Thursday, 9 May 2019
Report of Joint Committee on Climate Action: Motion
That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action entitled Climate Change: A Cross-Party Consensus on Climate Action, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 29th March, 2019.
This is an important opportunity to acknowledge the work of Deputy Hildegarde Naughton and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. I think the whole House has recognised that this is a really important subject. It has rightly been described as the greatest challenge facing humanity. I had the benefit of being at the conference in Poland where people from the youngest student to the oldest environmentalist commented on the scale of the challenge we face and the urgency with which we must address it. This country has seen some extraordinary changes in the past decade. One of the ways we have succeeded in making change is by using the Citizens' Assembly and the all-party Oireachtas committee approach as a way, not of getting full consensus, but of creating a significant degree of common ground on issues that present real difficulty to our community. We need to think outside the traditional ways we have thought. It is absolutely right that in what is probably the greatest challenge we face and the greatest set of changes we have to make as a community we have adopted the same approach. I acknowledge the work of the Citizens' Assembly that preceded the work of the Oireachtas committee because it exposes the Oireachtas to thinking from outside, which is very healthy, and has provoked our political system to sit down with everyone involved, with people from different backgrounds, to hear views that are challenging at times but yet try to find common ground between them so that we can meet obligations that are very important not only to us but to our global environment. That is what has been achieved by this report. I know it does not have full consensus but there is a great deal of common ground there and many very practical proposals.
Anyone who gets close to studying this issue, and I have to admit that it is only since I was appointed to this post that I have given it the level of attention it deserves, will see that we are approaching a tipping point in respect of climate deterioration and things will deteriorate very rapidly unless we move very swiftly. The window of opportunity to do that is fast closing. We come to that from the unenviable situation of being way off target. We will be approaching 2020 with the expectation that far from having reduced our emissions by 20% as was expected we will probably be down by only 1%. That is a massive disappointment. As the economy has started to recover the link between economic prosperity and carbon emissions has not been broken. Substantial increases in emissions, particularly in agriculture and industry, have accompanied the recovery.
A great urgency has entered this debate not only in this House but further afield as we saw in the protests by school students and the increasing urgency of demands for action from us and from other parliaments around the world. It is justified that a level of urgency be injected into this debate. When we speak of an emergency people often think of something unexpected that can be resolved through a sustained effort for a relatively short time. This is not an emergency of that sort. This is a much more challenging emergency in that we must change our behaviour in profound ways and do so on a sustained basis. Our targets for 2030 represent a 2% per annum reduction in emissions that we need to make. From 2030 to 2050 that will accelerate massively to deliver a 7% reduction per annum. This is going to be a sustained challenge for our communities, homes, ways of travel and working, to change those in such a way that we can meet the obligations.
There is a huge responsibility and Government must put together the whole of government system to respond effectively to this report from the Oireachtas committee and put us on a trajectory to hit our targets and achieve the sort of ambitions we want to set for 2050. The one asset of my period in government, which I hope will be of advantage to me in taking on this challenge, is that when we faced the employment crisis we had to enlist support across Government and we used the Office of the Taoiseach and the Department of which I was then Minister to get a level of ambition and co-ordination to meet the challenge. That experience is valuable and I will adopt the same approach of having very rigorous, well-defined targets with clear responsibility, tracking their impact and adapting each year as we go to ensure that we are achieving them.
The committee's work is really valuable in shaping our direction of travel. It has been very clear in its demand for a new approach to governance and to political accountability which is absolutely appropriate. It has dealt very effectively with renewable power, retrofitting, carbon pricing and many other individual sectors such as transport and agriculture which we cannot go into in the time available. Possibly the most important sections are those which recognise this is something very different from designing policy to be implemented. This involves community engagement and getting the confidence that there will be a just transition as we undertake difficult changes that will affect every home and individual. That will be an important part of it. This is not the sort of emergency where some individual or Minister is given emergency powers which set aside normal parliamentary procedures or accountability to do something for a short time. This is an emergency where we have to orchestrate our whole community to adopt a different way of dealing with issues. That will be really challenging. It will be important that we frame that debate, get action and do not divide communities into rural versus urban or farming versus others. There is a genuine risk of pitting one group against another instead of trying to find a way of bringing everyone together toward a shared goal and a sense of confidence that the burden will be shared fairly.
Our own process is well advanced. I started with a consultation which was very useful and several Deputies participated. I have had 11 interdepartmental teams considering very particular areas where there are opportunities to act effectively. We have designed a marginal abatement cost, MAC, curve, looking from the whole of economy point of view at the interventions we could make that would hit our targets and be cost-effective from the community point of view.
That starts to give one an idea of the areas that can make the biggest impact in the short run and at what point different technologies will start to impact. We must be prepared to see them take off and make a significant impact as we go along.
We have made some significant commitments already. We have committed, in response to the committee's request, to a target of 70% renewable power. We have introduced the climate action fund and its first allocation of money is to roll out an electric vehicle charging network so that we begin to see more people having the confidence to purchase electric vehicles. It is very significant that there has been a real surge this year in the number of people buying electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. We are also changing the rules on green procurement because Government as a purchaser of nearly €12 billion in goods is hugely powerful in terms of its capacity to influence the choices that are made throughout the supply chain.
I thank Deputy Hildegarde Naughton and the members of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, many of whom are here this evening, for the work they put into their report. I look forward to co-operating closely with them as we bring forward a Government response which will be renewable each year and will be based on the principle of open debate and feedback.
I thank the Minister for his very positive comments and his emphasis on the need for urgency on this issue. The report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, responding to the Citizen's Assembly report on climate change, was formally launched on 16 April 2019. This report marks the beginning of a new era for climate policy in Ireland. The report represents all-party consensus on many of the tough and ambitious actions the Government must take to address its international climate commitments and go beyond that to become a leader in tackling climate change globally. We as an Oireachtas have shown leadership, bringing all political groupings together to reach strong cross-party support for the practical recommendations outlined in our report. There have been calls for this type of good practice on climate policy to be replicated across Europe.
We know the science around climate change is becoming increasingly urgent. The special report by the Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change, IPCC, on global warming of 1.5° Celsius was the starkest warning yet that we are running out of time to address runaway climate change. In Ireland we are beginning to see some of the initial effects of climate change through extreme weather events, such as flooding, affecting our homes, farms and businesses. Our citizens and, in particular, our young people are mobilising to demand stronger climate action to secure their future. Our Citizen's Assembly was clear in its call for Ireland to do more to address this existential threat. In establishing the joint committee to look at the recommendations of the Citizen's Assembly and in producing our detailed report for action, the Oireachtas has shown that we are listening to Irish citizens, that we take climate change extremely seriously and that we must take strong and immediate action to address it.
I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the great work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action over the last seven months. I commend my committee colleagues, across all political groupings, for their commitment to this process. I express my thanks to Deputies Butler, Corcoran-Kennedy, Pringle, Eamon Ryan, Sherlock, Bríd Smith, Stanley, Deering, Dooley, Heydon, Lahart, Munster, Jack Chambers, Neville and Nolan and to Senators Paul Daly, Devine, Lombard, Marshall and Grace O'Sullivan. Parties should be proud of reaching a strong consensus position on many of the tough actions the Government must take for Ireland to play its part in fairly addressing climate change globally.
The committee's report provides a clear mandate for actions the Government must take to address Ireland's international climate change obligations. It is large and particularly detailed for an Oireachtas report, containing more than 40 priority recommendations for Government and State agencies. It addresses actions across all relevant sectors and proposes a new governance framework for climate policy that will pave the way for more transformational changes in individual sectors. It also covers cross-cutting themes such as incentivising climate action, just transition, citizen engagement and education and communication. The report further highlights the opportunities for Ireland, recognising that there will be new green industries, new jobs and new export opportunities as we transition to a low-carbon economy.
