Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]


5:25 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

"I move: That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is timely that we are discussing the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016 a day before the most famous climate change denier is sworn in as President of the United States, bringing with him former Exxon Mobil chief executive officer, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State. We should not associate ourselves with Trump-era politics. His Administration and its public display of affection for big oil is representative of the industry’s fading legacy and its last attempt to hold onto power. For over a century, it has enjoyed the privilege of buying political influence and deliberately concealing and manipulating the science of climate change in their favour. These corporations have been allowed to skirt around democratic institutions while the most disadvantaged are left to bear the brunt of climate change effects. As a developed nation, we have also stood idly by, allowing big energy corporations to run the show, most recently with their push to open up Irish markets to fracking. Ireland continues to lag behind in its commitments to mitigating climate change effects. Ireland is currently the eighth highest producer of emissions per person in the OECD and only one of two countries in the EU that will not reach its 2020 targets for emissions reductions. Our non-compliance will cost, with estimates of up to €6 billion for breaching emission levels. Today offers an opportunity for us not only to catch up with the pace of climate change, but also lead on mitigating its effects.

In 2009, financial analysts demonstrated that up to 80% of the fossil fuel reserves held by fossil fuel companies cannot be burned if we are to remain below an average global temperature rise of 2°C, as committed to by all Governments in the Paris Climate Agreement. In the Global Green Economy Index 2016, Ireland fell significantly in the global rankings owing to a perceived lack of political leadership. If Ireland wants to benefit from the significant growth and job opportunities presented by the global decarbonisation agenda and energy transition, divesting the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, would send a strong signal that it is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and will be a seriously player in the transition to a fossil free global economy.

I will like now to focus on the contents of the Bill and the wider debate on fossil fuel divestment. The Bill seeks to amend the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014, providing that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, previously the National Pensions Reserve Fund, be divested of its assets in fossil fuel companies within five years of its enactment. This is to facilitate a timely decarbonisation process in line with Ireland’s climate change commitments under Article 2 of the Paris Agreement which was passed last year. The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, is an €8 billion sovereign development fund with a statutory mandate to invest on a commercial basis to support economic activity and employment in Ireland.

Section 1 of the Bill amends the section 37 of the principal Act by inserting a new definition of "fossil fuel company" to incorporate the term "geological deposits" to enable a distinction to be made with biofuels and other alternative hydrocarbon energy sources. It is to be noted that biofuels can be considered renewable only when they meet strict sustainability criteria.

Section 2 amends section 39 of the principal Act by adding subsections after subsection (6). Subsection (7) is added to accommodate future amendments or laws that may apply to the agency now or into the future and to ensure that any future changes do not compromise the integrity of the agency’s divestment process from fossil fuel companies. Subsection (8) provides that the agency will endeavour to ensure that the assets of the fund are not invested, directly or indirectly, in fossil fuel companies. It also provides scope for the agency to manage its divestment process within the defined timeframe, while not being illegal in the meantime. Subsection (9) obliges the agency to divest its assets of the fund from current investments, direct or indirect, within five years of the commencement of this subsection. Again, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will have a lengthy timeframe for the process of divestment and I want to clarify that the Bill does not make it current fossil fuel investments illegal but rather sets out a five-year timeline for the fund to rid itself of these assets.

The global fossil fuel divestment movement originated on university campuses in the US in 2011 and has seen explosive growth to become the fastest growing divestment movement in history. By December 2016, at least 689 institutions, with an asset base of $5.44 trillion and at least 58,000 individuals with a value of $5.2 billion had committed to divest fossil fuel investments. In Ireland, Trinity College Dublin announced in December 2016 that it is joining the movement and divesting its endowment fund of all investments in fossil fuel companies. The President of NUIG has expressed support for NUIG to follow suit in early 2017. NUIM has already committed to a fossil free investment policy and numerous other universities are expressing fossil free intentions. In the past few months, almost 11,000 people in Ireland have signed a petition calling on the Government to stop investing in fossil fuels. Some 25 groups and networks from across the country sent a submission to the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment to make the case for divestment of the ISIF. Divestment is not new. Ireland has done this before with the Cluster Munitions Bill and Fianna Fáil recently introduced a Bill seeking that public money be divested from tobacco companies. We cannot forget about the success of the 1980s of South Africa divestment campaign, which put pressure on the South African Government to end apartheid. It is all part of ethical financing, with which we already have a history.

Most of these projects started with civil society groups and moved to larger institutions such as universities until they reached the Government's ear and were legislated for. While we do not have Fine Gael's support today, I am happy that there is cross-party support for the Bill as it would further validate the growth of the movement. Divestment is not just climate-smart; it makes financial sense. ISIF invests €133 million in fossil fuel companies but because fossil fuel commodities are increasingly volatile, it lost €22 million on these investments in 2015 and €100 million in total in the past three years. Imagine what could have been done with this money if it had been invested in renewable energy solutions such as biomass or solar energy projects. Owing to rising oil prices, some believe it would be financially unwise to divest from these companies. We need to recognise, however, the increased volatility of oil as a commodity. What are often overlooked are the unsustainable business practices these large oil corporations undertake and which are leading to the phenomenon of "stranded assets". Some 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to keep below Paris Agreement limits. The value of fossil fuel companies' is based on these reserves, but if they cannot be used, they become stranded assets. Between 60% and 80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are unburnable if we are to have a chance of not exceeding the global warming target of 2° Celsius.

There are concerns about the impact the Bill might have on semi-State companies such as Bord Gáis, Bord na Móna and the ESB. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill would prohibit future investments in fossil fuel companies - that is true - and semi-State companies would not be eligible to receive investment from ISIF in the future. I reassure Members of the House that if the Bill progresses to Committee Stage, I will be absolutely open to it being amended to allow for investment in such companies if the investment is specifically to enable them to transition to 100% renewable energy sources by 2050 and, where the investment case to do so has been scrutinised against alternative investment opportunities, to advance the transition away from fossil fuels. Providing for fossil fuel divestment in legislation would send an important signal that Ireland will uphold its commitments under the Paris Agreement and contribute to and benefit from the growth of the global green economy. It would send a message to businesses of all sizes and kinds in Ireland that it is in their interests and the Government's obligation to plan for and begin working towards a fossil fuel-free economy.

Energy companies in Ireland that are committed to action on climate change and supporting Ireland's delivery on its commitments would have nothing to fear from fossil fuel divestment. This is an opportunity to ensure State investment policy will enable a transition process aligned with our commitments under the Paris Agreement. I would be happy to work with colleagues on the Bill to this end on Committee Stage. Enacting the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill would not dictate how the Government and the Oireachtas pursue implementation of the recommendations in the White Paper on energy and the forthcoming national mitigation plan. Importantly, however, it would signal political support for more urgency in forging a fossil fuel-free society and economy for Ireland.

I again reassure the House that the Bill was purposely written to allow enough scope to facilitate a wide-ranging debate on fossil fuel divestment. I would be more than happy to consider amendments or suggestions on Committee and Remaining Stages. It is our duty, as legislators, to legislate effectively and educate ourselves on the full implications of what we bring forward in the Dáil. The Government is opposing the Bill which I believe is a lost opportunity on its part. I want to address some of its justifications for opposing it.

ISIF operates a sustainable and responsible investment policy which was published in July 2016 and which specifically focuses on climate change, but the claim that ISIF has limited exposure to fossil fuels within its portfolio is misleading. An independent study by "Corporate Knights" shows that while the amount invested in fossil fuels by ISIF is a small proportion of its overall portfolio, the carbon footprint of these investments is significant. The "Corporate Knights" study found that divesting current fossil fuel assets would reduce the fund's carbon footprint by 48%. To continue to invest in these companies by any amount is to invest knowingly in their future climate impacts.

Second, the fund does have an €800 million allocation for energy projects, the vast majority of which will be invested in renewables. If, however, the "vast majority" of the energy investment is to be in renewables, it means that there is the option to invest in fossil fuels. It is morally problematic to invest in the continuation or expansion of activities that are clearly working against the public interest. ISIF's focus on sustainability and supporting the decarbonisation process is welcome and really important, but responsible use of public money means that scarce public resources should not be invested in infrastructure and business models that we know will have to become redundant in the next few decades. We should be investing in a just transition for workers and communities currently dependent on an industry in its twilight years and to ensure Ireland becomes a desirable location for investment in the industries and technologies of the future. A study conducted for the Irish Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change in 2014 found that there was the potential to create 90,000 jobs in Ireland in an ambitious climate action scenario.

One should remember that climate change affects us all, but not equally, and we must apply the principles of climate justice. Everyone here will have a statistic at hand, but one, in particular, stands out for me: 10 million people in Ethiopia are in need of food aid. Can one imagine that? Ten million is twice the population of Ireland. Some 185 million people have been displaced by disaster and climate change. The impacts are solely attributable to climate change. The statistic indicates that one person is displaced every second around the world. I reiterate that a failure to meet the commitments made in the Paris Agreement would have a catastrophic impact on the global economy and financial system and also result in human tragedy of epic proportions. Our denial will be their downfall. Today offers one way to fight climate change, through ethical financing. It is a commitment to which we signed up under Article 2 of the Paris Agreement. We have both a moral and a practical imperative to embark on the process of divesting public money from fossil fuel companies.

I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to speak to the Bill on Second Stage. I am grateful for the cross-party support I have already received. I thank Trócaire for all its hard work on the project and, in particular, all those members of the public who have campaigned on the issue in recent days and weeks. It is the dedication of the public on this issue that can truly effect change and stir up the necessary political will to bring Ireland into climate action.

