Thursday, 29 April 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I thank the Minister of State for his presence.
Forestry will play a key role in climate change mitigation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release pure oxygen. Forestry filters and cleans the air we breathe. Young commercial plantations along with sequestering carbon quickly over their lifetime, will, when harvested, lock carbon away in wood products and when replanted will begin another cycle of carbon storage. The end use for the timber will offer alternatives to fossil fuels and a possible replacement for cement and steel in the construction industry. Other countries are already leading the way in replacing steel with cross-laminated timber in high-rise buildings.
Ireland has less than 11% forestry cover, which is way below the European average of 35%. Past Governments have, over 30 years, invested over €3 billion in the industry. Climate action afforestation targets were set each year, but were never achieved. That failure was never questioned. If the current target is 8,000 ha of new woodland each year, why are we planting so little? Only 3,000 ha were planted in 2019. Just over 2,000 ha in 2020 and 2021 will be a repeat of that, with only 900 ha planted this year to date.
We have an abundance of land available. We have a damp climate and the best weather conditions in which to grow trees. There has always been plenty of interest from landowners in Ireland in planting their land, yet the Department is failing to capitalise on this interest and convert it into planted hectares. Why is that happening? It is because we have a licensing system which is simply not fit for purpose and cannot produce enough licences for the sector to operate. Therefore, the current administrative process is completely compromising Government planting targets and the national interest.
While I welcome the recent initiative of Project Woodland, which is examining the licensing process in its entirety - I believe great work has already commenced through the four working groups - the deliverables are for the future and remain to be seen. Climate change will not wait while delays in processing afforestation licences are sorted out. Time will not allow it. Failure by the Department to achieve afforestation targets in recent years already makes for very grim reading on what carbon we have failed to capture due to reduced afforestation. Indeed, my party colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, last week requested this information in a parliamentary question and received a reply from the Department, stating that over the last five years there has been a shortfall in meeting targets of 15,365 ha. Was this area to be afforested with 70% conifer and 30% broadleaf, these forests would have the potential to remove 5.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over their lifetime, taking into account the fact forests are felled and replanted.
If we are to take climate action seriously the long-running saga within the Department must be addressed without delay. There is a need to bind afforestation targets into this legislation. That is something Labour will examine on Committee Stage.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is important and ground-breaking legislation and a significant achievement for the Green Party in government. It will set the framework and the parameters within which our economy and our society will develop from this year on but we must accept what we mean by setting these targets and the implications they have for all of us and for every sector of our economy and our society.
It will be possible for some to applaud the objective but to deny the means or pretend that we can achieve these legally binding targets without enormous effort and commitment and changing the way we do things. By way of example, I had the experience of dealing with the economic disaster after the last Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. We came into Government in 2011 with a commitment to reduce the national deficit to 3% of GDP. That objective was accepted by all. The declaration that we would have to achieve a balanced budget was the easy bit. The achieving of the objective was considerably more difficult.
This Bill provides for binding targets to achieve a "national climate objective" and, no later than 2050, the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy. Those are lofty words that will require a great deal of effort to fulfil and we can only succeed if we build public support. We can only have that support if we ensure that we mitigate any harm done to individuals and their standard of living by the actions we have to take. We have to ensure that no group is disproportionately harmed. We have to be clear in the just transition and if I have a complaint about the Bill it is that it does not front-load the issue of a just transition enough. No one can be left behind. Nobody can be allowed to endure fuel poverty, loss of employment or disadvantage. That will require very significant resources. If whoever is in government loses the buy-in of the public it will be impossible to achieve the true transformation that is both possible and essential. There will be any number of groups and individuals who will resist the changes necessary. Many will be well-intentioned and truly concerned; others not so. I welcome and support this destination which, hopefully, will soon be legally underpinned. Sustaining the journey to its achievement will be a monumental challenge for all of us.
Now that the destination in terms of emission targets will be set in law let us see the specifics from the Government. In terms of energy, I will touch on offshore wind because it was talked about in the last debate. We need to fulfil the capacity of the east coast which largely will have fixed turbines in place, with the west coast probably having them later when the technology of floating turbines arrives. In my judgment, and I am biased on this, we should designate Rosslare Europort as the port of service and assembly for the turbines on the east coast. If we do not do that those turbines will be serviced but it may well be from Wales, England or Northern Ireland. Let us acquire the land and get going on these issues, and let us do it now. Let us ensure the interconnectors are built to export surplus energy when we have it and to import and supplement our green energy requirement when we do not.
