Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 December 2018

1:15 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I believe we are expecting a number of Ministers and spokespersons.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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We are, and five minutes is very limited time, so I will try to be brief and perhaps just refer to matters that were not referred to in the committee yesterday.

The emissions figures for 2017 have been published and, overall, show a slight reduction in carbon emissions. The areas that drove this reduction were energy, which is down 6.9%, residential, which is down 5%, and transport, which is down 2.4%. It is acknowledged, however, that a good deal of the reduction in transport was the result of transport tourism, whereby petrol and diesel are purchased elsewhere. The areas where there emissions continue to increase are agriculture, which is up 2.9%, industry and manufacturing, which is up 3.4%, and public services, which is up 6.7%. This is disappointing. It is a fairly familiar story and follows the pattern of last year and the year before last. The underlying difficulty is that we have not succeeded in breaking the connection between carbon emissions and economic growth. Overall, as we look to 2020, the prediction is that we will effectively be 95% off target and will only achieve a 1% reduction by 2020. There is, therefore, a need to step up massively our commitment in this area.

As the House will be aware, the national mitigation plan was published in July 2017 and sets out the signposts of the direction of travel. The national development plan went into much more detail and set out detailed projects, with €30 billion provided for sustainable transport and climate action. The plan has a very strong pipeline of projects, but this transition plan shows that even with this, we will be 47 million tonnes off target. Of this figure, the national development plan will meet 27 million tonnes, so there still is a very substantial amount of work to be done. For this reason, I will develop a whole-of-Government strategy. I have the agreement of Cabinet to come back to Government early in the new year with such a strategy and I will seek to have it implemented on the same basis as we implemented the Action Plan for Jobs. There will be oversight from my Department but also the support of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet committee to ensure actions committed to are timelined and delivered.

That has been an area, or at least an approach, that has been successful where the co-ordination of a number of Departments is being sought, especially where line businesses may draw their eyes elsewhere. It is crucial that we deliver on our climate change commitments on a cross-government basis. The national mitigation plan sets out 20 actions that have not been delivered within the timescale envisaged. There are 22 actions which are complete and 14 which are entirely new commitments, while many of the others are on track. On the 20 actions that have not been delivered, it is mainly because they have been delayed. If we had time, I could go through them in detail. They have mostly been delayed by a short time, are partially complete or, for example, in the case of carbon tax, where there was to be an examination of its impact, we have the report from the Economic and Social Research Institute. From the point of view of the Oireachtas, therefore, we have the material to deliver that action. There are, however, some actions that are at the evolutionary stage of their development. We will need to inject an impetus not just into all of these 20 areas but also way beyond them.

The report, usefully, also shows some of the new things that are developing and worthy of note by the Oireachtas. They include the €3 billion green bond that was raised, the higher biofuel blend, in which I know Deputy Stanley is interested, the carbon price evaluation by the ESRI which has been published and the new ambition for renewables - that 55% of our power will come from renewables by 2030. Today, the figure stands at about 30%. Good progress has been achieved on the emissions trading system, ETS, in other words, the cap and trade element, which is of relevance to the big power users. Our target is to be down by 37% in 2020. It has been a success.

The report also points to the new renewable heat scheme that will be starting with subsidies of 30%. I refer also to the new heat pump grant that was introduced for households in September last year and the new excellence in energy efficiency design, EXEED, programme for the commercial and industrial sectors, in which it has been piloted at 24 locations.

There were very important environmental regulations for near zero energy buildings and renovations. The first compressed natural gas station was also reported, as well as ongoing planting of forestry. It is a good compendium, but we are clearly at the start of a project to which we need to ramp up our commitment radically.

This week I was in Katowice where the climate action conference was held. It was organised by the United Nations and the message was very stark. The window to act to prevent catastrophic complications for the globe is closing rapidly. On the positive side, most of the technologies we need to apply to meet our commitments are available. It is a question of finding the policy tools and funding mechanisms to allow them to happen. It is a major challenge but one that, if we work together across the House, we can meet.

1:20 pm

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to deliver the annual transition statement on climate change adaptation on behalf of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Minister, Deputy Madigan. Maidir Ie hoiriúnú d'athrú aeráide sa Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, tá dhá phlean oiriúnaithe earnála á n-ullmhú ag mo Roinn - ceann amháin a théann i ngleic Ie bithéagsulacht agus ceann eile a bhaineann leis an oidhreacht thógtha agus seandálaíochta.

A draft climate change adaptation plan for biodiversity has been drawn up by scientific staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, of my Department. It has been circulated to staff within the NPWS, external biodiversity and climate change experts, members of the interdepartmental biodiversity working group and the biodiversity forum which is represented by NGOs, academics other relevant stakeholders. The draft plan also formed the basis of a stakeholder workshop which was held on 16 October. There were 40 participants which represented various sectors and included staff from the regional climate change offices and the NPWS. The workshop sought feedback and inputs on various matters, including climate impacts and consequences for the biodiversity sector, adaptation actions and cross-sectoral linkages. The draft plan is being redrafted and reformatted to reflect the sectoral guidelines published in May and the feedback and inputs received from other sectors and actors. We will endeavour to ensure the revised draft biodiversity sectoral climate change adaptation plan will be subject to public consultation in January 2019.

The following climate change risks to biodiversity have been identified to date. I refer to changes in species abundance, changes in species distribution, disruption of species interactions, loss of species, the arrival and spread of non-native species, changes in the composition of communities, the loss of habitat area and changes in the functionality of habitats. As well as the direct impact on biodiversity, there may be consequences for the delivery of ecosystem services required for human well-being. As an example, changes in the functionality of habitats may reduce the capacity for water retention or the control of non-native species may be very costly to the Exchequer.

I dtaobh na hoidhreachta tógtha agus seandálaíochta, ceapadh saineolaithe i nDeireadh Fómhair chun cabhrú le plean oiriúnaithe earnála a ullmhú. Cuirfidh sé seo le staidéar taighde cúlra a choimisiúnaigh mo Roinn agus a críochnaíodh in 2017. Stakeholder advisory meetings were held in February and October, with the discussion feeding into the preparation of a tender for the delivery of a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for the built and archaeological heritage. Stakeholders included representatives from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Office of Public Works, the City and County Managers Association, the National Museum of Ireland, the Heritage Council, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, the Irish Landscape Institute, the Royal Irish Academy, the Discovery Programme, the International Council On Monuments and Sites, ICOMOS, Ireland and the Federation of Local History Societies.

Leantar le teagmháil idir contrapháirteanna sa Ríocht Aontaithe, Albain, Sasana agus Tuaisceart Éireann, agus le contrapháirteanna nios faide i gcéin atá ag oibriú ar oiriúnú láithreáin oidhreachta d’athrú aeráide d’fhonn faisnéis agus smaointe a mhalartú agus eolas a chur ar fáil don phlean oiriúnaithe earnála. Discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, ensured built and archaeological heritage impacts were built into the climate pillar call to achieve resilience in the marine and coastal environment. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht made a presentation to the national adaptation steering committee on 4 July on the potential impact of climate change on the built and archaeological heritage. The following climate change risks to the built and archaeological heritage have been identified to date arising from the potential to have warmer, wetter winters - increased intensity of storms, a rise in sea levels, coastal erosion and increased flooding. They include structural damage to monuments and historical properties, coastal erosion undermining structures or leading to loss of ground adjacent to the structure, exposure and the erosion of archaeological sites, the collapse of unstable masonry elements such as chimneys and roofs, the loss of historical landscape features such as trees and the impact on building fabrics, including increased saturation, mould and fungal growth in interiors and on contents and increased corrosion of metal elements.

