agreement is ratified. The agreement is built on commitments made by all states parties. The nationally determined commitments outline the steps everyone will take to reduce their own impact on the environment and increase their ability to adapt to the inevitable negative effects of climate change. There is a commitment that the nationally determined commitments will display progression towards increasing ambitions over time.
I will try to deal with some of the questions raised. Deputy Timmy Dooley made the point that this was the second last country in the world to commence the ratification process. This is not, by any manner of means, the second last country to ratify the agreement. Ten EU member states have ratified it and Ireland will be the 11th to ratify it if we get the approval of the House today. While we may have been slow to start, we will be to the fore in completing the ratification process. I understand the frustration of many Members at the timelines. The draft first national mitigation plan, as Deputy Catherine Connolly mentioned, will be published for public consultation in the next few weeks. I would have loved to have been able to publish it before we had this debate in the House. However, I am determined to make sure it will be in place by the deadline of June next year. That places responsibility, as Deputy Eamon Ryan said, not just on me, as energy Minister, but also on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, and the Minister from Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross.
Deputy Brian Stanley said he would like to see stronger legislation. Legislation is now in place and sets a structure in place. It sets a benchmark to be reached by every Department. Deputy Eamon Ryan is right in that there has to be radical change in the way we think about things. This is the first step in that regard.
On the targets sets in the national mitigation plan, we will have to look at adaptation measures to ensure change in every sector of society. The Department is working closely with local authorities in their contributing to both the national mitigation plan and the national adaptation framework. They are seen as key players in achieving our transition to having a low carbon resilient climate. Guidelines have been published and seminars and workshops held. In fact, in my county of Roscommon a seminar is taking place today with local authorities at the regional assembly in Ballaghaderreen. Before the end of the year I will be providing a statement for the House on the annual transition which will outline our progress, future aims and objectives to 2030.
I had to smile when Deputy Brian Stanley mentioned the re-establishment of the sugar industry in this country. I remember being one of the very few voices on the Opposition benches at the time who opposed the abolition of the sugar industry and being criticised for it by the Government side of the House and also by others on the Opposition side. There were public meetings organised against me in some parts of the country by various national organisations, but I was not prepared to bow because it was the wrong thing to do at the time. Sadly, I have been proved right.
Deputy Clare Daly made the point that changes to Government policy were needed. Yes, we do need to make changes. All other speakers spoke about that issue, including Deputy Eamon Ryan. There is a need for radical changes to the way we approach and deliver on Government policy and it will require a completely different outlook and attitude. I say to Deputy Eamon Ryan that I am probably one of the first representatives from the midlands to come out publicly and say we need to move away from the use of peat and I am prepared to work with Bord na Móna to make sure that will happen as quickly as possible. However, we cannot ignore the fact that there are 1400 families dependent on the industry. Therefore, we need to provide for a structured transition rather than close it down today and leave nothing in its wake. That is the approach I want to take, not just on this but also on many other issues with which we have to deal.
The entry into force of the Paris Agreement will send an unequivocal message to business, stakeholders, citizens and the Government. All governments are committed to playing their part in tackling climate change. Global motivation to accomplish our common goals is steadfast. That resolve must be mirrored in Ireland if we are to transform our ambitions and international commitments into meaningful actions. I know that most speakers have made that point. It is essential that Ireland continue to play a full and active role in the global efforts to combat climate change. We need to change the way we run the economy. Many Members spoke about the huge opportunities presented. There are massive opportunities and because of this we need to change our thinking. Let us all reaffirm our commitment to achieving our targets and changing the way we run the economy and our society, not just to deal with the challenges we are facing.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae made a point about the flooding experienced in the 1700s. The isolated incidents in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s are remembered because they were so infrequent. The difficulty is that in my part of the country we have experienced record floods in two out of the last seven years. We have witnessed devastation in communities I represent. Instead of being one in 100-year events, they are becoming one in five-year events. We cannot continue to ignore the scientific facts. Let us all start to pull together and, from an environmental and an economic perspective, work towards the common goal of not only delivering on the objectives to 2030 but overachieving on them. Let us work together to be one of the world leaders in delivering on the commitments set out in the Paris Agreement.