5:35 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I move amendment No. 1:

That Dáil Éireann notes the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016 as introduced by Deputy Pringle and further notes that:- the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, operates a sustainable and responsible investment policy, published in July 2016, and that this policy specifically focuses on climate change;

- ISIF has limited exposure to fossil fuels within its portfolio;

- the fund has an €800 million allocation to energy, the vast majority of which will be invested in renewables;

- there are significant opportunities in ISIF's potential investment pipeline;

- to date, the fund's renewable energy investments include:
- €44 million for the €500 million Dublin waste to energy project which will assist Ireland meet EU waste targets and the waste processed will be utilised for energy recovery and development of a district heating scheme;

- a €35 million commitment to NTR's onshore wind fund;

- investment in the BlueBay SME credit fund, which fund has made loans to Irish headquartered renewable energy developers and to a designer and manufacturer of high power density high efficiency power supplies;

- €85 million in forestry, a net positive contributor to managing emissions;
and that Dáil Éireann concludes that because of its progressive record in these matters ISIF's investment options do not need to be underpinned in statute and, therefore, declines a Second Reading of the Bill.

As the House will be aware, responsibility for Ireland's energy and climate action policies is within the remit of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, but as the Bill seeks to amend ISIF's investment approach through an amendment to the National Treasury Management Agency Acts, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, is leading the Government's response to it. As he is not in the country today, he cannot take the Bill.

The intention behind the Bill is well understood by both the Minister for Finance and his colleagues in government, including the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten. The publication and introduction of the Bill are useful in that they allow the House to have a constructive discussion on the issue of fossil fuels in the light of Ireland's climate and energy priorities. These priorities, in turn, govern Ireland's national decarbonisation strategy in line with its climate change commitments. In addressing these matters we must never lose sight of the continuing reality of our dependence on fossil fuels in meeting our energy and transport needs. The Government considered the Bill at its meeting this week.

In doing so, it has constructively engaged with the issues raised in accordance with its responsibility to address and evaluate proposed legislation irrespective of whether said legislation is initiated by the Government or a Private Member, as in this case.

The Government understands the intention behind the Bill and I commend Deputy Pringle on his work in preparing it and having it published last November. The Government has agreed that the best approach for Ireland is to propose a reasoned amendment to the effect that the Bill should not be read a Second Time. This is due to the fact that the Bill poses risks to ISIF's ability to support the transition of our economy to a low-carbon one as well as to employment and our economy overall. In addition, the Bill gives rise to a number of difficulties for ISIF, which I will address shortly. ISIF has already adopted a progressive approach towards fossil fuel investments and therefore its investment options do not need to be underpinned by statute in the manner proposed.

As Deputies are aware, the Bill has been published at a time of ongoing developments in the area of energy and climate policy nationally and internationally. In considering the intentions behind the Bill, there must also be careful consideration of its wider policy implications.

Ireland is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, accounting for 91% of all energy used in 2015. This is broken down between oil at 48%, natural gas at 27%, coal at 10% and peat at 6%. Ireland's climate and energy priorities govern the national decarbonisation strategy in line with our climate change commitments. The issues of decarbonisation and the long-term transition towards a low-carbon economy are central to the Paris Agreement, which was agreed by more than 195 countries and parties at COP 21 in 2015 and has been in force since 4 November 2016. The extent of the challenge in Ireland is well understood by the Government and is reflected in the 2014 national policy position on climate action and low-carbon development and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, both of which are key elements in the effort to progress the national low-carbon transition agenda.

Ireland's national policy position, published in April 2014, sets out a long-term vision of low-carbon transition. As envisaged by the position, the evolution of climate policy will be a dynamic and iterative process based on the adoption by the Government of a series of national mitigation plans and national adaptation frameworks to 2050, with the ultimate objective of incrementally achieving the national transition objective. The 2015 Act provides the statutory basis for our national transition. Similarly, the energy White Paper, Ireland's Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030, which was published in December 2015, sets out the vision for 2050 that greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector will be reduced by between 80% and 95% compared with 1990 levels. This demonstrates the consistency and coherence between Ireland's climate and energy policies.

The energy White Paper sets out how the transition away from fossil fuels will take place while making clear that oil and gas remain critical between now and 2035. The White Paper also sets out the potential share of fossil fuels in a number of carbon reduction scenarios under which fossil fuels continue to have a key role in Ireland's energy mix even in a significantly decarbonised energy sector. In light of this, continued investment in fossil fuel-related technologies and businesses is a necessity.

In properly considering this Bill, we must take full account of Ireland having a high energy import dependency, with over 88% of our energy needs met through imports in 2015. Although the Corrib gas field will reduce our import dependence in the short term, Ireland is expected to be reliant on the UK for approximately 85% of our natural gas by 2025. Ireland imports all of its oil supply, including crude oil, which is refined at Ireland's only refinery at Whitegate in Cork, and refined oil products - petrol, diesel, kerosene, heating oil etc. - the majority of which are provided from the UK. This means we have a significant security of supply dependency on imported fossil fuels, particularly from the UK. Although Ireland has an excellent relationship with the UK in terms of energy, it is possible that this could be complicated by Brexit in the coming years. In order to ensure continued secure supplies of energy in the future, investment from ISIF in strategic energy infrastructure may prove necessary. This Private Members' Bill would preclude such investment.

The Bill's definition of a "fossil fuel company" is of significant concern. It means a company whose business either wholly or partly engages in the exploration, extraction, refining, processing or delivery of fossil fuels, those being geological deposits. This definition would appear to encompass a wide range of companies, including Bord na Móna and the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA. It would also appear to capture any local, national or international business involved in the delivery of fossil fuels. This could include local distributors of oil, gas, coal and peat products to homes and businesses across Ireland.

This definition would prevent ISIF credit and other equity funds from supporting Irish SMEs that had involvement in these sectors. It would also appear to restrict investment by ISIF in companies developing innovative technologies that could improve the energy efficiency of fossil fuel-based processes. Furthermore, development of technologies that could lead to improved air quality by reducing the emission of particulates may also be restricted.

The old National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF, transitioned in December 2014 into ISIF, which has a statutory mandate to invest on a commercial basis to support economic activity and employment in Ireland. All ISIF investments since then comply with this double bottom line mandate and the fund's sustainability and responsible investment policy, which sets out key principles for responsible investment.

Historically, the only category of investment that was specifically excluded from the NPRF or ISIF was cluster munitions in accordance with the Cluster Munitions And Anti-Personnel Mines Act. However, the NTMA is conducting a review of the exclusion of categories of investment from ISIF as a whole. This review is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2017. The Government welcomes this review and believes it is appropriate that we await its outcome.

An example of ISIF's responsible approach was the decision to divest from all legacy investments in tobacco manufacturing on the basis that the risks associated with same outweighed any potential commercial return over the long term. This divestment was completed in December 2016.

The review of the exclusion of categories of investment includes a case-by-case analysis of all ISIF energy holdings in order to assess the sustainability and the investment case. The fund acknowledges that those companies that are most exposed to and least prepared for transition to a low-carbon economy may be candidates for divestment. As part of the implementation of ISIF's mandate to invest on a commercial basis to support economic activity and employment, the transitional global portfolio of the NPRF is being sold or divested over a period of years in order to provide capital for investment in Ireland. As such, the fund's exposure to the energy sector has reduced substantially since its establishment and will continue to reduce as the global portfolio is divested over the coming years. Such investments should be considered in the context of ISIF's Irish portfolio and its significant commitment to renewables.

ISIF's investment strategy is aligned with Government policy and the State's commitment to make the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient and sustainable economy. The strategy sets out ISIF's €800 million energy allocation, which will include a significant element of renewables investment. To date, renewable energy investment commitments include €44 million for the €500 million Dublin waste-to-energy project; a €35 million commitment to National Toll Roads, NTR's onshore wind fund; investment in the BlueBay SME credit fund, which has made loans to Gaelectric and Mainstream, Irish headquartered renewable energy developers; and being a cornerstone investor in the Irish Infrastructure Fund, which holds a number of Irish onshore wind assets and forestry and is a designer-manufacturer of high power density high efficiency power supplies. There are also significant further pipeline opportunities.

As part of its ongoing commitment to operate to high international standards, ISIF published its sustainability and responsible investment policy in July 2016, emphasising climate change as part of its investment decision making process. ISIF continually reviews its carbon exposure and the investment case for companies that may not be aligned with the long-term transition to a low-carbon economy.

As currently proposed, this Private Members' Bill would lead to ISIF investments being directed away from supporting the implementation of Government policy and many businesses that are vital to the proper functioning of Ireland's economy and society.

The National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014, which established ISIF, provides that ISIF shall review its investment strategy after 18 months of operation and that, in doing so, shall consult with the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. This review, which is separate from ISIF's review of exclusions, is under way and issues such as decarbonisation, energy security and Ireland's long-term transition towards a low-carbon economy are being considered. As part of this process, ISIF is considering the investment case for companies that may not be aligned with that transition.

6 o’clock

The Government considers this to be a well-intentioned Bill, and I assure colleagues in the House that we have carefully considered the Bill’s provisions. While the Government shares Deputy Pringle’s ambition of managing the transition to a low carbon economy, we must remain conscious that the transition will require careful management of the policy priorities and issues arising in what is a complex national and international public policy context. In managing these policy priorities, we must legislate cautiously in order not to do more harm than good. The Government is concerned that the current Bill with its inexact definitions could inhibit Ireland’s ability to transition to a low carbon economy by excluding Ireland’s largest investment fund, ISIF, from investing in key pieces of carbon reducing infrastructure. The most obvious example of this is that ISIF would be prohibited from investing in a Bord na Mona wind farm or its other forms of renewable generation capacity.