Tá sé beartaithe plean a bheith curtha le chéile faoi shamhradh 2019, le tréimhse chomhairliúcháin phoibil san áireamh. Cuireann mo Roinn fáilte roimh an gcaidreamh leanúnach an-dlúth oibre leis an Roinn Cumarsáide, Gníomhaithe ar son na hAeráide agus Comhshaoil maidir leis an dá phlean a fhorbairt faoi fhómhar 2019.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, I am pleased to present to the House the annual adaptation transition statement on the policy measures adopted by the Office of Public Works during the past year to help to adapt to the effects of climate change on flood risk management. In the past year the Office of Public Works has launched the flood risk management plans that detail the risk and feasible measures to address flooding from rivers and sea which are the primary sources of flood risk. It not only looked at flood risk and its impact today, it also studied the flood risk and impact in two potential climate change scenarios in the future.

The catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, CFRAM, that delivered the plans was the largest national study ever undertaken of the risk posed by significant flood events, or one in 100 year floods, and followed best practice. In 2012, 300 communities were selected for the study as they were the most likely to be impacted on by future flooding, including 90 coastal communities. These communities represent 80% of the national potential risk and are home to almost two thirds of the population. While the CFRAM programme assessed flood risk in all large urban areas, approximately one quarter of the communities had a population of less than 500 people, while half of thelm had a population of less than 2,000. On 31 May, with the Taoiseach, the Minister of State launched the flood maps for these communities. The plans set out how we can manage flood risk both for these communities and nationally.

The Minister of State also announced a €1 billion investment in a further 118 flood relief schemes in the coming decade. It will mean that, together with the 42 schemes completed and 33 under way, the Government can protect 95% of properties assessed as being at risk from a one in 100-year flood. A new website, www.floodinfo.ie, on which people can view the maps and plans by location, was also launched.

At the start of this ten-year programme of investment the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, announced that the Office of Public Works, OPW, working with local authorities, would be starting work on detailed design for 50 of the 118 new flood relief schemes. He is pleased to report that there has been proactive engagement since between the OPW and the local authorities on the arrangements and structures to be put in place to advance implementation of the first tranche of projects. Project inception meetings have focused on the establishment of project steering groups, governance structures and the resource and procurement requirements. The OPW has already put in place frameworks of engineering design consultants and environmental consultants which are helping to expedite the delivery process.

In the past year the OPW has either work completed or work under way on flood relief schemes to protect 80% of the properties assessed to be at risk of significant flooding. All schemes are designed and built in line with international best practice. It includes ensuring they can be adapted in the future for potential climate change. Measures have been put in place for the at-risk properties where investment in a flood relief scheme is not feasible. The minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme put in place during the past year remains a valuable measure to address localised flood risk. The OPW has committed to the investment of €5.6 million in 65 localised schemes by local authorities. The work of the interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group, chaired by the Minister of State, is also focused on climate change adaptation measures for flood risk management.

Significant progress has been achieved this year by Met Éireann and the OPW in establishing the flood forecasting service, including the appointment of a chief hydrometerologist who is leading the delivery of this service. The publication by the OPW in the past year of flood risk maps, developed by the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, which include maps reflecting the impact of future climate change, is a valuable resource to inform local authorities in their preparation of local and sectoral adaptation plans in 2019 and planning decisions, as well as in planning emergency responses.

The work done by the OPW in the past year in adopting measures to adapt for climate change has been significant. In particular, the launch of the flood risk management plans demonstrates the proactive approach taken in addressing the possible impact of climate change, both in planning to manage flood risk and the delivery of flood relief schemes. The Minister of State is confident that the focus on climate change in flood risk management will allow the investment made today to be easily adaptable to deal with the impact of climate change in the future.

1:30 pm

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael)
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I am making this statement on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.

I welcome the mobilising of Ministers with responsibility for the largest carbon emitting sectors in our society. It is timely in the light of the fact that COP 24 is taking place this week in Poland, with the aim of finalising implementation of the Paris climate change agreement. This engagement demonstrates that, similarly, the Government supports the commitment to tackle climate change and reduce national emissions. It is clear that we face an enormous challenge. It is only through collective ambition and cross-departmental efforts that Ireland will begin to transition to a low carbon society and achieve our long-term goals.

Transport has a critical, yet challenging, role to play in the national mitigation effort. It is a sector in which fossil fuel use is firmly embedded and travel demand is growing owing to economic recovery and a growing population. Despite this growth in demand, 2017 saw a welcome fall in transport emissions for the first time in four years. However, we must be on our guard. Despite technological advancements in improving vehicle efficiencies and new lower carbon fuels, we continue to grapple with the reality that emissions savings from cleaner vehicles are being offset by strong growth in transport demand. We must remain proactive in seeking to decouple demography and the economy from climate emissions.

In transport we are doing this through four main avenues. First, there is increased investment in sustainable mobility. Improving public and active transport services and infrastructure is key if Ireland is to cater in an environmentally sustainable way for increasing travel demand and provide a meaningful alternative to the private car. Under the national development plan, €8.6 billion has been committed to public and active transport in the next ten years. Forthcoming key projects include MetroLink, BusConnects, the DART expansion programme and increased funding for cycling and walking infrastructure across the State. Prioritising investment in the public transport network is working. During the reporting period of 2017 alone, an additional 16 million public transport passenger journeys were made, while the number of walking and cycling trips also increased, particularly in the greater Dublin area.

The second strand employed to reduce transport emissions is promoting a switch away from fossil fuels to lower emitting alternative power sources. Even with an expanded and enhanced public transport system, some people will not be in a position to move away from the car. In these cases we need to encourage a move towards cleaner alternatives. Under the national policy framework for alternative fuels infrastructure for transport, the national ambition that by 2030 all new cars and vans sold be zero emissions capable was clearly outlined. To support this ambition, a low emissions vehicle task force was established to accelerate the deployment of low carbon transport technologies. Phase 1 of the work of the task force focused solely on incentivising electric vehicles. Several of its recommendations were adopted in budgets 2018 and 2019, expanding the suite of supports available for electric vehicles. The impact of these incentives is seen clearly this year, with significant growth in electric vehicle sales and increasing numbers of low or zero emissions vehicles on the road. Phase 2 of the work of the task force is under way, focusing on promoting other alternative fuels and technologies, including natural gas, biomethane and hydrogen. The task force in its work puts emphasis on the heavy duty vehicle sector which accounts for nearly one fifth of transport emissions. In the coming years I hope, with the support of the task force, to see movement towards cleaner fuels in this competitive sector.

