Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 September 2019

2:50 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this debate on climate change, which is coming at an appropriate time as thousands of young people in Ireland will mobilise tomorrow in order to raise awareness and demand climate action. The influence young people are having on this debate, in building momentum among older generations to take seriously the scale of the challenge, cannot be underestimated. They are a constant reminder to those in power that governments must lead this change. There has been a lack of commitment in the past in Ireland. Although we committed to a 20% reduction in emissions, we have failed to achieve that target. It is absolutely appropriate that we be called out on that failure. Younger generations are pointing the finger at our generation and telling us that we will be the first generation to pass the world on in a worse state than in which we found it, and that is a heavy responsibility which we need to seriously address.

This debate is also appropriate in that the UN will be hosting a series of events relating to the climate agenda this weekend. The first of those will be a youth engagement and public mobilisation session on Saturday, at which Ireland will be a listener, and where young people will have the opportunity to set out their concerns and expectations in great detail. This allows a serious debate to occur not only at a local level within our communities but at an international level, so that the UN, which is at the heart of multilateral efforts to work together to confront the climate challenge, will hear directly from young people as to their expectations. On Monday, the UN Secretary General will hold a climate action summit. As Deputies will know, this has long been signalled as a time when we need to step up our ambitions, as many new scientific reports note the narrowing window of opportunity for action and the need to significantly scale up our ambitions. Ireland is part of a coalition within the European Union which wants to commit to net zero carbon emissions for the European Union by 2050. I welcome the very high-level expression of commitment from the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, with whom I have worked in the past. I have absolute conviction that when she sets out her agenda for the Commission's work, at the core of which will be climate action and just transition, she will deliver on that ambition.

For Ireland, this UN conference will be the first opportunity for me to present the strategic approach Ireland has taken in addressing the shortfalls that have clearly occurred in our own climate strategy. We have much to tell people in that the way we have gone about this shows we have the capacity to mobilise the necessary change. The Citizens' Assembly has provided leadership on this issue and clearly pointed the way forward, as it has done when addressing previous major changes in Irish society as well. The all-party Oireachtas committee put huge care and effort into conducting hearings around the scale of the challenge, how we shape that challenge, and how to govern in order to ensure policies for delivering targets are implemented. The work of that committee, which was chaired by my colleague Deputy Hildegarde Naughton and involved every party and Deputies of no affiliation, was a remarkable piece of work, and it culminated in a unanimous declaration here in the Chamber of a climate and biodiversity emergency. That is a significant foundation on which to build a climate plan, and that is what I have sought to do.

As Deputies know, shortly after that declaration I published the Government's climate action plan, which adopts the approach outlined by the Oireachtas committee. We are moving to a whole new approach to governance, with climate budgets and independent recommendations to the Government of what those budgets should be coming from a much-strengthened climate action council. There will be far greater levels of accountability for individual Ministers on the delivery on climate budgets within their sectors, and far greater accountability to the Oireachtas here as well. Just as Departments are accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts, they will in future be accountable to an equally important - if not more important - climate action committee.

The plan we have set out is ambitious. Some people will say it is not ambitious enough, while others will say it is too ambitious. To give Deputies some notion of the scale of the plan, it is important to outline some of the things we envisage happening, because they represent both change and opportunity. For example, the amount of renewable energy on our grid will increase to five times what it is today.

The level of retrofitting activity on our homes will be ten times what it is today. The number of electric vehicles will increase from 4% of purchasers today to 100% by 2030. The number of heat pumps that are installed will be 20 times what it is today. The number of trees planted will be double what it is today, representing 250 million additional trees planted over the next decade. The number of people commuting and travelling by public transport or cycling will be 500,000 more per day. The amount of non-recyclable plastic will go from 66% today to zero by 2030. The number of sustainable energy communities will rise to 1,500, which is five times what it is today.

This is a very ambitious plan in many ways but it is absolutely essential. I am very conscious, however, that this requires big changes in the way we think about many things. People will have to change their concept of what types of infrastructure should be part of a society that is committed to decarbonisation. We will have to change the habits of a lifetime in many ways. We will have to accommodate 1 million extra people in this country but do it in such a way that is compact, sustainable and connected. We will have to mobilise very large amounts of private capital to deliver this. I believe it is a serious test of politics.

The plan is built on four very simple principles. One is the essential nature of Government leadership. This means the Government taking responsibility for living within strict carbon budgets, driving the changes that are necessary in our society, being open and accountable for that and ensuring that every public body adopts a mandate for climate action.

The second principle is effective policies. We have to pursue policies that impose the least burden but the most opportunity to Irish people, while delivering the essential targets we have to achieve. It is very important that our homes, enterprises and farms can be resilient and sustainable and will prosper in a changed world. This requires significant change.

Also embedded is the principle of fairness and recognising that we need to support those who are most exposed to change. We have seen this in very sharp terms with regard to Bord na Móna workers. We also need to support those least equipped to manage those changes, especially those who might be at risk of fuel poverty. We have to make sure that every element of society is making a fair contribution. This is what we call just transition and it has to be at the heart of the plan.

The final principle on which the plan is built is one of citizens' empowerment. This means that engagement and feedback, especially with the younger generation, are embedded in the plan. We need to find novel ways to help people shape their own communities and also empower communities and individuals to change the way they address this issue.

These four principles are entirely interlocked. We have to achieve in all areas together. It is a challenge to the way we do politics and public administration and a test of our structures. I am looking forward to working with colleagues in the Oireachtas to make a reality for our people the work that the all-party Oireachtas committee took on and which we have embedded in the climate action plan.

3:00 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I very much welcome that the climate emergency has been immediately put back on the agenda of this House in the first week of resumption of the Dáil. It is only right that we have the opportunity to address the need for urgent actions, given the range of important climate events that are taking place in the coming weeks and disturbing news announcements that occurred over the recess. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, released a new special report, hot on the heels of the previous year's report, which shows the devastating effect of the climate emergency on land and food systems. Also last month, the National Parks and Wildlife Service highlighted that 85% of Irish habitats are in an "unfavourable" condition. The situation is deteriorating. We also need to be clear that developing countries are suffering the worst impacts. Compounding decades and centuries of economic injustice, we are now layering climate injustice on top of the global south. Ireland must finally take collective responsibility for its polluting emissions.

Thanks to the Citizens' Assembly and the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, the Government has at least started to take the issue seriously with its new climate plan. The reality, however, is that at this late stage, slow, incremental progress is not enough. This is an emergency. It is particularly disturbing that Fine Gael is failing to live up to the deadlines set out in the recommendations of the report of the Oireachtas committee, which appear to have been dismissed and do not even feature in the Government's climate plan, despite Fine Gael expressly committing to them in the committee in March.