We have tried to make the report accessible to citizens, highlighting the opportunities and co-benefits of low carbon living such as cleaner air, more comfortable homes and healthier lifestyles. We have tried to work with the different sectors, making recommendations that incentivise participants to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is now up to the Government to use this bold political mandate in developing its all-of-Government action plan to feed into Ireland's national energy and climate plan.
I wish to focus on a few areas of the report that have received a lot of attention. Our report recommends new legislation setting ambitious climate and renewable electricity targets, putting Ireland in line with the latest science from the IPCC which calls for net zero emissions globally by 2050. The proposed legislation would also require five year carbon budgets to be devised by a new climate action council which would supersede the existing Climate Change Advisory Council to set a structured pathway for emissions reductions. The report further recommends that responsibility for climate action be centrally co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach. In order to ensure adequate oversight and accountability, the committee recommends a new permanent Oireachtas committee that will hold Ministers and public officials directly to account for performance on climate action. This new governance framework would be truly transformational and would provide a robust structure to ensure that Ireland gets back on track and stays on track in tackling climate change. I urge the Government and the Oireachtas to fast track these legislative changes.
There was broad, cross-party support for setting a long-term price for carbon of €80 by 2030, giving certainty to individuals and businesses to drive the transition towards low-carbon choices, investment and innovation. This should be accompanied by supports and incentives for climate action measures including the protection of those vulnerable to fuel poverty. A public consultation was recommended to help to inform Government's decision on whether to return the revenue to citizens equally as a carbon dividend or to spend it in a targeted manner to address fuel poverty and support climate actions. Those who oppose any increase in the carbon price but criticise Ireland for not meeting its climate targets are pursuing a populist line that is not linked to the reality we face. The vast majority of our political parties recognise that increases in the price of carbon are necessary if we are serious about lowering our emissions trajectory. It would put an increasing cost on greenhouse gas emissions that reflects their social and environmental impact, encouraging business and citizens to pursue lower carbon choices. Increases must, of course, be balanced by enhanced incentives to support households and small businesses to decarbonise such as grant schemes and low interest loans.
In addressing agricultural emissions, the committee was mindful of the importance of this sector to the rural economy as well as the large proportion of our emissions generated by the sector. Members proposed that farmers should be encouraged and supported to engage in climate mitigation measures, some of which should be incentivised through the CAP. We also recommended the implementation of the Teagasc report in full and on-farm measures to reduce emissions and improve the sustainability of farming in Ireland, including through agricultural diversification. Measures to reduce soil carbon emissions and better enhance the carbon sequestration potential of land were also proposed through, for example, sustainable forestry practices, maintaining hedgerows and re-wetting peatlands. The committee also recommended a national strategy for anaerobic digestion.
The report acknowledges the urgent need to retrofit the majority of the housing stock in the State in order to reduce emissions from heating. It recommends a needs assessment to ascertain what is required to deliver this to the planned 45,000 homes per annum and to explore increasing that number to 75,000. On energy, the committee was mindful of the huge potential for expanding renewable energy generation in Ireland, especially off shore, to help us to meet our climate targets. The committee recommended actions to further and better exploit Ireland's plentiful renewable energy resources such as by urgently delivering a regulatory framework for offshore energy generation. The report also recommends measures to enable the participation of citizens in large commercial projects, to promote community led projects and support microgeneration. Developing offshore wind generation should become a priority and I urge Government and the Oireachtas to fast track legislation such as the Marine and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill to ensure a regulatory framework can be put in place as soon as possible to enable an offshore industry to develop. Offshore energy projects can contribute to Ireland's energy mix and help us to meet our 2030 targets.
It has been a privilege to chair the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, which is supporting Ireland to meet its international climate obligations with a view to ultimately becoming a global leader in climate action. This report represents significant political consensus that will help to frame climate policy in Ireland for the next 15 years. It is my earnest hope that the recommendations in this report are implemented as quickly as possible, particularly those recommendations around the establishment of a new and comprehensive framework for climate policy in Ireland. The existing committee will continue its work over the coming year, working to address areas into which we were not able to delve in sufficient detail. Let the committee's report be the start of the ambitious and immediate actions Government will take to get Ireland back on track, and to keep us on track, to meet our international climate change obligations. This is just the beginning. The hardest job of reducing our emissions is yet to come but with continued cross-party support and much work across Government and all sections of our economy and society we can change the dial and ensure Ireland becomes a climate leader.
I move amendment No. 3:
(a) To delete the words “shall take note of” and substitute the words “declares a climate and biodiversity emergency and accepts and endorses”; and
(b) To insert the following after “29th March, 2019”: “and calls for the Citizens’ Assembly to examine how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss.”
Fianna Fáil recognises that the climate crisis is the defining global challenge of our time. We are committed to ensuring that Ireland does its fair share in response to the emergency and we therefore strongly support this landmark, cross-party report of the Oireachtas joint committee, in which I was privileged to participate. I thank the Chair, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, for the way in which she managed the process in addition to all my colleagues on the committee. I also thank the secretariat for the work it put in during the six months of deliberations.
I will start by briefly discussing why we have this report. The joint committee was established to respond to the 17 recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. It is important to be clear on why the Citizens' Assembly was called on to address this issue and on why the committee took such time to examine its proposals and put forward detailed recommendations. This House has heard on several occasions that global warming has to be limited to below 2°C. Unless we cut emissions significantly by 2030, the consequences will be dire. Like other parties, Fianna Fáil has tabled an amendment, which I have moved, that calls for the declaration of a climate emergency.
We must recognise, however, that declaring an emergency does not paint the full picture. This report is before us because the Government has knowingly and repeatedly failed to put in place a proper climate strategy and to implement policies that would see Ireland's pollution emissions reduce. As a result, Ireland will not meet its EU 2020 climate and renewables targets. We are on track to miss our 2020 target by an abysmal 95% and our 2030 commitments are already at risk. Compliance costs to try to close the gap are likely to be in the hundreds of millions. Ireland is now heralded as the worst performing country in Europe for action on climate change. It is the Irish public who will suffer most from the significant environmental, economic and health impacts arising from a failure to decarbonise.
Notwithstanding that appalling record, I notice that in one of the Taoiseach's many communications on Twitter he is today heralding the fact that there has been some reductions as a result of the lack of use of the plant at Moneypoint as if this is something to be celebrated. It is anything but. It is a full recognition of our failures so far. To be clear, the recommendations in the joint committee's report are absolutely necessary not only because we have a global climate crisis, but because we have a climate action crisis here in Ireland. The State is very far from being a leader; it is on life support. This committee has done its duty, however, and come forward with necessary actions which this Government must adopt in full.
Fianna Fáil does not believe that the State's response to the climate crisis can ever be treated as purely a technical, academic exercise. Social justice must be at the core of climate action. The report has rightly focused on the need for a just transition and for those most exposed and most in need of assistance to be put first. The social consequences of climate action should be tackled first and not treated as an afterthought. It is for this reason that Fianna Fáil was particularly strong on the impacts of a carbon tax increase and demanded that the most vulnerable be protected first, with revenues ring-fenced and used to support those not in a position to transition immediately from fossil fuels.