In transport, the Minister should lay out the plans for achieving the end to petrol and diesel vehicles. He should set out the specifics and the supports we will have rather than saying we will have 1 million electric vehicles. Where will the charging points be located? When will construction on them start? What supports will the Minister give to individuals many of whom in rural Ireland have no option but to have a car because there is no public transport and there will never be public transport? How are they to be supported in this transition? Where are the transport plans for the urban areas? How quickly can they be put in place? It is time now for the specifics.
In housing, where is the realistic plan and the money behind it to retrofit all our housing stock, public and private? Nearly zero energy building, NZEB, housing is under construction. There will be a new national NZEB centre of excellence in Enniscorthy, which will be a UN centre and, it is hoped, will give a lead and enthusiasm to ensure that we make this transition. However, that will be an extraordinarily jobs rich but expensive undertaking. We have not really begun that but we are going to tinker with it.
In agriculture, the Minister must be honest and set out the changes that will be required and the real supports that will be put in place to bring about that achievement in a painless and supported way by our public.
In essence, what we have now is a destination. It is a set of legally binding targets. We have to fill in that framework now because just as with fixing the economy, the declaration of the goal is one thing; the specifics and how they will impact on our people are quite another. Now that this Bill is here and will have broad support in this House and outside it, despite some negative comments, all of us, including the people who want him to succeed on this journey, need the detailed actions, timelines and resources that will underpin that achievement.
Climate change, as the Minister well knows, is the single biggest challenge facing humanity today. It is a problem of such an order of magnitude that it can be difficult for us to get our heads around it. The forests of the world are literally on fire. Twenty-four months ago the Amazon was on fire, 16 months ago Australia was on fire and this week the national parks in Kerry, the hills of Wicklow and the mountains of Mourne are on fire. Increasingly, we are looking at weather and temperature events which exceed some of the most pessimistic predictions of the international models. When we take into account the global dimming effect of particles in the air caused by burning fossil fuels and the extra warming that may take place as we replace fossil fuels the need for urgency and the scale of the consequences may be even greater than any of us care to admit. This is an existential challenge for society. In that context, all of us will be judged by our actions - by what we have done and what we have failed to do.
By nature, I am an optimist. I look to the future. I believe that we can find a way to solve this problem but the first step is to admit that the entire current fossil fuel based economic model is broken and that we have to replace it. We need to admit that we will only replace it by regulation. We cannot just close our eyes and hope that it goes away. We cannot pretend that it is other people's problem to solve or that the free market will magically produce a solution like a rabbit from a hat.
In Ireland, we have some of the highest per capitaemissions in the world. We cannot just look at China and India, shrug our shoulders and do nothing. Simply put, at a bare minimum we need to stop putting excess carbon into the atmosphere. We need a just transition to a carbon neutral future. We need that transition to bring people with us and to treat people fairly. This Bill is a step towards that process. It builds upon Deputy Alan Kelly's work in government in producing the first climate action Bill, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, in 2015. I am glad to see the Green Party has retained the framework of the Labour Bill.
As spokesperson for enterprise, trade and employment I can see the vast potential for employment in a carbon neutral economy but we need to ensure that the transition is an orderly and managed one that creates benefits and opportunities for people across Ireland.
We want a just transition that gives people the skills and education they need. We need to strengthen local democracy and examine new and old structures, such as town councils and co-operatives, to build organisations that will share costs and benefits more fairly in our communities. We need the State to invest, subsidise and regulate to make sure those who can least afford to pay are subsidised the most. We need to invest in active travel, walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure in towns and villages that are designed for people and not primarily for cars. We need to invest in large-scale public transport and we need considerable State investment in housing, transport and industry to deliver carbon-neutral economy and infrastructure.
Our greatest challenges lie in agriculture and construction. We need to put the needs of our people at the heart of how we face these challenges. We will need to change, but that change need not be at the expense of the ordinary person if we put his or her need for decent living at the heart of what we do. There is a nettle here to be grasped, and pretending we can stay the same will leave our farmers behind and ultimately prevent us from meeting the challenges of climate change and the collapse in biodiversity we have seen over the past 50 years.
This Bill is about the economy and regulating it and with any attempt to regulate an economy, there will be some big business interests that will seek to delay, obstruct or damage anything that will force them to change. These forces need to be resisted. The common good is too important for us to cave in to the demands of those who do not want to change. We need to support those who are working towards a carbon-neutral economy based on decent, well-paid jobs and a good standard of living. We cannot allow those who are working to change for the better to be undercut and undermined by those who seek to earn a fast buck by cutting corners and exploiting natural and human resources without regard for environmental justice both here and abroad.