In light of these concerns and given there are ongoing deliberations in respect of the Government’s White Paper on energy, I respectfully ask that the Deputy would consider withdrawing the Bill at this time. Such a withdrawal would provide an opportunity for further consultation and for research and analysis to be conducted. As stated, this research and work should assess the Bill's wider potential implications, including the negative effects on ISIF's statutory functions, the potential impacts on Irish economic competitiveness and, most important, ISIF's ability to support the transition to a low carbon economy. It would thereby ensure the Bill is measured, targeted and appropriate. Such a withdrawal would also allow for the ongoing developments and deliberations to be worked through.

I wish to highlight the positive steps taken by the Government in the area of energy and climate policy. In this regard the energy White Paper sets out a coherent high level framework for Ireland’s energy transition to a low carbon economy and society and identifies a range of measures and actions to support the aim. In addition to the positive actions by Government, I wish to highlight again the positive steps taken by ISIF in investing in companies which are themselves transitioning towards more climate-friendly renewable strategies. That further emphasises the complexity in reducing the country's fossil fuel dependency while also ensuring energy security. Following evaluation of the proposed Bill and for the foregoing reasons, the Government has proposed a reasoned amendment opposing giving the Bill a Second Reading. I commend the reasoned amendment to the House.

5:55 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome Deputy Pringle's Private Members' Bill. The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, has investments in some truly destructive companies, from tobacco companies to mercenary armies and to the worst of the polluters. Although the amounts of money involved are not astronomical, Ireland could show leadership on this issue and follow through on some of the Government's talk about tackling climate change. Many of the companies on the list of the portfolio of investments have shocking track records. Exxon Mobil, for example, withheld decades of research that detailed the effects and advance of climate change and instead funded and promoted an entirely different story that contradicted its own findings. One of the vehicles for the climate change denial is the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, a right wing policy group that shapes and promotes legislation at state level across the United States. ALEC brings corporate donors together with conservative state lawmakers to push anti-regulatory legislation on a range of issues. It uses its money and influence to push legislation they draft to benefit the corporate sector at the expense of the public good.

Fortunemagazine reported that during the 2009 legislative session, ALEC developed 826 state Bills and 115 of them became law. During the 2011 to 2012 legislative session, 132 Bills based on ALEC models were introduced in various states. It has pushed racist and regressive immigration and customs legislation in order that private prison corporations would profit from the rise in detention and deportation of immigrants. It works hand in hand with companies seeking to roll back health care reform, environmental protections, workers' rights, corporate accountability, and taxes on the wealthy.

ALEC works with right wing lawmakers to battle the advance of the gay rights movement, providing them with research that argues that most homosexuals are paedophiles, that all gays are corrupt, and that they are not to be treated fairly but they need therapy and the Christian faith. As part of this attack on homosexuals, ALEC wants to stop AIDS research and to push to restrict the rights of homosexuals in the workplace.

In the 1980s ALEC worked tirelessly to stop the divestment movement against apartheid in South Africa and played a key role in delaying meaningful US action to pressure the apartheid regime. That was done in the interest of its corporate members that had business in the country, such as Exxon, the Dow Chemical Company, and Pfizer, in all of which ISIF has equities, and IBM which the Taoiseach is meeting today in Davos.

In 2012, in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, campaigns were launched by human rights groups exposing ALEC's role in the adoption of the so-called stand your ground gun laws in Florida and other states that have resulted in a drastic rise in gun homicides throughout the US. In 2013, ALEC pushed legislation that made it mandatory to teach climate change denial in public schools. The Bill was introduced in 11 states, and passed in four. It has consistently argued for the rejection by the United States of the Paris climate change agreement, and now with its man, Mr. Trump, in charge, and a host of its prominent members such as Rex Tillerson and Rick Perry being appointed to important positions, it sees that as a genuine possibility.

In 2015, public shaming pushed energy industry giants, Royal Dutch Shell and BP to quit ALEC. How bad does an organisation have to be before Shell, one of the most environmentally destructive corporations ever to exist, thinks it is toxic? Despite this, Diageo, the maker of Guinness, Smithwick's, Smirnoff, Gordon's gin, and Captain Morgan, among countless other products, has been on the corporate executive council of ALEC all that time. ISIF has an €18 million commitment with the Ulster Bank Diageo venture fund.

As part of the fossil fuel divestment movement the State should also distance itself from those who champion the campaign against climate action, not to mention those involved in sustained campaigns attacking human rights, especially those who are central in spreading climate change denial.

ISIF has equities in Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Reynolds American Tobacco, Pfizer, AT&T, the largest telecommunications company in the world by revenue and which the Taoiseach is meeting in Davos today, UPS, Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris, and Exxon Mobil, all of which are members of the corporate executive council of ALEC. Shell, in which ISIF also has significant holdings, defended the group and its membership of it by arguing that ALEC promotes job creation and the free market. Eventually it pulled out after a sustained campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It is not surprising that the Government does not seem concerned to keep ties with such companies and that the Taoiseach is meeting ALEC members in Davos. If we just look at the area of climate change, we have some strikingly similar policies to those of ALEC in terms of the climate change deniers and the ultra conservatives who are populating the Trump cabinet. For example, Ireland is currently practising what ALEC calls free market environmentalism, which is, to quote the ALEC literature, "to promote the mutually beneficial link between a robust economy and a healthy environment, to unleash the creative powers of the free market for environmental stewardship, and to enhance the quality and use of our natural and agricultural resources for the benefit of human health and well-being". In reality, that means that we pursue the jobs versus environment argument at every turn. While Ireland is being criticised for its increasing agricultural sector carbon emissions, State diplomats are arguing a special case for Ireland against the long-term interests of the environment and the public for the short-term objectives of industry and finance. In public, the Taoiseach and his associates talk about leading the way in the fight against climate change while in practice they pursue policies like Food Harvest 2020 that are incompatible with reducing greenhouse gases and issue licensing options for gas and oil drilling and exploration off the coast.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, speaking at the Energy Ireland conference last year, stated that the Government needed "to strike a balance between sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness". He did not define any of those terms but it is clear that he means that the future of the environment will take a back seat to the dictates of the neoliberal agenda and the requirements of the market.

ALEC and its members promote climate change denial with the precise aim of ensuring that the short-term economic interests of its members are not affected. The Government behaves in a similar way. We do not focus on the crisis. We say that climate change is a great challenge but we do very little about it. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, introduced budget 2017 by saying that climate change was one of the greatest challenges we face and then went on to outline how we are not going to step up to the challenge in any meaningful way.

This Government is finding it hard to shake its belief that all consideration of important measures is made first and foremost from the point of view of finance even if the future of the planet is at stake. This is precisely ALEC's position. In much the same way as our neoliberals in Government love to see Ireland as the best little country in which to do business, ALEC has its own version of the much-loved Doing Business report which similarly grades states on their ability to take away rights from workers and destroy the environment through lack of regulation and in which "costs" imply laws to protect workers, "difficulties" are understood to mean regulations and human rights and "environmental protections" are simply a roadblock to unfettered profit. The more tattered, threadbare, corrupt and competitive our legal framework is, the more attractive it looks in the shop window to the corporations that want to make profits with minimum social responsibility attached. The corporations that extract fossil fuels from the earth and burn or sell them for profit have a vested interest in making this planet an even more dangerous place to live than it already is. The corporations that fund and support groups such as ALEC have a vested interest in legislators ignoring the rights and interests of the citizens they claim to represent and want them to instead pursue policies and legislation that fill their pockets while the world burns. Does the Government care more about the interests of fossil fuel companies or those of the people of the earth? This important Private Members' Bill, which has been put forward by Deputy Pringle, is a litmus test. I look forward to the response.

6:05 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I also welcome Deputy Pringle's Bill. It presents a great opportunity for this House to be at the forefront of an important environmental step. In his introductory remarks, Deputy Pringle made points that showed that it is beyond question that ISIF should not be investing in fossil fuel companies. Against the backdrop of those points, the Minister of State's request to Deputy Pringle to withdraw this Bill was at best petty but at worst the Government's own version of climate change denial because it really does not get the urgency of the current situation and the desperate need to take action. Even Ireland as a small country on the periphery of Europe could be a beacon to other countries around the globe by taking this step today. I am very glad that members of the public, NGOs and the Opposition benches are reflecting the mood of the public in respect of bringing today's issue to the House. The Government should hang its head in shame because not only is it not bringing forward this Bill but it will vote against it. I encourage it to think hard about that because it is out of step with what is necessary and the wishes of the Irish people. We need to do something and dealing with fossil fuels in this way is an important step we can take because the spectre of climate change is a reality.

The world's temperature has already been raised by one degree. That has been enough to melt almost half the ice in the Arctic, kill off vast swathes of the world's coral and unleash lethal floods and drought. In a matter of months last year, long stretches of the Great Barrier Reef, which dates back beyond the start of human civilisation and is so huge that it is visible from space, were essentially reduced to white boneyards. July and August 2016 were the hottest months ever recorded on the earth. Places like Basra hit 54° Celsius, temperatures at which humans could almost not survive out of doors. Forest fires forced the total evacuation of a city of 90,000 people in Canada. We are already seeing millions of people being made refugees as a result of climate change but it is a case of because it is not us and it is not happening here yet, we might be all right for a little longer. That type of attitude is no longer good enough anymore. This is what has happened at one degree of warning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, tells us that if we carry on with business as usual, namely, our society's continued burning of fossil fuels and incentivising and investing in fossil fuels, the earth's average temperatures will rise between 2.6° and 4.8° above pre-industrial levels by 2100, so we do not have decades to deal with this or put this Bill back and tinker around with things. We are already in the middle of catastrophic change that needs to be addressed. The International Energy Agency's chief economist put it in bluntly when he said that the door to reach 2° is about to close and that in 2017, it will be closed forever. Activists are talking about decade zero.