On the plus side, outside this Chamber, the mandate for greater climate ambition is clearer than ever. Last week, we learned from a new Eurobarometer poll that 95% of Irish people consider climate change to be a serious issue, with similar levels of support for greater action on renewables and energy efficiency and other climate related objectives. Another sign of hope is tomorrow's schools strike for climate, which also links with events in New York and elsewhere over the coming week. Schoolchildren in my constituency will be out and I will join them in Maynooth, Celbridge, Naas and elsewhere. My daughter was on the strikes outside her school. Across the country and the world, these strikes will only gather in momentum with each passing week. I salute all of those involved at the picket lines, as it were.

How is the Government going respond right now? I am not referring to reviews or potential measures proposed in a few years' time but the here and now. My fear is that, as happened in March when attention was focused on the previous wave of school strikes, the Government may patronise young people. It may congratulate them on their engagement, tell them the Government will listen and talk up how they can respond by turning off lights, buying paper straws.

There will also be much focus on the youth assembly that will take place in the Dáil in November. This is a significant and welcome move. The youth assembly will focus public attention and young people will be able to present their ideas to officials. I sincerely hope they get a good hearing. It will be an important day for the Dáil and the young people involved. We cannot allows this to be the only concrete measure taken in these Houses in the coming months. Members are well aware that Ireland's emissions are continuing to rise and our 2030 targets are at risk and will not be reduced by town hall promotional events.

Almost a year ago to the day, I raised with the Taoiseach a particular concern about provisioning for potential fines for missing our climate emissions targets again. The Taoiseach glibly dismissed my concern by telling me we would not make provision in 2019 but would do so in the following budgetary year. This is symptomatic of the Government's attitude, or at least it has been in the recent past. It is not good enough.

I am aware that the Government will make pledges at the UN Climate Action Summit next week to support youth and public participation. Let us be honest, however; the problem has not been a lack of participation by young people or a lack of communication. The problem has been that the Government knowingly neglected Ireland's climate responsibilities for the best part of the past decade. I watched with amusement and enjoyment Greta Thunberg's testimony at the hearings in the US yesterday, including her deft dismissal of some whataboutery. One of the Senators hearing the evidence in Congress threw out the usual canards and "What ifs?" when he referred to China and everybody else causing pollution. I watched as Greta, with great dexterity, batted these aside by arguing that the US should get its own house in order first and worry about everybody else later. The others, she said, could take care of themselves and the US could show example. I fully agree with that view. It is back to the old expression of looking after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Somebody else's inaction is no excuse for someone else not to act. We have to mind our own house and we can do that. We in this Chamber have a responsibility to do all we can to make that happen. One of the most important points Greta Thunberg made was the need for science to be heard. Will the Minister respond to the science and will the Government make any substantive commitments at the climate action summit next week to reduce emissions? The current approach of announcements, reviews and business as usual is not enough. It is not a response to the climate, biodiversity and global warming crises.

The UN summit is also an opportunity for the Government to chart a new course and respond substantively to young people's calls for real action to tackle this emergency. The Government should commit to supporting the European Commission's proposal that the EU increase its 2030 targets to an emissions reduction of at least 55%. While it is welcome that the Government has supported an EU commitment to climate neutrality by 2050, the Government must commit to enacting the necessary legislation to introduce this target at national level, with attendant accountability checks. I urge that this be done before the next election. Let us get it done now. Why wait?

On air quality, when it comes to measures that would reduce emissions and improve public health, particularly for younger generations, we need look no further than the area of air pollution, which results in more than 1,000 deaths in Ireland each year.

The Government has similarly put legal risks ahead of young people's health and failed to introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal. We still do not have a clear air strategy and the number of asthma cases continues to increase. I ask the Minister to clarify what steps he is taking this month, inclusive of his stated work with the Attorney General, to ban smoky coal and put this strategy in place in order that we will begin to see improvements in air quality this year.

I mentioned biodiversity. A Fianna Fáil motion which enjoyed cross-party support and was agreed earlier this summer saw this House declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. I do not wish to wade into the beef crisis and farming issues except to say that the proliferation of well spaces and increased biodiversity must be one of the solutions to this issue. In this regard, I suggest that it may be worth exploring a REP scheme similar to that which existed in the past, whereby farmers were encouraged and financially incentivised to take environmentally sustainable initiatives on the land with support and advice from the relevant agencies.

On agriculture and the Mercosur deal, Government, inclusive of State bodies, must be a leader on climate change and must seek to empower and assist businesses and individuals. What we have seen thus far is a Government that follows. In July, Fianna Fáil, together with other parties and organisations, called on the Government to rethink its approach to Mercosur in light of the disastrous affects of deforestation, the climate change affects of the transportation of commodities from pastures and grazing lands in South America across the globe into Europe, not only in terms of the associated air miles but the rule that we should only consume food that comes from within five miles of our own plates, and the devastating affects on the rainforest, which have doubled down since the fires in the Amazon rainforest. The Government dismissed this advice but when European leaders and others raised similar issues, the Taoiseach finally listened and agreed to consider them in the context of the Mercosur deal.

On the retrofitting fiasco, I am sure every Member of this House received representations in relation to this scheme under which homeowners were encouraged to apply for a grant to retrofit their houses. When a backlog of applications built up, the scheme fell apart and funding was withdrawn. Thankfully, it has been restored. However, the fiasco undermined confidence in the Government's approach to this scheme and many other issues. We have also witnessed a fiasco in regard to the school transport scheme and the increased number of children seeking eligibility under the scheme, to which the response of Government and the Department has been to pare back the scheme using an accountant's rule to reduce the number of children travelling on school buses. In the middle of a climate emergency, we should be broadening the scheme and providing more places so that parents will be encouraged to avail of it rather than drive their children to school. The Government should not be using an accountant's rule to pare back the scheme. That makes no sense.

In regard to public transport, representing the commuter constituency of Kildare North, I have seen first-hand the Government's inaction in terms of the increasing number of people clamouring to get on to trains and into car parks at railway stations. We learned recently that the next fleet of rail carriages is due in five years. Having raised this issue in the House consistently with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and having been told that new carriages would be provided soon, we now learn it will be five years before we get them. If the Government was serious about public transport and climate change, these carriages would have been ordered when it took office and would be due for delivery for now, but that did not happen.