Human rights and workers' rights are inextricably linked to climate change. The climate emergency threatens the social fabric of every country on earth, and Ireland is no exception. I have hope for the future and believe that, with good regulation and strong public and community engagement, we can get our economy to change.
There are valid criticisms of this Bill. There are justifiable questions as to whether it goes far enough. Are the links between the carbon budget and the fiscal expenditure budgets too weak? Are the exact mechanisms too technocratic? Most of all, how can we make sure the Bill does not lose sight of the needs of the most vulnerable, rural and urban, and make sure the transition is, indeed, just? With these questions in mind, we will seek to submit amendments to improve the Bill. Ultimately, however, as my colleagues Deputies Howlin and Sherlock have said, we support and welcome this Bill because it is a step we need to take. We cannot afford to delay any longer. The Green Party deserves credit for putting it at the heart of its Government programme, and it would be cheap politics just to attack that party over the Bill's imperfections. I ask the Minister of State and everyone in this House to take this opportunity to listen to one another, honestly debate, examine and accept amendments, and work to produce a climate Bill we can be proud of. We have a duty to the Irish people, and to people everywhere, to deliver a carbon-neutral future with people at the heart of it and to bring positive change to people's lives as we go.
I do not know where to start as this is such a wide area to discuss, but it is exceptionally important. It is definitely the issue of our time. The next ten years will be the deciding factor in how the entire planet, including Ireland, will decide what its future will look like for its people. As the youngest member of Dáil Éireann and one of the youngest parliamentarians in the world, I am extremely worried about the rate of progress.
There are many areas I could refer to but I might as well give the background to my pathway in life. I grew up on a family farm in east Cork. Dairy farming is a hugely important part of my constituency's economy. Both of my parents are working in the dairy industry, my mother as an employee of Dairygold, like thousands of others in Cork East and throughout Munster, and my father as a dairy farmer. I have seen the importance of dairy to the economy but it has to be said there is a lot of worry and uncertainty in the Irish agrifood industry, particularly in the dairy sector. I single out the dairy sector because it is often landed with the accusations about emissions.
I grew up in a country in which there was so much focus on medium-sized farmers. They were told to buy land, build sheds, build new parlours and spend hundreds of thousands of euro to expand their operations. Many of them did so on the advice of the Government. I remember being at one of the phenomenally well organised open days in Moorepark, Fermoy, where I heard milk described as "liquid gold" in one of the ministerial contributions. Now we are facing a situation in which tens of thousands of people are working on farms that are under enormous pressure. There is a lack of workers, which has put a great strain on farmers right around the country. There is great uncertainty after spending all the money on the advice of the previous two Governments, only now to be facing the impact of reducing the national herd, which we are now discussing. I am very conscious of that. I am conscious of it from two perspectives, one based on my background and the other based on my being a young person trying to protect our environment.
I have a very logical suggestion for the Government that I hope it can work on over the coming months and, indeed, over its term in office, which I hope will last the full duration. We have to make sure that medium-sized dairy farmers in Ireland are supported to retain the number of cows they have. It does not make any sense to tell them to expand if we are talking about reducing the size of the national herd. The reality is that for many at grassroots level in agriculture, it has been a case of continual expansion since the milk quotas were abolished. This is not specific to my constituency. Deputy Sherlock, who was here a moment ago, is also from Cork East and will be aware that in the north of that constituency and well into counties Tipperary and Clare, one really gets an insight, from a climate-action perspective, into how important the dairy sector is on the ground. This is the case throughout the south, where there is a lot of grassland.
We have to do more to expand in the area of environmental protection and must incentivise farmers to engage in climate-friendly activity. If I were asked whether I believe we are doing enough, my honest answer would be that we are not because, for a lot of farmers, every single square inch of land available, be it owned or rented, goes towards grassland. The farmers are not interested in trying to encourage the establishment of habitats because it just does not make financial sense. We need to make it financially sensible. That needs to be done not only in Ireland but also throughout Europe. What many European countries have done is phenomenal, including in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. I could go on and on about how such countries encourage farmers to engage in serious climate-friendly activity.
Having one's own power-generation capacity is an exciting area on which I am watching the Government make progress. The same applies to microgeneration using small wind turbines, perhaps located on agricultural land. This allows farmers to supply their neighbours with electricity and sell electricity back to the grid, including to local schools. Some schools were considering this as an option but for many years in Ireland we held people back who wished to sell power back to the grid. I acknowledge the presence of the Green Party, whose members are in government. They are very passionate about pursuing the policy on microgeneration. It is good and I acknowledge it. It will be very positive.