This is the challenge facing humanity and the idea that we would not even move this relatively simple but very important symbolic step forward is shocking because we know 3° means the death of the Amazon rainforest and that 4° means that two thirds of plant species, one third of mammal species may not survive and 2 billion people will be without drinkable water. That is more than a quarter of the people on earth and this scenario is posed in the lifetime of children born today if we carry on as we are doing now. That is not exaggerating things. Some people believe the timescale could be quicker and the damage greater because of feedback loops set off as our climate disintegrates around us, so business as usual is not an option and we must fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

However, we must do more than that. We must acknowledge that our entire economic model of endless growth at any cost must be done away with. We must tackle the roots of neoliberal capitalism and the climate change that goes hand in hand with it. It is completely incompatible with human civilisation. We must engage in that struggle and in a struggle with the climate change deniers. It is poignant that the debate is taking place today before the inauguration of someone at the helm of the world's most powerful economy who is a climate change denier - a frightening spectacle. We cannot do anything about that but in our own small way, we could be an alternative beacon and vision of hope against it.

If the Government does not think that there is an issue or thinks that this is exaggerated, that is not the scientific view. In this regard the Government has been consistently shameful in its inaction on this issue. The climate action and low carbon development plan was a joke. It stands over a situation where energy users are paying a surcharge to subsidise peat burning for power generation in counties Offaly and Longford. This subsidy is €180 million per annum or on average, €230 per Irish citizen every year. The Government is incentivising agriculture, which will increase its emissions by between 6% and 7% by 2020. Transport emissions are set to climb by between 10% and 16% against 2014 levels. If the Government was serious, it would be doing something about the fact that we will fall a full 70% short of our 2020 emissions targets. We have an appallingly dirty record and are one of the worst per capital polluters in the industrial world. We have a chance to do something different here today.

The issue is bigger than divesting from fossil fuels but that does not mean it is not important. It is not just that it is symbolically important. Even if it was just symbolically important, symbolism is important and can have an important effect. However, that is not the only reason. It can have a concrete impact as well in terms of the effect of those investments. Trócaire put it very well at the presentation in the audiovisual room when it said that what is posed before the House today is making a stand against the spectre of public money being used against the public interest. That is what we are talking about. The taxpayers, citizens and scientists do not want that. Thankfully, enough people in this House do not want it so this Bill will proceed beyond Second Stage but I would appeal to the Government to come on board, wake up, stop the denial and at least catch up with where the Irish population is on this issue.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and I have ten minutes each but we will try to cut that time to allow Deputy Catherine Connolly in.

The world's rich and powerful are gathering for their annual jubilee in Davos.

Among them would be at least some of the world's eight richest men who own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people, half the world's population. The World Economic Forum has listed climate change as the second-most important global concern next to income inequality. However, that will not stop a significant number of the 3,000 expected to attend from flying into Davos in their private jets. A private jet uses the same amount of fuel in one hour as an average car does in a year. Of course, one could not possibly expect our lords and masters to mingle with common folk on public transport. If people were serious about climate change, they would put that into action.

Tomorrow a climate change denier will be inaugurated as President of the United States. He has appointed another climate change denier, Scott Pruitt, as head of the EPA in the US. Mr. Pruitt as Attorney General in Oklahoma has a record as long as your arm in pursuing lawsuits in conjunction with fossil fuel companies against the EPA. He is now making noises that he accepts there is some impact of people's activity on climate warming, but his record speaks for itself.

These fossil fuel companies pose the greatest threat to achieving the Paris climate change targets. There is no commitment by any of the world's major fossil fuel companies to achieving the 2% cap stipulated in the Paris Agreement. My understanding is that they are committed to using up all the reserves and to continue to explore for new reserves. This makes a joke of the Paris targets. They have no hope of being achieved on this basis.

They are already experiencing the effects of climate change with droughts, floods, more violent storms, heavier rain and shrinking of ice caps. These are having disastrous consequences especially for the world's poorest. We have also experienced that effect with disastrous flooding in this country. If we go beyond a 2° rise in world temperature and towards 3°, large parts of the planet will become uninhabitable.

Analysis by two leading environmental researchers revealed in 2015 that the Irish Strategic Investment Fund maintains a portfolio of shares in oil, coal and fracking companies, the bulk of them in North America. The highest profile one is TransCanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL project, which aims to bring oil extracted from Canada's vast reserves of tar sands to US refineries on the Gulf coast. President Barack Obama invoked his presidential veto to block the project on environmental grounds but Republicans have vowed to continue campaigning for it and they will now be coming into power in the US.

The fund also holds shares in Peabody Energy, the world's largest privately owned coal company, which recently described climate change as a "non-existent harm based on flawed assumptions and conjectures".

The audit of the fund's holdings was conducted by Joseph Curtin, a climate expert with the Institute of International and European Affairs and University College Cork, and Paul Deane from UCC's Environmental Research Institute. It values the fund's fossil fuel assets at €72 million, based on 2014 market values. The assessment comes as a growing number of funds, including those held by the Norwegian Government, the Guardian newspaper and Stanford University, are pledging to shed their holdings in dirty industries on foot of the UN-backed fossil fuel divestment campaign.

While the ISIF's holdings in this area represent a modest portion of its total €7.4 billion portfolio, it has made some big returns from investing in fossil fuel firms, most notably TransCanada, whose stock has rocketed by 500% from 2000 to 2014. In their analysis, published on the IIEA website, the authors question whether these holdings are consistent with the Government's aim of moving Ireland to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

The provisions in the Bill represent a small but significant measure and send out a strong signal. Starting with a few American colleges in 2011 a massive campaign has grown to divest away from fossil fuel investment. I believe this is reflected here today with the majority in the Dáil supporting Deputy Pringle's Bill. I hope we can move on and effect real changes in how ISIF makes its investments. I fully support the Bill and I thank Deputy Pringle for introducing it.

6:15 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I hope we all agree that we are on the same page in wanting a fairer, more peaceful and more sustainable world by 2030 because that is what we signed up to in the sustainable development goals. In August 2015 at the UN, 193 countries agreed to this. Ireland and Kenya did Trojan work in bringing the negotiations to that agreement. Deputy Pringle's Bill gives Ireland an opportunity to show that we are serious. It is about starting a conversation and letting the Bill go to Committee Stage where the misgivings and doubts can be ironed out. Deputy Pringle was very clear in saying he is open to any amendments.

While the Bill focuses on divestment relating to fossil fuels, the crux of the matter is climate change which we all, apart from those in denial, agree is a major issue, having catastrophic effects on communities and countries with, of course, some feeling those effects more than others.

Climate change is not an entity in itself that does not affect other aspects of life. Global warming with droughts and floods is having a dire effect on hunger and nutrition for people. The Mary Robinson Foundation with Irish Aid, the World Food Programme and other organisations held a conference four years ago when Ireland held the EU Presidency. The title was "Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice." It was an innovative conference because as well as bringing the key leaders into the space, it also brought people who are living in front-line communities directly affected by climate change and the hunger and poverty that comes from that.

The relationship between climate change and hunger were very apparent. Delegates from about 100 developing countries spoke. They were farmers, pastoralists and those from fishing communities who outlined what it was like living with those droughts and floods, and the unpredictable rainfall, and how they were affecting agriculture and food security. There were stories from Kenya and Nepal. There were stories about the threats to the fishing industry in islands of the Caribbean. There were stories about the cyclones and tidal surges in Bangladesh and Malawi, with the extremes of dry and wet weather, the erratic rainfall making it very difficult for farmers to produce food.

There were presentations outlining the climate change effects for herders from Ethiopia, Senegal and Mongolia. The traditional food sources for the Inuit communities living along the Arctic have been compromised by climate change with thinner ice and the earlier breakdown owing to warming.

The burdens of climate change are not distributed proportionately. Those least responsible, mainly the countries I have mentioned, are paying the most and it is causing starvation and malnutrition which in turn affects people's health and their ability to access education and to work. Those are rights we take for granted. Nelson Mandela said, "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice." It is not about handouts; it is about empowerment.

At the conference we heard that Irish Aid and others are empowering communities to feed themselves and tackle the challenges of climate change. There were very uplifting stories from all those communities who were dealing with that. Those changes are caused by our so-called developed world. The central message from the conference was that "Hunger, nutrition and climate justice are development challenges that cannot be effectively addressed without explicitly dealing with their inter-connectedness." This Bill is but one small contribution to that.

There have been previous efforts leading to the Paris climate agreement. Some of the terms are legally binding and others are voluntary. The positive is having the first global commitment on climate change even though we know it does not go far enough. Allowing the Bill to progress sends a signal that we are serious.

Our policy for international development is outlined in the document, One World, One Future, which reiterates Irish Aid's top priority to reduce hunger. That features very strongly in the Sustainable Development Goals. The first is no poverty, the second is zero hunger and three others relate to climate action. The Sustainable Development Goal on climate action is very specific: "Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts" by regulating emissions. The Bill reflects part of the urgency of that action.

The reports and data released yesterday were very opportune with 2016 being the hottest year on record reminding us of the quickening pace of climate change with the increase in the average surface temperature. I quote from Mr. Taalaas who said, "The long-term indicators of human-caused climate change reached new heights in 2016."

As Mr. Oisín Coghlan from Friends of the Earth put it yesterday, "... the planet is screaming at us, but who is listening?". Allowing this Bill to progress shows that we are listening. Fair play to all of the NGOs and other organisations that are keeping this matter on the agenda. The term "climate refugee" and the displacement it suggests really brings home the reality of the situation and the devastating effects of climate change.

The central point of this Bill is that public money should not be invested in areas that are not in the public interest. It is in the public interest for fossil fuels to remain in the ground. Of course, there is also the major issue of policy coherence. We must ensure that we do not give, on one hand, and then undermine ourselves, on the other. This divesting from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, under the remit of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, is a signal that we are serious. It is not even immediate but involves a five year process from the commencement of the Act. This divestment would be in line with Ireland's commitments in the Paris Agreement. It is both a practical and symbolic move. We must acknowledge the global movement to divest. In that context, I wish to commend the work of students in Trinity College and the National University of Ireland at both Galway and Maynooth.