As matters stand, the Government is in the dock in the Four Courts in regard to its inaction on climate change. Its mitigation plan is being put through the shredder by a team of counsel. The outcome may have been announced during my contribution. The fact that the climate groups could put a stateable case to the High Court, taking the Government to court for a lack of action on climate change, speaks volumes about its approach. I hope we will see a difference in that approach. I look forward to the remainder of this debate and, I hope, to actions rather than words. We are at an emergency stage and we need much more than lip service. Fianna Fáil will not be found wanting in terms of putting its shoulders to the wheel. The Government is in the driving seat and it needs to get on board and make it happen.

3:10 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome that there will be a climate strike tomorrow across this land and in many parts of the world over the next number of days. This week, thankfully, a spotlight will be again shone on the issue of climate action and change. The protest is being led by schoolchildren. Millions of people around the world will, in my view, come out to support the logic of uniting behind the science. All of those who come out will call on leaders in this State and people in this Chamber to deliver an urgent and dramatic increase in action. People want to see real changes. Many of the changes that are necessary are very exciting and are, I think, the very essence of policies that parties such as Sinn Féin and left progressive parties have been advocating for a longer number of years, namely, investment in public services and transport and making sure that the State is in the driving seat in regard to dealing with these issues. The private sector will not be in the driving seat when it comes to making sure that people's homes are to the highest standards, that the homes that people need are built, that we make a fair and just transition to a zero carbon economy and that we have more aggressive afforestation to act as a carbon sink.

The Minister mentioned a just transition. I do not believe that Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil will deliver a just transition - quite the opposite. In terms of what is necessary for a just transition, it will be about State investment in public services. It is important that we listen to the voices of young people who are our future voting citizens. In my view, they have every reason to inform Government about the direction of policymaking. We need to see this in the context of social justice and fairness underpinning the environmental changes needed. As with all structural change the pathway, is as important as the destination. Climate change cannot be tackled with the same methods and the same thinking that created the problem in the first instance. We know that bad policy positions and bad policy direction have pushed public spending towards costly and unsuccessful measures, which have a negative impact on society and the economy. Numerous failures worldwide have emerged where political and economic decision-making was lacking foresight, including, for example, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment's climate action plan, which uses a marginal abatement cost curve to help identify the most cost-effective pathway to reducing emissions. That is a disaster waiting to happen because climate change cannot be tackled through accountancy. Mathematical equations will not save us.

Fine Gael and, I would argue, Fianna Fáil, believe that this will be sorted by market forces, the same market forces that have resulted in creeping privatisation of public services, left many people in substandard housing that does not have the same type of high energy ratings as the homes that wealthier people can afford and caused the cessation of bus services in rural areas. The Expressway services in many parts of the State ceased because they were not economically viable. If the Government proposes to underpin its response on market forces and market logic rather than social, economic and environmental need, it will not solve the problems and it will not bring about the structural changes which are necessary. These changes also will not come about through leaflets and advertisement campaigns, of the type which followed the Minister's launch of the plan. In terms of the Government's record since then, it published its climate action plan at the same time as it was carving up the Irish Sea into speculative boxes for fossil fuel extraction and agreeing a beef deal with Brazil which will hasten the demise of the Amazon rainforest.

The Minister's flagship policy of electric cars for everybody has already fallen flat on its face. According to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, it is pie in the sky thinking and cannot be done. The retrofit scheme which the Government put in place also fell apart. Let us be honest; it was a retrofit scheme that was aimed at people who had money to invest in deep retrofitting. It was not as a starting point a retrofit scheme for older people who are most in need or a scheme targeted at public housing, which is where we should start.

4 o’clock

What we need to do is make sure that the planning laws and building regulations ensure that every house built in the future has the highest energy rating. All of the Minister's strategies I have seen so far have been severely wanting and will not tackle the core issue, which is structural and behavioural in nature and desperately requires social justice.

One issue that divided members of the committee was carbon tax. I am not against carbon taxes in principle. We already have them and we all pay them but the questions are whether we should increase carbon taxes, what impact they will have and who will be most affected by them. The Minister mentioned the just transition. It would be an injustice to people in vulnerable circumstances if carbon tax were increased on heating oil. It would also be an injustice if extra costs were imposed on transport and people could not afford to buy electric cars or could not use alternatives which, in most cases, are not available. I do not see how that approach would be fair. I have heard supporters of increases in carbon taxes say that we can ring-fence income from the tax for more climate change mitigation measures and give money back but I am not convinced that this will happen.

The Minister's starting point must be to provide alternatives in the first instance. He must then measure those against the track record of the two parties that have led this State since its foundation. What is their track record on investing in public transport? I have spoken to people who are concerned about some of the Minister's measures. They have told me that they live in rural areas and do not have public transport. Many people outside Dublin, even those who live in cities, do not have the type of public transport that is necessary. As a result, they cannot make the transition we want them to make. Many people do not have the money to carry out the type of deep retrofitting that is necessary or make other necessary changes. People are worried and they will be concerned about increases in taxes that they believe will not be fair.

We are not on our own and we must work in unison with our European partners. We must think internationally when it comes to climate change as well. We must be strong leaders in meeting our emissions targets and other climate change targets. We have not been strong leaders and are falling way behind. We have not met any of the targets we have set. We can point the finger of blame, as we should, at the US Administration, which has turned its face against climate action. The President of that country is a climate change denier. We can be angry and upset about that and point the finger but if we are not meeting our targets and are not leaders ourselves, we do not have the moral and political authority to lecture anybody else. Nobody on the left or outside the two main parties negotiated the many trade deals, including the most recent one which is in serious conflict with the objectives of achieving environmental protection and climate justice. The Minister cannot give a speech like the one he gave and say we need to do more, take the lead and make sure we meet our targets and then potentially sign this country up to the Mercosur trade deal, which we know is having a significant impact on the Amazon. Before the Dáil returned, Members saw the Amazon rainforest burning over the summer months. This has occurred for many different reasons but, again, it is because industrialisation and profit come first in Brazil and the country's right-wing government is not putting the protection of the environment first. The driver behind these fires is the effort to create more land for agriculture. The EU and Ireland are encouraging and enabling that by signing up to a deal that is built around that objective. Let us not have a level of denial about what we are all doing here and what is necessary.

I am very positive and energised about what about what we need to do because I believe in investment in public transport and that people should have the best homes. I believe the State has a responsibility to make sure it does what it needs to do, including more afforestation, ensuring building regulations are strong and increasing investment in renewable energies. That is what we need to do. We do not need more taxes, an unjust transition and gimmicks such as some of those we have seen in the Minister's plan. We need real, tangible and practical solutions that will work and deliver the necessary change.