Fianna Fáil's priority was that we would not have the sort of vague promises and window dressing that has been a hallmark of this Government's response to climate change. We have witnessed unprecedented student protest for concentrated and commensurate action. We need an honest response. Fianna Fáil has therefore sought to ensure that committee recommendations are SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. The science demands measurable action, not living documents. It is vital that we are able to track progress across Departments and relevant public bodies. We must see these deadlines in the Minister's forthcoming plan. Having previously put forward legislation on both new targets and expanding the responsibilities of our Climate Change Advisory Council, Fianna Fáil has long been clear on the need for a clear course of action, which is a legally binding objective in line with the Paris agreement. I very much welcome the recommendation that we follow the example of the UK and put a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 in legislation together with the new renewables target and a disciplined budgeting approach.
Fianna Fáil also focused on practical measures which would see immediate benefits for citizens and business. This means much greater investment in retrofitting and solar for more energy efficient homes, making community energy schemes and benefits mandatory for renewable projects, new incentives including CAP measures to help farmers fight climate change at farm level, the establishment of an independent just transition task force to make sure we decarbonise in a way that is fair to the workers and communities most affected and new supports to encourage the roll-out of electric cars and buses and greater participation in cycling.
At international level, the Government must ensure that Ireland supports rather than hinders greater EU ambition but we are hearing the opposite is the case. It has been widely reported today that Ireland has refused to join with other progressive member states in pushing for greater EU climate ambition at today's summit on the future of Europe in Romania.
I also want to highlight the second part of Fianna Fáil's amendment which calls for both a climate and biodiversity emergency to be declared and for biodiversity loss to be examined by the Citizens' Assembly. It is unfortunate that we do not have the opportunity to discuss fully the extremely grave warnings published this week in a global assessment report on devastation of species and habitats. In short, biodiversity loss is an existential threat that is fundamentally linked to the climate crisis and Ireland's response is similarly lacking. The current national biodiversity action plan goes nowhere near far enough. When it comes to conserving our biodiversity and responding to the global assessment report, the existential approach of the Government on climate action must not be repeated. A co-ordinated strategy which integrates biodiversity objectives into policy decisions is needed across all relevant Departments and public bodies. The Government must ensure that environmental laws are enforced and align policy implementation and planning with necessary progress on the sustainable development goals. We also need significantly increased investment in habitat restoration and improved public engagement on the climate and biodiversity crises. The Government should urgently progress measures in the committee report which relate to the protection of our forests, peatlands and soils. Now that we have completed the examination of the Citizens' Assembly's conclusions on the climate crisis we should call for the State's response to biodiversity loss to be similarly integrated, as noted in the amendment.
All of the recommendations in this report must be reflected in the Minister's forthcoming plan, particularly those relating to biodiversity. These must feed into the existing national mitigation plan and necessary legislation on governance and accountability must be introduced before the summer break. The report is a welcome initial step which, if implemented, will allow Ireland to get back on track and bring to an end our laggardly response to climate change.
Sinn Féin's amendment No. 4 states:
To insert the following after “29th March, 2019”:“— however, rejects the endorsement of an increase in the existing carbon tax; and
— declares a climate and ecological emergency.”
I welcome the opportunity to address this motion. Sinn Féin is fully committed to climate action. We recognise the reality that we are living in the middle of a climate crisis which will spiral out of control if we do not take immediate and radical action.
The time for talking is over. We are dedicated to taking action that is ambitious and based on a just transition towards a sustainable, green economy. No worker, family or community can be left behind. That is why Sinn Féin is calling on the Government and this House to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. Climate action should not be viewed as a burden. We should see it as an opportunity to create a stronger, more sustainable economy for everyone. To do that, however, we have no option but to radically transform our society and economy. We have a fantastic opportunity to invest in towns and villages in rural areas which have for a very long time been neglected. We need a genuine transformation to revitalise rural communities. We can achieve that objective. What we do not want is to see a transition that places an unfair burden on working families through regressive taxation. We do not want to see a transition based on private market solutions that push thousands more families into fuel poverty. We cannot allow climate action to turn into some sort of green austerity where taxes increase and workers lose their jobs.
Sinn Féin is committed to climate action and we are willing to work with every group here on a cross-party basis, as we have done. At the Joint Committee on Climate Action we did achieve consensus on the vast majority of substantive issues behind climate change. However, we diverged when it came to agreeing to certain solutions to the problem, particularly in the areas of afforestation, power, waste, a just transition and carbon tax. My party also wants to be more ambitious in producing power from renewables. For that reason, we felt it was necessary to produce our own minority report. We believe the majority report fails to deal fully with the principles of a just transition. In our minority report we call for a just transition in line with the International Labour Organization's framework. This is essential to ensure ordinary people will not be left behind, which we have as a key recommendation. Just last week we saw Bord na Móna announce that a total of 200 workers had been made redundant this year, with 240 more to lose their jobs by the end of the year. That is having a significant effect on places in the midlands such as counties Laois and Offaly. While we all agree that we must move away from peat production, it is essential that we transition to an alternative that is environmentally sustainable and that will not drive down the standard of employment for workers. That is why Sinn Féin is proposing that we phase out peat by transitioning towards renewables such as biomass, biogas, solar and wind energy. While it is positive that some peat plants have already started converting to biomass, we have not established a native biomass industry on a scale that can create the supply chains required to support it and supply the raw material. Instead, we are up importing fuel from across the globe to power these plants. That has carbon footprint implications.
With regard to biogas, Germany has over 8,000 such plants, while England has over 600. We have a problem here with agricultural waste. We have a large agriculture sector and need to deal with this to do things more sustainably. We are repeatedly seeking derogations from the European Commission for slurry spreading instead of using biogas as a sustainable way of utilising this material to create sustainable energy. Our large agriculture sector means that we have one of the best biogas resources in the European Union, but we are not taking advantage of it. We are only starting to do so. We have one plant that is supplying gas to the town of Athy. Despite this great potential, the midlands are in danger of becoming a rust belt. We need to do this quickly. Sinn Féin is arguing that we should provide Bord na Móna with the substantial State and EU funding that it is seeking to make the transition from brown to green industries through biomass, biogas and so on. We also have potential in Ireland for wind, wave, hydro and solar energy. A recent report by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, estimates that a €1 billion euro investment by the State would lead to the creation of 11,000 net jobs in solar energy, 4,400 jobs in wind energy and over 18,000 jobs in retrofitting homes. That is a great need. We have an opportunity to enable Ireland to become secure in its energy supply, instead of importing up to €5 billion worth of fossil fuels each year and continuing to create the amount of pollution we currently create. There is great potential to move towards a green economy based on good employment and a sustainable environment. Unfortunately, the report fails in some aspects to deal fully with the ambitious just transition that we need.
Sinn Féin is clear and unambiguous that it is absolutely opposed to an increase in carbon tax. The international evidence does not show that carbon taxes have worked. Since the introduction of a carbon tax in Ireland in 2010, emissions have actually increased. Sinn Féin will not support a policy that would multiply the carbon tax by up to four times its current rate. Householders are already paying €52.67 extra in carbon taxes on a tonne of coal. That figure will increase to €208 under what is planned. There are 400,000 families across the State living in fuel poverty and any increase in carbon tax would force thousands more into fuel poverty. Heating one's home in winter time is not a luxury. We are collecting substantial amounts by way of carbon tax. Sinn Féin wants the existing carbon tax we currently bring in each year to be ring-fenced for retrofitting homes, which would help people to reduce their energy use and bills in a positive way, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the homes in the greatest need of retrofitting, with the worst energy ratings, are also the lowest income households. We must get our heads around this key point. More often than not, those on the lowest incomes live in the homes with the least insulation and that are least energy efficient. They have very high energy bills. We cannot expect families and their communities to change their behaviour without giving them a viable alternative to which to transition. We cannot tell people in rural villages and towns to use their cars less when they do not have any public transport available. We cannot expect people in the city to use electric cars when we do not have the required networks to charge them. In its minority report Sinn Féin has set an ambitious target of achieving a figure of 80% for renewable energy by 2030. We believe that is achievable. It is good that the majority report includes a figure of 70%, for which we pushed, but we believe we can go 10% further. That is completely achievable and contingent on the basis that we work together to develop innovative policies. We should be ambitious and see if we can set the figure of 70% as the baseline and push it further.
