Thursday, 8 December 2016
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 provides that an annual transition statement must be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas not later than 12 months after the passing of the 2015 Act and not later than each subsequent anniversary of such passing. This is the first such statement. In addition to this oral report, I have arranged for a written annual transition statement to be laid in the Oireachtas Library. The written statement includes an overview of climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures adopted to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, GHGs, and to adapt to the effects of climate change in order to enable the achievement of the national transition objective. It also contains a record of emissions set out in the most recent inventory prepared by the EPA and a projection of future emissions together with a report on compliance with EU and international obligations. Full details are set out in the document and in the time available today, I would like to briefly reference some of the key aspects of the statement.
I would also like to acknowledge that the Government has taken the issue of climate change seriously and has acknowledged that it is a global challenge that requires radical and ambitious thinking. I am the first Minister with specific overarching responsibility for climate action and I take this issue very seriously. Some of the commentary we have heard from some Members inside and outside this House on this issue has been disappointing. The fact is that the Programme for a Partnership Government clearly sets out goals in this area. In simple terms, the Government and I, as Minister, are committed to putting in place plans that will ensure a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. This is just 396 months away. It is disappointing that as a Minister who has only been in office for six months, I am lectured by some people about inaction. I am quite happy to have my record over my first six months as Minister compared to that of my predecessors in respect of the action we are taking and will take over the coming weeks in respect of a number of measures.
We all accept that there is incontrovertible evidence that global warming is threatening life on our planet. Observations show that global average temperatures have increased by 0.85° Celsius since 1850. The atmosphere and the ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished and sea levels have risen as the concentrations of GHGs have increased. Changes in Ireland's climate are in line with these global trends and those changes will have diverse and wide-ranging impacts. Winters will become wetter and summers will become drier. We may see milder winter temperatures benefitting certain sections of the community, however, this will be offset by the potential for heatwaves during summer. No one in this House needs to be reminded of the consequences of climate change, which were seen this time last year in the severe flooding we experienced.
Where are we in terms of GHG emissions? The EPA has reported in its most recent inventory that emissions for 2015 are estimated at 59.84 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent - some 3.7% higher than the 2014 figure. According to the agency, these figures indicate that Ireland will be in compliance with its 2015 annual limit set under the EU's 2009 Effort Sharing Decision but is on course to exceed the limit in 2016 or 2017. In addition to the most recent GHG emissions data, the annual transition statement must also include a projection of future emissions prepared by the EPA. The EPA estimates published in March 2016 provide an updated assessment of progress towards achieving the emission reduction targets set under the 2009 EU decision for the years from 2013 to 2020. Ireland's 2020 target is to achieve a 20% reduction of non-ETS sector emissions on 2005 levels with annual binding limits set for each year over the period from 2013 to 2020.
The March 2016 projections indicate that emissions in 2020 could be in the range of 6% to 11% below 2005 levels, depending on whether additional policies and measures beyond those already in place by the end of 2014 are implemented. This shortfall reflects our constrained investment capacity for over a decade, from 2008 to 2019, due to the economic crisis, including the impact of the troika programme and EU fiscal governance requirements. All of this means that we will not meet our 2020 target which may, in any case, be inappropriate in terms of cost-effectiveness.
Apart from EU obligations, colleagues will recall that the Dáil approved Irish ratification of the Paris agreement last month ahead of about 50% of EU member states. Commitments under the agreement will be undertaken through a range of climate action plans known as nationally determined contributions, NDCs. Ireland will make a technically feasible, cost-effective and fair contribution to this global effort via the NDC tabled by the European Union on behalf of member states which commits to at least a 40% reduction in EU-wide emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.
As the first Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I am fully committed to addressing our EU and international obligations and other challenges we face. In so doing I am adopting a consultative approach. I will shortly publish a preliminary consultation document to inform the preparation of Ireland’s first national mitigation plan which must be prepared by next June. I will also publish in the coming weeks an initial consultation document on a clean air strategy for Ireland with a view to developing an ambitious plan in line with EU policy which will seek to protect citizens’ health and fully recognise the linkages between our energy use and the quality of the air we breathe.
Around the world there is growing evidence that air pollution is damaging our health in different ways. Levels that were considered to be safe in the past are no longer safe. Air pollution has now been implicated in many major concerns of our time, including cancer, asthma, dementia, obesity and cardiovascular disease. One in five children in this country has asthma. They are gasping for breath and we could help them. About 300 lives a year could be saved by extending the ban on smoky coal nationally. The impact of air position on mortality is thought to be in the order of four deaths every day, never mind the additional pressure this is putting on the health service and the fact that it is costing the economy about €3,800 every minute.
Since I went into the Department, I have prioritised the clean air strategy, not just because of the impacts of air quality on health but also because of the detrimental impact particularly of black carbon and the impact of emissions on our long-term environmental goals. It is important not only to look at the long-term objectives but also at the issues and challenges we face.
On renewable energy, I intend to publish a final consultation document on the renewable heat incentive scheme and the details of a joint venture between two of our semi-State companies that seeks to optimise the supply and management of a sustainable biomass industry in this country. As Minister, I am trying to support the development of alternative fuels. I have already given an indication of my view on fracking. I supported Deputy Tony McLoughlin's Bill to ban it. The direction I am taking and the decisions I have taken to date are very much focused not just on the here and now but also the long-term objectives in dealing with climate change. While climate policy has been focused primarily on reducing emissions, I am also prioritising the development of a national adaptation framework to ensure we will address the issue of climate resilience. Work is progressing on the first national framework which must be submitted to the Government by December 2017 and also at sectoral level on the development of sectoral adaptation plans, including for the local government sector.