3:20 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I do not doubt for a minute that the Minister is sincere in what he seeks to do in terms of leading this agenda. However, as a member of the Joint Committee on Action and one of the people who contributed to producing the 42 recommendations that were broadly agreed by its members on a cross-party basis, I am fearful that a tension is emerging between the radical nature of some of the recommendations we made and where the Government sits in terms of its implementation plan. I am fearful that there is a gap between the climate action plan actions and the joint committee, which is a committee of this House consisting of representatives of all parties and none, and that a tension is emerging between the two. The committee's report reflected the report of the Citizens' Assembly, which was radical in its actions but based on common sense and easily attainable targets. I worry, however, that those targets will not be reached. I hope the Minister continues to engage with the committee about how its recommendations, coupled with the Government's set of recommendations in the climate action plan, can be brought about.

In chapter 1 of the committee's report, we spoke about the need for a new national framework where new climate change legislation would be enacted in the Oireachtas in 2019 and about how, with regard to new governance structure, action on climate action should be considered a priority activity across all of Government. We also recommended the establishment of a new climate action council to supersede the Climate Change Advisory Council and the establishment of a standing committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister spoke to those issues but the committee set targets. I understand that there may be differences of emphasis between what the Government will do and what we have recommended but targets need to be achieved. I fear that we are pushing actions out in this country to 2020, 2021 and 2022 and that, as every quarter goes by, we miss opportunities for real action. I appreciate that the Minister has attended town hall meetings, including one in Limerick where he announced that some of the actions in the climate action plan that would be undertaken included a new micro-generation scheme, a transition towards 1 million electric vehicles and a nationwide programme of home retrofitting. I have no doubt that these objectives will be achieved but I fear that they will not be achieved in a timely fashion or even in the manner set out in the targets driven by the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We have very clear targets relating to ensuring the five-yearly carbon budgets. This would all be included in the legislation that was to be agreed in 2019. We also set targets by which the renewable share of electricity generation would reach at least 70% by 2030 and the statutory obligation on public bodies would be strengthened to require that they perform their functions in a manner consistent with the 2050 target. We need these targets to be set out in very clear legislative terms because the actions that are so vital will flow from this.

Transport is one of the key thematic areas on which we need action.

In the context of the target of 1 million electric vehicles by 2030, if one looks at consumer behaviour and analyses of where people stand regarding the switch towards such vehicles in 2019, one finds that there are not enough charging points. The totemic image which emerged over the summer, purporting to show the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport charging his vehicle at a point that had not gone live, was most detrimental. It did nothing to create the perception that the Government is doing anything in real terms to meet targets or install charging points throughout the country. That is the first aspect.

There are targets calling for a move from internal combustion engines to fully electric vehicles by 2030. Consumers are looking at the price points for these vehicles. They may be willing to make that transition, but the price points are still too high. Range anxiety is still a massive issue because there are too few charging points. The kernel of this issue is behavioural change. If we are to hit targets by 2030 and 2050 and if climate action is to mean anything, then this all has to be about behavioural change. It is fair to say that no rational person will move from vehicle that runs on petrol or diesel if the price point for an electric vehicle is too high - beyond the means of most people in this country - or if there are not enough charging points. That is why I must go back to the point I made at the outset about the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Those targets are tangible and real. They must drive behaviour across the Civil Service, among all the stakeholders and across Government to ensure we hit those targets in a meaningful way.

I hear the messages from the younger generation about where we need to go on climate action. There is a massive demand for behavioural change and radicalism in Government. Younger people do not necessarily look at this as a governmental task. They are looking to all politicians in this House to act together in a non-partisan way in order to drive the change that is needed. The Minister referred to community ownership of electricity and driving the grid with community-based projects. I am concerned that we could be here this time next year without having made solid progress towards the democratisation of the production of energy, which would facilitate rural communities in particular to become involved in projects supplying electricity to the grid. We need action on that and we need it now. I am fearful that if it is left too much to the committees, we will not see the radical action that is necessary in a timely fashion.

I am glad that there is a Bill due before the House later that deals with just transition. The number of emails I have received calling on us to support this legislation has been phenomenal. There is a mood among our citizens now. They want to see workers and stakeholders coming together to ensure that people in carbon-intensive industries can transition into net zero-carbon industries. Again, I am fearful that we will allow another three quarters or a full year to go by before we do anything tangible to set up a national infrastructure with teeth that can drive that behaviour. Instead of talking within this little bubble, we must engage with the stakeholders who will drive that just transition to take carbon out of this economy and our society.

I want to be supportive of what the Minister and the Government are doing. However, I am fearful that the targets set in the Oireachtas committee report are already being missed. We are heading towards the end of 2019. Among those 42 recommendations were clear targets to be met by the end of this year. I am fearful that there will be too much slippage. We need radical action and clear targets so that people can get behind those targets and drive them on.

3:30 pm

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Bríd Smith and Deputy Paul Murphy are sharing time.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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I will speak four minutes, Deputy Barry will speak for one minute and Deputy Smith will speak for five minutes.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The House will have to hear from me for the longest.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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Tomorrow's action will be the biggest protest against environmental destruction in history. Millions of school students around the world will go on strike. They will not be alone. Workers and trade unions will take action too. In Dublin, those who can will gather at 12 noon at the Custom House. This movement is essential. It will have to grow even further after tomorrow. It will have to bring even more onto the streets and involve mass civil disobedience, like Extinction Rebellion's plan for Rebellion Week 2 in October. Most importantly, it will have to involve global strike action by workers to hit the capitalist class in its profits. This is essential because we are in a fight for survival. The consequences of the environmental destruction that is happening are not in the dim and distant future; they are happening right now. We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event. The species extinction rate has increased a thousand times against background rates typical throughout our planet's history. In a world that is 4°C warmer, which is what we are heading for, 50% of the global population will frequently experience unusual heatwaves by 2040. By 2070, 500 million people will experience humid heatwaves that will kill even healthy individuals in the shade within six hours. The problem is not that this catastrophic change awaits us in the coming decades, but that if we do not take action and turn things around within the coming decade it is inevitable. It is locked in because of the amount of carbon, methane, etc., that will be in the atmosphere.

Yesterday, Greta Thunberg yesterday told the US Congress "I don't want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists". What are the scientists saying? The IPCC has stated that we must immediately institute rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. Climate scientist Kevin Anderson states:

... when you really look at the numbers behind the report, look at the numbers the science comes out with, then we’re talking about a complete revolution in our energy system. And that is going to beg very fundamental questions about how we run our economies.