My office has put forward a Bill on microgeneration, which is mainstream in Germany, Italy and many other European countries. The Bill would allow families, small businesses and communities to generate their own electricity and sell the excess to the grid. It is through these simple, straightforward ideas that we can move away from a high carbon economy. This is an issue of fairness and sustainability. That is what we must get right. We must ensure those who are the least to blame for the climate crisis are not the ones who will end up paying the highest financial cost through a new green austerity programme. The transition to a low carbon economy cannot be left to the whims of the private market; it must be led by a public vision supported by public investment. It must involve all public bodies, including local authorities, the Government and all other State agencies. That is the approach we need to take.
I congratulate the committee on its work, particularly the Chairman, Deputy Naughton. Deputy Sherlock represented the Labour Party on the committee. Unfortunately, he cannot be here because his wife gave birth to a baby this week, adding to the world population crisis.
The climate challenge facing Ireland boils down to one simple thing: greenhouse gas emissions. The economy is based on burning fossil fuels. We burn oil, gas and peat for electricity generation, industrial processes and home heating and power almost all transport. Burning fossil fuels releases large quantities of carbon dioxide which is the main greenhouse gas. Other economic activities such as farming also generate methane, nitrous oxide and F-gases, all of which are greenhouse gases.
The bottom line is that our total greenhouse gas emissions are 60 million tonnes per year. The EPA conducts studies to determine where the emissions come from. A third comes from farming, 19% from transport, 19% from electricity generation and 10% from home heating while the remainder come from other sources such as manufacturing, industrial processes and waste. Our international commitment under the Paris Agreement is to get our greenhouse gas emissions down to 33 million tonnes per year by 2030. This is not a political target. It is based on the best science. Greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for decades. Our 60 million tonnes of emissions are cumulative so it should be no surprise that with almost 8 billion people on Earth, we have reached and far exceeded the ability of natural processes to absorb these emissions.
There will only be one economy in the future and that will be an economy that operates on a carbon-neutral basis. We are facing an environment and climate emergency and Labour believes the Government should elevate its concern with climate to the status of a national emergency until we have taken serious steps towards reducing our carbon emissions. Carbon emissions and the destruction of natural habitats are the root cause of the loss of plant and animal species, which is as much of a problem in Ireland as it is in other countries. Declarations are not enough. We must have concrete proposals to reduce our emissions in each and every sector of the economy. Fine Gael keeps saying it will reverse the trajectory of Ireland's rising emissions but we have not seen anything like the seriousness of action that is needed. Ireland's emissions per person are amongst the highest of any country. We are behind many other European countries in taking action and we urgently need to catch up.
Labour's core concern throughout the discussion on climate change is that workers and communities could be made worse off. Labour has joined with ICTU and individual trade unions in calling for a just transition approach. This means making sure that workers can move to new quality, sustainable jobs if their industries are going to decline due to reduction in our use of fossil fuels. Bord na Móna workers are one obvious example. Labour called for a just transition task force to be set up, along with a fund, to make sure that we create new good jobs in the midlands to ensure that communities there are not destroyed economically by the loss of hundreds of good jobs in Bord na Móna. The same just transition approach should be taken across the board. Will the Government establish a national just transition task force in 2019 with an independent chair and membership drawn from trade unions, employers and the community sector, as the report recommends?
Labour believes that we can combine serious action on climate with serious action on poverty and inequality. There is no doubt that the transition to a carbon-neutral economy will require dramatic changes but we can use that as an opportunity to change our economy for the better. We can eliminate fuel poverty by putting serious investment into home insulation and retrofitting and by making sure all new housing uses the best possible insulation. That would reduce carbon emissions and reduce poverty. If all homes reduced heating emissions to zero and used electricity from sustainable wind power, this would meet 9% of the total emissions reductions required. This is an example of Labour's approach to real climate action. We want a "Green New Deal" for Ireland with ambitious targets for home energy retrofitting that will create many new jobs. We believe the Climate Change Advisory Council was right to seek for 100,000 homes to be retrofitted annually and Labour shares that level of ambition. We should start by retrofitting all council housing and publicly owned buildings.
There is a significant amount in the report's recommendations. Due to time pressure, I will focus my remarks on just a few areas. The report calls for carbon budgets. Currently, responsibility for emissions rests with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment but all Departments need to be included. I acknowledge the Minister's comments in that regard earlier. Labour has been fighting for science-based carbon budgets that would set out for every year the maximum allowable carbon emissions for each Department and for each sector of the economy. Deputy Howlin recently proposed a new office of Minister for public expenditure and climate action to integrate carbon budgets into the national budget framework to give this the seriousness that it deserves. Will Fine Gael adopt carbon budgets?
Carbon tax is one of the measures needed if we are to collectively deliver the scale of change with the urgency dictated by the science of climate change. Labour has taken the view that we can support carbon tax if all of the proceeds are ring-fenced to address the climate emergency. The economy is not going to magically transform overnight. Investment in home insulation, public transport and better recycling needs major investment. The private sector will address some areas like electricity generation because it is clearly profitable to generate electricity from wind but the State will need to step in across many other areas of the economy. Carbon taxes provide a way of funding that investment while also reducing poverty. Opponents of raising carbon taxes have to specify where else they would raise taxes to come up with the hundreds of millions of euro annually that are needed to transform our economy to a carbon-neutral economy.
It will be hard for our current agricultural sector to become sustainable and carbon neutral. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are increasing when we need to reduce emissions urgently. There is currently no Government policy in place to address the trajectory of agricultural emissions. We need a just transition in farming as well to lower emissions and protect livelihoods. A free market approach will not deliver sustainable agriculture and decent farm incomes. Labour has called for measures to help farmers diversify their incomes as part of the transition.
Ireland's industrialised peatlands emit approximately 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. It is astonishing that no one has yet addressed this. There is nothing in the national peatlands strategy to address it. Peatlands need to be re-wetted and rehabilitated to stop carbon emissions from leaking out. Labour proposed ambitious targets for the restoration and rehabilitation of each major type of peatland in Ireland but we could not get agreement from other parties. Re-wetted peatlands could open up a new chapter for the rural economy with Bord na Móna positioned as the custodian of our peatlands and new jobs created in peatland restoration, nature tourism and recreational activities. What does the Government intend to do about peatlands?
We need a similar strategy to change our approach to forestry with a move towards continuous cover of native broadleaf species. That would create more jobs and better jobs in forestry but changes to our model of forestry will require supports in the early years as it will take time for the new model to begin paying dividends to investors.
Detailed work is needed to build on all of the recommendations of the climate report. The committee should meet weekly until the summer recess to make progress on this issue. The climate emergency needs to be taken much more seriously by all of us but by the Government in particular. Is Fine Gael committed to climate action? Will the environmental and climate emergency be made into a legally binding all-of-Government priority? Is Fine Gael committed to reducing our emissions to 33 million tonnes by 2030? Is the party committed to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050? It is essential that this commitment is there and is backed up by the urgent actions that are required to address the emergency that are contained in the report that I welcomed at the outset.
Amendment No. 2 states:
To insert the following after "29th March, 2019":
"and declares a climate emergency."