Even though a large number of companies have committed to reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, no fossil fuel company has done so. That is very disturbing. We have not just started talking about climate change; it has been going on for quite a while and it will continue unless there is stronger energy and commitment on this.

Finally, I wish to refer to this building, particularly as we are talking about doing our best in terms of renewable energy and so forth. I wonder sometimes if we are doing enough in this building. Our schools do so much to educate young people with the Green-Schools scheme, teaching them about segregating rubbish and so forth. Are we doing anything to ensure that the waste food in this House is composted, for example? The Reichstag building is running on almost 100% renewable energy at this point. Can we follow that example? The greening of the Reichstag building parallels a growing trend in Germany towards zero-emission homes. Some home owners are even selling surplus energy back to the national grid.

6:25 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The next speaker is Deputy Timmy Dooley.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I had agreed to share some of my time with Deputy Connolly.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

My apologies. Would Deputy Connolly like to take her time now?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No, I will take it at the end. I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which Fianna Fáil supports. Fianna Fáil has a strong record on introducing progressive measures to tackle climate change and recognises that we must move towards a carbon neutral economy and society in order to protect our environment for the enjoyment of future generations. We are keenly aware of the challenges that climate change presents but we recognise that these must be overcome if we are to avoid and mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change.

This Bill is part of a global campaign to highlight the need to reduce fossil fuel dependence in order to ensure that the Paris Agreement targets on climate change are met. Climate change is the biggest challenge of the 21st century and we must work on many fronts to find a solution that will safeguard our planet for future generations.

This week the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, both reported from the US that 2016 was the hottest year on record. This is the third consecutive year in which this has happened. Clearly, land and ocean temperatures are increasing. This is coinciding with large increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The results of this are and will continue to be devastating, particularly for developing countries where the poorest people in this world reside. Real and tangible examples of climate change are clear to see. Ethiopia is currently enduring a drought that has been brought about by an El Niño that has intensified because of climate change. Men, women and children are urgently in need of clean water and food as a result. In addition, catastrophic weather events are increasing both in intensity and frequency and this is also having a disproportionate impact on poor people compared with people in the developed world. All the while, developed countries are producing significantly higher levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The behaviour of one group of countries negatively affects the lives of people in another group of countries and we have a moral obligation as global citizens to address this and to fulfil our obligations under the Paris Agreement. We must, both as a country and as human beings, do all we can get to a carbon-free economy.

While the primary purpose of this Bill is focused on developing nations and the people who reside in them, we also have a self-preservation obligation because ultimately, climate change knows no boundaries or borders. Ultimately, it will begin to affect us here in Ireland and in other developed countries. Indeed we can already see the effects here with more flooding and other extreme weather events.

The Paris Agreement and the obligations therein present huge opportunities as well as challenges for Ireland. It is essential that, as a country, we live up to this agreement and meet our emissions reduction and renewable energy targets across all areas including electricity production, agriculture, home heating and transport. With Ireland obligated to meet the EU target of 16% for all energy generated from renewable sources by 2020, we should be branching out and expanding our renewable portfolio into areas such as offshore wind, biomass, tidal and solar energy where possible. We also have to look at afforestation and better wetland protection as a means of mitigating emissions as well as protecting our natural heritage and biodiversity. Only 11% of our land is forested compared to 33% across the EU. Afforestation has huge potential in helping us to meet our emission targets.

Rather than taking real action on the issue of climate change, the current Administration has dragged its heels and failed to deliver on the promises it made in its programme for partnership Government. It has failed to publish planning guidelines for wind farms, meaning that communities and wind farm investors have been left in the dark about future projects. The Government also promised an overarching framework for Ireland’s transition to a greener future, namely, the national mitigation plan. A draft of this document was due in December 2016 but the Minister has failed utterly to deliver it. Meeting Ireland’s climate change commitments will not come about through flowery rhetoric and broken promises. It requires real, substantive action from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and his Cabinet colleagues.

Fianna Fáil has tried to play its role in moving Ireland towards becoming a low-carbon and, eventually, a carbon-neutral society. We published the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 on 23 December of that year, which passed First Stage in the Seanad before the Dáil was dissolved. That Bill set out ambitious and specific targets for Ireland, rather than the vague platitudes this Government has offered. To further do our part, Fianna Fáil will be supporting the passage of this Bill through to Committee Stage because we broadly support its principles. The Bill seeks to compel the NTMA to divest the ISIF of its assets in fossil feel companies over a five-year period. It is a part of a global campaign to divest in fossil fuel companies. The primary purpose of this campaign is to compel the fossil fuel companies to change their behaviour.

It is estimated that the ISIF currently has assets in at least 152 fossil fuel companies with a value of approximately €130 million. This represents about 12.2% of all stocks owned by ISIF. I am confident that the NTMA has the expertise to undertake a divestment strategy, if compelled to do so, in a manner that would secure an acceptable return for the Irish state.

While my party broadly agrees with the principles of the Bill, we do have real and significant concerns. We are concerned about the potential unintended impacts of passing the Bill in its current form. It is for this reason that the Bill requires substantial and detailed pre-legislative scrutiny. Fianna Fáil will participate constructively in this process and will bring forward amendments where appropriate. I very much welcome the conciliatory approach of the proposer of the Bill, Deputy Pringle. He has acknowledged that we must ensure that passage of the Bill will not give rise to any unintended consequences. He has indicated a willingness to work with others in this House on the legislation. The new regime or new politics at work in the House allows for that kind of combined approach to the advancement of important legislation. In fairness to Deputy Pringle, he has not sought to make this issue his alone. We must build a consensus around accepting that climate change is, without a doubt, the most important issue that we will face as a society and as a Government within a world context.

One of our principle concerns is that this Bill will not address the underlying cause of climate change, namely the demand for fossil fuels. To be fair, the Bill does not seek to do so. However, without addressing this demand, oil and gas companies will continue to make substantial profits and with substantial profits comes substantial investment. If investment is not available from State entities, it will be provided by various market sources.

This process will continue until the demand for energy derived from fossil fuels is addressed. As a result of this there is a risk the Bill will be symbolic in nature, which is also important, but will not address the underlying issue of a reduction in demand. ISIF would be divesting large holdings in fossil fuel companies at a potential cost to the taxpayer, and it is worth reflecting on this, but in my view it is still the right thing to do. It is important we are seen to address climate change and fulfil our obligations under the Paris Agreement. In the coming months, Fianna Fáil will bring forward ambitious plans to limit the use of fossil fuels and create a shift away from demand for their production and distribution.

Another potential issue that will have to be addressed on Committee Stage and in pre-legislative scrutiny is the potential impact on Irish small and medium-sized companies. The Minister of State indicated there may be issues in this regard and spoke about Bord na Móna. As he knows, ISIF has no investment in Bord na Móna, but there are potential opportunities for investment and the Minister of State will have received the same briefing as the rest of us. Nobody wants to see Bord na Móna, the ESB or any other company with a strategy of moving away from fossil fuels and towards a greener environment starved of potential investment from ISIF. These issues can be addressed in pre-legislative scrutiny and on Committee Stage. I hope the Bill will pass and that the Government will participate in the process with all the information it has available to it to ensure unintended consequences do not come to fruition and are provided for, and that it will work constructively with all sides to ensure the Bill meets the overall objectives set out. The Bill could have a contrary effect on certain small and medium-sized companies if it was not amended as we propose. Companies transitioning to a more sustainable energy provision could be deemed to be fossil fuel companies under the definition in the Bill and as a result they would lose funding, or potential funding, from ISIF and would be unable to complete the transition to more sustainable energy.

If I could conclude with half a minute-----

6:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No, I am afraid you do not have half a minute. If you just conclude it would be grand.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will conclude on that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will give two minutes of my time to Deputy Brassil.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Lahart.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I apologise. I always get the two Deputies mixed up.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

They both wear glasses.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I apologise.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would not mind, but he is from Dublin.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

He is from south Dublin.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is the new politics at work, the left is giving time to Fianna Fáil, but it is taking the right position on the Bill.

I commend Deputy Pringle for bringing forward this excellent Bill. Trócaire and a rake of other NGOs and environmental groups are campaigning in support of the Bill. It is a simple practical Bill to try to move in a serious direction towards addressing the danger of climate change, which is a threat to the future of the planet and the future of our children. I find incredibly depressing the Minister of State's speech, the Government's amendment and the general attitude of the Government when it comes to this most important of issues. What we get is scripted, dry and tokenistic lip-service paid to the issue of dealing with climate change, but when it comes to doing something, even something relatively modest such as this, which is getting ISIF, part of the NTMA's portfolio, to divest from fossil fuels, we do not want to do it. We pose in front of the cameras, go along to Paris and give pious speeches about how much we care about climate change, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of doing something the Government resists it. The dry tone and scripted speech just reflects this. The Government does not care. It does not take this issue seriously. In fact, whenever the need to do something about climate change impacts on the real interests the Government actually cares about, we see its true colours. That is what this is all about. It is about a Government that is, in actuality, protecting the very interests who do not want to do anything because they have a stake and money to be made by ensuring real action on climate change is not taken.

We get all the pious words after Paris, but then we get a Government that cuts public service obligation bus routes. How the hell will we deal with climate change if we do not expand public transport?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is increasing.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is not increasing. The Government wants to cut routes and privatise them. Several routes in my area have already been cut.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There has been an 11% increase this year.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I did not interrupt the Minister of State.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Use the facts.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The truth hurts.