The extent of the challenge presented by climate change and the scale of the transformation required if Ireland is to move to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy are clearly evident and have been forcefully highlighted by recent EPA publications, to which I have referred. Dealing with the causes and consequences of climate change remains a collective challenge both in Ireland and elsewhere, but I am confident that we are well positioned to meet it.
There are number of other initiatives. In the budget there was a 35% increase in capital investment. I have also included proposals in the clean air strategy to revise motor tax charges to accurately reflect the actual emissions from vehicles, encourage people to take a more responsible attitude to vehicle maintenance, fuel choice and the style of how they drive, thereby driving down emissions in a practical manner.
In the public sector we have a challenging target of reducing energy demand by 33% by 2020. In the coming weeks, with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, I will announce a measure whereby any area in the public sector that makes energy savings will be allowed to retain and reinvest these savings in its own services. That is a clear demonstration of the Government's commitment to drive the change to ensure there will be a clear incentive across the public sector to make energy saving changes and reinvest the savings in the development of their own services.
Many annual transition statements will follow in the period to 2050. This is the first such statement to the House. I am the first Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and have not yet been in office for six months. I intend to drive this agenda with the support of colleagues in this House and the Seanad. Rather than criticising what has not been done, it would be far better if people started to work together. Deputies should look at the documents to be published within the next six weeks and give us their input. They should work with us to drive the agenda together and really change the economy not just for the betterment of the environment but also in the interests of economic development, job creation and balanced regional development.
I very much welcome the opportunity to address the House on behalf of Fianna Fáil on the issue of climate action in the development of a low-carbon economy. Climate change is certainly one of the most important issues of our time. I welcome the opportunity to discuss it and hope we can do so in a calm way. I do not think anybody has it within his or her grasp to take ownership of it, but we must work collectively. My party has been and remains committed to meeting our climate change commitments. It will not achieve success alone; we will only succeed by working together in this House.
We are witnessing around the world some of the grave consequences of a rise in temperatures. Sea levels are rising; the frequency of extreme weather events is increasing and climatic changes are beginning to reshape how communities live. This extends to our island nation which last year experienced some of the most devastating floods in living memory. As sea levels rise and extreme storms become more frequent, the coastline is beginning to erode rapidly. As people living along the coastline will attest, this will have serious consequences for coastal communities. This is not projected to happen in the future; it is happening now. It is also happening in inland communities. The Minister does not need a lecture from me on the devastating impact of flooding in the River Shannon basin and as flood waters make their ways to the sea. Members of the House had the opportunity to see people dealing with the floods at the time and it was a major crisis, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. In that regard, I would be critical of other aspects of government, particularly the Office of Public Works and the Department in that they have been unable to provide an appropriate plan to assist people affected by flooding. We are looking at a different aspect of that matter, on which I will concentrate.
On an international level, I have been saddened, too, by the hypocrisy of certain Members in expressing their sympathy to the victims of extreme weather events such as the catastrophic tsunami in 2004 in the Indian Ocean in which approximately 230,000 people lost their lives while at the same time failing to do anything to reduce and abate the risk of future occurrences.
In advance of the 12th anniversary of this tragedy, and as another tragic climate-related event has taken the lives of 100 people in the same region, we should be reminded of the urgency for us to act quickly to address the inevitable impacts of temperature increases and to minimise the gravity of future impacts. That said, our message also has to be a positive one. We cannot succumb to the notion that mitigating climate change will be a sheer burden on our economy. Instead, we must focus on the opportunities for Ireland to achieve positive outcomes in meeting our reduction targets. This will require a mind shift in our developing economy. The burden to assist in making that change falls to the Minister, to some extent. It will require swift and decisive action on the part of elected representatives, particularly those in government, and across Departments. Ireland must identify the strategies and timelines that will be needed to achieve our targets and work toward putting these into place. Our 2020 and 2030 targets present very significant challenges and they simply cannot be met without considerable forward thinking and prudent planning. I am proud to say that this is an area in which Fianna Fáil has a strong record. We had a particularly strong record when we were last in government with the Green Party. I certainly do not intend to suggest that it was all as a result of Fianna Fáil's making. Our relationship with the Green Party worked exceptionally well with the guidance of Deputy Eamon Ryan and others. It may have brought to some of our people a deeper and better understanding of what was required. That has been a valuable experience for us and I hope that in my time here, in the role I currently have, it will assist me and guide me in what we support and how we intend to pursue policies.
Fianna Fáil previously published the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 on 23 December of that year. It passed First Stage in the Seanad before the Dáil was dissolved in 2011. Fianna Fáil absolutely recognises that we have to play a very important role in ensuring Ireland’s swift transition to a low-carbon economy. By contrast, I make the charge that government - now and previously - has repeatedly shirked its commitments to emissions reduction and renewable power generation. Fine GaeI 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 and Green Party-led Government. Instead of setting clear targets, it had vague aspirations. As a result, Ireland is, in my view and I believe in the view of many, on course for a dramatic failure to meet its 2020 targets that has the potential to incur serious fines. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I have had a back and forth discussion here about whether or not that will happen. It is not just about the fines. The fines are a striking recognition that there is a problem but the devastating impact on our environment should, in itself, at least be that which has the capacity to speak to Government and to those of us who have a responsibility to think, plan and act, rather than be guided by fines, but let us see what it takes. Maybe it will be the threat of fines that will eventually force action.
