Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements
It is an honour to have the opportunity to make a transition statement at this time, as we are almost at the first anniversary of the publication of Ireland's first ever whole-of-government climate action plan, which was published around 17 June last year. We have made significant progress in both the Oireachtas and the Government over that period. For example, the Oireachtas unanimously declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and the Government published the scheme of the Bill which will revolutionise the way we deal with climate. It will introduce, for the first time, five-year climate budgets and it will set a target for the 2050 net zero emissions that Ireland aspires to deliver. That will be very significant. It will also introduce entirely new accountability within the House. Instead of this transition statement, which has come into disrepute within the House, each Minister will be sectorally responsible and there will be a powerful Oireachtas committee with similar powers to the Committee of Public Accounts which will oversee our responsibilities in respect of climate. That will be a very significant change for the House.
We have also passed the commitment to a carbon price, which is the first increase of that carbon price and that money is hypothecated, as economists would say. All the proceeds are being used to drive on climate action, either in the form of just transition such as the significant packages for the midlands, or by supporting those who are worst equipped to fund such changes with schemes like the better energy, warmer homes scheme or the fuel scheme, and increasing our activities in all types of measures that deliver climate action.
Another very significant milestone is the signing of the contract for the national broadband plan, which we signed in January. People will see how significant broadband has been over the course of the Covid-19 crisis in providing an alternative to our conventional ways of travelling and working, which are highly carbon-dependent, by using remote working opportunities. Such opportunities have certainly revolutionised the way people are now working.
It will be a challenge to try to retain those structural changes, but we have shown the potential that exists if we go down the line of having every premises in the country connected to high-speed broadband. That can have a significant impact on the way we do business.
In that intervening period, Ireland also signed up to the EU Green Deal, which is an ambitious statement from the new President of the European Commission. Europe had a target of a 40% reduction on 1990 levels and has increased this to between 50% and 55%. The latter represents a significant step upwards and will require Ireland to take a significant step beyond what is contained in the climate action plan. Work on how that will be done is ongoing.
It is worth giving the House an account of some of the changes we have made in the Department. The first new renewable energy auction has been published and we will shortly be receiving applications. It has a 10% pot for solar energy, as well as an open competition in respect of other renewables. The House will be glad to learn that it also has a reservation for renewables generated by community organisations. There will be a community gain of €2 for every megawatt hour generated and that money will go into a fund to benefit communities. Agreement was not reached by the European Union on this occasion regarding a community participation element whereby a shareholding element could be obtained by a community. A design was developed but because there is a state aid element, approval has not yet been granted. It is something we will persist with for the next round.
At the end of June we will publish a waste and circular economy strategy which will seek to deliver on our ambitions, such as in the area of eliminating all non-recyclable plastics, halving food waste and so on. Many ambitious changes are planned. The retrofit task force and the €20 million midlands pilot initiative are well advanced, but unfortunately Covid-19 has put paid to hitting the ground with the midlands programme. The work on designing an aggregated scheme so that we could treat areas in very large packages and have work on very substantial numbers of homes done together to a high level is well advanced and will be essential to our longer-term ambitions.
The House knows we have signed an agreement on the interconnector with France. This will be a significant project. We have issued the new arrangements for renewable heat. We have started the roll-out of new electric vehicle chargers with the ESB and local authorities have started the roll-out relating to the commitment over the next couple of years to provide 1,200 local authority and 700 ESB chargers. The first major hub on the N7 is at an advanced stage of preparation and will shortly go live.
We have committed to the extension of the smoky coal ban and have significantly developed the just transition package. The closure of a power station in the midlands was accelerated due to the decision of An Bord Pleanála and we have put in place a just transition package, which is now live in the midlands, in terms of applications for funds. The restoration of bogs has commenced under the contract from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The other encouraging thing is that the most recent data shows that 2019 saw the largest ever reduction in carbon generated from energy use. This is a significant milestone. The electricity sector is showing a very strong performance as we increasingly displace fossil fuels with energy from renewable sources.
Renewable energy comprises approximately 36% of what we generate and we need to accelerate that to reach the 70% target in the climate action plan.
Obviously, 2020 is important because it is the year in which calculations will occur to decide the shortfall. The shortfall was predicted to involve a fine of between €6 million and €13 million on the carbon emissions side. In light of the situation that obtains this year, it will certainly be less than that, although the more significant fines will probably apply to Ireland in respect of the renewable target where we will have a shortfall.
Work is continuing on the national climate and energy plan to be submitted to the EU. Both it and the long-term strategy require sign-off by a new Government. They are somewhat delayed. We have published the 12 sectoral adaptation plans, which involve each of the sectors and every part of Government. They go across four themes: our natural and cultural assets; water and flood; critical infrastructure; and health. Those are the four themes in respect of which we have 12 separate strategies to anticipate the adverse impact that may come with climate change and to fortify our infrastructure against them.
The four climate action regional offices are operational. These cover the local authorities of Mayo, Dublin Cork and Kildare. I have been very keen to have a very detailed and rolling programme of consultation with people both sectorally and regionally, with young people and with various interests. We have had more than a dozen of those consultations, as well as the big more formal events such as that held in Croke Park before we launched the climate action plan. It is really important to bring people with us on what is a very challenging journey.
This is the biggest challenge of our generation. It will require people to change the habits of a lifetime. It will require mobilising large amounts of capital to redirect the economy and society. It will require people accepting different infrastructure from what they are used to. It is really important that we in the Oireachtas provide leadership on that journey. I look forward to working with Deputies on all sides to ensure that the resolution passed in the previous Dáil to address the climate challenge becomes the lodestar of this Dáil as we seek to demonstrate to our people, as well as to the wider world, that we are taking this threat to our environment deadly seriously.
I wish to share time with Deputies Lahart, Ó Cuív, Flaherty and Chambers.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the discussion on the annual national transition statement, which includes an overview of climate change mitigation and adaption policy measures adopted to reduce emissions and greenhouse gases. This is only a policy statement as enunciated in the introduction to the actual report. It is not about implementation. The entire report is only fluff and puff. It would be far better if the legislation required a report on activities specifically, rather than an annual policy statement. This House is great at annual policy statements but not half as good at ensuring that they are actually implemented.
I want to deal with two topics only. The main gap in this report is that there is no significant reference to the carbon tax collected in 2019 or any previous year. One would almost think the Government was starting to embark on the road to collect carbon tax. The Revenue Commissioners have confirmed that in 2018, some €441 million in carbon tax was collected. I am putting on my hat as a former Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts where we had detailed discussions on this exact topic with the ESRI, the Revenue Commissioners and other experts.
They told us that in 2019 Revenue were expecting to collect approximately €500 million in carbon tax. There is no reference to that in this report, to where this money came from, or to where it was spent and utilised. This report is fundamentally flawed. I am far more concerned about the serious issues that are not in the report rather than what is actually printed in this lovely policy statement.
Over the past five years more than €2 billion has been collected in carbon tax from Irish taxpayers. There is no reference to where this was spent. There was never an accounting system or a system of reporting to the Oireachtas as to where that €2 billion was spent. I acknowledge that as a result of pressure from Fianna Fáil, in the most recent budget for 2020, where an extra €90 million is going to be collected, the allocation of this money is to be given in the report with reference to the transition fund. There is no mention of the other €500 million that is and has always been collected. The Minister has been collecting over the years a great deal of money in carbon tax on petrol, diesel, marked gas oil, kerosene - home heating oil - natural gas and solid fuels, but without any specifics as to where this has actually been spent and used to meet the objectives of this legislation. This report is therefore fundamentally flawed and is only huff and puff as far as I am concerned.
I will discuss now the EU emissions trading system, which is actually referred to in this report. Reading the short paragraph which defines the EU emissions trading system, it states that the EU trading system is:
The EU Emissions Trading System ... is the main cornerstone of the EU’s policy to combat climate change and operates on the "cap and trade" principle, where a cap is set on the total amount of emissions that can be emitted by installations beyond which allowances must be purchased. This cap is reduced over time, incentivising a reduction in emissions.
It goes on to say that there are 103 such facilities licensed in Ireland under this legislation. These include the main power generation facilities, major construction projects, utilities, hospitals, and other major emitters of carbon. This is very interesting and a little bit of not giving the full picture. Again it is a case of what the Minister did not say. He gave credit to us for reducing our carbon emissions in 2019 in the energy sector. That is because Moneypoint was closed. He can claim no credit because the facility was out of action, and yet we are using it as a reason to say we were brilliant last year. What the Minister did not say, and I am saying it, because it is a fact, and I am putting it on the public record, is that the carbon that was not emitted from Moneypoint last year can be carried forward by the ESB to overproduce carbon emissions next year and can be offset against future emissions. The company also has the option of selling it on the international EU trading system. There is a lot of hocus-pocus going on here when it comes to meeting actual targets.
Essentially, when it comes to the emissions trading system, there are 103 facilities in Ireland and thousands across Europe that have a cap on what they can produce and that must purchase these emission credits if they go over the cap, and we are saying to the biggest 103 polluters in the country that they can pollute all they like, and if they go over their limits, they can purchase carbon credits from another country as their way of buying out their carbon reduction obligations. This is a simple statement of fact and is what we are not hearing today.