Meanwhile, in the light of the commitment that from summer next year no more diesel only buses will be purchased for the urban public bus fleet, the Department is launching a low emissions bus trial next week. The trial will assess a range of alternative fuels and technologies to further inform future bus purchasing decisions. Not only will new cleaner buses reduce emissions, they will also provide the opportunity for the public to experience the benefits of non-conventional fuels and begin to normalise their uptake in other transport areas too.

The third channel which plays a major role is the biofuels obligation scheme. The percentage rate of biofuels as a share of road transport energy has doubled since 2010. It is intended that the blend of biofuels will continue to increase incrementally on a sustainable basis in the future. Owing to heavy reliance on oil in the transport sector, this is a critical mitigation tool. In 2017 alone, biofuel use reduced transport emissions by over 3% without impacting on travel activities. It is making an important contribution to reducing transport emissions.

We are tackling emissions through the use of better vehicle standards. We are pushing at European level to achieve more efficient production standards to ensure all cars, vans and trucks registered in Europe will increasingly be more efficient. This presents Irish consumers with cleaner vehicles and a greener choice. Not only are we delivering measures to reduce transport emissions, we must also improve the transport sector’s resilience in dealing with the effects of climate change. In 2017 my Department published its first sectoral adaptation plan, developing resilience to climate change in the transport sector, in which risks facing the sector were identified. We have experienced the consequences of extreme weather events, with damage to infrastructure and disruption caused to public transport services. Key transport stakeholders are making great strides in climate adaptation, identifying vulnerable areas and future proofing them to withstand more extreme weather events. We will continue to build this capacity to ensure Ireland stays safely on the move, regardless of the changing climate. We will continue to work with agencies to raise awareness and build our resilience to climate change. We face a challenge to decarbonise our society. The Department is deeply committed to taking on this challenge.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to present the annual transition statement on the agriculture, forest and land use sector on behalf of the Department and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

As one of the key sectors involved in the first national mitigation plan, it is only right to restate the vision for the sector which is an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. This is consistent with the principles of both the Paris Agreement and the European Council conclusions of October 2014 which recognised the role of agriculture and land use in tackling climate change and their contribution to achieving climate ambitions.

One of the first actions we committed to in the national mitigation plan was to engage with research to elaborate further on the concept of carbon neutrality. We expect that project to commence shortly. In the meantime, we are continuing to take a three-strand approach to emissions reduction: reducing emissions where we can, increasing carbon sequestration, and displacing fossil fuel and energy intensive materials with renewable sources.

The sector has been engaging in positive environmental actions, but I will focus in the main on some of the actions that we have taken since I presented last year's transition statement.

In terms of the rural development plan, we continue to invest in our mitigation measures, with approximately 49,000 farmers active in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and almost 25,000 farmers participating in the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, where in excess of 1 million animals have been genotyped to date. Building on the success of the BDGP, we will introduce a new pilot scheme in 2019 targeted at suckler farmers, which will be called the beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP. This new scheme will aim to improve the carbon efficiency of beef production further.

Given the importance of afforestation to the achievement of sequestration ambitions, one of the new mitigation measures we have identified and introduced this year is a knowledge transfer group, KTG, scheme for forestry. Other forest measures taken this year include increasing the rate of financial support across all categories, with larger increases for broadleaf planting. A change in supports for road building was also made. In addition, we have seen the introduction of the woodland environmental fund, which will help to expand Ireland's native woodland resource further.

On the energy efficiency side of things, our farmers are availing of investment options like biomass boilers and air source heat pumps under the TAMS II pig and poultry and young farmers capital investment schemes. This year also saw the launch of a new collaborative initiative between the Government and industry known as the agricultural sustainability support and advisory programme. The Department, Bord Bia and Teagasc are working together on how to effect further positive change at farm level through research, advisory services and carbon audits.

My Department is busy preparing its first statutory adaptation plan for the three areas identified in the national adaptation framework and for which my Department has responsibility. The areas are seafood, agriculture and forestry. We published an adaptation planning document for the agricultural and forestry sectors last year and advanced work on the seafood element, which will set the groundwork for future adaptation planning.

Increased environmental ambition is a key element of the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, proposals. I view this as an opportunity. However, the importance of having a well-funded CAP is more pertinent than ever if we want to see this ambition become a reality. Our farmers are custodians of the land, so supporting them in good environmental practices and enabling them to respond to climate challenges and opportunities is not only an investment in our agricultural sector but also in wider rural and general communities.

1:40 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the past year's progress. The year went by quickly. On behalf of myself and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, I reaffirm our Department's commitment to working collaboratively with colleagues across Government so that we can collectively and successfully deliver and implement critical climate mitigation and adaptation actions and measures.

Since our statements last year, we launched Project Ireland 2040 in April. It is the overarching planning and investment framework for the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland. It includes a detailed capital investment plan for the period 2018 to 2027 - the €116 billion national development plan, NDP - in support of a long-term transformational spatial strategy, that being, the national planning framework, NPF, with a time horizon out to 2040. The aligned and shared vision of the NPF in tandem with the NDP represents a joined-up planning and investment strategy for Ireland's future growth and development focused on a series of ten shared national outcomes. Foremost among these is climate action and the national objective to transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient society by 2050. Policy that will assist in making that transition and meeting our climate obligations is woven through the NPF and the NDP. Shared outcomes reflected in both documents that are fundamentally supportive of climate action include compact growth, sustainable mobility and sustainable management of waste, water and other environmental resources. All of these include significant elements of policy that provide a strong platform for the development of measures and actions in response to climate change.

The overall NPF strategy seeks to achieve a better balance of development between the regions and a greater focus on Ireland's cities, supporting Ireland's rural fabric and targeting more compact growth in the development of settlements of all sizes from the largest city to the smallest village.

The NPF includes a number of specific measures. First, the Department is undertaking a review of the 2006 wind energy development guidelines. The review is addressing a number of key aspects, including sound or noise, visual amenity, setback distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections. We will shortly commence a public consultation on the revised draft guidelines, together with the comprehensive environmental report under the strategic environmental assessment process, with the aim of issuing the finalised guidelines following detailed analysis and consideration of the submissions and views received during the consultation phase, which will be in approximately two months. When finalised, the revised guidelines will be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.

Second, in collaboration with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which leads on renewable energy policy, my Department is exploring the potential for enhancing national planning guidance on solar energy, which is often the subject of debate in the House, while also taking into account solar energy projects being assessed by planning authorities and the scope for future development of the sector in the context of the ongoing development of renewable energy policy. Should the need for specific planning guidance for solar farms be identified, this work will be further scoped and progressed. We do not believe that there is a need for such guidelines currently, but we will keep the matter under review.

We are also progressing the national marine spatial planning framework, which is making its way through the Houses. It was discussed in the Seanad and by a committee and is currently undergoing a public consultation phase, which will inform the framework. That plan will align itself with the NPF and we hope to have it completed and published in early 2020. We will be focusing on it. I will update the House during next year's statements.