Those are the questions that this Government and capitalist governments around the world refuse to ask, never mind answer. It is why the Minister comes in and pats the Government on the back for the action it is taking, even though it is completely inadequate. We are heading towards this disaster with our eyes wide open. The reason is that the capitalist profit system is a barrier to the change that we need. The 100 companies responsible for 71% of emissions are a barrier. They are the ones who support the establishment parties across the globe. Oil is the lifeblood of the fossil capitalism we have today. Market capitalisation of the private oil and gas producers is over $3,000 trillion. They are enormously powerful and they will resist anything which interferes with their profits. That is why we need this movement. That is why we need radical action and workers' action and that is why that movement has to be armed with an anticapitalist and eco-socialist programme which puts forward a vision to transform our society and our economy in the way that we need and tackles the question of environmental and social justice.

At the heart of that is decommodifying basic needs. I refer to free, expanded and quality public transport, public provision of low-carbon housing and public ownership and control of the key sections of our economy so that we can plan for a rapid and just transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2030. We also need decarbonisation of the economy through electrification, massive public investment in renewable energy and a transition to sustainable agriculture. Sometimes it is said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Put bluntly, to avoid the end of the world as we know it, the movement needs to imagine the end of capitalism and that movement needs to make it happen. The demonstrations tomorrow will show how it can be done.

3:40 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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More than two thirds of all industrial greenhouse gases emitted worldwide since 1988 have been the responsibility of just 100 companies. The young people carry banners and placards on their demonstrations calling for system change and not climate change. It is clear who is running the system which is threatening the planet. It is not the working class people or the middle class people that the Minister's Government intends to target with increases in carbon tax. It is the profiteers who are the big polluters and the polluters who are the big profiteers. The system we need to change is capitalism.

Tomorrow, millions of young people worldwide will join the global climate strike. I salute them. They have achieved more in one year of campaigning than all of the right-wing governments across the world have achieved in decades. They will be joined tomorrow by trade unionists and workers. This movement must grow, it will become more radical and I wish it every success.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I will not repeat the horrific descriptions we have just heard from around the Chamber about what is happening. I want to raise a number of things, however. I emphasise the importance of tomorrow. I am delighted that the Dublin Council of Trade Unions is supporting the march and calling on its members to join it and also that many communities will be mobilising alongside the students. Indeed, across the world strike action will be taken by longshore workers in San Francisco and dockers in Australia. They will be striking for two hours. That is a powerful message to our governments to do something.

The Minister and I have been crossing paths quite a bit over the obstruction by his Government of the Climate Emergency Measures Bill 2018. We disagree entirely on a number of issues and in particular on the question of gas as a clean transition fuel. I want to raise the alarm concerning this issue for everybody in the country. Within the next week or two, the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste will be going to Europe to represent Ireland and endorse the projects of common interest being put before the European Union. One of those projects of common interest that we are about to endorse is a deal struck between Donald Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker to locate at least 13 shale gas sites across the European Union. Three of them might be coming to Ireland.

In case people are not familiar with the description "shale gas", the term we use is liquefied natural gas, LNG. The Minister will know that liquefied natural gas is the very same as fracked gas. The only difference is that it is coming from North America, the location from where most shale gas is transported around the world. The impact of shale gas is environmentally shocking. Shale gas does not yield as much CO2 as other types of gas or oil. It does, however, give off a huge amount of methane and methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide. Its global warming potential is absolutely massive. It has an impact for more than 20 years that is 787 times greater than CO2. We can see from the latest peer-reviewed science, however, that one third of all shale gas across the globe comes from North America. It is contributing to a huge rise in emissions. Interestingly, however, if we reduce methane production and emissions the climate responds much more rapidly than to a reduction in CO2.

Here is the issue for the Minister. Will he and his Government refuse to sign up to the projects of common interest which include shale gas being transported from North America to the shores of the European Union on the scale proposed? Will he do something meaningful for the tens of thousands of school students, workers and community activists who will throng the streets tomorrow and again and again after that? From 8 October, Extinction Rebellion actions will take place for a whole week across this city as well as Cork and Galway. Will the Minister send out a signal to show those people that he is serious about tackling climate change? Will he show them that he is not a laggard but a leader by ensuring that Ireland will refuse to sign up to the European Union deal done with Trump? That is the next big step we could take. The Minister and his Government have blocked the Climate Emergency Measures Bill 2018. He has been listening to lobbyists, whether from China, ExxonMobil or our own locally-grown fossil fuel industry. He has blocked the Bill undemocratically and he continues to do so. We will still be shouting at him tomorrow to keep it in the ground and allow that Climate Emergency Measures Bill 2018 to pass. The next most important thing he can do, however, is to refuse to buy into these projects of common interest.

As we speak, I have a motion circulating around all of the Deputies in this House asking them to sign the motion and call on the Minister and his Government not to buy into fracked gas from North America. How hypocritical can Fine Gael be? We ban fracking in our country but we import fracked gas from North America on a huge scale. That gas will sit in large methane emissions dumps that are really going to ratchet up the climate chaos we saw during the summer. I refer to the tragedies we saw everywhere from the Bahamas to Mozambique. The people in this world who suffer the most are not those causing the pollution. The people of the world who suffer the least, the 1%, are the real polluters. We can stand in their way, if the Minister will take a brave step and refuse to sign into that project.

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies Connolly and Joan Collins are sharing ten minutes. They have five minutes each.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I would have appreciated a copy of the Minister's speech setting out-----

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I spoke at length earlier.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I heard the Minister speak but we did not get a copy of the speech.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I never write out my speeches.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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It would be very helpful given the seriousness of the issue. I would like the clock stopped if the Minister is going to give me some clarification.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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It is perfectly in keeping with the established practice that Ministers can speak to a debate without circulating notes.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It seldom happens.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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This is a live show.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I have lost some 30 seconds now. The clock is running against me.

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I will allow flexibility at the end.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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That is fine and I thank the Acting Chairman. Some three and a half years ago, I made a speech during the first of our debates on climate change. I said then that the debate was no longer about whether our emissions were having an impact. That debate is over. The question is now about the severity of our impact and what window of opportunity we have. I made that contribution in May 2016. I was commenting in the context of the Rio Conventions, which were, theoretically, a turning point. It was no turning point because since 1992 our emissions have gone up. We are looking at the window of opportunity now being much narrower.