There is only one organisation that I do want to compliment under the partnership bit on this and that is the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which is the competent authority to ensure compliance. I am pleased to see that in 2018 - again we got this information at the Committee of Public Accounts - that St James’s Hospital was fined €210,000 for breaching its emissions targets and because it had not purchased carbon credits at European level. Vodafone was also fined €51,000. I do know that Vodafone paid up its money, and we were told at the Committee of Public Accounts that a payment plan was in place for St James’s Hospital. I am sure that has been done.
I am far more interested in seeing a report from the Minister in future, and this would be essential for any new Government, that lays out and explains to the Dáil and to the public where the €600 million that will be collected in carbon tax this year will go. The report before us only focused on the €19 million because we forced the Minister to do it, and the big picture is totally outside it. I want fewer fluffy policy statements and more specific reports on these issues in future.
Like my colleague, I want to huff and puff, but I will take the opportunity to advocate for the cycling argument. The transition statement on climate action provides us with an opportunity to look at the opportunities provided by Covid-19, the opportunities provided in a crisis, the changing behaviour of the public, especially over the past couple of months, and the reluctance of some members of the public, and regrettably for the immediate future, to take to public transport in huge numbers until we get some kind of resolution to the crisis. There is an opportunity but also an issue. There is an opportunity to really embed the change in pedestrian and cycling behaviour that has grown among the public, but we also need to tackle the attraction of people taking to their cars to come back into the city as they return to work, and it is very welcome that they are returning to work.
I would like to focus on Project Ireland 2040 in the two minutes I have, and it is ridiculous to have just two minutes in which to contribute to this debate. Project Ireland 2040 does not mention e-bikes. On the science of e-bikes the Minister talks of them being optimum for journeys from 10 km to 15 km. We need to tax incentivise those. Sales of e-bikes during Covid-19 have grown exponentially. Some of the sellers and providers are running out of them. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport of course had very little to say about the issues of transport for four years, and he never moved on the e-scooters. The Minister went out to public consultation and never came back with a resolution. It is well past time to embed this and to regulate them. A huge amount of innovation is taking place in this space. We talk about e-cars, and the Minister has set targets for e-cars, but the plan does not mention e-motorbikes, which are a coming phenomenon also. These are relatively cheap and incredibly efficient, while reducing carbon in their own way. There are no measures, however, in this regard. Any of the measures taken in the past number of weeks have been taken by the local authorities, on which I commend them.
A number of measures need to be taken, and I have produced a document on behalf of Fianna Fáil on mobility and cycling connected to Dublin. We need to look at safety and basic things, if one can believe it, in relation to signage. We need to look at secure parking facilities. There is one public bicycle-parking facility in this town. Just one. If we want to encourage people to take to bikes in greater numbers and use them to commute to work and for leisure activities then we need to take some measures. We need to undertake immediate research and investigate exactly why women are reluctant to cycle. There is an opportunity now. During Covid-19 women, children and young families took to bikes in big numbers. We need to look at tax incentives and not just the cycle to work scheme. We need to look at tax incentives for employers to encourage their employees to replace their cars and to come to work on their bikes. The time to move is now.
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, said that we need to change the habits of a lifetime. People have done that in their hundreds of thousands in the past two months. It does not requires the millions of euro the Minister is talking about. These are small measures that could be incentivised quite quickly and would have a dramatic reduction in carbon.
I wish this was a real question and answer session where we had an opportunity to tease things out. I will raise a number of issues. Obviously, we must reduce our carbon footprint and we need to get on with the job. In doing so we must involve communities. There are two specific issues. One is on community gain. Who will get to spend the money? Will companies get to spend the money they will be statutorily obliged to spend, or will they be told to hand that money over to some entity such as a Leader company or a local authority to spend? I do not like the idea of the big companies coming with largesse they may be statutorily obliged to spend. How does one define the community that should gain because of the pain? That issue needs to be clarified to be clear. There is a fair spend of it. There is another issue in this regard. I take it this will extend to offshore wind generation. Again, it becomes even more important to define which communities will gain. Will it be the coastal community or, in some great metamorphosis, will the companies manage to transfer the money far away from the local community that has been impacted?
On the issue of feed-in, I heard the Minister speak of community involvement in energy. The other element of this is micro-generation, where individuals, particularly in rural Ireland, can get involved either through solar or wind energy. What is the situation in respect of a good, decent feed-in tariff which they have in other countries? There are very good models of this. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. It could be hugely attractive. People could produce enough electricity for their own uses, for charging up their motor vehicles and for feeding into the tariff when they do not need the electricity. What is the policy on a feed-in tariff for micro-generation?
As a native of Leinster where peat can be found in the veins of most families, it is with a heavy heart that I accept the closure of our bogs for commercial power generation. However, that does not mean I accept the manner in which this process has been covertly fast-tracked, nor do I accept the shabby treatment of Bord na Móna workers. We are gambling a great deal on the just transition fund because at the moment not a single cent has been poured back into our beleaguered community. I am conscious that a raft of Longford projects are due for submission for the first round of applications on Friday. Collectively, these projects could be transformative but, as a matter of urgency, we need to start seeing the investment flowing into our community.
The scale of the compensation package on offer is by no means comparable to that available to other European companies which are exiting the coal industry. Longford and the midlands will not be bought for a fraction of what we have contributed to this country over the past 70 years. It is important that we stop viewing the just transition fund as merely a carbon-reduction plan because it is about much more. I appreciate it is about the future but specifically it is about the future for my community, a community that has to stand back and watch as one of its largest industries is dismantled. I would like to see a commitment in budget 2021 that Longford County Council will be compensated for a €1 million reduction in its rates bill.
We also need to see full buy-in from all Government agencies. For example, Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board has moved to close its VTOS education training centre in Longford town. That decision needs to be revisited, not only as part of a just transition training programme, but also as part of the recovery programme.
Finally, I hope, and the local community in Lanesborough expects, the ESB will stand back and allow the local community an opportunity to formulate plans and alternative uses before the semi-State company presses ahead with plans for the demolition of the €200 million power station in our village.
I am delighted to hear that in next year's 2020 statements we may not see any huff and puff and Fianna Fáil will blow the house down and usher in a new level of transparency where we will have action plans, implementations and costings. I very much look forward to next year's implementation plan, if Fianna Fáil end up forming a Government with Fine Gael and the Green Party.
I want to give way to the Minister, if that is allowed. I will ask him a question. If the Minister is in a position to answer and it is agreeable to the Ceann Comhairle, I will use my time in that way.
I refer to the page of the annual transition statement which deals with greenhouse gas emission projections. It sets out the targets and the binding limits that we agreed to, as a country, from 2013 to 2020. Our 2020 targets were that our non-ETS emissions to be reduced by 20% by 2020. The statement states that the best case scenario is that we may have achieved a target 5% or 6% below the 2005 levels. In the worst-case scenario, when oil prices are factored in, it may be as low as 0% or 1%. What was the actual achievement in terms of that 2020 non-ETS target? What percentage reduction was achieved?
The way those targets are evaluated is that it is the cumulative number between 2013 and 2020. It is not the number in 2020. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, we were ahead of target. We were exceeding what was expected, but that, of course, was because of the depressed economy.
In 2016 and 2018, we undid all that and went on a rising trend. We are about balance, however, so the two years in which we will exceed the targets are 2019 and 2020. We do not know where we stand in 2020 because Covid-19 has had an impact on what the figure will be and we do not know what that is. The prediction is that we will be over the aggregate target, and the potential fine would be between €5 million and €13 million. That was before Covid-19 occurred, so the expectation is that the outcome will be at the low end of that scale. Until the figures come in for 2020, we will not know the potential penalty.
I return to my specific question. I understand that this is cumulative and that up to 2020 - these things come in seven-year cycles - we were to achieve a 20% non-ETS reduction on 2005 levels. Are we going to come in on target? Will we have achieved that 20% reduction by 2020? It is a yes-no answer.
The target is not a 2020 target. It is a cumulative target we must hit. We will certainly not be down 20% in 2020 unless the impact of Covid-19 has a huge impact on our reduction, because the 2019 figures are well ahead of where we should be. The reality is that we were in credit in the early period. I am not claiming that is a great thing, but the trouble is that our trajectory is in the wrong position. Our trends for 2019 and 2020 are in the wrong direction and we need to take a steep turn back. We do not have the figures for 2020. I do not think anyone is in a position to predict them.
We are definitely going in the wrong direction. On the same page, it is stated that "the 2030 reduction targets", under what we signed up to with the EU, "require that Ireland reduce its non‐ETS emissions by 30% on 2005 levels by 2030". There is much talk about a 6% or 7% reduction in carbon emissions targets. Going back to something that was said earlier, we have not yet seen any modelling done by Departments showing year-on-year how that reduction in targets is going to be achieved. We have also not been given any costings. What is the plan and where is it? I ask that because when we discussed this issue with departmental officials in recent weeks and months, they told us that in some areas the modelling has not been done. When we look at all the areas, such as agriculture, transport, residential, commercial and non-energy intensive industry, where we have to achieve a reduction of 6% or 7%, whatever the figure parties might settle on, reaching that target will require huge change. It will require transformative change and we want to see that change, but we also have to see what is necessary to make that change happen. What is the modelling and where is it? If it exists, what is it Department by Department? This is an opportunity. I agree that this is 70 pages of fluff. There is not much in this report. The crux of this matter, the real issue, is how we get from A to B. How do we get from having a target to actually reducing our emissions? There is no point having these targets if there are no implementation plans and actions. Has the modelling been done? If it has been done, how can we achieve those targets on a percentage basis year-on-year? Where is that information? Will the Minister give us some indication of how much it will cost this State to achieve a 7% reduction in annual carbon emissions? I refer to actual measures and not where the money will be acquired. What will it cost to achieve those targets? Has the modelling been done and, if so, can that information be forwarded to us?