I am the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on transport. In Cork, we have a dirty problem, namely, the number of people in the county, city and metropolitan area commuting to their places of work in private cars. This is because the public transport system is simply not up to scratch. It is critical, through legislation we are bringing to the Dáil, including the Bill we are discussing, that we try to push on the existing metropolitan strategies on transport and improve public transport in our cities and metropolitan areas.
Let me put the issue into perspective. The Jack Lynch tunnel and Dunkettle interchange in Cork comprise one of the busiest junctions in the country. Cork is many times smaller than Dublin, yet the number of vehicles that use the junction is only a few thousand smaller than the number that use the Red Cow junction in Dublin. Comparing Newlands Cross to Dunkettle puts the matter into perspective. It just shows the root of the problem; it is terrible. I have been working on this for ages, even before I entered politics.
The issue that first brought me to Leinster House was to lobby to improve public transport when I was a transition year student. It was a very exciting day. We met the Taoiseach at the time, Enda Kenny, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, when he was Minister with responsibility for transport. That very day he was appointed to the Department of Health because it was the day of the Cabinet reshuffle. We were the only ones allowed near Enda Kenny that day.
I have been pushing this for such a long time but the bureaucracy involved in public transport in Ireland is a disgrace. What bothers me about it is that very talented people work in the Departments and at Irish Rail, Bus Éireann and Local Link - I could go on but I will not - and they want to fix this issue. Leadership in Ireland, however, as we know with the Civil Service, must come from the top down. I am a bit worried about the focus in the Department of Transport on cycling, walking and that type of infrastructure. We have to get down to brass tacks in terms of the numbers of people moving. Public transport, particularly in rural Ireland through our rail and bus corridors, needs to be prioritised and examined.
It makes no sense to me that Bus Éireann is a State-owned company divided in two. There is the commercial side, which there is no political oversight of or interference in, and there is the State-controlled entity within Bus Éireann which is responsible for its public service obligation, PSO, services, yet there is no co-ordination between the two. To add a third wheel to the mix, the way in which we co-ordinate our student transport services to secondary schools is also very frustrating. Every year since I have entered politics, and every rural Deputy will probably agree, our ears are chewed off by angry parents, and rightly so. They have every right to be furious over the lack of bus places for students going to and from school.
When I was a student at Trinity College Dublin - I travelled from Youghal to Dublin to attend Trinity - I noticed that when public transport services are run, everybody uses them to get to and from their places of work or education, whether they are in primary, second or third level. We do not do that in rural Ireland. Dedicated bus services serve many secondary schools in major towns, such as Midleton, Carrigtwohill, Youghal and other towns of more than 5,000 people where there are very good public transport links within close proximity of the schools provided by private bus operators. It would make a great deal of sense to have a bit of co-operation to expand the school bus services by working with Bus Éireann to a greater degree. Every year, this crops up as a big issue and it will be very important in order to get cars off the road. There are hundreds of thousands of journeys every day and that is what this is all about.
We can only do what we can. Ireland is a small nation and I fully agree that we have a responsibility to do something about climate change. I object to some of the language I have heard from certain Deputies in recent times about the impact that Ireland has because ours is a small nation and what we do does not matter. That is not true. The world looks at Ireland as an example of how to get things done properly. We are, after all, according to the human development index, in the top four countries in the world in which to live. Ireland is a world leader, regardless whether other Deputies agree or disagree, and we have an opportunity to go and do something with the issue. School transport is a key area and we could take action in respect of it in order to significantly reduce the number of car journeys people take.
On the speed of development of rail projects, three huge towns in my constituency are still awaiting news on the Cork metropolitan transport area strategy. I spoke recently in a one-to-one meeting with the CEO of the National Transport Authority, NTA, Anne Graham, and I am very appreciative to her. The NTA is working very hard but we have not received timelines. We need timelines to push on with the expansion of rail services in Cork. The plan in the Cork metropolitan transport area strategy for people living in Mallow, Cobh, Carrigtwohill and Midleton is to triple rail capacity in the county and the constituency I am very happy to represent. In addition, there are wonderful plans for park-and-ride facilities but we have no timelines for them either. The Minister of State might convey to the Minister and their colleagues who work in climate action that we have to start setting the process in motion. There have been too many plans in Ireland for different initiatives and they never develop into anything. I am very worried about the development of the metropolitan transport area strategies and ensuring they happen.