Recent months have seen important developments at international and European levels with regard to decarbonisation and mitigation. Perhaps more significantly, 4 November saw the Paris Agreement come into force. This agreement, which builds on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, represents the most significant effort to bring together all nations to work towards a common cause of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Under this agreement, Ireland will be working toward the EU’s collective goal of reducing EU emissions by 40% relative to 2005 levels. Overall, Ireland will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the new EU framework for a transition to low-carbon emissions, Ireland can offset its carbon emissions by using managed cropland, grassland and forest to generate carbon credits at a rate that is equivalent to approximately 2.8 megatonnes per annum. This is a welcome development and recognises Ireland's status as a developed nation whose economy is relatively reliant on agriculture. Fianna Fáil embraces this flexibility and we very much hope that it will be used to its full potential to aid Ireland’s progress toward our 2030 targets. Unfortunately, the Government has shown little initiative in this regard. For example, new forests planted since 1990 now absorb 18% of Irish agriculture’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, making afforestation an incredibly effective means to increase our carbon sequestration capacity. As it stands, however, only 11% of Irish territory is covered by forests, as the Minister knows. This is compared to a 33% EU average. The Government’s current plan to sustain tree planting rates of 6,000 ha per annum would see an annual sequestration of approximately 1.7 megatonnes per annum. This is just 60% of Ireland’s allowance under the new 2030 framework. I understand that some counties are resisting the planting of managed forests where it is believed that afforestation would ultimately render vast tracts of their areas as non-useable or non-liveable, but we have a responsibility to take on that issue and put in place the kind of incentives that would see a greater take up of afforestation to meet our commitments and address the overall issue. It falls to all Members to better explain that and not be running with the hare and chasing with the hound, which too many people in politics do. It is a ruse of the Opposition to say, "I am not going to follow that and I am going to tell people what they want to hear". If tough decisions have to be taken the Minister will get support from this side of the House. He, however, has to lead as a Government Minister. Ireland should take decisive steps in order to increase the amount of forest coverage. Returns from forestry are strongly competitive compared with many other farm enterprises. We have seen the fluctuation in beef and milk prices over the past two years. Potential forestry returns, along with positive interactions with key farm schemes, have the potential to enhance financial fitness on the farm. To support the continued development of forestry Fianna Fáil proposes the retention of the tax-free status of forestry income and suggests that it be spread over a number of years. In addition to this, development of a biomass and bio-diesel market and accompanying supply chain should also play a key role in Ireland’s low-carbon development. Increasing our capacity for carbon sequestration and renewable energy generation will deliver positive results for Ireland. Of course, ensuring low-carbon development is about more than just sequestration. We must be proactive in finding new and more carbon efficient means of driving our economy and fuelling our growth. This will involve a considerable increase in our capacity for renewable energy generation, an area for which there are also specific EU targets. In 2015, 25.3% of our electricity came from renewable sources and 9.1% of our overall energy requirements were met using renewable sources, meaning that we are just over halfway towards attaining our 2020 targets. We have come a long way towards increasing our renewable energy capacity but we have much more to do in order to meet our 2020 targets. While progress has been made in some areas, such as agriculture, almost no progress has been made in other areas since 2011, notably home heating and transport. We really have issues there. Between 2014 and 2015, we have observed a decline in the amount of renewable energy being used for home heating. This clearly needs to be addressed. In the short term, the lowest cost way to cut emissions from home heating would be to continue the shift away from oil heating and towards natural gas. We believe that the use of natural gas for home heating should be encouraged by supporting the roll out of the network.
I ask the Minister to make a real effort to put a plan in place that gets us in line with the targets that have been set, not just meeting the targets for the sake of eliminating the potential for fines, for doing what is right by the environment and ensuring we have an economy that works in tandem with our environment.
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the annual transition statement. I welcome the statement from the Minister today. Sinn Féin has been consistently concerned about the inadequate response and approach taken to date by the Government towards tackling climate change. We welcome the Minister's delivery of the annual transition statement as provided for in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which Sinn Féin supported.
Sinn Féin has, however, stated in the past that successive environment Ministers have failed to follow up statements and plans with tangible delivery. We hope that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, will break this cycle and we will support those efforts. We have seen in the past how the Government has made numerous platitudes to tackle climate change but when it comes to action we fall short. Ireland is certain to miss its 2020 target of 16% total consumption of energy from renewables. The electric transport plan devised by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government in 2008 has only achieved a fraction of 1% of its target for electric vehicles on our roads, which is disappointing.
As the Minister has already pointed out, the biggest factor in reducing emissions in Ireland over the past decade was the economic crash rather than any environmental initiatives taken. If we look at the targets, Ireland is already expected to miss its 2020 target to reduce carbon emissions by 20% and the EPA report outlines this. Emissions in 2015, as the Minister outlined in the Seanad yesterday, were 3.7% higher than in 2014, indicating the economic state of the country rather than any great plan we have is dictating our carbon footprint. The target was part of an overall commitment by the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels by the end of the decade.
Ireland still relies heavily on fossil fuel for its energy supply, with 85% of total supply being imported. If we are to tackle climate change we must start producing more of our own energy from renewable sources. I agree with the Minister that we cannot go backwards. We are here now and we must move forward. The Minister recognises this and Sinn Féin wants to take this approach. A key weakness to date has been the failure by the Government to diversify more generation of electricity from renewable sources. There is scope to encourage development of further solar, hydro, wave, tidal and biomass renewable energy. It has been limited to date, from the point of view that it has been very much about wind. The approach so far has been an overreliance on large scale wind turbines. Many of these were originally targeted at the export sector, and many of the turbines have been located in midland counties such as Laois, Offaly and Kildare. Because of topography and the flat landscape these turbines must be an enormous height. I was in a coastal county at the weekend, where the turbines are much smaller and get a better bang for buck. This has created a huge resistance in midland communities, who had to resist these massive developments by large companies in the absence of any guidelines or regulations, which the Government has failed to put in place. There were supposed to be moves on these in the first six months, and I again appeal to the Minister to do so.