The Government overrides proper building standards when it comes to passive house standards and insulation because it would upset the developers. This is the reason. The Government has special pleading on Ireland's CO2 targets and we have no chance, according to anybody looking at it seriously, of reaching the targets necessary to meet our Paris commitment. The Government will not do it because it wants to protect the beef barons. It is as simple as that. The beef barons come first. Short-term profit of a particular group of people comes first. Here is exactly the same thing. It is all about profit. We will sell the future regardless of the consequences because we do not want to stand up to the vested interests.

This is particularly important when we consider what is happening in the United States at present, with the election of Donald Trump. We now have a President who is putting people in key positions in his Administration who are actively out to sabotage the movement to deal with climate change. It is literally giving two fingers to the battle to do something about climate change, deliberate no doubt on Trump's part, to appoint Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, offender in the whole area of CO2 emissions, and in which ISIF has significant investments. It is one of four big culprits in which we have invested through ISIF. Scott Pruitt has already been mentioned with regard to the EPA. These people are declaring war on the environment in the interests of profit. At this moment it is critical that we stand up and push in the other direction and show publicly we will fight to do something about climate change.

The Government states it will cost. Does the Minister of State not get it? We must deal with climate change, and even the Paris Agreement does not go half-way near. Most scientists now state even if we manage to meet the Paris commitments, and we probably will not because even the Irish Government is making special pleadings on those commitments, we will not deal with the problem. Some scientists now state we could be looking at an increase in temperatures of up to 7% within this century. If we think about the fact the ice age was caused by a 5% drop in temperature, think about the ice age in reverse. Life was extinguished during the ice age in huge parts of the globe because it was too cold. Think about huge parts of the globe literally being boiled alive, making parts of the planet uninhabitable and the desperate dire consequences for millions of people and our children. This is what I call a cost. It is a real cost. It is a cost which our children and grandchildren will suffer, but the Government protects on a short-term basis the profits and interest of people who do not care about this but want to make money in the here and now, regardless of the consequences for the future.

This is an absolute no-brainer, a small thing. If he is not willing to support it, as he has clearly indicated is the case, it is all hypocrisy. The stuff about commitments to climate change is all hypocrisy.

Since Trump has been elected there has been an interesting narrative that tries to compare the populist right, represented by Trump, and the left who are apparently similar, with the moderate, sensible, pragmatic centre which is apparently the guys in Government. When it comes to practicalities, they are with Trump. They say it in a nicer way but they are actually with Trump and the climate deniers. They are with the business interests that do not want to do anything to save this planet. That hypocrisy cannot stand but they will be beaten on this one.

6:45 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank comrade Boyd Barrett and will echo some of the sentiments he raised. The Fianna Fáil Front Bench had a very interesting discussion on this on Tuesday. It was a very serious conversation which I will summarise. I am old enough to remember how and why the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, the predecessor of ISIF, came into being. It was to use investments to save and make money for Irish taxpayers and it has done that very effectively. It is prudent and timely to review some of the things it does. Some of the arguments against Deputy Pringle's Bill are as follows. Why set up, as the Government did 30 years ago, an independent body and then dictate how it should invest? The NTMA seems to be expert in investment and in terms of reaping benefits for the taxpayer. ISIF's investment strategy is already guided by sustainability and responsibility and it has an €800 million fund for investment in renewables such as forestry and onshore wind. However, the case for Deputy Pringle's Bill is most compelling and that was the view of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench on Tuesday. It felt that Ireland has to get serious, and be seen to get serious about, our Paris commitments, which cannot be shirked. We have to work out our values as a country on this issue and be serious about the issue. We believe that ethical investments are important and the Government's position on this was particularly depressing. We have to back up ethical principles with actions and two countries in the European Union already do this.

We need to take control of what we can take control of. As Deputy Dooley said, Fianna Fáil is hugely ambitious about climate change but the actions we take as a country and as a Parliament must be seen to be louder than the words we speak. The Minister's comments do not reflect the urgency of the situation. They do not reflect the fact the Bill would give ISIF five years to divest, and then to invest in renewables and clean and ethical projects. Climate change requires immediacy of action.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Government amendment sidesteps the issue and takes us off on a diversion. It mentions the fact that €85 million from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund is put into forestry and that is positive but it is a separate issue. This is about fossil fuels and the wording of the amendment is a diversion designed to take us off in another direction in order that we do nothing for the next couple of years. We have done very little for the past 20 years about this issue. Some of us in this House supported the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill a little over a year ago on the basis that, while it was not everything we wanted, it was better than nothing, but progress has been very disappointing and we are now looking for opt-out clauses and to backslide on our international obligations. I commend Deputy Pringle on bringing forward this Bill. We support the Bill as it is in line with Sinn Féin's commitment to build a greener economy and to play our role as a country in moving away from dependence on fossil fuels and as a polluter.

From the outset we should admit that the effect of this Bill will be primarily symbolic as the actual investments in fossil fuel companies made by the NTMA are quite limited. However, symbolism is important and we do not want to downplay the importance, as a State and as a people, of making a statement and acting where we can act in cases where public money is invested.

The NTMA, through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, would be barred from investing in fossil fuel industries if this Bill were passed. There are very sound environmental and economic reasons why the NTMA should take this approach. Fossil fuels are yesterday’s fuels, or soon will be. It is progressive and forward looking to move beyond a reliance on fossil fuels and to look to the future. The NTMA and ISIF have served Ireland well and make a massive contribution to the financial stability and the infrastructure of the State. They could be doing far more though, and that they are not is largely down to the ideological and wrong-headed rules which derive from the European Union about what type of investments this arm of the State can and cannot make. ISIF holds more than €7 billion in assets and cash on behalf of the people to be invested on their behalf. Ireland has a massive housing crisis and it requires billions of investment to bring our health infrastructure up to standard, yet the ISIF’s mandate is so limited that it cannot act or can only act under such strict conditions that its impact is minimal in these areas. It has to operate on a strictly commercial basis but the majority of households in this State still do not have a proper energy rating. In other countries they have devised such things as green bonds, where one can put in money, invest on a commercial basis and get the money back over a period of time through a reduction in energy use which can save householders money. Such funds can reap commercial benefits.

Our approach would mean human rights considerations would always be incorporated into investment decisions. I am sure there will be some who make excuses as to why this Bill should not pass or who argue that it will constrain our choices. Those arguments are nonsense, morally and economically. There is no future in fossil fuels. Why are they ripping up the ground? Trump is coming to power tomorrow and we will see more fracking, causing huge damage to the environment in the Arctic and other places, including in America.

On a global level, 2016 has been recorded as the hottest year since records began while the past three years have consecutively broken records, and that is of huge concern. Some of us have children and grandchildren and we have a responsibility to those who come behind us. This is not the Dark Ages. We are supposed to be enlightened and understand all these things. The effects of global warming are not just felt far away in some place like Ethiopia. It is no longer good enough to put a few bob in a collection tin for the black babies as that day is gone. We have a responsibility to act in their interest but also in our own and the generations who will come after us. We have seen the effects of it with cornfields swamped with water in August on the plains of Kildare, the driest county in the country. We have seen towns flooded and we have been running around trying to put up fences against the floods. Grain farmers came to the House yesterday to protest over their losses and for their need for financial compensation because of the harm wet weather did to their crops last year. The environmental and economic effects of climate change are here now and we cannot dodge them.

Fossil fuels represent less and less of a sound investment.

7 o’clock

It is widely acknowledged among the scientific community that if we are to avoid a catastrophic increase of more than 2° in global temperatures, 80% of all known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund currently has investments of more than €100 million in the fossil fuel industry. This public money is invested against the public interest. There has been a growing trend in recent years of investment funds divesting all or part of their holdings in producers of oil, gas and coal. To date, 689 institutions have moved an estimated €400 billion away from fossil fuels. Approximately 10,000 Irish people have signed a petition calling on the Government to stop investing in fossil fuels. I commend the students in Trinity College who launched a successful campaign that resulted in the university making a commitment to divesting from fossil fuels. I understand that NUI Galway and Queen's University are currently moving in the same direction.

Divestment from fossil fuels must be accompanied by a sustained effort on the part of the State to invest sensibly in the provision of renewable energy infrastructure and in research and development activity that will bring about future renewable energy technologies. Ireland's current energy needs are still 93% dependent on fossil fuels, 85% of which is imported. Investment in the development of our native renewable resources is necessary to secure Ireland's energy and economic needs into the future. The share of renewable energy in total energy consumption in Ireland sits at 7.8%. While Ireland’s share of energy from renewable sources is increasing, it is still approximately a third below the OECD average and just over half the EU average. Over the years, the poor long-term planning and decision-making of successive Governments, based on short-term political gain, has left Ireland trailing when it comes to renewable energy provision. As a result, we have an environmentally unsustainable economy.

Sinn Féin wants to be part of the change that is needed. We believe in strong and robust measures that will move Ireland away from fossil fuel dependency. We want to encourage international companies to move away from the fossil fuel industry and towards clean renewables. We look forward to working with others on this Bill. We intend to table amendments to it to deal with issues regarding definitions and other matters. We broadly support this Bill. We look forward to trying to improve the Bill on Committee Stage. We want to be part of the movement towards divestment. There are issues, as I have said. As representatives and delegates of the people, we have been sent to this House to do the right thing here. We have an obligation to show leadership and to set out our position. This country has a significant opportunity to develop alternative forms of energy in areas like wind, wave, hydro, anaerobic digestion and solar. We have an abundance of untapped sources of onshore and offshore wind, wave and hydro power. We need to invest our money in such areas, rather than in the fossil fuel industries of yesteryear.