The issue of rail freight is going to be very important. I would very much appreciate it if the Government could do more to take lorries off the road, particularly at night. There is no reason we cannot use rail freight in Ireland.
I welcome the Bill and applaud the ambition behind it. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that governments can take extraordinary action to tackle extraordinary issues. The Bill will, I hope, be a significant step towards tackling the climate crisis. It is, without doubt, the most ambitious climate action legislation this country has produced. Its provisions are nationally significant for Ireland's climate policy but they are also internationally significant because they clearly set Ireland's intention to become a global leader in tackling the climate emergency, an ambition I wholeheartedly welcome.
The legal targets contained in the Bill are a positive step. I refer to the 51% reduction in emissions in the next decade and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. These are ambitious goals but they should not be the limit to our ambition. If we can reach these targets before the legal deadline, we should of course do that. The most important thing is that we set these targets and that they are met because we cannot afford to miss targets this late in the game.
We are no longer living through a time of climate change, we are in a climate emergency. We owe it to our younger generations, who have been so vocal about their feelings on the issue, to get this legislation right. Before the pandemic, I was so proud to see young people taking to the streets, using their voices and collective power to call for action on climate change. The youngest members of our society are not just engaged but also enraged by the crimes being committed against our natural world. Last week, many young people celebrated Earth Day. My nephews, Cian and Blaine, planted trees and took a virtual tour through the Amazon rainforest. In Cian's words, they planted trees because they wanted to bring more nature into this world. The Bill can be our message to kids such as Cian and Blaine, and to the generations who will come after them, that their voices will be heard loud and clear by the Government. What a legacy that would be. Protecting the world we live in needs to be a top priority for everyone, everywhere. It is as simple as that.
I was concerned to read recently that leading climate experts from Irish universities have voiced their opposition to what they are concerned may be fundamental flaws in the Bill. They view the emissions targets and the proposed management of greenhouse gas reductions as ambiguous and are worried that could leave us open to legal challenges. I understand that their recommendations have been sent to the Minister as well as the climate action committee and the Climate Change Advisory Council, and I ask that they be taken into consideration.
In order to ensure that targets are no longer missed, we need some clarification on how the limitation of liability will work. After all, targets are only as strong as the actions behind them. Within the Bill, there are no fines for not meeting targets or for Ministers exceeding their carbon budgets, but Departments could instead face budget cuts. I am concerned that any budget penalties could inadvertently hurt essential Government-run programmes and schemes that are so badly needed by the people. The Bill has been widely welcomed by society, but concerns must be listened to as we move to the next phase. The inclusion of local authorities in the plan is really welcome. We need every level of our society and of the Government working towards addressing this problem, and we need to listen to every group.
Let us remember why the Bill is so necessary. For the past year we have been living through a pandemic.
Every aspect of life has been impacted. If allowed to run away from us, this climate crisis will have an even greater and more detrimental impact on us all. Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization has clearly stated that we are pushing nature to its limits. By doing so, we are creating the conditions for new epidemics to grow and thrive. We need to face up to the climate crisis and we need to find a way to limit the real damage already being done. Protecting the world in which we live needs to be a top priority for everyone everywhere. This Bill is a welcome and significant step in tackling that crisis.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for her consideration. The entire world is aware of the need to enact change to prevent global warming. The human, environmental and economic costs of global warming are becoming increasingly clear each year. Every year, we witness the global results of, and the damage caused by, climate change. Major flooding, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires are not fears for the future but the realities of the present. Climate action is critical. We must stop the inexorable rise in global temperatures. We owe it to this generation and to those who will come after to protect our planet. In doing so, we must also remain conscious that a one-size-fits-all approach to climate action cannot be taken across the globe. Put simply, what can be achieved with relative ease by one country may have the potential to cause significant change and upheaval in another. It falls on every country to address the growing problem but it falls on the government of each country to introduce change in a fair and equitable manner. Ultimately, it falls to each of us to play our part.
When talks on the urgent need to take climate action were headline news during talks on the formation of this Government, a number of fingers were pointed towards the agricultural sector. We were led to believe reducing our national herd would be a quick-fix solution in reducing Ireland's emissions profile. Very few acknowledged the enormous volume of CO2 that Irish grasslands and farms actually remove from the atmosphere. Even fewer highlighted the fact that Ireland's agrifood industry remains a global leader in sustainability. Ireland is the most carbon-efficient country in which to produce dairy products. Limiting milk production here will shift production to less sustainable and less regulated markets. The Irish sector continues to break new ground every year due to cutting-edge research on carbon-neutral beef and dairy farming. The Irish dairy industry should not be damned for pursuing a livelihood from livestock. Farmers should not be scapegoated.