Regarding the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, EPBD, approximately 40% of total energy produced in Ireland is used in the building sector. The directive sets ambitious goals for energy efficiency and renewables in buildings by requiring nearly zero energy building, NZEB, performance for new buildings from 31 December 2020. In addition, the directive requires that major renovations to existing buildings are completed to a cost-optimal level where feasible. The implementation of NZEB is a key action for the built environment in contributing to Ireland's national low-carbon transition and mitigation plan. This has been completed for buildings other than dwellings and will take effect from 1 January 2019. It is planned to be in place for dwellings from mid-2019. These will contribute to emissions reductions from 1 January 2021.

A new element of the revised EPBD is the provision of infrastructure for the charging of electric vehicles. A lack of recharging infrastructure is seen as a barrier to the uptake of electric vehicles in the EU and the revised directive has new provisions that aim to accelerate deployment. We are in the process of drafting these regulations and will be publishing them for public consultation in 2019. We will have the regulations in place by March 2020.

Under the social housing retrofit programme, local authorities are undertaking an ambitious programme of insulation retrofitting, with the support of the Department, on the least energy efficient social homes. The programme has had two phases. Phase 1 focused on lower cost improvements such as cavity wall and attic insulation. Phase 2 is targeting higher cost, deeper retrofit measures, for example, fabric upgrades and glazing. Since 2013, funding of €120 million has been provided to improve energy efficiency and comfort levels in more than 65,000 local authority homes, benefiting those at risk of fuel poverty and making a significant contribution to Ireland's carbon emissions and energy reduction targets for 2020. Potentially, more than 2 million houses are to be addressed in the years ahead. That will be a focus for us.

I will not go through the issues of water and so on, but I can read the statement out to the House if needs be.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to update the House on this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, who cannot be present.

Climate change adaptation planning within the health sector is crucial and involves two key areas, those being, the protection of the health and well-being of our population and ensuring the resilience of our health service so that it can continue to operate during severe weather events. The Department of Health continues to work with key stakeholders within the wider health sector and other key sectors to identify the priority actions associated with climate change adaptation for the health sector.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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May I rise on a point of order?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I find this disconcerting. Minister of State after Minister of State is rolling in here, giving us a five-minute statement, going through the motions and then walking out again. This is one of the greatest crises that we have faced nationally and globally in generations. More respect should be given to the issue at hand in the first instance.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has made his point.

There is an obligation in law for the Ministers to present cases or what they are doing as per their own Departments. There is no opportunity to interrogate that whatsoever.

1:50 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has made his point. I was told that seven Government Ministers or their representatives would be here with the lead Minister, Deputy Bruton, who has sat through it all.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I should also say that we had two and a half hours in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action yesterday so it is not the case that it is not being taken seriously by Government.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Order of Business indicated seven Government Ministers with five minutes each. I have no control over that.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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There are young people here today. The optics of this with regard to how this Parliament deals with this issue are atrocious. I wish to record that.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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It is a matter for each Minister. We have no control over who should or should not be in the House. I call on the Minister of State to continue.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Department of Health continues to work with key stakeholders within the wider health sector and other key sectors to identify the priority actions associated with climate change adaptation for the health sector. The Department has been represented on the national adaptation steering committee since 2014 and more recently on the Government's high-level climate action steering group chaired by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The health sector has also been represented by a specialist in public health medicine in the HSE at the national adaptation steering committee and a variety of other relevant fora, including the Climate Change Advisory Council adaptation committee.

Vulnerability assessment of the health infrastructure and services is a key component of our planning. Some of this is already occurring through severe weather planning and emergency management structures in the HSE. It provides for vulnerability assessment for all services provided by the HSE and will form the basis for the bulk of vulnerability assessment across the sector. The planning is service and geographically based and overlaps with business continuity planning in many cases.

There has been preparation and activation of emergency plans followed by lessons learned during the weather events of 2017 and 2018 such as Storm Ophelia, Storm Emma and the heatwave experienced during summer 2018 that will be incorporated in future planning scenarios. Current weather and climate-related risks continue to be assessed. For example, during severe weather events, there have been dynamic public health risk assessments and public health medical advice developed to protect the public.

Future risk assessment may largely depend on the results of the vulnerability assessment and also on the adaptation actions of other sectors as health impact is mainly an endpoint of the effects of climate change on other sectors. Adaptation options that are already required to manage current risks are being implemented and will continue to be mainstrearned, monitored and reviewed. Ongoing business continuity planning will meet some of the requirements.

Another important action involves assessing current information systems in order to develop appropriate data which is capable of identifying changing patterns of illness and disease related to climate change and to measure and monitor same through health surveillance and investigation. Work has commenced with the EPA to agree a research agenda for the sector relating to climate change adaptation and health. In addition to the work relating to climate change adaptation within our own sector, the health sector is providing expert public health expertise to other sectors on the health impacts that need to be addressed in their plans.

The delivery of a climate change adaptation plan for the health sector will require a high level of collaboration across sectors on an ongoing basis to create evidence-based solutions that are collectively aligned with our pursuit of a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy together with the achievement of a healthy Ireland.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister and his comments and the extent to which he has been dealing with this issue since his recent appointment. At the outset, I want to put on the record my genuine disappointment at the lack of other ministerial representation here. It is not a comment on the quality or abilities of the junior Ministers. It says a lot about what other Ministers see as their responsibility in terms of their Departments when they cannot show respect for the issue, let alone the House, by being present. For far too long, the issue of climate change has been foisted on the shoulders of the Minister and Department responsible rather than all Ministers treating it with the level of importance with which it must be treated if we are to have any meaningful impact on reducing our emissions, maintaining temperatures at the desired level and addressing the commitments the Government has already entered into. The real failure of a joined-up Government approach is evident here. Notwithstanding the Minister's interest and effort, I feel the failure to have senior Ministers here speaks to that issue in a very strong way. I could understand how one or two Ministers of State might have to represent a Minister but it was known for a while that this debate would be held here today. It really is an appalling vista that all of the other Departments just sent their junior person in with a script. It does not indicate that the Government has finally got to grips with the subject. I have sympathy for the Minister. If there is a way of communicating back from this House, it is incumbent on the Taoiseach to pull his Cabinet together. When he became Taoiseach, he said that climate change would be the biggest issue for him. He has recently said that broadband would be a priority as well so it seems that whatever the issue of the day is will be a personal crusade for him but we need more than words. We need action and buy-in from other Departments.

I have listened to the Minister since his appointment and get a real sense that he gets it, that he understands and is committed to addressing this issue. It has been the same in any Department in which he has worked. He remains committed but this issue will not be resolved on the shoulders of one committed Minister and the words of a Taoiseach every now and again when he is faced with a question. It requires action. Even the scripts that were read into the record today by Ministers of State do not give me any real hope. There is talk of what we have done and might do - almost taking credit for where we are. We are in an appalling position. In fairness, the Minister has identified that.