We need to do the ethical thing for the generations to come and for the developing world. Some of the islands of the Philippines are nearly being washed away. We cannot stand back from the appalling tragedies that are happening in front of our eyes. We cannot flick over to "Coronation Street" when they appear on our television screens. Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we have a responsibility in this regard. This is going to affect everybody in the future. Please God the man who is taking power in America tomorrow will not be there for too long. That is my biggest hope.

6:55 pm

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There was a time when Deputy Stanley's party might have done something about it.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to share time with Deputy Shortall.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What a happy day from my perspective. When I go home and my wife and family ask me what we did today, I can tell them that thanks to Deputy Pringle, we started the process of divesting tens of millions from fossil fuel companies. We do not often do that, but we are doing it here today. This is real. I hope I am not breaking privilege when I mention that the Ceann Comhairle said earlier today that when we pass legislation on Second Stage, we have an obligation to put it through to enactment and to turn it into law. This House sets the direction of this country. That is what we are doing today. I hear we have the numbers to pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016. That is why this is a happy day. Thank God we are doing this on the eve of the terrible day we are facing tomorrow, when the beast is "slouching towards Bethlehem", as Yeats would have it. What an answer this House is giving to Donald Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in the name of Ireland. We are going to be selling Mr. Tillerson's Exxon Mobil shares because we do not believe in the future he stands for.

What a happy day for Trócaire. Fair play to it. Trócaire is not just in the field protecting the poorest people in this world. By helping to deliver this Bill, it is tackling the source of the problem it sees. What a happy day for the people involved in the divestment campaign. I would also like to mention the work done by Bill McKibben, who was brought to this country by Trócaire. The simple maths is beyond doubt. It is based on simple and clear physics. We have to leave four fifths of fossil fuels in the ground. That is what we are acknowledging and legislating for here today. What a happy day for the likes of 350.org and others who realise that the environmental movement is changing. We are moving from an approach that put all the responsibility on the individual at the end of the fossil fuel use pipeline to a better and cleverer approach that tackles the source of the problem. The Bill before the House recognises the need to stop fossil fuel use at source.

What a day for the likes of the carbon tracker people, whose clear and easy to understand financial analysis shows that those who invest in over-valued carbon assets without recognising the truth of physics, that four fifths of fossil fuels need to be left underground, are taking a bigger investment risk. The renewable alternative is clearly better and is now cheaper. If the officials in the Department of Finance would open their eyes to what is happening in the world, they would realise what is happening with the bidding price for solar power. I have just returned from the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, conference in Abu Dhabi, where it was clear that the price people are bidding for solar power is 2.5 cent/kWh. The price of offshore wind power in our neck of the woods has come down to approximately 8 cent/kWh. It is cheaper. We will never fight over these renewable sources. One cannot hold someone to ransom over a solar panel. These kinds of power belong to every country and can belong to every person. They represents a better future. We need to switch to this kind of investment. We are starting to do so here today.

We need to do more and do it fast. When I was at the IRENA conference, the analysis was clear. We need a threefold increase in the current level of investment in renewable energy. By agreeing this legislation today, we are sending a message to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. We must try to get the fund to open up to what is happening in the world. The European investment fund - the Juncker fund - is the main vehicle in Europe. An additional €200 million has just been allocated to the fund for investment in Europe. Some 40% of this money has to go into new clean energy sources. We can take some of the money we are going to save by selling Exxon Mobil shares, which is a good deal, and put it into the alternative, which we can match with European funding. The UK is leaving, which is a big problem. Last year, the European Investment Bank invested €3.5 billion in clean energy in the UK. It is wondering what to do now. It cannot invest any more in the UK. We should be standing up and saying that if this €3.5 billion is invested in Ireland, we will match it with €300 million or so from the €800 fund we have. That could be our equity stake in the investment, to be owned by the Irish public. This opportunity is opening up to us.

One aspect of this debate is depressing, however. I mean no offence to the officials from the Department of Finance who are present, to Fine Gael or to the Minister of State, Deputy English, with whom I get on well, when I say they should hang their heads in shame. The argument we have heard from them this evening - that this country cannot divest from fossil fuels because it might threaten our sustainability as we move towards a low-carbon economy - is utter tosh.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is nonsense. I ask them to set a vision for the country, as Ken Whitaker did when we switched from being a closed economy to being an open economy. We need to make a similar strategic leap now from being an unsustainable economy, which we are, to being a sustainable one. The Department of Finance should be leading the way because it should understand what is going on the world economy. The election of Donald Trump is the last stand or last gasp of the old fossil fuel era. That is not the future. It is not where investment is going to be.

I thank Deputy Pringle for giving us the opportunity to do this important work on the back of other things this Parliament has done. We passed the anti-fracking Bill on Second Stage. We passed a Bill calling for a referendum on the public ownership of Irish Water on Second Stage. This is an important moment for me and for the Green movement. It is a happy day. It is a victory.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is the Deputy going to thank Fianna Fáil?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Fianna Fáil as well. Fair play to it for making the call. I thank Sinn Féin and People before Profit too. This Bill has received the support of pretty much everyone other than the Fine Gael Deputies. I ask them to get with it. We are strong when we are united in telling the world that Ireland is going green. We can create jobs for our people in this way. Bord Gáis and ESB will have a better future when they invest in this area. Everyone is worried about their investment strategies being affected. I want investment strategies to change. I hope this Bill will be part of that change. We should not constantly try to amend legislation to fit into the fossil fuel ways of others. This is a happy day.

7:05 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Social Democrats strongly supports this important Bill. Well done to Deputy Thomas Pringle and his colleagues for bringing it forward. It is important to note the outstanding work being done by various NGOs working in this field and their constant provision of research evidence and the lobbying of Members to act in this area. In many ways, they put it up to us to live up to our responsibilities. We greatly appreciate the fact that Deputy Thomas Pringle has provided that opportunity for us and is giving a lead.

There is no point in me reiterating the compelling evidence of man's contribution to climate change. The time for that debate has long since passed, albeit, disappointingly, a particular individual seems still to be arguing about it. From our point of view, the question was decided a long time ago. Climate change is a stark reality, but our continued investment in fossil fuels is the very definition of short-termism. We have had a major problem during the years in this country of thinking only in terms of electoral cycles rather than taking a longer term view of the welfare of citizens of the State and the world, whose interests are closely related. We are investing State funds in companies which are destroying our future.

The response of the Government to the Bill is shocking and shameful. Late last year the World Meteorological Organization published findings which showed that in 2016 global temperatures were running 1.2o Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We are now dangerously close to exceeding the 1.5o level, the level climate scientists say will be catastrophic for the global climate. This is an irreversible tipping point acknowledged in the Paris Agreement which was ratified by the Dáil. If we are to avoid exceeding this level, the majority of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned. The fact that these fuels may not be burned in Ireland does not reduce our moral obligation to reduce their use globally. We must be unequivocal on this point. The fact that the President-elect of the country which is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases refers to climate change as a hoax and has vowed to dismantle his country's Environmental Protection Agency means that there can be no double standards in our response to climate change.

The time has come for a Government-wide approach to tackling climate change. It is no longer good enough to limit our contribution to a single Department. We need every Department to play its part. This is not to say the provisions of the Bill are in some way arduous. In fact, the opposite is the case. The step of reducing our investment and eliminating it within a short period of time would be a small but significant one. It would send the very clear message that Ireland was going to live up to its responsibilities in this area and that was going to take climate change and its wider responsibilities seriously. It is welcome that it looks like the Bill will be passed and I congratulate all those responsible for it. However, I must repeat that the Government's response is shameful.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Well done to Deputy Thomas Pringle for introducing the Bill. He stuck with it. I also say it to the non-governmental organisations, in particular, Trócaire and the others which have fought the battle and forced us into this situation in the Dáil. I echo what Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett said about the Minister of State's contribution. I have looked at it and it is a wonderful example of double-speak, which I do not say lightly. It is 13 pages of double-speak, telling us what we cannot do. It sets out the climate action policy in the climate change Act but tells us we cannot do this. It contrasts with words of the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, on 27 October, which it is important to quote. Less than four months ago he said, in the context of the Paris Agreement:

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.

Sensibly, the Minister kept his contribution that day to three pages. While he talked about bridging the chasm and making words mean something, in the Dáil today the Minister of State turned the language on its head.

We adopted a climate change plan in December 2015, but in January 2017 we are still waiting for the mitigation plan that was absolutely promised before Christmas. I agree with Deputy Eamon Ryan of the Green Party who said it was a wonderful day as it appeared that with the help of Fianna Fáil, the Bill would be passed. It is a very positive day which will go down with the similarly significant day when we had Deputy Joan Collins's Private Members' Bill to amend the Constitution in respect of water services. It will go down with the Government's own anti-fracking Bill initiated by Fine Gael's courageous Deputy Tony McLoughlin. If the Government could do that, it can surely see reason in this tiny and, in reality, symbolic step of divesting from investment in fossil fuels. The days of fossil fuels are numbered. Some 80% of what remains must stay in the ground if we are seriously committed to addressing climate change. We have not made up any of these figures. We are quoting repeatedly from various experts, some of whom have spent a lifetime analysing climate change.

The Minister of State referred to economics and money while ignoring completely reports dating back as far as 2006, including the Stern report on the economics of climate change, which estimated that it would be 20 times cheaper to prevent further climate change than to deal with it after the event - that is if we get a chance to deal with it after the event. More recently in 2015, the London School of Economics concluded that the net economic benefit of countries tackling climate change continued to outweigh the costs involved. It continues on through to the European Systemic Risk Board. Representatives of the NTMA appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts, on which I sit, and honestly, openly and frankly told us that it had not included climate change among the risks it should consider. I admired the honesty and openness of the CEO who appeared before us. When we looked at the risk factors with the NTMA, the CEO put up his hands and said he would go away and consider its policy. As such, when the Minister of State tells us that this happened, I note that it happened as a result of the Committee of Public Accounts asking questions further to information provided for us by Trócaire and concerned individuals on the investment of public money in fossil fuels. The NTMA was open to looking at the Strategic Investment Fund and coming back on the ethics of investing in fossil fuels.