I thank Deputy Hildegarde Naughton for the great job she did as Chairperson of the committee that produced this report. However, the starting point should be the other reports that are constantly being produced - probably on a daily basis. They include a report entitled, EU Overshoot Day: Living Beyond Nature's Limits, which will be published on 10 May 2019 and a report from Paul Price, a researcher in DCU, which I received this morning. Paul Price looks at what we need to do to rapidly make a transition to a fossil fuel-free society in Ireland. He bases his study on the current national energy and climate plan. I know it is difficult to see but what he is trying to show us with this graph that for our carbon emissions to be where they need to be, we need to be up here but we are down here. What this report plans to give us is in between the two. It falls short of what needs to be done. That is my starting point - not to be a naysayer but to say that we are not doing enough and are not moving rapidly enough at the scale and speed required to deal with the loss of species and biodiversity on the planet and to deal with our emissions.
These reports are interesting and I hope Members will look at them. They reference repeatedly what we need to do to reduce our emissions and to be optimistic about the scenarios we can have for the future. However, this report does not go far enough in that respect.
To paraphrase Greta Thunberg, these reports should make us panic. That is what she has said. We, as politicians, need to panic, and she is right. The stark realisation is that we are living through a mass species extinction - we heading towards the loss of 1 million species - and that we may now be committed to trends that place a question mark over the future of ourselves as a species, yet the official policy of the State is to effectively ignore these facts and proceed with plans and polices which, aside from the odd public relations release or spin, ignore these realities. I advise the Minister that we need to panic.
One would think in that context that I would welcome a report entitled, Climate Change: A Cross-Party Consensus for Action. The first comment I would make on it is that it is not a cross-party consensus. I have written to the Chairman of the committee and to the Minister today asking for that to be corrected. Two parties did not consensually adopt this report and that needs to be put on the record. I have also written asking for the record to be changed regarding an amendment I proposed that was accepted on a just transition for workers. Importantly, that amendment was altered not by us, and it was not what we voted on - to exclude peat workers from the possibility of the State taking care of the pensions and conditions of those workers. I wrote about that in the email I sent and I hope the Minister will strongly consider making those adjustments.
We contributed to and participated in this committee for months. We took it very seriously and in every chapter we suggested recommendations and polices that we believed could have an effect. In fairness, on many occasions, the committee listened to us and tried to adopt some of the positions on those issues, such as fuel poverty, the need to protect workers in industries affected, the kind of role the State should play in delivering renewables and the role of the fossil fuel industry in hampering and hindering the actions we need to take. Other issues it did not take on board included a proposal to work towards delivering free public transport in the future.
This report is too modest and too meek and it lacks the ambition that is needed in many areas. If this report has been produced ten or 20 years ago we might have considered it progress. Given what we now know and what scientists are alerting us to and screaming at us on a daily basis, the report is mild and a little outdated.
The key issue I have, aside from the aspirational nature rather than the concrete nature of the report, is the proposal on carbon tax, or as it is called in the report, "incentivising climate action". First, what is the tax on, who is it on and how do its supporters believe it will reduce our carbon emissions? Effectively the carbon tax, or the increase in it, is on the consumption of fossil fuel energy by ordinary people, that is, on their energy, transport and heating bills. It suggests that if these bills rise, it will incentivise ordinary people to turn away from their high-carbon use and adopt alternative, renewable sources of energy, transport and heating. It is true there are many good ideas and suggestions in the report but there is only one policy I am confident this Government and its successors will enact and that is the trajectory for raising carbon taxes on ordinary people.
We can dress this as we want but the ideology behind this proposal is that ordinary people’s personal behaviour and choices are the key to reducing carbon emissions. If they, we and all the people who may be following these proceedings change our behaviour, that will encourage the market and private entrepreneurs to provide the alternatives we need. That will not work and it is a dangerous illusion. The problem is not the personal behaviour of ordinary people; the problem is systemic, it is connected to the economic system under which we live, to the drive for profit and competition and the way the fossil fuel industry and the giant corporations attached to it are the heart of that system, the system of capitalism that has developed over the past 200 years.
We use fossil fuels because that is where the greatest profits, returns and largest investments are to be had. We have failed to reduce our emissions because of the opposition from the fossil fuel giants who denied the science and the link between fossil fuel use and climate change. These giant corporations have funded climate scepticism and climate deniers and have sought to delay and undermine those scientists who have been trying to raise awareness and they have bought and influenced governments which pursue policies that have meant society remains addicted to and continues to use fossil fuels and continues the extraction of oil, coal and gas.
Last year, almost 30 years after the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report and decades after "An Inconvenient Truth" and after the scientists had begun screaming at governments, humanity emitted more CO2than ever before in human history, not less, not the same but the greatest volume of CO2from human industry, human consumption and other sources. That failure places a question mark over the future habitability of our planet. That failure has come after 30 years of failed market mechanisms that were introduced such as carbon trading, carbon offsets and dubious schemes and scams that provided a few windfall profits but failed to reduce or even address the global rate of CO2 emissions. Carbon taxes on ordinary people are another market mechanism that will fail to reduce CO2emissions.
The imposition of carbon tax seeks to suggest that the problem is individual choices and that tweaking market signals can achieve the historic and major task that we face.The market will not provide the solution because to a large extent, the free market is the source of the problem. It is a system based on endless growth, on endless need to accumulate for the sake of profits and to expand and create new markets to accumulate more.
The measures humanity need to take fly in the face of the very reason free market capitalism exists in the first place but it is not true that it means demanding sacrifices from ordinary people or lowering our living standards. Free and plentiful public transport, energy efficient homes, properly planned towns, villages and cities and a switch to State-run renewable energies, especially in offshore wind, are not a sacrifice for ordinary people but could be a major gain for people and the planet. The measures needed to bring the mass of people with us in tackling climate change are those I listed. What do carbon taxes say to those people? They say they are the problem, not Exxon Mobil, Shell or the giant corporations that continue to extract the fossil fuels.
We will increase heating and transport costs by not providing alternatives in public transport or renewable energy. That is a guaranteed way to alienate ordinary people, lose them in the battle and allow climate sceptics tell them it is all a hoax designed to make them pay more, while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
I have constituents, as have all Members present, who face fuel poverty and cannot access the fuel allowance. Their bills will go up and they will be seriously asked to accept that we mean what we say when we talk about reducing our carbon emissions.
I want to conclude by appealing to the Green Party Deputies to remove the amendment they have placed before the House because what is says to us is that we must accept the report in full, when we clearly already have voted against it, in order to accept that we need to declare a climate emergency. Of course, we need to declare a climate emergency. The Bill I have struggled to get to Committee Stage, and hopefully it get there in June, is called the climate emergency measures Bill. We accept there is a climate emergency but we will not be bounced into accepting a carbon tax on ordinary people for all the reasons I have outlined.
I welcome the report and its 42 priority recommendations and 39 ancillary recommendations. I thank the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, my constituency colleague in Galway West, and all the members of the committee, including my colleague, Deputy Pringle, who represents the Independents 4 Change group.
It is important to put all that positivity, which is wonderful, in context. If we go back to 1988 where this started with the first intergovernmental conference, 31 years ago, and following on from that, during all that time our emissions have increased. The Kyoto Protocol was introduced in 1997 and it came into operation in 2005. We can jump forward to the Paris Agreement with its binding targets. Then we come to Ireland where we have had a White Paper, I am not sure if we have had a Green Paper, we have introduced legislation, we had a mitigation plan and a framework plan and we have set up the advisory council.