I will dwell on some of the comments made by Ministers in the past week as they relate to climate change. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was quoted as saying that the continued delivery of diesel buses was very regrettable. He sent his junior Minister in here today to tell us that they will continue to buy diesel buses up to the middle of next year. That does not bode well for where we are trying to go. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action this week that we have not succeeded in breaking the link between economic progress and emissions in the industry, agricultural and transport sectors and that by 2020, the year by which we have a target to reduce emissions to 20%, we will only have reduced emissions by 1%. To me, these words were a sign that the Minister got it. I welcome these frank admissions and believe they are appropriate. However, we are past the point where Ministers can be communicators or bemoan the lack of progress. To quote Joseph Curtin from the Institute of International and European Affairs, "we don't need more analysis, we need leadership." The Ministers are responsible for driving that change. If today's presentations tell us anything, it is that we are back to the case of them being followers of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which does not speak well for what we need to do in the coming months.

With a few exceptions, all of us in this House have become exceedingly good at talking the talk with regard to climate change. The narrative put forward is that we will do it better in the future but we are running out of time because the future is upon us. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been clear. The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. This action needs to be taken within 12 years. There is a narrow window in which this must happen and I do not get the impression that the Government as a whole has any sense of direction in that regard. It requires us meeting our targets; we have discussed the failure to meet 2020 targets ad nauseumand indeed have acknowledged that we cannot have this same discussion a decade from now. I would argue that we cannot have this discussion this time next year. We need to see significant actions taken during that period of time.

This means that the policies and legislation for the step change which needs to take place is required immediately. There is a false economy in the prospect of putting off these measures. Short-term compliance costs to try to close the gap are now likely to be in excess of €100 million. Ireland is also exposed to significant fines post-2020 and the purchase costs associated with the purchase of the credits and beyond. This would be far better invested in meeting targets than paying the cost for the failure to invest.

A number of actions should be taken next year to put Ireland on the correct trajectory. The development of a competing plan, as announced by the Minister, is a cause for some concern. It is important that this does not interfere with or supersede the report of the all-party committee. I hope the Minister will make a commitment today that this will not take place and the recommendations of the committee will be implemented as a priority in any future plans developed by Departments.

On the legislation which underpins today's statements, there is significant room for improvement. I produced the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Emissions Targets) 2018 Bill, which sets specific targets. Having listened to the Minister's comments on my legislation, I am prepared to work with him to set binding targets in domestic legislation that will advance matters.

What occurred in budget 2020 on carbon tax was deeply disappointing. We want any moneys raised through future carbon taxes to be used for the decarbonisation of the economy, rather than being allowed to fall into the black hole of the Exchequer.

2:00 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is probably one of the most important days in the current Dáil when we assess the current position through annual transition statements on climate change. I welcome the Minister's open and honest statement yesterday at the Joint Committee on Climate Action. It indicated that he is trying to grapple with these issues and is showing commitment and energy. That none of the other senior Ministers are present is disappointing. A procession of Ministers of State read out statements on the Ministers' behalf. It reminded me of four or five lads standing at the back of the chapel during mass, talking about the match and what went on the night before in the pub and the scandal in the neighbourhood. They would watch the people in front of them and every time the people in front of them, who were participating, stood up or sat down, the lads would follow suit before continuing to talk. In other words, they were present but not actually part of the game. It is disappointing that this is also the case today.

Figures were released this week from the United Nations Climate Action Conference that show exactly the catastrophic nature of what we are facing. The Minister admitted that we are falling 95% short of our emission reduction targets. It is shocking that we are failing to meet all our targets to address climate change. While I welcome the slight decrease in carbon emissions this year, we have a huge distance to make up.

As a small island, there is a question as to whether Ireland should bother. We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to act. We have a responsibility to the population of the world, particularly countries such as the Philippines that are vulnerable to climate change.

We should not see climate change as a burden. The Minister is a former Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and we should see this as an opportunity to create long-term sustainable jobs. Decoupling economic growth and development from increased greenhouse gas emissions is exactly what is required. We need to talk about long-term jobs in biogas and biomass and we need to create opportunities. We also need more apprentices. Even if we find money tomorrow morning, who will carry out the work that is required? We need skilled personnel to do it, which means training apprentice carpenters, plumbers, electricians and plasterers.

We have opportunities to create security of energy supply on this island. We import almost €5 billion worth of fossil fuels every year. We now have an opportunity to address that and turn it around. We need to use our semi-State companies to achieve this. Bord na Móna, the ESB and Coillte can form the backbone for providing employment opportunities in this area in the time ahead, much as semi-State companies did in the past.

Addressing carbon emissions covers many different areas and will require many changes in planning, developing new crops, reducing waste and recycling and reducing more of the waste we produce. It will require changes in training, developing new scholarships and apprenticeships. We must also move ahead with large schemes in biomass and biogas.

To date, political will has been lacking in this area. Shortly after his appointment, the Taoiseach made climate change one of his priorities. I welcomed that because I had been banging the drum on this issue for years with two previous Ministers with responsibility for the environment, Deputies Phil Hogan and Alan Kelly. Based on the evidence to date, we have not moved a long distance. Many of the key players involved in the energy sector and climate change, including those operating the electricity grid and regulating the industry, as well as energy suppliers and the Government, have failed to show vision or energy. The energy types of the near future will be very different and the power systems of the future will use very different energy sources. Last week, I brought before the House a Bill on microgeneration, a technology that will play some part in broadening the portfolio of energy sources available.

In 2015, when the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill was going through the Dáil, I said we needed to set sectoral targets. That remains the case because if we do not set targets, we will not reach them. In response to my Bill last week, the Minister indicated that a money message might be necessary. That is not the case. I deliberately drafted the legislation in such a way as to ensure it would not necessitate a money message. I do not want the Government to hold up the Bill for that reason. I want it to go to committee and to be progressed. It is an honest attempt to try to address microgeneration, an area that we have not moved on in this country.

The Government has taken some action, but they are baby steps at best. The lack of action in renewable energy has been staggering. Our offshore wind resources are among the best in Europe but we have little in place to take advantage of it. There is just one wind farm off the coast of Arklow. There is great potential in offshore wind and we have much ground to make up.

While it is good that peat plants are converting to biomass, we are not establishing a native biomass industry to create the supply chains required. Instead, amazingly, we wind up importing fuel from across the globe to power these plants. This could be an income stream for farmers and a job creator in the midlands. Failing to act in this area demonstrates a lack of vision. If the Minister does one thing in his term in office, he should work with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to push this issue. It is a pity the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is not present as I would like to hear what he has to say on the matter. His absence is very disappointing.

Our large agriculture sector means we have one of the best biogas resources in the European Union. Again, we have hardly developed that resource and we must move ahead with it. We must have at least 500,000 electric cars on the road by 2030. Considering the tiny number we have to date, albeit one that is improving, we must move ahead with this technology very quickly. There is a welcome commitment for €100 million for cycleways. The Minister must involve local authorities in this because without them, these facilities will not be developed.

Steps have been taken, but we must improve and work quicker. There must be political will from this House to drive it.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I express my disappointment that there are not senior Ministers present for this discussion on such a vital topic. Nobody would deny that the Minister is absolutely committed to addressing climate change. His integrity in respect of the issue is beyond question. His interaction with the Joint Committee on Climate Action was one of quality and there was a clear commitment on his part to seek to tackle climate change in a systematic way.