Let me try to answer to the best of my ability. The climate action plan indicated that if we did nothing, we would be 58 million tonnes off target by the end of the decade. The purpose of the climate action plan was to get us back on a track where we would wipe out that deficit. That plan has been published and, roughly speaking, it indicates a 3.5% annual reduction in our emissions. It allocates them to each sector, with specific measures outlined as to how the reductions will be delivered. Regarding the detailed modelling to be done by the EPA, it is now doing that and it will take the actions set out in the climate action plan and verify the impact they will have.
The modelling we did was to the best of our ability. We looked at the various sectors. It is based on robust figures. Teagasc, for example, has done enormous work in the area of agriculture. If one looks at the plan, one will see the measures. Of course, the cost issue depends on how one tackles-----
I wish to use the few minutes I have to speak from a rural perspective about the climate transition we must all make. I hope the Minister will take some pointers on this issue. Rural communities do not wish to be dumping grounds for pylons, wind turbines, battery storage plants or forestry. All Members know of instances where communities have not been properly consulted and are left to battle big companies, sometimes having to go all the way to the High Court in order for justice to be done. This is not about saying "No" to renewables, but it must be about proper planning, proper oversight and consultation from the very beginning. We need to bring communities with us.
In recent years in particular, there has been a steady increase in applications for forestry in parts of counties Roscommon and Galway. We need to ensure that proper regulations are in place to make certain that no one area is targeted and blighted with forestry. We also need to look at other options, such as offshore wind energy generation. Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU with an Atlantic coastline, but the option of offshore generation has not been developed.
During the general election campaign, I met a young woman from just outside Ballinasloe who was having difficulty obtaining planning permission to build a house on her farmland in order to allow her to continue farming close by. There is a concern that local authorities are moving away from one-off housing, which will mean an end to rural communities. We should be sustaining and supporting those communities. Not everyone wants to live in Dublin or another urban centre.
Another worry is the continued targeting of farmers when it comes to climate action. Farmers must not pay the price for climate action. In many cases they simply cannot afford to do so. Whatever Government is in place for the negotiations on the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, will need to bear that in mind because we know that farmers have been threatened with significant cuts under it. We cannot take from farmers the subsidies on which they depend while also expecting more and more from them. Farmers need to be incentivised to implement practices to reduce carbon emissions and rewarded when they do so.
I wish to raise the issue of illegal dumping. This problem appears to be getting worse in many rural areas. There are several black spots in counties Roscommon and Galway. Two weeks ago, a litter warden told me that, basically, sending a warning letter is all they can do in many cases. If that is the law as it stands, then that law needs to be changed. Local authorities need far stronger enforcement powers and they need to be resourced to ensure they have an adequate number of litter wardens per county. Part of that solution should be to bring control of waste collection back under local authorities.
Many rural towns and communities have not experienced any recovery whatsoever and the Minister needs to be mindful of that in the context of climate change actions. I ask that he consider rural-proofing climate action measures. We have a significant amount to do, but we need to bring people with us, including rural towns, villages and communities, farmers, Bord na Móna workers and, of course, the young people I commend on having opened many eyes to the need for immediate action.
I fully accept that we need consultation in the areas referred to by the Deputy. However, we must deliver a very ambitious increase in both forestry and wind farms. The Deputy is correct that offshore wind energy represents a significant opportunity for us. We have pencilled it in for 3.5 GW of power and, as such, it would be a very significant part of the story over the next decade. It has the potential to provide an even greater amount of power.
The Deputy is correct that the concentration of forestry is a source of significant resistance. There is very generous support for forestry. What is available is, effectively, the cost of the planting plus €600 per hectare for 15 years. There is support available, but the Deputy is correct that we must persuade people to come with us.
The Minister will be aware of the Sinn Féin policy document on forestry published last year. It was based on viewing forestry not only as a commercial enterprise, but as a way to ensure biodiversity and provide an amenity for communities. I have written to Coillte regarding Oldcourt woods at Garryduff in Rochestown. It is an area of considerable biodiversity in spite of its relatively small size. It is home to a variety of squirrels, including the increasingly rare red squirrel, as well as jays, rabbits, foxes and, possibly, badgers.
The proposal to clear-fell here is a huge concern to residents and has been likened to a scar, in part because of the last road that went through these woods, and it is something people do not want to see repeated. The road is unnecessary and the replacement of conifers with broadleaf trees can take place gradually. It is also important to note where this is. There has been enormous development in this area and the city has sprawled out to it, although it is 8 km from the city centre. There has been huge development. It is crucial to maintain an oasis of calm and tranquillity as our cities grow, particularly near areas where there are large populations. I note that Cork City Council on Monday night voted in favour of seeking that the woods be handed over to the city council as an amenity. I ask the Minister to intervene with Coillte to make it aware that he believes woodlands near urban areas are scarce resources to be cherished.
I wish to raise one other issue and I will give the Minister a chance to respond. There has been a lot of talk regarding Government formation and what that might mean for road projects. While I support increased investment in public transport, balanced regional development, particularly in the Munster region, needs certain key projects to go ahead. I would be concerned that projects such as the Dunkettle interchange or the M28 could be casualties. Can the Minister reassure me that such projects as these, which are provided for in the development plan, will go ahead?
I will make a final point on roads. An awful lot of the money that is spent on roads is not necessarily to do with cars. I can think of a project in my constituency, the L2455, which might not sound like much but is a multi-million euro project. It is all about ensuring that residents can walk outside of their homes from the estates they live in because currently they can only travel by car, given it is right at the edge of the city and people cannot get outside their estates in Lehenaghmore and Lehenaghbeg except by car. That is not acceptable. Road projects like that have to be protected.
In the time remaining I ask the Minister to respond on the issue of the woods and on whether he will intervene with Coillte and also in regard to protecting those projects outlined in the development plan.
While I fully accept the value of woodlands in urban areas and the importance that we, in our urban living, put on natural resources, I am not in a position to comment on the specific case the Deputy raises. Coillte is not an agency under my Department so, unfortunately, I cannot comment on the merits of the case being put forward, although it sounds persuasive as the Deputy sets it out.
While I can assure the Deputy that balanced regional development will be a core commitment in any programme for Government, I am not going to enter into controversy in regard to any negotiations that may be taking place around the formation of Government. We have seen significant progress in balanced regional development in recent years and we have to sustain that. In my area, when I was responsible for enterprise, we created for the first time regional enterprise strategies that have been very successful. The Department of the Minister, Deputy Michael Ring, has been very vibrant in producing schemes that support rural and village communities and town centre revival and we need to see more of that sort of connection.
From a climate perspective, rural Ireland also has to recognise that change has to be made and structural changes will have to happen in our rural communities. To go back to the point made by Deputy Kerrane, it is of course important that we bring people with us but we cannot pretend structural change is not going to happen, so it is about finding how we deliver that structural change, some of which is difficult to get one's head around. Hopefully, people will see the merit of the direction the Government is trying to bring them in.
Since St. Patrick's Day, our way of life has changed more than we could ever imagine. One of the positive benefits has been the reduction in greenhouse emissions and their impact on climate change. Many people I know have not filled up their car since March. Working from home is no longer niche; it is now a revolution in how we work. The majority of people, some 59%, are happier working from home and surveys show that not having to face the daily commute is the top benefit of working from home.
It is not just working from home that has changed. Over 250,000 people are now cycling more compared with this time last year, which is an amazing statistic.
Restrictions on travel have revealed what is available to us on our doorsteps as we shop locally and explore local different walks. For many people, plans for holidays are now focusing on Kerry rather than the Canaries.
As we emerge from this crisis and rebuild our society I ask the Minister the following. What lessons can we learn to permanently reduce our greenhouse emissions? Can he outline the estimated reduction in greenhouse emissions since March? Can he outline what plans he has to make some of these changes permanent to support working from home, which is a revolution, support the increase in cycling and encourage staycations and shopping locally to continue into the future?
As the Deputy has recognised, remote working and remote delivery of health services are really transformative opportunities. In the health area they have taken huge pressure off our hospital system. We are beginning to see that digital technology can revolutionise our environment.
For remote working, the estimate is that 10 KW hours per remote worker - a person who opts for that - per day is what is saved. I have asked my Department to calculate what that will be in carbon emissions but it is significant. If we cut our travel reliance it would be a very significant emission reduction.
In terms of what we have calculated, the only work that I have seen is from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and its numbers are running around 6% or 7% but we do not know how the year will end up. Remote working definitely has had an impact on emissions but we will not know that until later in the year. Obviously I do not think anyone would want the way in which we achieve our emissions to be by having 1 million people effectively furloughed, on furlough or whatever the term is, either on Covid payments or with their employers very much limping along, but we can learn.