This nation, this Dáil and all of humanity is running out of time. Climate action and climate justice must underpin every step taken by the Government and it must be an immediate priority. It will be too late otherwise and the Minister knows that. I will not use my words now. I will quote the words of people far more learned and experienced than I. The United Nations Secretary General stated that "preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives and for our lives". The intergovernmental panel on climate change, IPPC, gave its starkest warning ever almost a year ago to the day. The new head of the European Commission, not known for her radical nature, told us that the European Commission has recognised that global and domestic EU interests demand increased ambition in our targets. The Habitats report told us about the enormous rate of extinction happening among our habitats and different species. The annual review of our own Climate Change Advisory Council, again not known for its radical nature, published in July, found that Ireland will not come close to meeting its international emission reduction targets by 2020. The review stated that we need a significant and sustained rate of emissions reduction. I do not have time to go into the five key findings. I can say, however, that the Minister's reaction to me saying we do not have a copy of his speech is not acceptable. We need a speech from the Minister and the Government setting out a recognition of the enormity of what is facing the country.

We have pushed the Government to take action and it was the children on the street who really pushed us. I appreciate the Minister is holding up a report to show me. I have seen many reports. I have seen a mitigation plan, a framework, an action plan and legislation, while all the time our emissions are going in the wrong direction. We are narrowing our debate to speaking about a carbon tax as opposed to how we will engage with our communities, which wish to engage with us. They, more than us, and most of all the young people, realise how important it is.

We are part of the EU, which is looking at further militarisation. Environmental destruction, increased greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and climate chaos are all an inescapable part of modern warfare. Modern warfare is part of the US agenda, up to which the EU is tying. We cannot look at these matters in isolation. Waving a plan at me does not deal with the enormity and severity of what we are facing.

I am going home this evening and I cannot wait. I will attend a meeting on the lack of cycling infrastructure. Imagine that in the 21st century in Galway city, we are speaking about the most basic cycling infrastructure. We are still going ahead with more roads, despite the fact that 23,000 people signed a petition to ask the Government to look at a feasibility study for public transport and light rail. It is not happening. It is a city in which development is being led by developers all over again. The Minister's colleague, the Tánaiste, agreed with me on two occasions and told me it was unusual. He agreed it was developer led with no master plan integrated with climate change. Climate change must lead everything we are doing. We also see further prospecting licences in Connemara. I understand this has stopped simply because of the level of protest. The Government's policy is to open the door to people to come in and extract more minerals and fossil fuels when we know we cannot do this.

3:50 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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Although there are not many of us here now, I hope to see everybody who works in the Dáil, Deputies and public representatives out on the streets tomorrow demonstrating with the young people. It starts at the Custom House at 12 noon. It is part of a worldwide movement to keep pressure on governments to change the way they implement climate change strategies.

In explaining the dialectical nature of the process of development of society, Karl Marx said a thing arrives first as a possibility with the freedom to do something and then becomes its opposite, as a necessity to do something. We have reached that point. We do not just have the possibility of changing the way we live and the type of society and economy we have, it is now an absolute necessity to do so. Climate change is most certainly real and the solutions must also be real. Tinkering about will not halt this catastrophe. We need a radical reorganisation of society on a world scale and we should be quite clear about what this means.

Much commentary on climate change focuses on what individuals and households need to do and, of course, there are measures that individual households can take to help reduce carbon emissions. However, this is only a small part of the problem. The majority of energy use and carbon emissions come from industrial activity, the extraction of fossil fuels and the manufacture and distribution of goods. We need to eliminate fossil fuels as an energy source in terms of transport and the generation of electricity. I add my support to those calls for the Taoiseach, who will attend the UN summit on climate action next week, to tell the banks, particularly the Irish banks, to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Rapid transition to renewables is an obvious requirement. This must go hand-in-hand with retraining workers in that area. There must be a programme for the just transition as outlined in the Bill before the House this evening. I certainly will support it. Last Monday week, there was an interesting piece in a Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, blog on an International Labour Organization survey that shows a clear link between union density and climate change. Unionised companies are forced to pay greater attention to health and safety issues and the environment. This is why it is very important that the unions are taking part in the demonstrations tomorrow to show their support for this. They know they are part of the process of change.

Many scientists now argue that to make the transition possible we need to reduce energy use. This is referred to as degrowth. This is a move away from GDP growth as the only measure of progress. It has been correctly pointed out that the overwhelming majority of increased income goes to a very small majority at the top. Despite significant GDP, real wages in the US are at the level of the 1970s, which is almost 50 years ago. We have consistent rising rates of poverty and inequality levels similar to the 1920s.

One way to reduce energy is to eliminate planned obsolescence. In the production of consumer goods if a fridge, washing machine or mobile phone were designed to last at least twice as long as now we would produce less. We would also reduce the energy used in the transportation of goods. We could also revert to making goods that are easily and cheaply repaired instead of throwing them away. A couple of weeks ago, my oven broke down. It was about eight years old. I was told the parts cannot be found any more and that I would have to buy new one. It is ridiculous. Things are being made to force people to buy more. We could ban single-use plastics. We could move to free public transport to reduce car use and cut back on their manufacture.

A big question is whether these measures would cost jobs. Would degrowth mean a recession with high unemployment, more austerity and even higher poverty rates? Not if we take the economy on a world scale out of the hands of the 1% and use it for the benefit of the 99%. The legal working week could be reduced to 30 hours over four days, sharing out the work and achieving full employment. A shorter working week does not mean less pay. We could have a weekly living wage. This is a vision for a new fair and just society where we would share out the existing wealth, work less for better pay, have good public services, live longer, healthier and happier lives and stop the blatant privatisation of our services in the interests of the market and the markets extracting resources in the Third World. Many people would probably call this socialism and correctly so. It is the only way to avoid the impending disaster of climate change. If this is the case we must change drastically our way of thinking and of running our economies.

Photo of Michael HartyMichael Harty (Clare, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for taking the debate. I want to speak on several aspects of climate change, namely, renewable energy and the future diversification of farming. We need to reduce our dependence on coal and peat. We are 13% higher in producing energy from those two sources than the average EU country and we need to catch up rapidly to avoid penalties for not reaching our emission targets.

The proposal in the action plan on climate change is to produce 70% renewable energy by 2030. This will involve solar and wind energy, and wind energy in particular. Land-based wind is the most common form of wind energy at present but we need to look at the production of offshore wind power. Moneypoint will cease burning coal by 2025. In reality, it has ceased burning coal almost exclusively and is held in reserve. The ESB is reducing the workforce in Moneypoint from 194 to fewer than 100 and negotiations are taking place on redundancies. We need to use Moneypoint because it is an essential part of the national grid. Offshore wind is an ideal energy source to be channelled through Moneypoint to the 400 kV lines bringing electricity throughout the country. I urge the Minister to promote the development of offshore wind energy both in the Irish Sea and off the west coast in particular, where there is an abundance of wind and the opportunity to generate wind energy. There is also an opportunity to generate wave and tidal energy. I understand the technology has not reached a level where it can be used but there should be huge investment in the coming years prior to 2025.