For our part, I tabled two Bills over the past three years to regulate the wind farm industry. I appeal to the Minister to look at these Bills. He may agree with some parts of them or none of them, but I ask him to at least look at them and see whether there are parts he can use. We want to get a solution to this. We would say regulations and the Minister would say statutory guidelines, but let us not get into this too much. The main thing is that we put in place a planning framework. There is nothing there at present. We know what can happen if we do not have planning frameworks in place and we saw it in the past. Let us move forward quickly on this.
Sinn Féin recognises wind has a part to play in our future energy needs, but it must be part of a diverse range of renewable energy developments which must meet the needs of local communities and guarantee energy security. This is why it is disappointing to hear the Minister's recent statements that there will not be energy feed in tariffs for solar energy development.
I ask the Minister to look at this again.
The Minister cited the expense of subsidising solar power. We recognise technology is advancing, but we ask the Minister to address this issue. If we are serious about meeting our renewable energy targets we must take brave and radical action.
Sinn Féin believes the best way to develop renewable energy is in conjunction with local communities. We are fortunate to have good strong semi-State companies and we must use them. The Government must provide supports for community energy projects. Templederry community wind farm in Tipperary, which I visited during the summer, is a good example. I met people in the local community. It is an excellent initiative and they are to be commended for it. The Government and Opposition parties need to encourage more of this. Existing State companies such as Bord na Móna, Coillte and the ESB must also take a serious role in renewable energy production. The future of energy generation will not be a handful of large generation plants but hundreds, or even thousands, of smaller generation projects. Recently I met people from ESB management, and it was a good meeting, but I did not get sense from them they have got this point. Microgeneration is an area the Government has yet to take seriously and get up and running. Microgeneration not only encourages people to become energy conscious, it also aids people to reduce their energy costs. In other countries it is done to great lengths by households.
There is an untapped potential to develop our green economy. This is the big step change we must make. Things cannot continue as they are. We must change how we do things economically. Industry must change and every one of us must change. Projects such as solar installation and energy efficient upgrades of homes have the potential to create thousands of jobs. I welcome the progress made to date on retrofitting homes. I have seen first hand examples of this, and Sinn Féin welcomes it. Hundreds of thousands of households still have no insulation. I made this point to the Minister's two predecessors but I did not make any headway with it. Many houses built in the 2000s and the 1990s which already had insulation have been upgraded, and I am not arguing against this. They were brought up to 2008 and 2009 levels. We have houses built in the 1930s and 1940s which have not been touched, and we need to get to grips with this. We need a proper Government focus. This has the potential to create jobs and save energy, along with microgeneration projects which can also create jobs also and secure our energy supply for the future and reduce energy imports. It is a win win situation.
When a ship or even a small rowing boat is going in the wrong direction, when we try to pull it around it can be difficult to get it going in the opposite direction. I realise this is where we are at. It will not be an easy job and there will be resistance, but if we do not do it we will face economic and environmental catastrophe and financial bills. The potential consequences for Ireland not meeting its targets could be severe. It has been estimated that Ireland could be hit with a bill of up to €610 million for breaching our 2020 renewable energy and emissions targets. We are already expected to miss our targets to reduce carbon emissions by 20%. As I stated, emissions in 2015 were 3.7% higher than those in 2014, indicating the state of the economy has been dictating the changes. The target is part of an overall commitment by the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 1990 levels by the end of the decade and we should be ambitious. I know we are trying to catch up, but bold action is needed. Similar inaction on our 2030 targets could result in fines of up to €5 billion. In an economically uncertain post-Brexit future, and the Trump situation, with narrowing fiscal space, this would have devastating consequences for our economic stability.
Sinn Féin strongly believes that addressing climate change has to prioritise citizens' fundamental rights and those of future generations. We already see effects in coastal counties and the River Shannon basin. This affects all of society, including agriculture. It will affect everyone. We have a responsibility and we ask the Minister to put his foot on the pedal, pardon the pun, and drive on this process. We certainly want to be ambitious about this. The only criticism we have to date is that the talk we have done has not been matched by action. We must now change this. It is action time.
I will share time with Deputy Boyd Barrett.
At the United Nations climate change conference in Marrakesh in November, public transport was pinpointed as a key important issue for governments to focus on in the fight against climate change. A target was adopted to double the market share of public transport by 2025. How fares Ireland with this target? The State subsidy for the key public transport organisation in the capital city, Dublin Bus, stands at 27% of the company's income.
This is less than half what it is in Amsterdam and half what it is in Madrid. At Iarnród Éireann, State funding has been halved in recent years, the company is threatened with insolvency and threats have been made to cut all services bar the DART and services from Dublin to some key cities such as Cork and Limerick. The State refuses to invest the €600 million which the latest report states is now needed. If the Government was seriously concerned about making a real contribution to the fight against climate change it would massively increase the State subvention to Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus. It would oversee the slashing of fares in all these companies and would give commuters a real alternative, a real incentive to leave the car at home in the driveway. The Government's failure to do this is a sure sign that it is actually part of the problem and not part of the solution to this issue.