I am utterly disappointed and a little depressed, like Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, about the content of the Minister of State's contribution. This is a time to show leadership on this serious matter, even if on a symbolic level. There will be a long lead-in period.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

People talk about the great depression. If they had listened to my contribution, they would have heard that I did not say the Government was against what they were trying to achieve. We actually complimented them on what they were trying to do. We actually agree with them. However, it would take away the flexibility of ISIF in investing money on behalf of the country. It has other responsibilities. It is not its only function when it comes to tackling climate change and fossil fuels; it has a duty to invest our money and get a return for the country.

Government policy is different and covers a wide range of activities.

We are committed to tackling climate change. In fact, one of my youngest colleagues drives an electric car and sets an example. Deputy Connolly referred to leadership. That is what we are trying to show. I do not want people to leave the Chamber believing that we are all at odds. We are not. However, the wording of the Bill could prevent investment in certain key companies that want to change their ways, of which Bord Na Móna is a prime example. That is probably due to the way the Bill has been drafted.

Deputy Pringle has the votes to pass Second Stage of the Bill and, therefore, it will proceed to Committee Stage on which we can tease out these parts of the Bill if that is what he wants to do. However, Deputies should not give me or the Government a lecture and tell us that we are not doing anything.

Some Deputies were not here for the start of the debate. I outlined where money is being invested and what ISIF is doing with our money. There is a policy to divest where it can, but it takes time to change. The wording of the Bill constrains ISIF too much and will not help it to do its job properly, that is, to invest money on behalf of the country.

It is not a case of not wanting to do anything or not agreeing with Deputy Pringle. I buy into what is proposed. I am a total believer, and I think Deputies know it is something I want to achieve. However, this Bill is not the way to do that. That is all we are saying.

I compliment Deputy Pringle. He making a genuine attempt to deal with the issue and I know what he is trying to do. We will work with him on Committee Stage to see whether we can improve the Bill and get it to a stage whereby we can make changes that the Deputy might accept and vice versain order that it would become something we can support. In its current form, we cannot do that. I outlined all the reasons, on behalf of the Department of Finance, that is the case. Supporting the Bill is not the right thing to do on behalf of the country.

That does not mean we are opposed to tackling climate change, changing our ways and investing in key areas of renewable energy. We want to do those things and I totally believe in such changes. I spent time in Güssing in Austria. I saw what could be done in small towns and villages which would have an impact. I ask everybody here to become involved in the discussion we will have over the next eight months on Ireland 2040, our new national planning framework which will set out the future of the country. There will be a chance during that discussion to debate this issue and put in place plans to deliver infrastructure at a local and national levels to address climate change, drive renewable energies, make them acceptable and get buy in from communities. We all have a role to play.

I heard somebody say people do not object to solar farms, but they do and I have seen it happen. I have had to work with such people. All of us have a lot of work to do in order to get buy-in for investment in renewable energy projects. I could list all such projects. I have been involved in projects for a long time and have seen people approach these things in a positive and negative way. It is not as simple as saying that if one is against the Bill one is opposed to tackling climate change. That is not true, and it is not fair to say that. I doubt Deputy Pringle would take that line because he knows it is not true. If he does, that is his choice.

I have taken note of everyone's comments and we will see what happens in a couple of months' time when we debate water infrastructure, the future of water and the polluter pays principle, in terms of trying to preserve water. We will see who agrees that we should charge people who waste water. Nearly everybody who spoke during the debate and tried to lecture me, and condemned my speech and the Government, is opposed to any kind of water charges or contribution which would prevent water being wasted.

There is a lot more to this debate than picking one line out of a contribution. One cannot pick and choose parts of the debate. The Government has a whole-of-Government approach to try to tackle water across a range of areas, including the conservation of water. I will not take lectures from people who try to pick and choose the battles that suit them because there is a lot more to this than the debate on this Bill.

I want to be very clear. Deputy Collins asked a specific question on investment in extraction companies. They are historic investments which we are divesting, something which has happened and will continue to happen. We are not investing in such companies now; they are historical investments. The ISIF fund is not investing in such companies and I want her to understand that.

We have investments in companies that people may not regard as promoting renewable energy, but such companies have strategies to develop renewable energy targets and move away from fossil fuels. They are companies in which we can and do invest. We can use our investments to move that agenda forward. I know what the Bill is trying to do, but it may have other consequences which could reduce investment in certain companies that have an agenda of moving away from fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy.

7:15 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Members who spoke in favour of the Bill. It is great that the Bill has the support of the Green Party, the Social Democrats, Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin, AAA-PBP and my colleagues in Independents 4 Change. It is very heartening and shows that the Bill will pass Second Stage and proceed to Committee Stage, on which we can have a wider discussion about all these issues and examine whether the Bill needs to be amended in order to allay some of the concerns that have been expressed, some of which were genuine in terms of the potential impacts of divestment on some semi-State companies.

NGOs are looking forward to the opportunity to make presentations to the committee at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in order to ensure that we have a Bill that is as robust as possible at the end of Committee Stage and during all other Stages. That is very important and welcome, and it is great that we can achieve that.

A lot has been said about attacking so-called new politics and the situation that has arisen. However, this Bill would never have passed Second Stage in the previous Dáil because the Government had the numbers to block anything it wanted to. Some very important Bills that passed Second Stage, such as a referendum on the public ownership of water, would never have passed Second Stage during the previous Dáil. In the previous Dáil a Government Deputy would probably not have been allowed to put forward a Bill on fracking. That change is very positive and shows that things can change in the House.

I wish to respond to the Minister of State's opening statement. He circulated a note in regard to his closing remarks. It is amazing that he was able to pre-empt the entire discussion and have such a document ready for submission immediately.

In his opening statement, the Minister of State said we have a dependence on fossil fuels for our energy and transport needs. That is the whole point. We have a dependence on fossil fuels, and we need to take the decision to move away from that approach. I take on board what the Minister of State said about not being restrictive regarding the NTMA and that we have plans. What about our 2020 plan? We will miss our targets on that by a country mile because there is no obligation on us to achieve them. That is the problem and we need the Bill to ensure there is an obligation for divestment to take place.

The Minister of State went on to say that continued investment in fossil fuel related technologies and businesses is a necessity. It is not, and we have to wake up and smell the coffee in terms of the decisions we have to take. We have to take what may be brave decisions, but they are symbolic and set out a path for the country terms of moving to a fossil fuel free society and start. We have to have the weight of legislation behind that in order to make it happen.

Some of the Minister of State's other statements on the NTMA and the ISIF were very worrying. He said ISIF is actively considering the investment case for companies that may not be aligned with the transition. That is why we are bringing the Bill forward. We cannot have a strategy that proposes ISIF divest from fossil fuel companies but retains flexibility.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have given examples. The Deputy should not try to spin it.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes, but he said they have to retain flexibility to be able to do other things. That flexibility is what leads to continued investment in fossil fuel companies.

The Minister of State also said ISIF is divesting from tobacco companies because investments in them outweigh any potential commercial return. That is what is happening with fossil fuels. The potential return from fossil fuels is declining exponentially and investments in them are totally unstable. The Bill deals with this issue. If we decide to move away from fossil fuels, we can move to more secure investments that will benefit all of our citizens over a long period of time.

Words must be backed up by actions. The only way we can be sure actions will back up words is by ensuring that the Bill is passed and an obligation placed on ISIF to divest from fossil fuels.

The Minister of State states that ISIF is in the process of divesting, but it currently has 152 investments in various fossil fuel companies around the world. As Deputy Joan Collins outlined, these include TransCanada building a tar sands pipeline, which is crazy stuff, and Peabody Energy investing in coal. We also have Exxon Mobil. The list goes on forever. In asking for the Bill to be withdrawn today, the Minister is asking for the flexibility ISIF enjoys to be maintained so it can choose to invest in those companies. Its ethical policy states that it does not want to invest in them, but it wants to maintain that potential in the event that it sees an opportunity to make a return. We need to take the flexibility away because history has shown us that without rigid controls we will not achieve our targets. We will not achieve our emission targets in 2020 and we will suffer fines and we will face the same problems in the future if we do not have the legislative backing to ensure that our investments are divested and ethical. This Bill sends out a strengthened and wider picture of our commitment to building a carbon neutral society, which is vitally important.

We have a climate change advisory council, but the Minister of State did not mention its advice on the Bill's potential to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. Perhaps the Minister of State's silence in his contribution in this regard is because it is in favour of the Bill and sees its merits.

I look forward to participating in the debate on Committee Stage and to the Bill being amended to make it more reflective of what is required. I recognise that some problems have been identified with the Bill, but no Bill is perfect on Second Stage. I also know that the non-governmental organisations are looking forward to contributing to the process, which is vitally important.

I thank the Members for their support. It is a wee bit embarrassing to hear people praising me for proposing the Bill, but I am reminded of a saying: it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants that I was able to propose the Bill. The work and the heavy lifting was done by those in the Visitors Gallery who pushed it forward and by the ordinary citizens of Ireland throughout the country who lobbied hard to ensure the Bill got over the line. They are the people who should be proud tonight because they have contributed to change for the good.

If we want to ensure that the planet has a future, not only Ireland but the whole planet has to take climate change seriously. We have to make brave decisions, including investment decisions, and we have to ensure that those decisions are underpinned by legislation that drives this forward and makes it happen.

Amendment put.

7:25 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 26 January 2017. Dá bharr sin, tá obair an lae inniu críochnaithe.

The Dáil adjourned at at 7.35 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 January 2017.