We need major investment in the development of offshore wind, tide and wave energy off the west coast. That energy should be channelled through Moneypoint, keeping Moneypoint as an integral part of our national grid.

We also need to eliminate the use of peat in energy generation by 2028. That will result in substantial job losses in Moneypoint and in the midlands in the areas surrounding those peat generation stations. I know that will be referred to in the debate later this evening. We have met in west Clare and asked that a task force be set up to develop alternative energy sources to be channelled through wind. That will involve several Departments, the local authority, local representatives, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to come together in a task force to devise an alternative future for Moneypoint.

We also need to look at microgeneration. The future lies in microgeneration, incorporating solar panels on new house builds, and also introducing microgeneration to existing houses so that people can generate energy and feed it into the grid if they produce excess energy.

On farming, the climate action plan has a proposal for increased afforestation and wetting of our peatlands so that they become carbon sinks to capture carbon. We need diversification away from livestock and perhaps a reduction in the national herd. I believe that CAP 2020 will promote sustainable farming, diversification in farming, promoting carbon sinks and changing farming practices, reducing use of fertiliser and spreading of slurry. This will require farmers to change their focus, move away from exclusively dealing in livestock and adopt a future way of working which involves diversification.

In that regard, I draw the House's attention to two initiatives in the Burren. The first is the Burren life project which has been promoted and developed by Brendan Dunford. It is an extremely effective ecological way of farming. The other is a recently formed entity, the Burren Ecotourism Network, to develop sustainable tourism, which is led by Jarleth O'Dwyer.

The Burren life project is a unique project which allows farmers to farm in a conservation-friendly way. It supports biodiversity and maintains the built and natural environment within the Burren. It is a sustainable agricultural management programme within the Burren. It places farmers at the centre of the conservation agenda, which is critical. Over 200 farmers in the Burren are involved in the Burren life project covering an area of 15,000 ha. Within that area there is a significant repository of unique habitat - archaeological habitat and also the flora and fauna that are unique to the Burren. This allows the Burren to deliver a tourism product that is extremely beneficial to the community.

I am sure the Minister is familiar with the Burren; certainly his brother is familiar with it because he uses the winterage in the Burren to look after his livestock there. It is a unique farming system where the cattle are out all year round, but paradoxically the cattle are driven to the high Burren in the winter where they can feed on the natural grasslands in the limestone fields and the limestone habitat of the Burren. They are then brought down to the lower Burren in the summer for finishing. There has been the development of a specific nutritional feed to finish those cattle in the spring. It is a unique, traditional way of farming that has gone on for over 1,000 years but it was lost in the 1970s when CAP came in and there was a push towards intensified farming, which tended to destroy the natural habitat in the Burren. That has been redressed by the Burren life project led by Brendan Dunford. Each farm is given a management plan and once farmers have fulfilled the tasks within the management plan they get extra supports to develop their farm to maintain the structure of the Burren, to maintain the walls in the Burren and to cut back on the scrub in the Burren, which allows biodiversity to occur. It has led to a 61% reduction in silage and allows farmers to bring water up to the high Burren where there is no water because of the limestone pavement.

There is a management structure which is sustainable. It also allows a very high-quality product to be produced. It allows farmers to increase their livestock by up to 50%. Many of these are small farmers who may be moving from five cattle to eight cattle or ten cattle to 15 cattle. It allows them to increase their income and improve their livelihood.

This project has attracted international attention. The management system behind the project can be transposed into managing olive farms in Spain to bring back traditional farming across Europe in whatever sphere. It is a very important project and it allows for biodiversity. Farming in the future, not only in the Burren but elsewhere, will need to look at diversification away from the traditional high-intensity farming that we have today and diversifying into other forms of farming to maintain our environment and to meet our climate-change targets.

4:00 pm

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I will be sharing time with Deputy Healy.

At the root of climate change is wealth inequality and exploitation of the natural resources of the earth. Fixing the issues that are caused by climate change in their entirety - damage to our environment as well as global inequalities and societal injustices - will require an overhaul of how we do everything, including how we move, how we eat, how we live, and how we care for each other and the planet. Fixing these issues in their entirety will give us the opportunity to create a fairer, more equal, more sustainable society and global economy.

I have spoken numerous times on climate change in this Chamber, as have many of the Deputies here. Many times we have called for measures, including radical legislation, which are opposed or blocked by Government. Despite the Government’s indication it will now move to ban single-use plastics in the coming years, welcome though it is, this is only on foot of the European Union requiring it. If we were to be a leader on this issue, the Government would have supported the Waste Reduction Bill when we introduced it two years ago. It would be supporting Deputy Bríd Smith’s Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill, instead of blocking it at every turn.

The Government has published an all-of-Government climate action plan. It identified the targets we need to achieve but was not willing to commit to the significant system change required to truly tackle the climate crisis. The Government's approach lacks ambition and it is not showing leadership. It is focused on cost rather than opportunity and we need that opportunity. Things as they stand are broken. They are broken for farmers; they are broken for our biodiversity; they are broken for rural areas; and they are broken for our young people. The verdict in the climate crisis case this afternoon shows the courts were not willing to interfere due to the separation of powers, but there was a clear recognition of the right to a healthy environment. That is why we need to change radically how we do things. We need to have that radical ambition when it comes to climate action. We need to invest in real public transport in all areas, urban and rural.

In Switzerland, the canton of Graubünden has a population density somewhere between those of Kerry and Mayo and yet it has hourly bus and rail services that are linked to the national grid. It is all doable if the Government is willing to actually commit to helping rural Ireland move towards a greener future. It cannot do it alone, and right now Government is abandoning it. We need active travel measures, walking and cycling infrastructure. Changing all of our petrol or diesel cars for electric vehicles will not deal with the congestion issues that are gridlocking our cities. In any event, seeking to have 1 million electric vehicles by 2030 is a complete fantasy. The Government is missing the point. We need to give commuters an alternative to the car and our children need to be able to walk and cycle safely to school. We need to have the option of taking a train or a bus and it should be regular. The lack of investment in public transport is the problem. We need to make our homes warmer and the Government needs to really kick start the enormous retrofitting project countrywide and start with our social housing stock. We need to invest in local renewabIes instead of sending all of our money to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf for oil, which, as we saw this week, is always going to be volatile in terms of price and supply. Let us make sure we keep that money here, in our communities.