We have to acknowledge the Dáil has been led screaming by the nose to do something about climate change. It has not come from the Dáil, although it certainly has come from the Opposition, with new politics since February 2016. I welcome that the Government has come along with us in that new lead. We have been forced by the children of the world, the children of Ireland and the Citizens' Assembly to take action. That is what is happening here.
This is a good report, although I have some reservations about it, which I will come back to in regard to carbon tax and using it to divide and conquer, thereby losing the point of what we are trying to do in regard to climate change. Deputy Bríd Smith mentioned a number of reports. It would be remiss of me not to mention the recent biodiversity report, or should I say the "lack of biodiversity" report. The summary, or the advance unedited version, of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for policymakers makes for grim reading. The UN-commissioned report, the summary of which was approved at the 7th session in Paris last week, is the most comprehensive report on the issue ever completed. It was compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from more than 310 contributing authors. The report finds that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, which is more than ever before in human history. The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reforming corals and more than one third of all marine mammals are threatened.
I hasten to add that only a small number of rich developed countries have led us to this disaster, and Ireland, unfortunately, is one of those. The intergovernmental panel's latest report in October 2018 confirmed what we have only 12 years left for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, most of whom have done nothing wrong. Rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are essential to prevent catastrophic climate change. The latest report from the World Wildlife Fund tells us that the European Union consumes almost 20% of the earth's biocapacity, although it comprises only 7% of the world population. Our role in that, as I understand it, is that Ireland is currently the third highest carbon emitter in the EU. The Climate Change Advisory Council produced its first report in November 2016 and pointed out we are failing to meet our targets. The EPA has spoken out and highlighted that we are failing to meet our targets.
Earlier today, we debated the national broadband plan and we noted for the first time that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform mentioned climate change in this regard. If the Government goes ahead with the plan in the manner in which it plans to do, it will have significant effects on many areas, including our ability to take climate change action.
In regard to the joint committee's report, I welcome the recommendation to set up a committee to monitor the implementation of the priority recommendations and ancillary recommendations, which is essential. Perhaps I am being a bit unfair to the Minister in regard to the way the motion is put because I realise it is the standard language to "note" the report. The report was laid before the Dáil on 29 March. Since then, as we know from each report, and as I have quoted the biodiversity report, circumstances have worsened. I would have thought the Government might have seen sense and moved on from the gentle language of taking "note" to taking action. I welcome the amendments tabled by Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, People Before Profit and Sinn Féin to declare an emergency, which I support. We have to take action but before we take action, as with housing, we have to recognise the problem. That will determine the speed of our action.
There are ten chapters in the report, which is too many to go through in the short time I have left. I will focus on chapter 10, which relates to transport. There are many good suggestions, including that we pick one particular city as a pilot project. Interestingly, this only appears once but it is a very strong recommendation on page 97, where paragraph 6.d states: "develop a pilot scheme for a city and its regional hinterland to develop a best practice model". I welcome that and I would suggest Galway city. The report refers to cities over a certain population size and Galway is a good example of a city that could be picked to implement climate change measures very quickly, particularly in respect of public transport. Our population is 80,000 and destined to increase by another 50%, which is all set out in national development plan and the national planning framework.
The Government talks about sustainability but it also talks about the provision of another road and more traffic, which goes completely against its own recommendations in this report and completely against the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. As I understand it, the Government has endorsed all of recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly, which asked it to rebalance the money being spent on roads in favour of public transport.
To take Galway again, park and ride facilities could be implemented immediately. It has been in the city development plan since 2005 but, 14 years later, there is not a sign of park and ride in a city of 80,000 people, although it is picked out as one of the five cities to grow. Cycling infrastructure is minimal in Galway and could be immediately improved, with little effort. We have no biodiversity officer in Galway. These are practical measures and if the Minister was seriously interested, this could be done in a short time. The retrofitting of houses has been suggested and this should start immediately with the houses owned by the local authority.
I will give another example. On the one hand, there are good ideas coming from the Government, albeit with sustained pressure from the Opposition, but, on the other, it is doing the opposite. In Galway city, a successful "cash for cans" scheme has been operating for a number of years. People bring back aluminium cans and get a small amount in return. The scheme has been suspended and one of the reasons is that the council believes the polluter should pay. Can the Minister believe this inverted logic? We have people willingly going forward to the council after picking up the aluminium cans but it has suspended the scheme. While that is small and parochial on one level, it illustrates the doublethink of the Government.
I will conclude in regard to carbon tax, which is divisive. The Government is going to divide people, which is unnecessary because the people are united in their demand that we do something about climate change at national level and then work down. We have to show the way in this Dáil and through the Government. By zoning in on a carbon tax for those who can least afford to pay, the Government is in danger of repeating the debacle of the water charges. I ask the Government to learn from that. We have no time left. We need to take serious, urgent action on so many aspects together. Let us agree on what we can agree on and take action, and not divide and conquer.
There are other amendments and we would like to support their provisions.
The idea of identifying a climate crisis is correct, but we should also recognise the biodiversity breakdown. The two are inextricably connected. We support the suggestion of using the Citizens' Assembly as a mechanism to address the biodiversity crisis. We look forward to discussing the amendments with parties in advance of any vote.
Our own amendment is not intended to divide. I know there are different views on carbon tax. We did not bring it into this process; it came from the environmental community, environmental NGOs and the Climate Change Advisory Council, with which we engaged in our committee work. We know it is a divisive issue. We have sought to look at ways to introduce it which are socially progressive, demonstrably benefit those on lower incomes and protect people from fuel poverty. Our work in that regard is not finished. The report outlines that all parties are engaged in a further process. Before deciding on anything we are going to look at how it could be done in a way that signals the real cost of carbon while protecting those on lower incomes. That is not finished.
There are other aspects of the report which I think should be different. There is a glaring contrast between what we say about taking climate change seriously and a transport policy that is heading in the other direction. With our amendment we wanted to reflect what is happening in the UK Parliament, Wicklow County Council and other councils across the world, heed the words of Ms Greta Thunberg and recognise that we are in a climate crisis and an ecological breakdown crisis. We are not facing climate change but rather climate breakdown. We want to recognise that and our amendment sets that out.
In declaring such a crisis, we know that for the Oireachtas merely to "note" our report is political speak for not doing anything about it. We want to go further by accepting and endorsing the report. The work is not complete. The key project will be the Government's national energy and climate action plan. Our report will hopefully be a very useful pointer for that. Accepting and endorsing the report allows this House to tell the Government to be far more ambitious and to recognise that this is a crisis and everything has to change. I hope that other parties will see it in that light, not as a divisive mechanism but a reality which we must recognise and which requires a range of actions now.
This Oireachtas, the Seanad and the Dáil, has done some useful work in this report. It is important that we acknowledge, accept and endorse it. The process has been a proper one. Setting up the Citizens' Assembly to look at the climate issue was a Green Party initiative. That has served our country well by convening a representative sample of citizens, presenting the evidence and receiving their collective wisdom on what we need to do. Interestingly, that is one of the first asks of the Extinction Rebellion movement. That movement calls for a similar citizens' assembly. We should say to them that they must go further than that, as we have done. A citizens' assembly should be connected to the political system and the democratic institutions of the State in order to turn its recommendations into reality. That is what we have done in this report.
There are various aspects of the report which demonstrate why I think we should accept and endorse it. The first reason, which is not easy to explain and does not necessarily hold the front page, is that we must get our own institutional systems ready to make the change we need. We need a change in everything: in our land use system, our transport system, our energy system and our industrial system within two or three decades. We have learned from previous moments of change in this country that we do that best when there is common agreement on our goals and the scale and speed of the change we want to make. We do best when all the agencies of the State and other non-State agencies work together towards a common goal. We do best when the effort is outside the short-term switching on and off of the political cycle. We need the next three, four or five Governments to be determined that this is central to everything they do. When we work together on that common aim, we as a country can be really effective at making strategic changes.