There are many other structural changes. As people start to re-evaluate their lives and the way they live them then not only will there be remote working but one will see different changes. People will recognise the merit of buying local so I think there will be a stronger emphasis on local purchasing and local materials. Obviously many countries will be re-evaluating their supply chains. That is not all good from an Irish perspective. There will be a re-evaluation of where we source our materials and how one delivers security will become more important so there are changes there.
I would be very much saying to people that, as they look to the coming years, they need to make structural decisions that put their homes, farms or enterprises into a stronger position in the face of the climate challenge and this pause is a very good time. I would be urging enterprise agencies, as part of their mandate to tackle climate, to ensure that for any company they support they would do an audit of how it is on climate resilience, energy efficiency and switching to renewable options. The same is true of homes. This time has been a reminder of the frailty of the environment we live in. People need to look at their lifestyles, as we reopen, to see what from the good practices that we have learned in the lockdown we can carry into more normal times. The management of our waste is a case. Many people being at home are not having the same food waste as they would have had when they lived their busy lives. We have very high levels of food waste in this country and it is estimated to be about €700 per household. That is something people could seriously look at as a win:win, saving themselves money, saving on the production of food and saving the carbon impact of sending food waste to a dump or an incinerator.
There are many dimensions where we can start to look at how we embed the structural changes we need. If anything good can come from Covid-19 it is for all of us to re-evaluate the way we relate to the environment around us and start to make those small changes. We have talked of breaking the habits of a lifetime and those are important habits to seek to break.
The challenge for the Government will be to ensure we protect those most exposed, vividly in the case of Bord na Móna workers, and to protect those least equipped to make the change. I hope schemes such as the warmer homes scheme can help people to make these choices. We have to make it easier for people.
A lot of reference has been made to cycling as an alternative to cars. I have been cycling in every day in recent weeks and it is a pleasure to do so. The council has made provision to make it safer to do so. This is something we can embed. On the other hand, we have trouble with our public transport. Despite it being the optimal way to travel, the social distance restrictions are creating real problems. There are many things we can do and the challenge for the House will be to identify those pathways and bring people with us along them.
I acknowledge the effort made by the Minister and the Department in recent years. Our task to reduce our emissions significantly is gargantuan and will require a significant and sustained effort from all members of society and sectors of the economy. Effort should not and does not equate to burden. Often we tend to forget this. If we were to look at the benefits of acting on climate change, such as cleaner air and water, warmer homes and greater energy independence, on the whole our country stands to gain. While my party is on record as wanting increased ambition I still think it is important to acknowledge the work done to date, particularly in getting various Departments to work together.
The fact that the Minister is presenting his statement today with three of his ministerial colleagues to account for progress in line with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 and that we have dedicated almost a full day of Dáil time to discussing the statements is an important step. The establishment last year of the climate action delivery board, chaired by the Department and Department of the Taoiseach, is very welcome and provides a structure whereby actions can be co-ordinated and delivered at the highest levels of the Government. I also support the establishment of a climate change unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, serving as the important liaison between relevant Departments.
As each year passes our targets become ever more urgent. The Minister acknowledged in his annual transition statement that our two biggest sources of emissions, agriculture and transport, which together make up well over half of our emissions, are increasing by almost 2% per year. Every year that our emissions increase makes life more difficult for our young people and the future prospects of key sectors in the Irish economy. We know not only that they will have to cut their emissions, but also that those cuts will become increasingly drastic as a result of the unsustainable trajectory we are on.
Increasingly, the threat to our planet is becoming more tangible. The news headlines keep coming. An unprecedented temperature of 30°C was recorded in the Arctic yesterday. Closer to home, April and May were the driest two consecutive months in the Phoenix Park since records began. We face a hosepipe ban due to water shortages. There are fears about our fodder stocks this winter. We have been speaking about decreasing emissions for so long that there is a temptation to be casual as we reduce the scale of ambition needed to a percentage figure, but the Minister will agree that whatever targets and measures are committed to we can be neither casual nor reductionist about them. Averting dangerous climate change requires collective understanding and determination throughout the Irish economy and society.
As I have said, the Department has made great strides in driving a whole-of-government approach to climate action but it is clear that a great deal of the action does not sit with the Department. We need all sectors to play their part while making sure no sector is targeted unfairly and the most vulnerable in society are protected during our transition.
I acknowledge the contribution of the electricity generation sector, which falls under the Minister's Department. It is the one good news story we can celebrate and we should be proud that Ireland regularly tops the polls ahead of our European counterparts in the generation of electricity from wind energy. We have been increasing our share of electricity that is generated from renewable sources and it looks like we were up to 36% at the end of last year. We had a target of 40% by the end of 2020 and it looks like we will not quite get there but it is still impressive growth from our starting point of less than 5% in 2000. We have seen innovation and dynamism from the private and public sectors in getting us to where we are today from the wind energy sector, the national grid and all of the vital national infrastructure that has got us so far.
While I am aware that Ireland is often criticised for its domestic performance on climate change, I appreciate that our challenge to reduce emissions is unlike that of many other countries. Our emissions challenge does not lie in decommissioning carbon intensive industries but in investing heavily in our housing stock and transport systems.
We also have a major challenge with emissions from our agriculture sector. Irish agriculture is striving to be as sustainable as possible. I fully recognise that but we still have progress to make to reduce emissions in agriculture and to work with the sector to identify and pursue the most viable, fair and accessible options for our farming communities.
I also wish to acknowledge Ireland's efforts to advance international climate action, chiefly articulated through the work of Irish Aid and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The UN climate regime, while cumbersome at times, has been essential to driving collective, fair and country-led action. As is often said, climate change does not respect boundaries or economic status, but the impacts of climate change are far more severe and devastating in the countries that have negligible greenhouse gas emissions, such as the countries that fall into the categories of the world's least developed countries and small island states. The UN system gives these countries a fair and equal say on international climate action and we should continue to be fully behind that.
By the same token, Ireland has a strong and well-proven reputation for supporting and standing with countries that are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. While our island and economy are small in comparison with other big donors, our focus and concentration of support for the most vulnerable are applauded worldwide. This has been most recently cited in an OECD peer review of our development assistance. We have become a reliable and entrusted partner to some of the poorest countries around the world, and we should be proud of that. In recent years, Ireland has increased its overseas development aid and international climate finance budgets. These are welcome trends. We are aware, however, that international development co-operation budgets tend to be among the first to face cutbacks in financially challenging times. This tendency cannot and should not become reality in the upcoming efforts to rebuild the Irish economy after Covid-19. Any backsliding on our commitments to meet our overseas development aid and climate finance targets would put a strain on that trust and undermine our voice in the EU and UN systems. It also risks reducing the positive impact of Irish development co-operation in countries that continue to battle the consequences of a changing climate.
It is often and correctly said that investments made today will have lasting impacts for decades to come. I would also like to touch on the opportunities the country can avail of through the green recovery package that was recently presented by the President of the European Commission. Under the recovery package, Ireland is in line to receive up to €1.2 billion in EU grants. This funding could make a phenomenal difference to building back our economy in a cleaner and fairer way. We are at a juncture where we can use EU funding and national investments not only to build our economy back but to bring to life our ideas for safe and sustainable mobility, thriving local economies and improved energy infrastructure.
Ba mhaith liom labhairt faoi mo Dháilcheantar, Cathair Luimnigh. My constituency is seen as an urban one, but it has a significant rural hinterland in the counties of Limerick and Tipperary. In some ways, my constituency is Ireland in microcosm, reflecting the mix between urban and rural. When elected, I pledged to represent the farm families in my Dáilcheantar as vigorously as I would represent those who live in housing estates. There are those who wish to use the climate as an excuse to drive a wedge between rural and urban communities. I reiterate my party's position that it is not a case of an urban versus rural divide but of urban and rural Ireland working together to tackle climate change and to give our children a better and more sustainable future.
The Deputy is right in saying the climate action delivery board is an important element. I was Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in 2016 when we designed the climate action plan, which was designed to get every Department on board with the primary challenge at the time, namely, to create employment. It operated through the Department of the Taoiseach to hold people to account for commitments that had been made. That model is vital if we are to achieve this, and the fact that it is coming from the centre of Government is important.
I thank the Deputy for acknowledging the progress on electricity. Even as recently as 2016, when the previous Government commenced, we were 24% dependent on solid fuels for our electricity generation.
That has now come down by one third to 8% and as we know, and with mixed emotions, it will come down again dramatically as peat, which is the dominant remaining element of that, faces a phasing out. By contrast, renewables, even in those few years, have gone from 27% to 37%, so we are heading close to that magic number of 40%. Of course, we are way behind in renewables in heating and transport, which will make up part of our commitment.
The EU Green New Deal is a real opportunity. Some of the policy instruments being considered in it are very innovative. Obviously, it has to get its funding lines in place. Some of them are in, for example, just transition. We are already preparing a territorial plan, as it is described, for the midlands in order that we can be in a position to avail of that. As Deputy Leddin rightly said, the wave of renovation and retrofitting is another element whereby we can not only tap into funding lines but also learn from successful approaches in other countries. There are countries that have done significant things and I think there is a sense among EU climate ministers that this is a time when we need to work together within the Union to get commitment to structural change.