On 20 January 2017 the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America will take place. This is the man who said only last month, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive." Trump plans to withdraw the US from the Paris climate change agreement and to virtually dismantle the US Environmental Protection Agency. He has named Myron Ebell to head his environmental protection agency transition team, a man who concedes that there may be some global warming as a result of greenhouse gas pollution but argues that it could be beneficial. Trump's victory was cheered on by big coal, big oil and big gas. The mining equipment corporation, Caterpillar, saw its shares rise on US stock markets by 7% in one day after Trump's victory. It seems to be that the world's No. 1 capitalist politician is a climate change denier and it is becoming increasingly clear that key corporate interests at the very heart of the world of big business stand to gain from Trump's climate change denial policies and that they now have so much invested in pollution that they are effectively wedded to it. Many far-reaching conclusions can and will be drawn from that by millions of ordinary people, not least of which is the fact that, as we go further and further into the 21st century, the fight against climate change and the fight against capitalism will increasingly go hand in hand.
We get a lot of rhetorical commitment from the Government to dealing with climate change but facts published recently by the EPA on what is actually happening on emissions suggest the rhetoric is not in any way matched by real action and that we are moving in the opposite direction to the one in which we need go if we are to address runaway climate change and prevent all the disastrous consequences, environmental and human, social and economic, that will result if we fail to do so urgently and radically.
The EPA figures are quite stark. Overall emissions are not down but up by 3.7%. Agriculture emissions are up by 1.5% and emissions from the transport sector are up by 4.2%. Emissions from the energy industry sector are up by 5.4% and emissions from the residential sector are up by 5.1%, while emissions from manufacturing combustion are up by 5.2%. Emissions from industrial processes are up by 10.2% and emissions from the waste sector are up by 13%. Under almost every heading, emissions are going up and are going in the wrong direction, making the likelihood of reaching the stated goal of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050 a virtual impossibility.
As Deputy Barry said, the reason the rhetoric does not match reality is the addiction of this Government and the European Union to neoliberal dogma and to a market economic system that only cares about profit. At every hand's turn, that addiction to neoliberal economic policy prevents us from taking the action we need to take to address climate change. Deputy Barry was absolutely right to mention public transport. There is no joined-up thinking on the matter and this week the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, spoke about outsourcing Bus Éireann routes. It is already happening in the case of Dublin Bus routes but what will happen if we privatise public transport? The companies will go for the profitable routes. They will close down the public service routes and are already doing it in my area, which seems to be one of the pilot areas for this nonsense of outsourcing and privatising public transport. They are slashing public service routes into areas they do not deem profitable. The No. 7 used to go through Sallynoggin but now it has been slashed by 50%. The No. 59, going up to Killiney village and into Mackintosh Park, has been cut because it is not profitable and we are now going to have the same thing on national bus routes. Profit is trumping the public service obligation of the public transport system and effectively sabotaging any serious attempt to encourage the use of public transport to reduce car use and carbon emissions. If public transport is to pay the role it can play in substantially reducing car use and CO2 emissions, we need massive subsidies to public transport. We need to radically reduce fares and to ramp up investment in public service, not-for-profit transport. Unfortunately, we are moving in the opposite direction.
The same can be said of housing and insulation. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council we pushed forward a motion to have passive building standards and we passed it but it was then overridden by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, who has brought in special legislation to override decisions made by local authorities in order to suit property developers who believe such things make building houses unprofitable. We could have a massive, publicly-led insulation programme with passive building standards but this does not suit the private developers who already have control of the property market and to whom this Government wants to give even more control.
How many times have I spoken about forestry? It is an unbelievable fact that the State forestry company cannot carry out new afforestation because EU state aid rules mean they would not get the grants. The addiction to a private model for forestry and other sectors, and state aid rules against distorting the market, means the State forestry company which was set up to do afforestation cannot do it. It does replanting but not actual afforestation, meaning we have the lowest level of forest cover anywhere in Europe even though we have the best conditions, bar none, for growing trees. We have a completely profit-orientated forestry model with a single species that is not good for biodiversity and is not good for carbon sequestration. It is completely dominated by getting the highest profits from wood in the shortest possible period. Disgracefully, the State company is selling off much of its forest estate, piecemeal, to private investment funds.
I want to give a shout-out to Deputy Pringle's Bill, which calls for the NTMA to divest from fossil fuels. If it is serious about this issue, the Government will use its time to back this Bill so that it gets onto the Statute Book. Let the State lead from the front by divesting from fossil fuels and putting more money into research and public initiatives to develop renewable energy and seriously cut emissions. The Government will probably not do that, however, because it is addicted to profit.
The Government's revelation of its annual transition strategy has been farcical to say the least. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, has called EU emission targets for the State as inappropriate, blaming the financial crisis for Ireland's failure to meet these targets. The financial crisis should have been an opportunity to be creative and to target investment in local energy supply chains, generating income for local markets and rural jobs for towns and villages across Ireland.
Instead, the Government over emphasises one type of renewable energy which disproportionately targets and affects rural constituencies, such as my constituency, Donegal.
While I welcome the recent allocation of €7 million to develop a renewable heat initiative and the biomass industry, it will be money making up for decades of lost opportunities. In my nearly six years in here, I have been calling for greater investment in biomass, which could lead to a greater number of sustainable, local, rural jobs for counties such as Donegal while also providing a carbon-neutral, local, sustainable energy market.