I refer to the governance systems we put in place, such as the Oireachtas committee charged with overseeing what happens. A rule requiring a five-year budgeting process and real checks in the system to make sure that the Government is playing its part in the transition are really significant and important steps. The provisions for a just transition will be central. We are completely agreed that this green new deal has to deliver a just transition. Our own Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018 would set up a specialist mediation service to work with Bord na Móna, workers at Moneypoint power station, the agricultural industry and local communities in places like Leitrim and Roscommon, where issues like new afforestation are causing real anger. That mediation service and the just transition system we recommend in this report are critical. These are institutional measures, but sometimes how the institutions of the State work is important. This report broadly gets it right.
The second really significant initiative in this report goes against the advice of Teagasc. It goes against what the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, and his Department say they want to do. We must insist on a new national land use plan. This land use plan is critical to protecting our biodiversity and restoring nature. We must start by looking at how we can reverse the tide and bring back pristine water conditions to help us develop soil health, which will bring back insect and bird life. We must completely, fundamentally and radically change our entire agricultural system, which is not serving Irish farmers at the present time. We must create a whole new model of forestry so that we create forests that store water and carbon and create a local environment that is a joy to walk through. It will take 50 or 100 years but that is what we must set out in a national land use plan. We must restore our peatlands, rather than scraping out the last bit of them and exporting it to the UK or burning it in a power station, which is the last thing we should do.
In a climate emergency we should be adopting the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018, which Deputy Bríd Smith has brought before us. We cannot declare a climate emergency and then say in the next breath that we are going to allow offshore oil and gas exploration. We cannot declare a climate emergency and say in the next breath that we are going to bring in liquid natural gas, LNG, or fracked gas from the USA. We have to make fundamental and radical changes and we can do that as a country. We can power this country with renewable wind, solar, biomass and other local power sources. They will strengthen our country and bring wealth and prosperity to it in the future. This change will not come if we try to hold out against the divestment from fossil fuels that we need to make.
More than anything else we need change in the transport sector. We cannot continue with the current national development plan. It is not fit for purpose. It only delivers a third of the emission reductions we know we need to make in the next decade alone. We cannot continue with a situation in which 51 national road and motorway projects are being built or are about to be built while not a single public transport project is ready to go. We should accept and endorse this report because it puts the move towards active travel first and foremost as a way as improving health and air quality as well as tackling climate change. We need to tackle the core underlying problems with our current economic model and move to a circular economy. That should involve immediately adopting the Waste Reduction Bill 2017, which we have been fighting to pass for the last three years, against the intentions of this Government. That all needs to change.
We can bring about change in a political environment in which we work together. This report, the work we have done and the work we are going to do by the end of this year is of critical importance. In my mind it is the most important thing this Oireachtas is doing. Ultimately I believe the Irish people are ready to make the leap. The Irish people are going to be good at showing leadership on this transition. We will play our part. We need the Government to help but it must also start from the bottom up. Local communities must be asked for their help rather than being told what to do. There must be genuine open dialogue as to what the options are in every local area. We in the political system all know that the Irish people are ready to do this. There has been a sea change in the last six months. Let us give the people a signal and a sense of hope. Yes, there is a climate emergency, but by accepting and endorsing this report we are ready to make a leap. This country will be a leader if we start the work together today.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I am very pleased to contribute to the debate. In particular, I thank my colleague Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, my Fine Gael colleagues and all members of the committee for the fantastic work they did. We worked incredibly diligently since last July. Although we did not see eye to eye on many things, in general we did. For many who came to the committee with a particular viewpoint, its deliberations were an eye-opener. It was a fantastic exercise in democracy. I praise the establishment of the committee by the Taoiseach and the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, for asking the Citizens’ Assembly to examine how Ireland could become a leader in climate action. That was tremendously important and timely. I commend them on their actions. I had advocated for the establishment of the Citizens' Assembly and the work it did, as well as the establishment of the committee and its work. I was delighted that happened.
It has become clear to us all that political leadership is required for long-term climate action planning. I look forward to the report on the publication of the climate plan by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who is working incredibly hard on it. It is not just a question of leadership from the Minister or Government politicians, leadership is required across the political spectrum. The work we must do as a Dáil and society means that the actions we must take should not become a political football. That is most important. I have always advocated for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach and that we should be united in our efforts because we are the transition generation. The next 12 years will be critical, but they will not be easy. The changes in the way we live our lives will be significant. There will be social, economic and cultural impacts. Therefore, we must encourage people in local communities and economies to ensure we can achieve that but also to ensure rural regeneration will be at the heart of everything that we do. As an island nation, it is in our national interest to demand that higher emitting nations take action. If sea levels rise, as predicted, around the coast, this single island of ours will be a collection of islands within a couple of generations. The extensive diaspora should be tapped into to carry the message of mitigation and adaptation in order that they can also adjust their lifestyles and influence their communities.
We talked a lot at the committee about a just transition being a significant part of how decarbonisation would be achieved. In my county of Offaly Bord na Mona was for many decades a significant employer, with the ESB. Bord na Mona made significant decisions on restructuring as a result of the lack of demand for the peat it produced as the ESB no longer required it. In County Offaly, in particular, it is a very difficult time for workers, communities and the company as we are impacted on the most. We had employment for generations when in other counties people had to leave these shores and emigrate. Offaly County Council has led the way in the establishment of a transition team. It has pulled stakeholders together. Next week a job matching fair will be held in Mount Lucas in Daingean. It will be a great opportunity for workers and potential employers to connect. There is potential in other areas to follow the lead of the Offaly County Council. There is also potential in upskilling the Bord na Mona workers. It has been made clear to us that it will be very difficult to do what we need to do if people do not have the necessary skills.
Communication is an enormous requirement in getting the message out about the changes we have to make. Last week I was delighted to attend the Public Participation Network's launch of Green Offaly in Lough Boora Discovery Park. The plan is to work with communities to help them to take ownerships of the actions they will take. I am pleased to note that RTÉ and Met Éireann appear to have taken the opportunity to provide accurate information and help to communicate the message of climate change to the people. That is something for which I have long advocated. Since the establishment of the committee, there seems to be much greater and more detailed coverage, on which I commend them.
I wish to refer to agriculture. We are an agricultural nation. I am very pleased that as a result of the committee’s report, the demonisation of farmers has been somewhat reduced. Mrs. Justice Laffoy was very clear at the first meeting that she would have liked to have had more time to look at the impact of agriculture in terms of emissions. She recommended that we do something in the area, which we did. In my community farmers are not averse to change. They are quite willing to change, but fairness must be part of it. The new CAP will have an impact in that regard.
We must not forget the impact climate change is having on people in the developing world and how they are already feeling the impact in desertification and lands being under water, which have resulted in migration. Today we had a debate in the Seanad Chamber involving young researchers who are passionate about climate change. We have all of the evidence. We know what is happening and cannot deny it. We have heard enough words; it is the time for action.
I welcome the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action which is before us. My colleague Deputy Eamon Ryan played a vital role in pressing for the committee to be set up, just as we pushed for climate issues to be included in the work of the Citizens' Assembly. I commend all those who worked on the report - Deputies, Senators, committee staff, researchers, academics, activists and everyone who contributed and presented to create a very important document. It is the beginning of a real roadmap towards a greener, safer and secure future for all of us. The cross-party report is not perfect, but it is an important first step. It is vital that we in this House go further than just noting its contents, as usually happens with committee reports brought before the House. As we all know, noting their contents means condemning them to gather dust on a shelf in the ministerial corridor. That cannot happen with this report. This Dáil has noted too many committee reports without the Government taking step to put their recommendations into force. We cannot afford for this report to be treated in the same way. That is why we have submitted an amendment to have it endorsed by the Dáil.