I seek clarity on the 7% target being spoken about in the context of Government formation. We know that the climate action plan has set out targets of 3.5%. My question is very simple: does the Minister envisage that the target set out in the climate action plan can be increased to 7%? Is that feasible? Is it possible? Is consideration being given to it?
We have a long-term strategy to which we have to commit and which we have to deliver to the European Union. We are committed that it will contain an element of net zero, which will be our target for 2050. The Department has been giving thought to what new policies we need to introduce under the EU Green New Deal because that is moving from a 40% to a 55% target on 1990 levels. Clearly, this has implications for us. Our Department has therefore been evaluating the sorts of options that could dramatically increase our ambition and they will be in new areas. They will be in areas we all know about, such as modal shift, but they will also look at our heating systems, industry and farming and land use and right across all those sectors we need to be radical in the approach we take. My Department has been thinking about this. As for saying there is an accurate way of moving from 3.5% to 7% or any other percentage, I do not think we are at that level of sophistication in the modelling at all yet. We are identifying policy instruments that can start to move us in that direction and I think those are the ones we will have to adopt. Whether we adopt a target nationally or subscribe to the EU Green New Deal, we will have to step up significantly our ambition and develop policy instruments to match.
The Minister referred to the 2050 net zero target. The more immediate target is the 2030 target. We are talking about going from 60 million tonnes to 33 million tonnes, approximately. The question then in terms of policy interventions by 2030 is how we achieve that target. For instance, is the Minister's stated policy ambition to take diesel cars out of the equation by 2030 still a stated policy intervention? Is it still on the cards? Furthermore, there has been some discussion about ring-fencing the carbon budget, for instance, or ring-fencing carbon tax.
People are asking what that means in real terms for citizens. Does it mean the aforementioned fee-and-dividend model, which is doing the rounds in public discourse at the moment, is a real prospect in terms of Government formation? Will there be ring-fencing for key projects to deliver the reduction in emissions that is so badly needed?
Absolutely, the 2030 target that we have to reach at the moment is for a 30% reduction in non-ETS areas. Many people talk about the 30% target, but that excludes electricity. We have put in place measures that we believe will deliver that. In any event, the EU has stepped up its ambition although it is using a 1990 target. The EU ambition is for a 50% to 55% reduction on a 1990 target. That is approximately 35% to 40% on where the EU is today. We are going to have to step up our ambition in the same way. We can expect that we have to come up with policy measures to match that. That will be a challenge for us.
Quite apart from the programme for Government negotiations, which I am not going to comment on, there are challenges for us in meeting the new European green deal and the likely allocation to Ireland of obligations under that new ambition. That is why we have to come up with these measures. The reality is that we will probably end up in a position like Denmark, which has committed to high ambition but cannot specify all of the pathway. That is the reality we will have to follow.
I will not comment on Government discussions around carbon pricing. I know the Labour Party favours hypothecation. That was ultimately the decision made by the last Government when carbon pricing was introduced. Of the €90 million that was raised, €9 million was allocated to cycling and other allocations were made. It is arguable that this helped people to make the change.
Deputy Sherlock raised the issue of eliminating combustion engines. Eliminating new registrations of combustion engines from 2030 is still absolutely part of the target. Increasingly, other members of the EU are seeking that the EU would adopt that target. A lesser target has been a feature of the EU under which it would give longer before we make the transition away from combustion engines. Anyway, as ambition rises other countries will also be adopting the Irish and Danish positions and many others.
I want to discuss sectoral issues. I know the Minister is not the line Minister responsible for agriculture but he will have a view on agricultural emissions. The Labour Party espouses a position whereby the Government needs to consult the stakeholders in agriculture to talk about agricultural emissions. Everyone recognises that there has to be a reduction in agricultural emissions but how we get there remains to be seen. I am hopeful that the State is moving beyond thinking and into real policy interventions. We will all be aware of the good research conducted by Teagasc on how to reduce the emissions. I am keen to know, if agriculture is seen as an emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, where the thinking is at present in respect of how the agriculture sector will move forward in playing its part in reducing those emissions. We always defer to the academic research when it suits us. Anyway, the Minister will be aware of a recent study carried out by UCC through the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, MaREI, which is a renewable energy research entity. The centre referred to how drastic reductions would need to be made. In one instance a reduction in the national herd was cited if we are to meet the 7% target. I do not believe we should get bogged down in over-simplifying our discussions around what the reduction looks like in terms of a requirement to reduce the national herd to reach output of X.
This is why we need to have some sort of stakeholder process. There needs to be a just transition for agriculture so that if we are to move to reduce emissions properly, we include the farming and agricultural community as part of that. If it is the case that the next Government seeks to set a target of 7%, there will be a lot of worried people in rural Ireland. If one of the policy outputs as a result of a new programme for Government is a drastic reduction in the national herd, that would have a massive impact in a very short space of time on rural communities. People need to transition. New schemes need to be devised and new financing options made available for people living in rural Ireland who would displace one form of activity for another, recognising their role as guardians within the rural economy. I hope that we do not use very sharp implements that could have unintended consequences for citizens who live in the rural economy.
I have listened to all parties in this House, and no party that I have heard has indicated that it plans to set targets for a reduction of the national herd. What Teagasc has done is shown the immense opportunities that exist not only in farming methods, where it believes we can deliver a 3 metric tonnes reduction, but also in land use where potential lies in areas like forestry, restricting agriculture on organic soils, grassland management and in replacing fossil fuels. Many of those technologies are more uncertain than the ones that have been the focus of the climate action plan, that is, those in the category of better farming methods. That said, there is no doubt that we can look at those other elements of the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve, MACC.
The Deputy is right to say that consultation with stakeholders is going to be key in every sector, but particularly in agriculture where traditional methods of working are so interwoven into rural life. It is not just about getting people to switch from X to Y; this is about a whole way of life. It is not unlike peat in the midlands. It is woven into the fabric and is very difficult to manage, which is one of the challenges.
When the Covid crisis hit, countries all over the world very quickly realised the seriousness of the situation and the scale of the crisis being faced. Governments responded quickly and politicians worked together to agree measures that were based on science and the evidence of experts. Our public sector and communities worked tirelessly to form a safety net around the most vulnerable. We demonstrated that, together, we could face down this enormous challenge. The response was not perfect and there are lessons to be learned, but I am reminded of something that Dr. Mike Ryan from the WHO said, "Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed trumps perfection."
Unfortunately, when it comes to the climate and biodiversity crisis that we face here in Ireland, we are seeing neither speed nor perfection. Instead, climate action in this country has amounted to an endless stream of reports, reviews and plans with very few results. Where there has been legislation, it has been weak on targets; where there have been gaps, these have been filled with policies and plans; and where we have had policies and plans, we have had very little oversight of or accountability for their implementation. Not surprisingly, this has led to very few results in the five years since climate action was first legislated for.
Take for example the 2014 national policy position and the 2017 national mitigation plan, both of which were wholly unambitious. They have now been superseded by commitments in the Government's climate action plan. This plan, however, has never been put on a statutory footing and is not linked to the ongoing preparation of the national mitigation plan or long-term strategy. Soon there will be a national energy and climate plan under the EU clean energy package, which will produce yet another separate climate strategy whose statutory basis is in EU rather than national law.
We have been left with a web of disjointed and incoherent policies. One's head would actually spin at the different streams and the number of documents, and while some of them are ambitious, the follow-through actions are missing. Good climate action policy requires good legislation.
Without that legislation, policies and plans will merely amount to pure rhetoric and a sluggish approach to climate change. They will not provide the sense of urgency that we require at this point. Strong, target-driven legislation will be the central driver in the delivery of our national and international climate action obligations, but we remain without this for the time being.
The climate action (amendment) Bill has been left in limbo. It would have provided a robust framework that was reinforced by five-year carbon budgets, set out key sectoral targets and provided the Oireachtas with oversight and the powers we required. For the fifth year in a row, however, we are participating in a debate on an annual transition statement in the absence of the implementation of effective legislation. In essence, this is our environmental Groundhog Day.
We need the implementation of strong, target-driven legislation that is backed by science to help us achieve our climate action and biodiversity objectives. Biodiversity absolutely needs to be included in these discussions. We should not be talking about the climate crisis without also referencing the biodiversity crisis that we face. I welcome that the House last year declared a climate and biodiversity crisis, but we need to move on. The two major issues are intertwined and cannot be dealt with independently of each other. We need policy and legislative coherence on them.
The transition statement references biodiversity, but it is weak and minimal in that regard. Of all the actions in the climate action plan, biodiversity is not referenced once. There is some discussion about green schools and agriculture, but the focus we need on biodiversity is not present. There is a sectoral adaption plan for biodiversity under the transition statement, but we will not have the opportunity to discuss it with the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht today. That is a major gap in this debate on the transition statement and demonstrates that biodiversity is not being taken seriously in our considerations on climate action.
Biodiversity and nature-based solutions are key to addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation and allowing nature to be the solution to a multitude of the challenges we face. They provide carbon storage potential, flood management, soil stability, water management and erosion reduction, but these are just a few of the benefits that we can get from using nature to address climate change. Since there will also be the biodiversity benefits, it would be a win-win for the environment.