I recently met with the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, alongside the Donegal Woodland Owners Society, DWOSL, where we conveyed the barriers to creating a local sustainable supply chain for wood chip or logs feeding into a biomass market. Donegal’s forestry sector can become a major player in the biomass sector through the production of wood for fuel. When timber is exported from Donegal in its raw form as logs, there is little value added to the end product. When wood is processed in Donegal, the supply chain to the consumer is shorter, which minimises transport related emissions. Donegal has huge potential for biomass production, given that approximately 12.2% of the land area is under forest. In 2015, Ireland imported 85% of its total energy requirement at a cost of over €5.7 billion. Donegal accounted for approximately €100 million of this energy bill. Given that only 7.8% of Ireland’s total energy usage came from renewable sources, there is huge scope to increase this figure.
We need fairer distribution of resources for the renewable energy sector as part of our efforts to stop climate change. Again, the Minister has avoided the issue of the use of public funds to invest in fossil fuel companies. I thank People Before Profit for mentioning and supporting my Bill. Divestment is the fastest growing international divestment movement, and it is for a reason. To reach our global targets and remain within the temperature limits, we must keep 85% of known fossil fuel supplies in the ground.
We need to fight climate change on a number of fronts, and one such front is through ethical financing. My Bill seeks to have the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, which manages our public moneys for investment, divest its assets of fossil fuel companies over a five year period. Divestment is not just climate-smart, but makes financial sense. The ISIF invests €133 million in fossil fuel companies, but given that fossil fuel commodities are increasingly volatile the ISIF lost €22 million in 2015, and €100 million in total over the past three years, on those investments. Imagine what this money could do if it were invested in renewable energy solutions, such as biomass or solar energy.
It has recently been announced that renewable energy specialist Gaelectric is selling 14 Irish wind farms worth an estimated €400 million to China General Nuclear Power's European energy arm, CGNEE. The Gaelectric chief executive, Mr. Barry Gavin, said the company intended to use the proceeds to pay off debts and support other renewable energy projects. The citizens of Ireland will subsidise those wind farms for the benefit of CGNEE. That does not make any sense. While I agree there can be positive ownership initiatives in place which mean communities benefit and prosper from renewable energy sources, I do not think wind energy will necessarily provide this. We need to radically diversify our renewable energy sector. It has been far too dominated by the production of wind energy, which is heavily subsidised by the State, affecting rural communities disproportionately.
It is a myth that wind energy is a cheap affordable energy source. We need to be realistic about it. In 2013 in the Republic, wind farms received €277 million from citizens. If the plans to install another 2,200 MW of wind generation go ahead, wind energy will cost citizens €660 million per year. Constraints payments, paid to wind farms for excess electricity production, amounted to €108 million in 2013, an average of €67,000 per MW of installed wind. Given the limit on wind power that can be taken by the grid, the more wind farms are built, the more wind power is constrained. This means the percentage could rise to 49%. If the plans to install another 2,200 MW of wind generation go ahead, constraint payments are estimated to reach €320 million per year. Yet, the Government insists on investing more than €4 billion in EirGrid to upgrade the infrastructure to facilitate it. It does not make any sense. The subsidy is paid mainly to wind farm generators, such as CGNEE, which have a contract with a supplier such as Airtricity, Energia or Electric Ireland. If the contract is not lucrative enough, the wind farm receives a top up from the public service obligation levy.
Since 1992, we have had so many summits, conventions, an environmental treaty, a protocol and an amendment to the protocol, and it all culminated in the Paris Agreement of 2015. What was most significant about the Paris Agreement was that more than 190 countries agreed with it. We know their objectives. On the positive side, it was the first global commitment to tackling climate change. On the negative side, it has not gone far enough to make a real difference. Some of the provisions are not legally binding. There is no provision for sanctions or enforcement and the funding commitments are nowhere near what they should be. The five-year review is too long to wait. It is disappointing, given that all the speeches in Paris were so inspirational and inspiring. We know the expression about talk being cheap. Actions have to match what was said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is telling us 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 a further 100 million people will join those already in extreme poverty. When we look at the carbon dioxide emissions in metric tonnes, we know countries such as Uganda and India are way down and Ireland is way up. The countries which make the smallest contribution to climate change are suffering the most. These countries are the most impacted by our lack of work on climate change, and they are already suffering conflict, hunger and ill health. In the so-called developed world, we pay lip-service to climate change. While we do our bit to recycle and respect the environment and nature, we must acknowledge that it is a matter of life and death for people in the developing world. We in the developed world have the power to change this for them. We played a major role in terms of the sustainable development goals. Many of those goals are dependent on our getting climate change right. There is one goal specifically on climate action.
Ireland's reputation for development and untied aid is being undermined due to our lack of commitment and work on climate change. While the national policy reads extremely well on this and on what we are supporting, it is aspirational. Although it states that by 2050 we will have a climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy, the actions do not match it. One of the glaring failures is in the emissions gap. Ireland's emissions are 6.6% above 1990 levels and emissions increased by 3.7% in 2015. How will we close the gap, and where will we be by 2020 and 2030?
The EPA tells us our current plans and policies will not bring Ireland in line with the 2020 targets. Apart from the impact on the environment, it will also cost Ireland financially. Yet this area will create employment. We have already discussed the fact that we must withdraw our investments from the fossil fuel industry, given that it is a major factor in climate change. The ISIF is investing in fossil fuel companies overseas, such as US coal companies, coal powered generation stations in Europe and oil pipelines. In a way, we are subsidising climate change. The call is to be in renewable energy and it is regrettable that we depend on fossil fuels for our energy needs.