The committee was created as a process for parties and Independents to come together, tease out the issues, have the important discussions and come to a collective conclusion. Compromises were made, as they have to be, when we all commit to working together. Not everything the Green Party sought to have included in the report made it into the final draft. We all have to make compromises because if we did not, nothing would ever be done. In a cross-party process such a this no one gets everything he or she wants. It is vital that we do not fixate on individual issues but instead come together, unite on the issue of our time, namely, saving the planet and creating a sustainable future, to which we say "Yes".
We have an opportunity to commit to doing something real and tangible because this issue is too important for us to do anything less. The report is a roadmap for action. Let us endorse it. The financial, social and ecological cost of climate inaction presents too great a risk. We need action now. The scale of the change we must make cannot happen without the political will to make radical, systemic changes in how we structure our world. Individual citizens have a crucial role to play, but it must be a Government-led approach, with the biggest polluters being made to change their ways.
Hope is coming from those who will suffer the most from climate change. Young people have been taking to the streets and calling for climate action. Every Friday students have gathered outside Leinster House to protest at the Government's climate inaction. Young people realise they will be the ones most affected by the short-sightedness of the Government today. However, they do not yet have an electoral voice.
I have three children, aged 12, ten and eight, who are already looking forward to being able to go to the ballot box because their future, like that of all other children, is at risk. As they watch this debate tonight they, like many other young leaders of this country, will be disappointed that nine of 158 Members saw fit to find time to debate this issue. Where are the Members who profess to care about climate change? I hope that the children and others participating in the climate strike on 24 May will loudly and clearly ask where those Members were when this report, one of the most important to come out of the 32nd Dáil, was debated.
We cannot tackle climate change and continue to explore and drill for oil and gas or continue with a national development plan that prioritises road expenditure over public transport, walking and cycling. As my Green Party colleague in the UK, Caroline Lucas, stated, "we cannot tackle climate change with an economy built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air, clean water and rare species can magically regenerate themselves in an instant".
In the past 18 months there has been a blizzard, a hurricane and a prolonged summer drought in Ireland. News items in February showed people wearing shorts and queues for 99s. That is not right. It is climate chaos and meltdown. It is a climate emergency. Temperatures are rising, our global and local ecosystems and habitats are being pushed to the limit and our seasons are being knocked utterly out of kilter. This has terrifying implications for our natural heritage, insects and future food security. That is why it is vitally important that this House declares a climate emergency. We call on all Members to support the Green Party's amendment to the motion which proposes to do just that.
It is also essential that in declaring a climate emergency we commit to concrete, real and identifiable action rather than just uniting around vague concepts. There is little value in all declaring a climate emergency without committing to doing anything about it, which is why we must endorse the report of the committee. There is no room for complacency, populism or green washing in the greatest challenge facing humanity.
Greta Thunberg, the inspiring young climate activist, stated that "Our house is on fire." When one's house is on fire, one does not extinguish part of the fire, one extinguishes all of it and ensures that one is safe. That is why we need to endorse all the recommendations of the report and ensure they are implemented and then go further.
I thank all Members who spoke on the motion. This is a very important debate. There is a great deal of consensus, notwithstanding very sharp differences on some issues. I am reminded of the late Brian Lenihan, who memorably stated that the only fair tax was the one that he did not have to pay. In introducing the concept of carbon pricing, there is a danger that people will want something for which someone else will pay or should be shouldering the burden, rather than the group for which they speak. The sad reality is that no one can afford to say that these changes should be borne by someone else and not by them. Everyone must make these changes. That is a difficulty in dealing with this issue.
Each household will have to change how it manages energy in the home in order to move away from fossil fuels. For many homes, that process will be neither quick nor easy. Each of us will have to think about how we manage our resources and our approach to disposables which have become commonplace in terms of plastic, food and many other items. We must change our approach on such matters and that will not come easily to people. We must change the way we manage our travel: the amount of travelling we do, the mode of transport we use and the types of fuels we use. That will be a profound change involving an increase in the cost of travel and for some people it will come very hard. We will have to change how we run our farms. Many farmers have been farming in the same way for decades and it will be difficult for them to make the necessary changes. We will have to change how we run our businesses. We must accept that there will be more wind farms and more associated interconnectors and infrastructure being built in or close to people's backyards. None of those things will come easy.
I am very conscious that as well as declaring that this is crucially important and urgent, we are asking people to make profound and difficult changes to the way they live. That is not easy and it cannot be solved in Kildare Street. Rather, it will be solved in every home, village, community, business and farm in the country. We must find a way to bring those people into that engagement and help them to make the necessary changes.
It will not be possible for the taxpayer to pay for everything. It is not a question of the Government opening the purse and everything suddenly being possible. We will have to continue to fund our health and education services and all of the very heavy priorities that fall to the Government and the House to find the resources to fund. That is why our advisers such as the members of the Climate Change Advisory Council, who know this issue intimately, have put forward carbon pricing as one of the measures we must consider. As some Members may be aware, I trained as an economist. One of the first lessons an economist learns is that much of what we do has an adverse impact on people, but for which we do not pay. Carbon emissions are the worst case of that - we simply have not been paying for the damage we have done. There are many other examples, as Members have pointed out, such as the headlong rush to flatten our hedgerows and create big open tracts to plough and so on, which has done significant damage about which no one thought at the time and for which no one has paid.
We are asking people to make big changes. The easy part is for the Members who are present to say we endorse these things and that this is an emergency. It is correct to do so, but the hard part will be for all sides of the political community to find a way to bring people to make those changes in order to protect the globe for which we all have a shared responsibility. We will have to find a way to work through our ideological differences. We do so every day in the House - we reach compromises, vote and debate. We accept some things and are disappointed that other things are not accepted. That is what we will have to do on this issue.
This is the start of a very important process. I hope to be able to inject additional momentum to that generated by Deputy Naughton, the committee, the Citizens' Assembly and all involved, and that, year by year, we will be able to show that we are winning this battle. The early wins we get will encourage people to come further down the road, take the issue more seriously and get engaged on it. What very much inspires me is that at the end of this process we will have a better country in which to live and a healthier relationship with one another, our environment and those who share the globe with us. That is a prize that is well worth the effort we will undertake. We will continue to have our differences in this Chamber. There is no doubt that I will be criticised for whatever I do or fail to do, and that is as it should be.
Hopefully, we can conduct the political debate in which we must engage through the common ground that has been created by the committee and our willingness to sit in the same forum, discuss this and try to reach compromise solutions in respect of the difficult challenges ahead, and continue to move in that spirit.
I thank everybody who has been involved in this. They come from different backgrounds but they still stuck with it. Some felt the need to write minority reports, but they persevered and fully engaged. Deputy Hildegarde Naughton had the challenge of keeping that together and getting something valuable at the end. I am grateful for the opportunity to conclude the debate and I look forward to returning to the House in the not-too-distant future with solid proposals that will advance the cause set out here.
It is unfortunate that some of the Members who tabled amendments are not present. This is an unfortunate way to agree the motion given that it has been amended without any of the amendment's proposers being present. I understand that the motion, as amended, has been agreed and that further debate on the other amendments is not required.
It would have been better if it could have been done in another way but that was not possible. I accept the points raised but what has happened does not take away from the strength of the debate, the motion or the sentiments expressed by the Members. There is general recognition of that from the Minister and the Members on the Government side.