In recent days, it has been reported that seagrasses are 30 times more efficient at capturing and storing carbon than tropical forests, yet we do not have a full picture or understanding of where our seagrass populations are and their full extent. We certainly do not have management plans in place for them and we do not afford them any protection through marine national parks or no-take zones. Seagrasses are only one example - there is a multitude of examples across our natural world that we should focus on protecting and enhancing. Nature in turn will help us to address the climate change problems we face.
We need to take nature seriously when it comes to climate change. It is unfortunate that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is not present to be part of that discussion. Will the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment commit to incorporating nature-based solutions and biodiversity measures in all the climate change, adaptation and mitigation plans, policies and legislation as we proceed? Having such a commitment and striving in that direction would be important.
I wish to ask about funding for measures under our many plans and policies. At local level, councils have been heavily involved in developing mitigation plans and adaptation plans. They have biodiversity officers in place and have worked with the climate action regional offices on their climate action charters. However, the difficulty is that no funding is being attached to many of the programmes. This time last year, I was a member of Wicklow County Council and our local property tax had to pay for our climate officer. It is a good strategy to have local councils, which are on the ground at the coalface with communities, develop climate change policies and drive them at local level, but we will have to fund that work. For even simple measures like the electric chargers that the Minister referenced, councils must cover 25% of the cost.
We are going into a very uncertain economic future where councils will find it difficult to perform their normal standard functions. They will struggle to carry out the additional climate change and biodiversity measures we are asking of them. Will the Minister commit to giving councils additional funding to perform their climate change and biodiversity responsibilities?
I welcome Deputy Whitmore's comments. She is absolutely right that we have not had the legislative framework to allow for a focus on delivery. However, this is the last time we will have transition statements in this House, as they are a legacy of the 2015 legislation. The new legislation, the general scheme of which was published in December, sets out the new approach which will be very much results-oriented. As we discussed earlier, there will be an implementation board in the Department of the Taoiseach which will ensure that actions committed to are honoured. We will also have a very strong Oireachtas committee that will oversee targets on an individual, sectoral and ministerial basis, rather than the sort of catch-all bulldog clip approach of one Minister coming in and being accountable for the whole lot. That legislation will be a powerful shift in the way we manage the climate challenge. It reflects a lot of work, starting with the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, as well as the work of my own officials and others across Government. Everyone recognises that we have not had the necessary structures to implement change.
It is a little unfair to say we are making no progress. We have made progress even in the past 12 months. Renewables on our grid are significantly increasing, there has been an increase in the penetration of electric vehicles, and the carbon emissions from energy were down by close to 2% in 2019, at a time when the economy still grew very significantly by 5.5%. We are seeing some turning of the oil tanker, to use that possibly inappropriate phrase, as we seek to get to grips with this challenge but we have a huge distance to go.
The Deputy is right that there is a separate biodiversity plan which was not included in the climate plan. It was not under my remit and when I was putting this together the biodiversity plan was being developed elsewhere. She may be right that we need to integrate those in some ways, but that is a matter for future Governments. The approach we are taking in legislation generally is to make line Ministers responsible. Whoever is in the position of climate Minister would not be responding for transport and agriculture; rather, questions would go to the line Minister responsible.
This is a timely debate, both because of the enormous climate crisis and because the Green Party may be on the verge of going into government. I will start with a couple of big picture points. I read a report the other day that said climate emissions may be down 12% in the State this year, not because of any actions by the Government, but because of the virus. It is like what happened ten years ago when there were declines in carbon emissions because of the crash in the economy rather than anything a conservative Government did. The Government's record is more accurately shown by the fact that carbon emissions in this State are the third highest in the EU, behind only Estonia and Luxembourg. They are more than double the carbon emissions per capitaof Sweden. This country is on track for billions of euro worth of fines in 2030 for not reaching targets. I read that the EU average for the amount of land under afforestation is around 35%, whereas in Ireland it is less than a third of that.
If the Green Party goes into government, presumably the idea will be promoted that this will make a radical difference.
There are two issues. One is whether the policies will go far enough and the other is whether they will be just. I only have time to deal with the justice issue today. I believe the policies will not go far enough because they will be within the framework of a market economy which will put profit before the environment. Presumably if the Green Party go into government, more policies will be wheeled out, packaged as measures to tackle the crisis. Will justice form part of those policies?
Under the previous Government and the current caretaker Government, we saw the lack of justice towards the Bord na Móna workers in Shannonbridge and Lanesborough who had consented to the closure of their peat-burning stations and sacrificed their jobs for the greater good. They were promised a just transition, but for a long time Bord na Móna refused to set up a forum. There was a real prospect of workers and communities being left behind. There was a suspicion that there was an agenda of deunionisation. It was only when the workers raised their voices and protested like the protests that were called during the general election campaign that some change on the issue was forced. We will watch this very carefully when the new Government comes into office.
The big issue will be the question of a carbon tax. It is €26 per tonne at the moment. The previous Government wanted it to be up to €80 per tonne by 2030, and I understand the Green Party want it to be €100 per tonne. We are opposed to the idea of a carbon tax on ordinary people. If the Government wants to put a carbon tax on big business, that is a different matter. Some 71% of carbon emissions in the world since 1988 have come from a mere 100 corporations.
I understand that the Green Party went into Government talks with a policy of a fee and dividend model, in other words, people pay a carbon tax and are then refunded money. That at least allows for the possibility of something like refunds for the majority of ordinary people while leaving the carbon tax on the richest in a society. An alternative is a wealth tax to provide refunds for people who have paid carbon tax.
That is rather different from the model being argued for by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the so-called hypothecated model, whereby everyone is charged the carbon tax and the money is ring-fenced for environmental policies. In other words, it is a policy which makes ordinary people pay. I would not say that the dividend model was progressive, a phrase which is sometimes used, but it was certainly less reactionary than the model being argued for by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We have had quite a few press reports in recent days that the Green Party have conceded on this issue and that some money may be given back to people in receipt of social welfare, but that would be the exception rather than the rule. In other words, the party would have signed up to what would clearly be a regressive tax. I want to make it very clear that this is something which will not just be opposed from these benches but will be opposed by ordinary people, as was the case in France.
The final point I would make to the Green Party negotiators is that I have read about liquified natural gas being a no-no in Shannon, which I hope is the case. I hope that is true for everywhere else in the country, including Cork where there are plans to introduce it.
I also want to make an appeal to Green Party members not to go into government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If the Green Party allows itself to be used as a green mudguard for the pre-existing neoliberal and austerity policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it will represent a substantial setback for the environmental movement. It will not be a step forward in any sense. It will not bring us any closer to the radical change we need to achieve a just transition to a net zero carbon economy. In fact, it will bring us substantially further away.
When people voted for change in the previous general election, they were not voting to take the neoliberal and austerity policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and place the word "eco" in front of them. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be very happy to have the assistance of the Green Party as a green mudguard and to place the blame on it for every austerity measure they introduce. They will say the measures are about the environment. In doing so, they and, unfortunately, the Green Party will contribute to damaging the image and cause of the environmental movement in the eyes of substantial sections of working-class people who will say this is a movement which means austerity for them.
I think it will be very clear in the programme for Government which we will presumably see in the coming days that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will not sign up for the change we actually need which is a programme to get us to net zero by 2030. It does not even look as if they will sign up to something like a binding 7% reduction year-on-year. Why is this? Enda Kenny gave the game away in Paris five or six years ago where he said it is not really a priority for us. He said that at the talks in Paris of all places. The current Taoiseach is more skilful so he now says we cannot be a laggard etc., but the truth is that Ireland remains a laggard.
Under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Ireland will continue to be a laggard because they represent the big polluters. They represent big agribusiness; they represent the biggest polluter in the State, Ryanair; and they represent the likes of CRH. They are not willing to stand up to those big businesses which are responsible for the majority of carbon emissions in our State because that is who they represent.
Right-wing political commentators have been full of very helpful, useful and neutral advice to the Green Party suggesting that the only responsible thing to do and the best thing for that party's political future is to go into government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They do so completely disregarding all the history of parties that portray themselves as progressive, left or whatever going into coalition with right-wing parties in this country. There is a lot of history of it to analyse. They ignore all that, including the history of the Green Party in government in similar circumstances in 2007 on the cusp of a major economic crisis. They ignore all of that to say, "This is what you should do." They do that to pile pressure on Green Party Deputies, Senators and above all members in order to maintain stability from the point of view of the political and economic establishment in this country.
The evidence from 2007 is clear. Obviously, the Greens were wiped out in the following general election because they signed up for the bank bailout, the troika deal and all those other measures. However, they also made regression in environmental measures. Deputy Eamon Ryan, as a Minister, stood over the continuation of the building of the offshore refinery in Rossport and the onshore pipeline at a time when protesters, including me, were being battered off the streets by gardaí serving the interests of Shell.