Notwithstanding that, there are certain obligations under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. That is why we are having these statements today. The Act prescribes that details on emissions, inventories and projections should be published. We did not hear from the Minister or Ministers of State clearly defined projections as to how they proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are now at the stage where the annual transition statement is disconcerting in how it depicts a lot of positive action, without stating clearly how far this country is off course in tackling climate change. We are moving in the wrong direction in climate pollution. Emissions are rising, rather than falling, contrary to all targets, legal obligations and political commitments. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Ireland agreed to cut emissions by 5% per annum from 2018 until 2050.

Ireland is one of just two EU member states that will not meet these commitments. There is without question a need for radical action. We have to see a greater sense of urgency from the Government in dealing with the challenges we face. It must involve a clear policy on carbon budgets. Secretaries General have come before the Joint Committee on Climate Action. It has to be said that, in the case of most Departments, there is no sense of urgency about a set of mitigation policies that would contribute to the cutting of emissions. It was made clear in the recent special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we had a narrow window of opportunity to enable global warming to stabilise gradually at 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. It has been well articulated that this will require unprecedented changes within the next 12 years. We have to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. We have to transition to net zero emissions globally by around 2050.

According to the Minister, the EPA is in the process of updating its projections for greenhouse gas emissions to reflect the impact of a higher level of policy ambition. For example, the climate action commitments contained in the national development plan are being factored in. I think we need to see that happen sooner rather than later. We need to ensure that when this Parliament reports on the findings of the Citizens' Assembly, the policy outcomes that will result from the assembly's recommendations are more radical than, or at least equal to, those recommendations. We need to see more radical action at community level in respect of the potential to use wind energy and for the deep retrofitting of houses. Communities need to be helped to own and buy into energy projects. As we have articulated at the joint committee, there are numerous possibilities to do things across the agriculture and environment sectors, as well as others. They can be measured. Programmes should be under way within the next three months. If we do not start to act on a quarterly basis, with proper metrics and proper targeting, we will be using the same language again this time next year.

As the economy grows, there will be challenges. For example, the effect of increases in greenhouse gas emissions will need to be offset. The only way to do it is by ensuring the funds readily available to the Government are used in a way that will facilitate people on the ground who want to take radical action. It is clear from the report of the Citizens' Assembly that people are of a mind to take radical action. We need to put in place policies that will be backed up by proper funding and allow people to start to take action at all levels, down to community level. That means transitioning away from diesel and petrol vehicles towards electric vehicles and providing for the deep retrofitting of older housing stock, to mention just two examples of something that could be done in a very short space of time with some energy and commitment. If we are all here this time next year, when the country is meeting its obligations under the annual transition statement, we will need to give greater political urgency to this matter. By this time next year, we must ensure we will have reached a set of targets collectively and in a non-partisan way that will enable us to say we are seeing clear evidence of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. If we do not achieve these targets, we will be on a hiding to nothing.

2:10 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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When David Attenborough spoke at the climate summit in Poland earlier this week, he summed up very well the situation the world was facing. He said:

Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world are on the horizon.

In fact, the extinction of much of the natural world is not just on the horizon, it has already taken place. The devastating consequences of human action organised on the basis of capitalism, including debt and hunger on a mass scale, are already evident. I suggest the most powerful statement heard in Poland this week was made by a 15 year old Swedish school student, Greta Thunberg. She has been on a school student strike since August, at first all week and subsequently for one day a week. Over 20,000 school students around the world have participated in the strike. She spoke powerfully about this issue. She said:

Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago ... We have to understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our voices heard ... For 25 years, countless people have come to the UN climate conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.

That sums it up for me. It also sums up the situation we face in Ireland.

The outcome of the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly's on this issue, like the outcome of its deliberations on the repeal of the eighth amendment, has demonstrated that ordinary people are far ahead of establishment politicians on issues such as the environment. I remind the House that 100% of the members of the assembly voted in favour of the State taking a leadership role in tackling climate change, 97% voted in favour of the establishment of a new independent body to ensure climate change would be at the centre of policy making and 92% voted in favour of prioritising investment in public transport over investment in road infrastructure. The Government and the political establishment are continuing to fiddle while the planet burns. Their rhetoric is not backed up by any action. This is reflected in the fact that Ireland is second to last in the European Union in meeting targets. It is also reflected in the EPA's projections which show that we will achieve a 1% reduction by 2020, even though our reduction target is 20%. If the world's leaders, including the Government, are left to their own devices, they will continue on the road to absolute disaster.

I would like to speak about three biggest areas when it comes to emissions. Precious little is being done in the agriculture sector. The Government is not interested in touching the vested interests in areas such as agribusiness. There is a need for incentives to facilitate a radical shift away from agriculture based on dairy farming.

Nothing is being done in the transport sector. The Government bangs on about electric cars, but they are not the answer because they cause loads of problems. The processes used to extract the rare earth elements needed for electric vehicles are causing significant environmental problems in China. Instead, a different model of transport is needed. Fundamentally, we need a public transport model. The process being driven by the Government is furthering privatisation in the transport sector. It should be investing in public transport. The Luxembourg Government announced yesterday that it would make public train and bus travel free across that country. It follows its counterpart in Estonia in taking such an approach. If the Government were serious about tackling climate change, it would announce that Ireland was next.

In the energy sector the Government is objecting and seeking to block the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 and the Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill 2017 which are before the committee. The aim of the legislation is to block the further extraction of fossil fuels. There is no significant investment in renewable energy resources, even though it is clear that public investment is needed. The development of the Shannon LNG terminal is a further example of investment in fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when we need to be moving away from such infrastructure as part of a rapid and just transition to a zero carbon based economy. Two thirds of the gas that will be imported for the Shannon LNG terminal will be fracked gas from the United States which comes with various extra problems.

My conclusion is that we need a mass movement on this issue. That movement needs to be armed with an eco-socialist programme. It is only by taking the profits of the vested interests - big oil and gas producers and car manufacturers - out of the agenda and only on the basis of public investment, public ownership and democratic planning that we can take the drastic action we need to turn our world around.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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It is clear from the most recent EPA figures that there has almost been zero movement on the issue of climate action in Ireland and that the policies being lauded as achieving progress are actually making things worse. Contrary to the views of the chief scientific adviser, business as usual cannot continue if we want to tackle global warming. There is no technological fix.

Endless and exponential growth is incompatible with the survival of the human species. Natural gas is not a bridge fuel to a cleaner future. The sustainable expansion of the dairy herd is impossible. Burning wood for energy is not carbon neutral. Rail, not roads, are the future of clean transport. Electric cars are not the solution as long as they primarily run on oil, gas, peat and coal. The concept of biogas is a laughing stock among the scientific community. It was difficult to listen to Mary Robinson go unchallenged on "Morning Ireland" as she towed the Government line on the issue of climate change.