The campaign, Stop Climate Chaos, has specific, practical suggestions, many of which are about community-led projects such as solar electricity, investing in ways of harnessing wave technology, ocean energy, rain water harvesting, and optimising the availability of waste for energy production, which I discussed in a parliamentary question here. Although wind energy is controversial, it has worked very well in two places where people generate electricity and get it to the national grid. It is community-owned and came through real community leadership, participation and planning, which is very different from what happened in the Corrib gas field.
A couple of years ago, I was at the Mary Robinson Foundation conference on climate change in Dublin Castle. I listened to farmers and fishermen from all over the world - Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific - talk about the reality of their lives, their vulnerability and the threats to their way of life and their ability to feed themselves due to policies in the developed world. It is the so-called developed world. Real, sustainable development would not do this in a truly developed world. At the more recent conference of the foundation, Mary Robinson gave good examples of where developing countries such as Fiji, Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Vietnam were doing nearly more than we are.
Sometimes, one has to grasp the nettle that is there, not skirt around it. We have been skirting around this issue too much.
Further to the Green Party contribution at Leaders' Questions earlier, this is not personally against the Minister in any way. He is not responsible for the fact that our emissions went up by 5% in energy and transport back in 2015 and he is not responsible for the way in which, from my perspective, our entire public administrative system fails to see the opportunity or is stuck for whatever reason with a lack of courageous ambition to develop the sort of plan T.K. Whitaker introduced 50 years ago today. It is not about saying the Minister who is six months into office is responsible for it. He is not. At the same time, we must recognise the reality of where we are. We are one of only two European countries not to meet its targets and we are going radically in the wrong direction. There nothing on the horizon which shows me that we have the scale of ambition and understanding to grasp what is an economic opportunity for our country. I note to Deputy Boyd Barrett that it is an opportunity for business as well. While the State has to lead, we can have business involvement. This is going to have to change everything. It will require enterprise as well as citizen engagement in a national climate dialogue, but it also needs political leadership here.
No, it is the State. The State has to lead and it must have a significant role. I will set out a few examples of what we could do. The first is an area where I am critical, albeit, again, it is not personal in respect of the Minister. We cannot continue to burn coal, peat or biomass for power generation. It is a fundamental law of physics that it sees two thirds of the energy going up the chimney as waste heat. Of the energy we use in this country, 16% is wasted completely by waste heat going up the chimneys. It makes no sense for us to continue that. It is the highest carbon emitting form of generation we have and no amount of mixing biomass in will make it sustainable. We must stop burning coal and peat for power generation and biomass is not the alternative solution. It has a real role in terms of advanced combined heat and power use and advanced use of heat in areas where one is using 80% to 90% of the energy for that heat service. To go down the route of biomass for power generation, however, either where we use our own, which would take a huge volume of land that would not then be available for our other requirements, or importing it from Florida or Africa as native forest, which is what is happening in the UK, is not a clever long-term approach. That material will be needed in America or Africa and we do not need to ship it all over the world, in particular when there is a clear path open to us in the power generation sector. We have an excess number of very new gas-fired stations which we can combine with our renewable power plants for the next ten or 20 years to give us a low-carbon transition as we switch to a 100% renewable system. We do not need to burn coal and peat. We have to stop it if we are serious about climate change. Mixing biomass with it is not the solution.
The Minister is right to say that in the circumstances we have to look after the 2,000 or so people in the midlands who work in the area. A practical, very realisable project to do that, which would benefit hundreds of thousands of homes, involves the 1 million oil-fired central heating systems in houses around the country. They have to go. This is the sort of change we need to make. We should set a ten-year plan to switch them. As we do so, we should carry out a deep retrofit with exterior insulation not only in the attic but wrapping whole buildings, solar panels on roofs and electric heating systems to balance our variable power supply. It might cost €20,000 to €30,000 a house if we did it at scale, but we would save energy for ever and a day, have much more comfortable houses and employ tens of thousands of Irish craftsmen and women in making it happen. What drives me up the wall is that the money is there for this. The EIB is crying out looking for large scale projects. One cannot go the EIB looking for €5 million or €10 million; one needs to go looking for €2 billion. It is there. Britain is very good at this. It got €3.5 billion from the European Investment Bank last year but it is not going to get a penny next year. We need to go to the EIB with large, billion euro projects on which the State leads using local enterprise, craftspeople and businesspeople. We should go for it and tell the people we are doing so. That will create the jobs.
We need to switch on solar power. We have lost the confidence of the people in the midlands in particular in regard to wind farms. We have to be careful and start again in terms of building up that public trust. Solar power is one area and we have to get it onto roofs so that it is people's power and belongs to them. We could do it in fields but the emphasis should really be on getting the people behind us. We would do that by using the roofs of factories and public buildings as well as houses. We can also go with offshore wind. What is screaming out is the opportunity that is opening up because the price of offshore wind has come down in the same way as the price of solar. Vattenfall, DONG and other companies are now bidding in Danish and Swedish waters at half the price they were bidding two or three years ago. The Irish Sea is ripe for us to put 2 GW or 3 GW of offshore wind into our system.
We are close to being one of the best in terms of managing integrating variable renewable power. Why not just go for it and become the best? We should then go to every other industry and say, "Come to Ireland because we can guarantee you low carbon and a stable low electricity price into the future". We are in a position to do it and it is what all those businesses will want. We are not doing it, however, and the market cannot do it by itself. That is what I was saying at the Sustainability Nation conference last month. Everyone in the audience knew this. They all work in the area and they were tearing their hair out because the opportunity was being missed due to lack of ambition within our public and political system.