They will say it is urgent to make change etc. In reality it will set back the prospect of winning change immediately. It will set back the prospect of building the kind of movement we need. There is an alternative, which is to join with the eco-socialist left to build campaigns now which can win victories, and which can fight for free, green and frequent public transport. They can fight for a four-day week without loss of pay. They can fight for a programme of green jobs. They can fight for a sustainable model of agriculture, all as part of the Green New Deal with socialist policies. It can also allow us to place on the agenda breaking fundamentally with the political establishment as opposed to shoring it up, and to place on the agenda the need for a left government with socialist policies that can actually deliver the change we need to save our environment.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Bruton, for being in the House today. I have a number of questions for him.
I will be parochial initially. I wish to talk about the just transition as it affects the employees of Bord na Móna, an issue I know is close to your heart, a Cheann Comhairle. Some 360 families are currently waiting for peat harvesting to take place this summer. That is dependent on a very complex planning process that must be completed by Bord na Móna. There is a potential safety net for those 360 families, which is to fast-track and front-load the rehabilitation of the cutaway bogs. I know work is to take place under the auspices of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with approximately €5 million allocated there.
However, we need a substantial amount of money, approximately €30 million, from the climate action fund to start rehabilitation of the 80,000 ha of Bord na Móna bog, much of it cutaway bog which could be developed into recreational amenities across the country.
As the Minister knows, within our region there are proposals for the national wetland park in the north midlands and the Mount Dillon bog complex. What funding is being put in place to commence the rehabilitation of Bord na Móna bogs by its staff which could secure a substantial amount of employment this summer?
Can the Minister explain why we as taxpayers are paying public funds to Bord the Móna through the wage subsidy scheme and the pandemic unemployment payment to pay staff who have applied for a redundancy package and yet Bord na Móna will not make a decision to release those staff on an early retirement scheme that they are anxious to take up, where they are being forced to remain in employment through State subsidies, and at the same time, other, younger people cannot get work?
On the first issue, the Deputy is correct in that peat harvesting has got into a difficult planning process. The right to harvest was challenged in the courts. It was found that to resolve those issues a substitute planning would have to be lodged by Bord na Móna. Permission has been granted by An Bord Pleanála to lodge that application and it has been lodged by Bord na Móna. This is a complex planning process which has held up peat harvesting very considerably.
We were working on introducing new support measures later in the year for rehabilitation but, as the Deputy said, we are now looking at the possibility of doing that earlier to support employment in the company. We are examining the options that would allow us to do that. To date, no decisions have been taken. We recognise, as the Deputy does, that this is a potential source of employment that would have both positive environmental benefits and provide work for people who have been disrupted by a series of decisions, which, to be fair to the workers involved and to Bord na Móna, were not anticipated. This work is going ahead.
On the temporary wage subvention, this is available to any company that can demonstrate to the Revenue Commissioners that it has faced a percentage fall, which I believe is 25%, in its order. Bord na Móna has faced such dramatic falls - well beyond that - in the demand for horticultural peat and energy peat, particularly as a result of the demand for electricity where peat has largely been off the grid for the moment. It has a justifiable case that the temporary wage subsidy applies to its business. The issue as to whether it offers redundancy or the order in which this is offered are matters for the company and for negotiation with its workforce and I would not comment on that.
I thank the Minister. I have now have asked the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, and the Minister with responsibility for climate action the same question on the operation of Bord na Móna with regard to the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme. I was promised by the other two members of Cabinet that I would get a specific response but I am still waiting for that.
I have two further questions which I will ask together as my time is limited. As the Minister knows, a substantial amount of work had been done within the Department on the clean air strategy. When I was Minister we enhanced the ambient air quality monitoring programme across the country. Building on that, there is a clear recognition that air pollution has a greater impact on health at lower levels than had been previously understood. The Government was looking to prioritise the clean air strategy and in doing so have a direct impact on our overall emissions. When will the clean air strategy be published?
I wish to raise the issue of food waste with the Minister.
To date, the focus of the discussion on agriculture and climate change has been about beef production. In global terms the focus has been on energy generation and how we chose to travel or heat our homes. What we eat, however, has a substantial climate impact. The carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes per annum. More than one third of all food is wasted. It is not just food itself that goes to waste, but it is also all the resources that went into making it from the water to the land to the labour. If food waste was a country it would rank only behind the United States of America and China for greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, 23% of food waste volume happens at production level, 12% happens at storage and handling, 5% at processing level, 9% at distribution and marketing, and 52% of food waste volume occurs at consumption level. Irish agriculture is already taking the lead with a number of agricultural measures to improve efficiency in our agrifood sector to reduce our carbon intensity. Will the Government build on this to become the global leader in tackling food waste from production right through to the use of food and agricultural waste with in townscale biogas production?
The position is that a key pillar of the clean air strategy was the approach to banning smoky fuels. Deputy Naughten will be aware of the desire to extend the smoky coal ban nationwide. This ran into a difficulty legally in that no distinction could be drawn on an environmental basis between the impact of peat and the impact of coal. This made a nationwide ban legally uncertain. I took the decision to extend the existing smoky coal ban to a series of towns representing those where the evidence shows a significant health aspect. I commend the Deputy because when he was the Minister he extended that monitoring programme. I believe it will need to continue to be extended. It has held up the clean air strategy.
The Deputy is correct on food waste. We have set a target of halving food waste, which is an EU-wide target. In the waste and circular economy strategy we are seeking to introduce measures that would deliver this. Deputy Naughten will be aware that of the 52% of food waste at consumption level, large parts and the worst waste occurs in the food sector and not in family homes. There is, nonetheless, food waste in family homes. We will target waste in hotels, restaurants and other catering facilities where very large volumes of food are wasted. While this is a huge challenge and it is very important that we do it, one of the difficulties we face is where food is sourced from other countries and we do not get the benefit on our carbon inventory. The only impact we could show is where Irish production is reduced as a consequence of the elimination of food waste, as opposed to elimination of food waste on imported products. That will fall on the inventory of others. It is a bit of a dilemma in that it is a production-based inventory and not a consumer-based one. The Deputy is absolutely right, however, and it is included in our plans.
I will be more than happy to receive written responses to any questions if there is insufficient time.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is significant and concerning for many midland counties, including County Offaly where we wait for the job losses to occur at the end of this year. It is not a good prospect, especially as we are currently in the middle of a pandemic. It is already difficult for many communities. To add to this we in the midlands also have job losses coming.
I acknowledge and welcome the publication of the first interim report of the just transition commissioner. There is much to welcome in this report, not least the sense of urgency that has been brought to it in attempts to ensure a genuinely just and fair transition takes place. That has been one of the key challenges in this entire process, along with a sense of contradiction that has emerged.
While the whole-of-government approach at present is about de-escalating the flood of job losses across this State that has arisen in recent months, the very opposite appears to be happening in the midlands. The whole transition process was due to be drawn out until 2030, and people accepted that and were adapting accordingly. Now it is down to a mere 12 months, if we are lucky. The commissioner himself noted this in his report. There he referred to the perception that no account was taken of the long-term impact on workers, their families and the communities, and the reasonable and legitimate expectation they had that the use of peat as a fuel in these plants would be phased out by 2030. It was also noted that management and unions, primarily in Bord na Móna, now have less than 12 months to adjust rapidly to this new reality and to scale, map and, insofar as it is possible, present a clear pathway for continued employment, reskilling, redeployment, retirement and voluntary redundancy. There are still a substantial number of Bord na Móna workers left in limbo regarding voluntary redundancy. It is totally unfair. They are not receiving communications from Bord na Móna. There needs to be some level of intervention out of fairness for the workers in that regard. If it is possible, the Minister should intervene urgently.
The commissioner accepts that there are many formidable challenges in relation to the just transition. My key concern is that all of these challenges around employment retention in the midlands, in Offaly in particular, were already acute and severe before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. Now we have a report and the outlines of a pathway forward but within a radically changed and uncertain economic climate. What assurances can the Minister give that the already limited and modest financial requests put forward by the commissioner will be honoured and, more importantly, implemented urgently? Will such commitments transcend the lifetime of this Government or will we be back here again in a few months with the Green Party insisting that the transition process needs to be speeded up further?
Within the climate action fund under Project Ireland 2040, there is a commitment for the allocation of €500 million from 2019 to 2027 to support initiatives that contribute to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future. The first call allocated funding up to €77 million across seven projects and was expected to leverage €300 million in total investments. Has that expectation of €300 million in investments been realised? For the second stage of the fund, a call for expressions of interests was launched earlier this year, with 190 expressions received by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment when the call closed in March. Will the Minister provide details of how many applications have come specifically from midland counties? Where are these investments taking place and are they creating any jobs?
I thank Deputy Nolan for her recognition of the work of the just transition commissioner, which is very valuable. As I indicated when the Government considered that report, we have implemented some immediate proposals, including the €11 million fund, which is now open for allocation. We have the €31 million that was agreed in the budget being rolled out in the midlands. Some of that work, such as retrofitting, is held up by Covid-19. As I indicated to Deputy Naughten, we will consider ways of funding accelerated rehabilitation of bogs, and we will look at all possible sources of funding.
I do not know whether the expressions of interest the Deputy requested are yet in the public domain. I will check that, and if they are, I will make them available to her.
I thank the Minister for attending the House. This Government has talked the talk but it has not walked the walk. People talk about historical things that happened in the recent election. All the Independent Deputies were elected from outside of Dublin. Why? Because people on the ground in rural Ireland said they were not being listened to. We are the best country in the world for protecting and respecting other people's cultures, except when it comes to our own and especially when it comes to the farming sector.