Agriculture is so bad that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been massaging the numbers. In June 2018, he tried to make out the improved efficiency in the dairy sector meant even though the herd increased by 22% between 2012 and 2016, emissions had increased by only 8%. In reality, total agricultural emissions were up by 8% in this period and dairy emissions were up by 24%. It means the millions we spend on efficiency and research in the dairy sector have produced no improvements since 2009. Beef and dairy are the most polluting and water intensive protein sources on the planet. They promote food insecurity. Our agricultural emissions are rising. We grow very few vegetables and little organic food. Our water and rivers are polluted. The fish, bees and insects are dying and the Government is doing very little to address these issues. Even Bord Bia's Origin Green programme is packed full of some of the worst polluters in the country.

Transport saw a 2.4% increase in 2017 after four successive years of increases. There are no hybrid or electric buses in Ireland and we are about to see almost 200 more filthy diesel buses come on the scene. The Government has been talking about using compressed natural gas in trucks and buses, shutting down rail lines and building more roads for cars. The housing crisis is making people commute from further and further away. For many the cost, dearth of services and lack of frequency of services makes driving the only choice. We are well behind on adopting electric cars. However, until we further decarbonise our electricity, it is not the worst of our problems. Moneypoint has been shut down for over two months now, supplying only 3% of the island's electricity through the burning of gas. Seeing that we are getting by just fine without burning coal, why are we considering firing up the turbines again for another six years? The plan to convert our peat and coal plants to burn woody biomass and gas is a disaster for global warming. Woody biomass is not carbon neutral. It is a highly inefficient mode of power generation that releases stored carbon into the atmosphere. Even under the most well managed forestry regime, it will not be recaptured for at least 50 years. We do not have 50 years; we have 12. All around Europe new gas terminals are being built by US companies and financed by the EU. The Government is spinning the fraudulent nonsense that gas is a transition fuel to renewable gas. The US national security adviser John Bolton, is screaming that the EU has to stop buying evil Russian gas and should be buying it from saintly Israel and the US in the interest of global freedom and so-called democracy. Royal Dutch Shell invented the idea of gas as a bridge fuel in 2001. Nearly 20 years later we are saying the same thing while globally gas production is sky-rocketing. Natural gas is a filthy fossil fuel. Many scientific studies have shown that over its life cycle shale gas is as detrimental to global warming as coal. This is why we are building infrastructure and planning to put commercial vehicles on our power plants.

The Government is working for the extraction industry, which is destroying the planet, and not for the people who are suffering as a result. It is not just perpetuating an injustice on the Irish who will suffer tomorrow as a result of this inaction. The global south, which pollutes the least, is suffering right now from starvation, drought, extreme weather events, forced migration and debt. What is worse, our tax haven status allows us to rob the global south twice. In 2012, the last year we have figures for, $2 trillion flowed into developing countries from the global north in aid, investment and loans. The same year, $5 trillion flowed from the south to the north. The worst problems were illicit tax flows to tax havens in countries such as Ireland and Luxembourg. I am not shooting the Minister. He just got the job. It will be great if he will be able to make a difference. I feel sorry for the Minister having to listen to the likes of Labour Party Deputies who did nothing for five years talking about climate change now. I wish the Minister well. I respect him but he has a big job on his hands.

2:20 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I call on Deputy Fitzmaurice. We have one other speaker left to contribute after that. I remind Members that for reasons outside my control, the time remaining is very limited. There are seven minutes and 33 seconds before the Minister is called. I did not arrange it and I know Deputy Fitzmaurice did not arrange it either.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I will split my time with Deputy Catherine Martin.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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We need to put things into context. In the past seven or eight years, 400,000 more people are working in Ireland. If we put wings on them, we will have a bigger carbon footprint. We have to make sure whatever measures are introduced do not hit people the wrong way, especially those from the poorer sections of our community. Many things can be done to help income. Unfortunately the dairy sector has grown in parts of the country. The Department's plan was to get rid of the beef industry because it is on its knees and to try to plant the west of Ireland. If Fine Gael continues on the road of previous Governments of giving big landlord farmers €140,000 and €150,000 in CAP funding and giving small farmers €3,000 or €4,000, it will destroy the west of Ireland. We have asked for somebody to come forward. I would like to talk to the people who do the figures. I ask the Minister to facilitate it. Many farmers around the country have many trees that are not even accounted for. A tree audit needs to be done to make sure we are not missing out. We are not doing what we need to do.

The Government, like previous Governments, is aiding and abetting feedlots around the country, some of them with 35,000 cattle and absolutely no land to back it up. One always had at least an acre of land for an animal. We had a Bill on microgeneration. There has been push-back on it.

I listen to people who talk about the environment, global warming and climate change. Last weekend about 400 people attended an event. I checked the figures for air travel. Will we look at the idea of whether we need to go on planes all the time? How much carbon are they creating? There seems to be a focus on rural Ireland and a suggestion that it is the polluter of the world. Whether people like it or not, they will have to eat meat and vegetables will be produced. Rural Ireland will need to survive. Rural Ireland is doing its part. Much can be done through Government initiatives. We talked about biogas and anaerobic digesters. A drying system would help save water. When planning permission is submitted, environmentalists object. For years we have listened to the debate about importing €6 billion worth of fossil fuels. The reality is we were told Bord na Móna is closing down. What will we do? We will bring biomass in from Africa, Brazil and other countries. Evaluation is required. If one considers the situation concerning nitrates allowances, most farmers use only 60% to 70% of their nitrates allowance. The big barons are given derogations. A two-pronged approach is required. It is doing harm to the family farm. We will solve nothing if we do not concentrate on the traditionally farmed family farm and forget about landlordism, which is where we are headed, aided and abetted by Government incentives. The west of Ireland will not become the dumping ground for the carbon of the country.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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David Attenborough's words at COP24 earlier this week echoed around the world when he stated that the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. Regrettably the Government is full of announcements and plans and we have seen very little real action. Senior Ministers cannot even be bothered to turn up for these statements. It shows their complete lack of interest in the most urgent challenge facing humanity. Sometimes I feel my eight year old daughter has more interest in and shows more climate change action than some of the Ministers in the Government. It is the children who are born now who will be affected. We are not talking about our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It is children who are born now who will suffer.

The Government's national mitigation plan has 41 actions due for 2018, yet 20 of them are reported in the annual transition statement as not having been completed. The Government's national development plan, the vaunted Project Ireland 2040, was not even climate proofed. All the while, the Government's progress in decreasing our emissions towards the targets we have committed to has been glacially slow. It has been dragged kicking and screaming into even the tiniest of climate action measures. The Government's rhetoric keeps getting stronger and louder, but its actions continue to fail, as exemplified by the determination to build a third runway at Dublin Airport, build even more motorways across the country and extract more oil and gas from our seas.

The Environmental Protection Agency's emissions statistics released yesterday show that while our overall greenhouse gas emissions decreased marginally from 2016 to 2017, they are not falling fast enough. This change, which is less than 1%, can be primarily attributed to the reduced use of Moneypoint power station and a warm winter in 2017, rather than any new policy measures from Government. The bottom line is that we are way off target.