While many challenges remain for the agricultural sector in the quest to positively address climate issues, it is vital that we recognise the enormous change taking place. Ireland's agrifood sector is transforming. With financial and educational support, this sector will not be a major stumbling block with regard to Ireland's contribution to proactive climate action.
Rather than pointing the finger at agriculture and industry, as many have chosen to do, the key to taking positive climate action lies within our own daily lives. Every one of us can play a part and, in many cases, this can involve saving money as well as our planet. Homes, businesses, farms, industry and educational centres all have a role to play. Small daily changes to the way we live will accumulate and have a major impact. Turning down the heating, reducing water and food waste, switching off lights, not leaving appliances plugged in and using public transport instead of driving are all little things that can help. If we had the collective will to change little things, the impact would be enormous. In fact, it would have a similar effect to culling the national herd.
When we speak of taking climate action, our thoughts revolve around major changes that will most certainly come our way in the future. We seldom concentrate on the simple things we can do to help today. By doing things differently, we can all be part of the solution. This analogy also applies to Government. The aim must be to bring people willingly on board rather than to bombard them with dramatic scenarios as happened in respect of the farming sector. There is no for and against saving our planet. It is a universal objective. Each one of us has a shared responsibility.
One of the lessons learned from the past year has to be the utter unpredictability of events. If we had been warned five or ten years ago that Covid-19 was on the way, what would we have done? We would have made the drastic changes necessary to avoid the turmoil and suffering of the past year. It is not an exaggeration to say we are in a similar place today. We know the science. We know climate change is happening. We know that, without proper action, it will have devastating impacts on society and the economy. We know.
This could be the most significant legislation this Dáil will pass. It has the potential to establish a clear and fair framework to make the changes necessary to protect our society and economy. Equally, it could contain fudges that will damn future generations to severe consequences. Addressing the Joint Committee on Climate Action in October, Dr. Áine Ryall, co-director of UCC’s centre for law and the environment, said:
We must deliver robust, workable climate legislation that supports a just transition and protects human rights. We must ensure that the new legislation has the necessary impact across society and the economy to deliver the transformative changes required within the necessary timeframes.
She outlined clear principles that have to be present in the legislation and climate action plans. They must be robust and workable, there must be a just transition and transformative changes must take place within the necessary timeframe.
Climate legislation must be robust and workable. Our plan to curb our emissions and reach our international obligations needs to be clear, achievable and guided by climate science. The much-lauded target of 2050 to reach net zero-carbon emissions is too late. We need to significantly reduce our emissions before then if we are to do our part to halt a significant and irreversible temperature rise. What is the actual plan to achieve this? Our current approach is failing badly. The Government’s 2019 transition statement states that our target for 2020 was to reduce emissions to 20% below their 2005 value. Instead, it was in the range of 5% to 6%. Successive Governments have been kicking the can down the road and passing the buck to the next Minister. We are operating on borrowed time, time which we are taking from future generations.
Last year, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the climate case found that the Government failed to specify credible measures for addressing climate change. Part of the finding is the need for each climate action plan to have clear targets. The public is entitled to know how the current Government, not the next Government or the one after, will actually implement emissions reductions and other measures within its lifespan.
Climate law experts have expressed concern about the target for 2030, which is included in the proposed new section 6A(5) to the principal Act, as lacking in legal certainty. There needs to be legal minimum interim targets that establish the basis for an average reduction in emissions of 7%. Otherwise, the reductions will just be rolled over from year to year, with responsibility passed from this Government to the next. If this Bill is to be all it claims to be, then any such ambiguities need to be removed. This legislation has to have robust and workable commitments that demand plans which will meet annual targets in a transparent and accountable manner.
The climate legislation must be just. A just transition must be at the heart of climate legislation. We need an approach of leaving no one behind. I welcome the inclusion of references to just transition in the Bill but the definition of climate justice is much too loose and the policies proposed and opposed by this Government thus far do not indicate a willingness to pursue this Bill or any kind of progressive change.
I echo the calls of Community Law and Mediation, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in Ireland to include more robust definitions for climate justice that would ensure just transition, such as appear in Scotland’s climate change legislation. We cannot allow the burden of climate action to fall on the shoulders of those least responsible for the crisis. Climate action needs to be based in workers' rights, healthcare, housing and transport.
We also have to live up to our responsibilities to the people of the global south who are already enduring some of the most extreme climatic changes. Obviously, the part we can play is not as big as much larger countries, but it is not any less significant. All countries and communities are being called on to do their bit to avert the climate crisis. The Irish people know this and want this. We must deliver legislation that matches their commitment to a just transition and climate justice.