Fine Gael has spent eight years trucking along the same route while inequality has just grown and grown. If we want to build a fairer, greener Ireland, we need to overhaul the system. The upcoming budget needs to show a strong intention to change these systems. The Government cannot continue to nudge itself a little bit forward in the right direction, we need to see an intention in the budget that ambitious system change is what Ireland is doing. This will also require a change to the national development plan, which currently is not fit for purpose. It needs a substantial overhaul, to focus on other modes of travel.

Tomorrow, students and other people throughout the country will go on strike, calling on the Government to take real climate action. This has happened before. The climate strikes in March and May were truly inspirational and it was incredible to stand there with my children, aged 12, 11 and eight, who were screaming outside the gates of Leinster House seeking that leadership from the Government to secure their future with all the other youth of Ireland. There are inspirational young people who stand up for climate action every Friday outside Leinster House. The Dundrum Climate Vigil Group comes together every Friday to demand that real climate action be taken by this Government. Striking for climate action is not infuriating, it is liberating. The young people who are standing up for their own future - for themselves - know that the system has to be rebuilt. They are calling on all of us to get behind them so we can do it. I will be there tomorrow with young people from around the country. I encourage all Members of this House to join the youth of Ireland and I encourage the Government to heed the youth. As we begin this new Dáil term, we need to commit to real, radical change, in the full knowledge that that is the only way to secure our future and create an Ireland that is fair and just, and that can be passed down and secured for the next generation.

4:10 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I welcome this debate at the start of the Dáil term and hope that it indicates some real commitment and urgent action by the Government on this most important issue. It is opportune that the debate is taking place on the eve of what is likely to be the biggest global climate mobilisation ever led by school strikers tomorrow. Millions of people around the world will come together to unite behind the science and call on leaders everywhere to deliver an urgent and dramatic increase in action. In Ireland, these strikes will take place throughout the country and in my town, Clonmel, there will be an event at the Main Guard at 1 p.m. tomorrow. I encourage anybody who can do so to turn out in support of that action. It is also opportune because it comes in advance of next Monday's meeting of the UN Climate Action Summit which has been called by the Secretary General ahead of the entry into force of the Paris Agreement in 2020 in recognition of the dangerous disconnect between current emissions reduction pledges and what is needed to deliver on the Paris Accords. The Secretary General stated, "Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives and for our lives."

A year ago, the IPCC published its starkest warning yet on the risks and impacts of overshooting a temperature rise of 1.5°C. We remain on course for a warming of more than 3°C and that will have catastrophic implications for society and the environment. The IPCC has also warned us that we have to cut our emissions in half within the next ten years if we are to stand a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. As a rich nation with a high rate of per capitaemissions, Ireland should be doing more by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions well before the target date of 2050. It is important to recognise that wealthy countries like Ireland with high emission rates have yet to experience the persistent reality and devastating impact of climate change. The poorest countries and people and the most vulnerable people who are being affected yet they have contributed least to the problem.

Ireland needs to recognise the urgency and increase the national ambition on this issue. It is important to remember that 100 large companies are responsible for 71% of emissions and it certainly is not and will not be acceptable to put the burden of dealing with climate change on the backs of ordinary people. The companies responsible for producing huge emissions should be targeted and made to pay.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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It will be very difficult to do justice to the many contributions in the space of five minutes. I will start with Deputy Lawless. He criticised Government for what he described as reviews. The last thing the climate action plan should be described as is a review. This is the first time we have had a plan. We have set up an implementation group centrally within the Department of the Taoiseach. We have adopted targets and committed to a climate Bill, the heads of which will be discussed by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment during this session. We have 183 action points in that plan and each of them is timelined. People will be given a chance to evaluate how we are doing, not only in terms of climate emissions but also in delivering the actions. No doubt we will not hit all the targets because they are ambitious.

Deputy Cullinane is not here but he stated that by measuring the lifetime cost of different potential technologies, we were relying on market forces. That is not the case. Using evaluation of how much different technologies cost and how they impact on the climate is independent of what measures we introduce to affect them, be they incentives or regulations. I am not sure what he was driving at there. I was a bit confused by his contribution because he emphasised the urgency of the action but he wanted to defer any action until a lot of other issues were resolved for example until Brazil had resolved its problems. We do not have the luxury of deferring action. We have to take action now and sequence it as best we can.

5 o’clock

Deputy Sherlock stated the Joint Committee on Climate Action wanted the climate Bill to be enacted in 2019. I am seeking to deliver the heads of the Bill to the committee to enable pre-legislative scrutiny this year. He raised the question of whether we can deliver more quickly on the targets. If we can, that is great, but at least we have set out clear timelines. People in each public body are now accountable for delivering them, although I do not suggest we will meet them all. He suggested that no rational person would invest in an electric vehicle without sufficient chargers being available but this year more than 8,000 people are expected to buy either plug-in hybrid vehicles or battery electric vehicles. By the end of the year, we will have rolled out 2,500 private chargers and we have committed to providing 1,600 public chargers. We are committing, therefore, to delivering on the measures.

Deputy Paul Murphy stated we should listen to scientists and I fully agree with him in that regard. Deputy Bríd Smith, on the other hand, took issue with the scientists who tell us gas will be a clean transition fuel and that we need to recognise we will require gas in the transition phase. I did not hear one suggestion from either Deputy as to what initiatives they are in favour of to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide, other than getting rid of capitalism-----

4:20 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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Free public transport, sustainable agriculture, public investment in renewable energy and electrification of the economy. There are many proposals.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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It is an entirely ideological position that is not a response to any of the demands we face, given that the Deputies had that position long before the demands appeared. They still have that position and will probably continue to have it in the years to come.

Deputy Harty made a thoughtful intervention in indicating where there are true opportunities. There is no doubt we have ten times the area offshore that we have of land capacity and there is a genuine opportunity for us to deliver in that sector, as is called out in the climate plan. We recognise we have to change legislative provisions and have outlined timelines for the changes to try to open the opportunity. In time, albeit probably not in the first auction, we will have to consider the requirement to have a dedicated pot for offshore wind energy to get the industry moving. The Deputy also recognised the important role of microgeneration, which is very important because it allows communities to become more self-sustaining and is a practical way of engaging people.

I apologise that I do not have time to address the other contributions.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy O'Dowd is anxious to make a contribution on climate change but, unfortunately, there is not time.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I understand that.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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The Deputy should come in on the Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I am in the Chamber for another reason.