There are difficult choices here. It is not all easy. To make it work, one needs a grid and we have to build some of it. It is not a popular thing to say and it is not going to be easy to do it but we must build the North-South interconnector. I do not think it can go underground, technically. I have looked at it for ten to 15 years trying to size up how one could do it and I do not see how it is possible. As such, there will be tough decisions and we will have to bring the people along with us through consultation and doing things in a different way. We should also have an ambitious plan. We are late now. We were ahead of the curve on smart-metering ten years ago but we are now behind it. One needs the big projects but it is also about the small, local things. Part of that is putting smart grids in every home. We do not have a plan for it. I read nothing in the document about those big projects. It is not a small project in that we saw the difficulty of getting water meters in and on that basis it may be wondered howl we get smart energy meters installed, but that is what we should be aiming to do.
We can be good at the combination between the digital revolution that is taking place and the clean energy revolution. That is where the jobs are and where economic development lies and it needs State leadership to work. We need it in farming too but we get fixated all the time in the agricultural missions. Let us step back from that a little. I agree that we need to change our forestry model to provide a continuous cover system of forestry, think long term, get better value for the wood, and better manage our land and, yes, we need to cut our emissions in agriculture as Teagasc shows we can, but let that not trip us up. We see this as a difficulty. It is what I call "defeatism". There are complaints that the targets were too hard. I do not believe they were. What is holding us back sometimes is our own sense that they are too hard and, therefore, we do nothing about them. We are frozen in that defeatist attitude. We need to go for it because those countries and economies that do will benefit economically as well as helping with the environmental crisis we face.
We need to change transport. Let us come out with a really bold project to build a proper charging station network for electric vehicles. I know it is a bet. The Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure hate it and want to see the cost-benefit analysis. Sometimes and in some places, one has to take a leap. We need to take a leap here and electric vehicle technology has advanced to the stage where we can afford to do so. We can develop expertise in terms of running the charging system and processing payments. That is our economic opportunity. We are not too good at making cars, but we can make the digital management systems around this change. It requires the State to step up and say it to the ESB, which I acknowledge is not easy. Instead of taking €500 million out of the ESB, as we have in the last few years, we should put €500 million in and keep the profits in the company to invest in large projects of that type. That is what we need to do to make the leap. It is not negative and it is not a hardship. It involves the State leading.
The environmental movement has learned from the past. The divestment campaign Deputy Thomas Pringle referred to is absolutely right. It recognises that we cannot put all the emphasis on the individual at the end of the pipeline in terms of how he or she consumes. We ask if people have changed their light bulbs and if they are charging their phones in the right way. This has left them feeling guilty and helpless because it is not commensurate with the scale of the problem they see. It is now time for the State to lead to make it easy for people to do the right thing. We must bring our citizens with us through the national climate dialogue so that they have the confidence to share digital information to allow us to do all the smart grid things and manage this dance between variable power and variable supply.
It has to start with a mission and the likes of what Whitaker wrote, the "Grey Book", which radically changed the whole system. The annual transition statement does not provide that. Our climate advisory committee is not providing leadership. It will take the political system to do that. All of us should be involved. This is not something that divides us and does not belong to the right or left or the environmental movement; it has to be shared. Let us make the leap.
I thank everyone who contributed to this debate. I am different from the former Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and many environmentalists in that I believe we need to bring people with us. I do not disagree with anything that Deputy Eamon Ryan said; in fact, I agree wholeheartedly with what he said bar one point.
We have had lecturers for the past ten, 15 or 20 years on climate change, and we are not making the required progress. We have seen the results of what happens when people's livelihoods are threatened in the United States, who has been elected and the impact on the global agenda which will reverberate across the globe unless we get serious about climate.
Deputy Stanley and I come from the midlands where wind type turbines are an issue. A decision was made that there was only one solution to the provision of renewable energy, namely, large-scale wind farms in the midlands. I want a complete review of our renewable energy policy. Onshore and offshore wind and solar energy are part of that - I never said solar was not - but I would be disingenuous if I told the farmers of this country that I will allow consumers to fund 5 GW of solar energy. To put that in plain English, it means that if one switched off every single power generator in the country, including every single wind turbine, we could turn on all the solar panels and export electricity from the country. I would be irresponsible if I encouraged people to go down the road of the large bubble that is being created. People need to be realistic. Solar energy and offshore wind energy are part of the solution. That is why one of the first things I did as Minister was to sign an international agreement with all the countries in the North Sea on sharing our information and technology and developing that resource.
Not one speaker acknowledged the fact we are one of, I understand, two or three member states in Europe where the climate Minister is also the energy Minister. That is a significant step forward. Previous Ministers had to go cap-in-hand to other Ministers to try to get movement on some of the more challenging areas. I have the necessary tools within my Department to deal with energy.
We are working very well with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Not one speaker mentioned one of the most radical steps taken by the previous Government, namely, the beef data genomic scheme. Nowhere else in the world is this happening. When I visited Marrakesh a couple of weeks ago and met my counterparts from New Zealand, Uruguay and Argentina they were all very interested in the project because they view it as a model to move to a greener and more carbon efficient way of producing food.
We need to start bringing people with us. We have the opportunity to do so. We could continue the old approach of bulldozing ahead and telling people we are going to do this, that or the other. That will not work because people will rally against it. Let us start working together towards our objectives. Over the next six weeks a number of consultation documents about the renewable heat incentive scheme and the mitigation plan will be published. People can feed into those and work together to deliver on this agenda.