We need sustainability and equality to go hand in hand. Social and environmental policies are not contradictory - they can and should be complementary. We need progressive and ambitious measures to support low-income households and rural areas. Most importantly, we need joined-up thinking. A carbon tax is a necessary tool to reduce emissions, but it will only work if there are alternatives in place. Poor public transport in rural areas and a lack of active travel infrastructure means people have no choice but to use cars. It does not matter how expensive petrol or diesel is - they will still need cars. Without alternatives, carbon taxes are merely punitive and help build up resentment and anti-climate science rhetoric. A just transition recognises the supports needed for families and communities, but it also holds polluters to account. The majority of global emissions come from large corporations, especially fossil fuel companies. We need a tax regime that targets them rather than ordinary people.
Climate legislation must make transformative changes in the necessary time. Climate action requires systematic change - change in behaviour, change in the way we do business, change in the way the economy works. We have a choice to be proactive and lead the way in a green economy or stick to a business-as-usual model involving some greenwashing, which will inevitably lead to irreparable damage and job losses.
Climate action has to be understood and pursued as a necessity and an opportunity. Too often, Deputies and even Ministers present this as a cliff edge for farmers and fishing communities. As a farmer and a scientist, that is disappointing. Farmers and fishing communities need to be treated with respect, not fed such platitudes. The way we farm is shaped directly by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's policies. Deputies tirelessly defending farmers when it is not the latter's fault only serves to reinforce the false narrative that it is somehow farmers' fault, a narrative that supports a policy that does not support the majority of farmers. We need climate science-informed approaches that support all farms, not just the big players, and value practices that enhance the landscape and generate sustainable produce. The same is true of fishing. Many small-scale fishermen and fisherwomen can feel as though the Government is working against them rather than fighting for them. Inshore fishing represents the type of sustainable fishing that has been practised for generations in west Cork and other coastal and island communities. We need transformational change and plans that outline how we can guarantee that there is a viable future for small farms and fishing communities in Ireland, especially family farms and small family fishing communities.
Regrettably, the Environmental Pillar's recent withdrawal from the 2030 agrifood strategy committee reveals that the Government remains committed to a business-as-usual approach. The pillar highlighted that vested interests were prioritised from the establishment of the committee rather than the development of agricultural policy that could cut pollution and emissions while ensuring a just transition for farmers. The palpable frustration at the recently announced results-based environment-agri pilot project, REAP, is another example of the Government blatantly failing to provide the necessary change in the sector. Constantly clinging to increased efficiencies as a response was never good enough and, at a crucial point like this when we need timely transformative change, is disgraceful.
Most people agree that the Green Party has good intentions, and I commend it on introducing this Bill, but what we need to know is how, if at all, those intentions will be realised. Where exactly will emissions be reduced? When and how will that happen? Crucially, how will it happen in a fair and just way?
We are living with the effects of climate change. Ireland is 0.5oC warmer than it was in the period 1960 to 1990, it is wetter and we are seeing more extreme weather events, which are having significant social and economic costs. We have experienced the stormiest winter in over a century and one of the wettest winters since records began. We are experiencing extreme weather events like flooding time and again in west Cork.Farmers and fishermen can see the impacts of a changing climate. Young people have been taking to the streets demanding substantial and meaningful action. Climate scientists and legal experts have provided the frameworks and targets we need to work towards.
This legislation needs clearer commitments and more robust definitions of "just transition" and "climate justice" and must explicitly address issues around liquefied natural gas, LNG, fracked gas and the biodiversity crisis.
Dr. Andrew Jackson, assistant professor in environmental law at UCD, told the Joint Committee on Climate Action:
In conclusion, to stand a chance of limiting heating to 1.5°C, our emissions need to fall very deeply and very rapidly, starting immediately. We have just one shot at getting this legislation right.
We cannot throw away that shot.
Civil society, NGOs, the community and voluntary sector or however one wants to frame it - normal people coming together in an organised way around a particular cause - have been at the forefront of much positive change in Irish society down the generations. That has been the case with the causes of social justice and equality, but it has also been the case with the environmental movement and, more recently, the climate movement. People coming together and speaking with a coherent voice and in large numbers telling the powers that be that something is not good enough are a powerful force. They have got us to this point where we can progress the process of ensuring that climate action, for which they campaigned, becomes law. I met some of the organisations recently. It is a reassurance to me, the future of the planet and my children's future that they will keep pressing for faster and fairer action and implementation of current and future climate action plans. They will be there if Departments do not meet their commitments and they will help to ensure accountability for the future of the planet and the future of our children.