I come from a farming background and I also have a background in construction. Throughout history, those in the farming sector ensured that there was always another generation to take over farms for the future. The problem now is that every generation has to deal with all the changes being made within the farming sector. Those people are working long and hard with everyone to do that. However, the lack of understanding of change in farming is evident.
Agriculture is the main driver of the rural economy. There are 260,000 jobs in the agricultural sector, or one in eight of the total number of jobs. Some 90% of beef produced in Ireland is exported. Our food exports in 2019 were valued at €13 billion. Ireland is the fifth biggest exporter in the world and the largest in Europe. How do we incentivise farmers? We know that agriculture is a contributor to our national emissions, but there is a distinct divide between the cause of emissions and being a contributor. Agriculture is not the cause of all emissions in Ireland. That suggestion can cause great offence to farmers, who are just existing. Farmers are, however, conscious of the environment and the causes of carbon emissions.
Farmers find it unbearable to imagine that their production is being curtailed, yet there are trade deals to import beef, produced as a result of deforestation, from Brazil. I refer to the proposed importation of 99,000 tonnes of beef, with a value of €21 million, from January to September 2019. Stopping that 99,000 tonnes of beef coming into Europe was tackled by an organisation of young farmers around Europe, including Macra na Feirme. It signed a petition calling for that beef to be stopped from entering Europe.
The UK is no longer a part of the European Union so beef produced as a result of deforestation can come into that country and damage the market there for Irish beef. If we are serious about emissions reductions, we need to look first at land mobility. Land mobility involves moving land from one generation to the next. In 2019, Macra na Feirme produced a comprehensive paper on succession planning leading to partnership. It secured 500 arrangements in respect of 47,000 acres. What does that mean? It means that we need to look at ways of incentivising young farmers to take more land or for older farmers to retire. We need to do this because we need to get better at technology and farming practices. If a farmer is nearing retirement or a farm is not providing a living, will there be investment in technology and in better farm practices? No, there will not. Land mobility may be the answer.
There is much talk about reducing the national herd. Is it just talk? Milk recording services carry a high rate of VAT, that tripled last year to 13.5%. Why? This is a cutting-edge technology that highlights high-performing animals, thus allowing the culling of non-performing animals and reducing the national herd. We are missing out there. We need joined-up thinking; we do not need to be disincentivising such important practices.
Reducing the VAT rate on sexed semen would also help to reduce emissions. For example, a reduction in the number of Friesian bull calves being born would reduce the national herd. A properly funded set of agri-environmental schemes needs to be based on results. Teagasc has the latest cutting-edge results. The farmer will follow the plan and know what is right for his or her environment.
I am sharing time with Deputies Fitzmaurice and McNamara.
The Minister referred to how recent developments have impacted on our greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, that has nothing to do with Government policy. Rather, we can thank Covid-19 for it. It is probably the only good to come out of the current situation. Is the best we can hope for that that situation will continue? I do not think so.
The Minister stated that the Government achieved its targets for 2019 early. However, again, that had nothing to do with Government policy. The reduction in 2019 can be completely put down to the closure for maintenance of the ESB coal-fired electricity plant at Moneypoint. During the closure, we met our electricity demand. That showed that the required reduction is achievable through renewable energy if we wish to do so. The thing about the Government plan is that there seems to be a lot of planning or talking about planning, but not much actual work. Maybe all the talk about plans will lead to a significant reduction in the final years of the plan and there will be significant reductions in 2027 to 2030, inclusive. Unfortunately, I do not think that will be the case.
The climate action (amendment) Bill appears to be the main plank of the Government's plan. It is at the early stages of planning within the Department. I believe it will take the full lifetime of the next Government to pass the Bill. I acknowledge that the Minister is part of a transition Government and cannot control how it will be progressed, but the timeframe laid out in the transition statement is optimistic, to say the least. The Government approved the general scheme of the Bill at the end of 2019, but slippage was inevitable on its commitment to publish the Bill in the first quarter of 2020.
The commitment to offshore wind generation in the recently announced tender is very welcome. It is the option that can meet our targets into the future. I am concerned that the Minister recently stated that the Government has not yet decided whether the power produced will be taken ashore by the State or by private enterprise. I think that must be done by the State. There should be a limited number of landfalls, all of them run by the State, to ensure that vital infrastructure will stay in our control into the future.
The significant job potential in the offshore wind sector cannot be underestimated. Many fishermen already work in the offshore wind industry in the UK, Germany and Denmark. They are well qualified and sought after to make that system work. Surely, they could benefit from having that type of work available here. In addition, boat-building businesses could very quickly move to building work boats to facilitate the construction of offshore wind farms. There will be a need for other vessels to undertake tasks, including the management of developed wind farms. There is significant potential in this area for indigenous industry and workers. If we get it right now, we could ensure all of our people could benefit from that development.
An area on which the Government could do a lot without doing too much and easily reach the requirements is that of domestic generation. People could generate electricity in their homes, particularly through the usage of solar panels, and put it back into the grid. There needs to be a way to show how much power goes back into the grid. Although domestic producers of power may not be paid for it, just showing the benefits that result from using green technology to send power back into the electricity grid would have a significant impact and could free up the grid for other things. That step is vitally important and very easy to do. The Government would not have to do very much to make it happen.
I agree with much of what Deputy Pringle stated about meeting our energy demands. Have we done so? Did we import energy in the relevant timeframe? We need to be realistic. We are building an interconnector with France. Are we going to say that we could not countenance producing nuclear energy in Ireland but we have no problem importing it from France or even Sellafield?
We have energy needs. I remember a constituent giving out to me about a wind power station. They thought wind power was terrible and Moneypoint was awful. I asked what was the first thing they did each morning and they said it was to turn on the light. I asked from where they thought the energy for that came. We need to get energy from somewhere. I completely support the usage of renewable energy, but we cannot rely on it for 100% of our energy. It is not realistic to do so.
Deputy O'Donoghue referred to farming and I agree with much of what he stated in that regard. Farmers are very realistic people. They are probably the first to grasp change in Ireland. Many County Clare farmers to whom I have spoken this year accept that there is climate change. They can see it, but they do not know what is causing it. There is some disagreement on how it is caused. I accept that it is caused by human behaviour but there are others who do not accept that. The vast majority of farmers looking at climate patterns now say there is climate change and we need to be able to adapt to that change.
With regard to Moneypoint and offshore, nothing has been done to replace coal. For a long time we knew that Moneypoint was going to close, and it has closed, but nothing has been brought on line to replace it.
Farmers can produce energy and they do so right across Europe in terms of solar panels and taking methane out and feeding electricity back into the national grid, and it is not just farmers as many private enterprises can do that. Up to now, there has been no facility to do this and it needs to change so we can all be energy suppliers as well as energy users.
In recent years, we have heard that clean green energy was going to save a fortune because we would not have to import, which is correct, and we were told it would be much cheaper. In the past week, however, it has been announced that the ordinary consumer, under the public service obligation, PSO, levy, will pay €70 more from next September on, and that is on top of what was there already. Something like €500 million will now go to these fat cats of wind who will come into this country. Most of the profits from the wind industry are going out of Ireland, even though we are all told they would stay in this country.
Departments should be given proper funding. First, we raised the issue of hedgerows and it has finally been included after four years of knocking at the door. Second, the report on methane in regard to suckler cows shows that using seaweed products has brought that down by 79%. These are the angles we should be looking at, not kicking farmers and saying we should be culling half or three quarters of the national herd.
There is a situation in the midlands, because of this so-called low carbon environment, whereby people have no jobs. We had temporary workers at Bórd na Mona but where are they today? They are unemployed. This is happening right across parts of rural Ireland. However, the people in the cities still want to make sure they have a light to turn on. Security of electricity supply is very important, especially for business. I fear that with this whirlwind we are on about at the moment, we could end up not being able to produce electricity in our country at times, and we will be relying on somebody else.
Under the farm to fork strategy and the biodiversity strategy that Europe is pushing forward, we as a nation are being asked to designate over 30%. When we talk about offshore wind, that will mean 30% out in the Porcupine area and along the west coast. Every type of objector will object to the wind turbines going up in the sea as well, so how is this going to add up?
As public representatives, we need to stand up for the agricultural sector. The biodiversity strategy states that if people have peat land in the mountains where sheep are reared, they would let that back into the wild. From the top of Donegal to the bottom of Kerry, perhaps excluding parts of Limerick, we are going to destroy family farms throughout that area.
We need to cop on and know what we are going to do. Are we going to let these family farms go? If anyone goes down to Listowel in Kerry or goes to a dairy production area, they will find it is reclaimed peatland. What the EU is proposing is to get rid of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, payment on those peatlands. It is there in black and white in the document under the biodiversity strategy and the new CAP policy. This is detrimental to people and families living in those areas. Some of the farming organisations have been very quiet about this and do not seem to want to comment. However, what I can see, and I have said it many times, is that many people would like to see a theme park Ireland from Donegal down along the west coast and to let the rest keep producing what the people need. That is not going to happen, I can guarantee the House, because we in the west are not going to accept it.