It is not all doom and gloom. There is a path and there are actions that can be taken if there is the political will and courage to take them. We need political courage from everyone in this House to call for and agree on a path for our country. There is no room for populist politics in the real climate action that is needed. The Government needs to make a seismic shift from concentration on road infrastructure to focusing on spending on public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure. It needs to invest in real alternatives to cars in cities and rural areas. The Government needs to focus on a sustainable model of land use based on diversification, food security, carbon efficiency and the protection of biodiversity, rather than focusing solely on agriculture that seeks to meet demand for its own sake. We must protect small farmers, young farmers and family farmers. This is essential not only for the environment but also to provide a fairer living for farmers, instead of maintaining astatus quothat is catered to and serves only the big meat processors and retailers at the cost of the small farmer.

The Government needs to provide real opportunities for people who want to be green and to save energy. It is the Minister's job to make it easy for us to be green. He needs to fast-track Sinn Féin's Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill in order that those who want to invest in solar panels can be paid back for their investment while supplying the grid with clean energy. The Government needs to stop blocking my party's Waste Reduction Bill.

I strongly believe the people of Ireland want to make a real change. The Citizens' Assembly findings showed just how willing and eager Irish people are to turn this into a country that leads on climate action instead of one that is left behind. Despite the Citizens' Assembly and the community organisations and businesses throughout the country that are focused on building a better, cleaner, greener future, it is sadly becoming ever more difficult for even the most ardent optimists among us to believe that this Government has any intention of sincerely tackling climate change.

2:30 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies for participating in this debate. We had a good exchange, as some of the Deputies acknowledged, for two and a half hours yesterday in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. That committee, as the House will be aware, has been appointed to report back by the end of January on how we should respond to the various reports on climate change, including the report of the Citizens' Assembly. It will also report on the reality that every Deputy has recognised that we are 95% off the target that was set. The truth is that when the economy started to recover, the structural changes that we needed in our economy had not been made. That is reflected in the consistent numbers, particularly for agriculture, industry and transport. Even in areas such as the public service, for which we are directly responsible, the figures presented in yesterday's report were also bad.

I welcome that the joint committee is doing this work. I view the committee as a major ally in persuading the wider public of the importance of what we are trying to do here. I hope we can achieve an all-party consensus on some of the issues to which everyone knows we must face up. The Green Party and the Taoiseach have signalled the importance of having in place a carbon price trajectory if people are to make the right decisions about the sort of infrastructure to which they commit in their own lives. They will be locked into a high-carbon intensity if we do not make the right decisions. For instance, every vehicle on the road today will be replaced by 2030. The decisions that are made on what replaces them will be very important in that sector. The vast majority of homes have energy ratings of D and worse. Together we must find a way to make the required transition in the residential sector, either through community initiatives or smart-funding packages because the State cannot fund the €50 billion that will be needed. We have serious challenges across all sectors.

Deputy Wallace, whom I respect greatly in much of what he says, tried to project that the policies that have been adopted are getting us nowhere. That is an unfair assessment. Yesterday's numbers for 2017 reflected a bad outcome but the same projections by the same people show that the impact of policies will result in a significant increase in renewable energy. As the Deputy correctly stated, renewables are at the heart of the matter. Our electricity system will increase use of renewables from 30% to 55%. Our emissions will fall cumulatively by 22 million tonnes, closing approximately half of the gap that we must meet as a result of the NDP. We are making progress but it is simply not enough. There is no point - I am not talking about Deputy Wallace - in coming in and lecturing us as if nothing is happening, while not putting forward initiatives that can help us move it on. We must have an honest debate.

Some developments are very good but we need to accelerate them. We cannot fund some other changes. Many Deputies appear to believe that the State can fund all the change required, whether in agriculture, residential buildings or small business. The State cannot fund it all. This is about behavioural change and we all have to change. Every one of us, from the citizen and the enterprise to the public service, has to take this seriously. It will be important that we do so.

Deputy Stanley, who is no longer present, correctly emphasised the economic opportunities and new apprenticeships that can be developed. He also noted the changing face of energy and its implications for enterprise and the importance of microgeneration. These are important elements but there is another side to this issue. Deputy Stanley was remarkably silent on the challenge that both the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party put up to the House, namely, that we agree on a carbon price trajectory. If we are serious about it, that will be a significant element. There is no point in sticking our heads in the sand about the introduction of a carbon price. The ESRI, which many respect and quote, has stated carbon pricing could result in a 10% reduction in emissions from transport. It has shown what the impact would be right across various sectors. It has also shown that its impact would be greater on rich families than on poor families. Analysis has been done that show carbon pricing is not an unfair way of tackling climate change.

A carbon price also creates proceeds. Many Deputies correctly stated that the use of those proceeds must be seen to be fair, must be spread across the entire community and must address what many refer to as a just transition. We must ensure that regions or sectors that are particularly disrupted receive some of these resources to help them make the move to the new sectors.

Deputy Fitzmaurice, who is no longer here, made an interesting point that aeroplanes and ships are not counted. That is undoubtedly partly because 80% of the output of agriculture, the sector the Deputy was defending, is exported. The exclusion of planes and ships from the EU counting is related to it being a trading nation.

Deputy Wallace said transition fuels are fraudulent. Others say we should keep everything in the ground. The truth is that even in the most optimistic scenarios there will be use of fossil fuels. Our choice really is whether we are dependent on Russian or Arab sources for them or whether we allow some to come from domestic sources. While climate change is really important, energy security is also important. We have to take a balanced approach.

I agree with many speakers who have said that we need to do a great deal more. Even the national development plan will only get us half way there. We need to deliver it and underpin it with many micro policies that make the difference. That is the work I have to do.

I thank the Deputies for wishing me well. Even those critical of what the Government is doing have generally wished me a fair wind in seeking to evolve policy in this area. I look forward to working with Deputies across the House. There is no doubt that this cannot be delivered by Government. There is no solution in Adelaide Road no more than in Merrion Street that will solve this. This has to be solved by engagement right across our community. That is one thing we will have to work on in particular. This is about far more than economics and economic tools. I am familiar with economic tools. They are part of the familiar toolbox of public policy but they will not be enough. Those who spoke about engaging with communities and getting bottom-up initiatives are absolutely right. This will not happen by top-down change; it has to be a partnership. It will be difficult to forge because none of this is easy. If it were easy, it would have been done long ago – that is the reality. This is difficult stuff. We have to persuade people to do things differently. Yet, the prize is extraordinary.

I will go back to this point. This was very much underlined in Katowice during the week. I hope to be back there next week to see a rulebook concluded in the final negotiations. One point made there was stark. I have said it previously and I repeat it now. The window is closing quickly for us to do anything about this. We have an opportunity now. If we let this slip while we are in a position to address it, we will have seriously failed the next generation and failed in our responsibilities to people who are far poorer than we are.

The second point is more encouraging. Most of the technologies we need are either developed or in development. We are not asking an impossible thing. The transition will be difficult but at the end of the transition we will have a better more connected community, a healthier way of living and a better management of the scarce resources of the earth that we are responsible for husbanding. There is an incredible prize as well as major challenge at stake. I hope that by working together with all Members, especially those of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action and Environment, we can come forward with a package that will not only draw substantial support but also impact on the major changes we have to make.