It is my honour, as Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities, to acknowledge the role of the climate movement and the various organisations that comprise it and thank them for their determination and persistence. The movement and the people in it are the last people who need to hear that the Bill is only a first step and the majority of the work is still ahead of us, but the Bill is an important first step. I thank the movement for pressing for more. Please continue to do so for all our sake and the planet's.
As the Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities, I have responsibility for the five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector. The strategy, Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities, contains 11 core objectives, one of which is to support community development and local development in engaging with climate change, adaptation and mitigation strategies. More specifically, it commits to:
- provide training and capacity building in relation to Climate Change to community development and local development organisations,
- pilot and develop models of good practice on Climate Change adaptation and mitigation at community level, and
- include a focus on Climate Change in all community development and local development programmes and initiatives.
Under the strategy, priority commitments for 2021 are the training needs of the sector. We commenced a needs analysis process recently, starting with local community development committees, LCDCs. LCDCs are key in terms of climate action. They are the mechanism that links local reality with national policy.
I received support for our public participation networks, PPNs, nationally. They are a major asset in terms of building a ground-up, grassroots force to help enact climate action in a fair way that ensures those who are marginalised are not left behind. There are 16,000 PPN member organisations across the country working in the areas of social inclusion, the community and voluntary sector and the environment. PPNs allow member organisations to connect with one another and their local authorities, but they also ensure that normal people have a greater say in local decisions that affect their communities. This is key to climate action. PPNs are already contributing to climate policy by taking part in focus group consultations on the Climate Action Plan, which commenced last month. These consultations were held in the local authority areas of Offaly, Meath, Monaghan, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Galway, Clare, Wicklow, Donegal, Carlow, Kilkenny, Fingal, Limerick, Kildare, Sligo and Kerry. Through these focus groups, volunteers are bringing a local perspective into the national conversation, a perspective that will help us as a nation to address climate change and its impact on our daily lives.
A review of how to improve the operation of PPNs will begin soon.
The capacity of PPNs to be involved in climate action will form a part of that review. The climate action Bill requires local authorities to develop climate action plans for their local areas every five years. These local action plans will bring climate action right into the heart of local communities and the climate action Bill ensures that community members will have a strong voice in those plans. The Bill makes it a requirement, in law, for local authorities to consult their local PPN in forming their local action plan. This is in recognition of the importance of community groups in the challenge that lies ahead and the importance of bringing everyone on board.
I also have responsibilities in the Department of Social Protection, which recently held its annual social inclusion forum where community and voluntary groups from around the country spoke about the realities of exclusion and poverty. The forum was focused on the implementation of the roadmap for social inclusion which I oversee. The roadmap is up for review next year and I will ensure that concerns about ensuring a just transition are reflected in that review, as they are in the Department's new overall strategy.
In line with Government policy, one of the high-level goals in the new statement of strategy of the Department of Social Protection published last month is to target changes to key social welfare payments to ensure that increases to carbon tax have a progressive impact on the most vulnerable, those contributing to a just transition.
Climate action can lead to warmer homes, cheaper and healthier ways of travelling and ways of using land to produce food without damaging the planet. Locally generated and owned energy has significant potential to bring communities together and tackle disadvantage. Climate action can be an opportunity and an organising force to improve the situation of those marginalised and to develop a more socially just Ireland. I launched the pilot bike repair and upcycling scheme with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, yesterday. This is one small example of how this might be done.
I oversee the State's main social inclusion intervention, the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. SICAP is implemented by local development companies across the country and provides tailored one-to-one assistance to people on the margins and the groups that work with them. The current iteration of SICAP runs from 2018 to 2022. When we start discussions and consultations on the shape of the new SICAP, the principles of just transition and climate justice will form part of how we frame social inclusion into the future and the next SICAP. Local development companies across the country are already recognising and naming this.
I opened with an acknowledgement of the role the community and voluntary sector has played in getting us to this point today. This role must continue and must be augmented. The Government should support citizens to engage and take action. We will be supporting the community and voluntary sector to engage in climate action at a local level.
I have a short comment on the just transition project in the midlands. My party does not agree with the assertion made in this House that the just transition jobs will not materialise as stated by another Member. The Government agreed last year to allocate €108 million to protect over 300 jobs and the fund was mobilised shortly afterwards. The Department is working closely with projects to ensure the money flows at scale. Covid has slowed down many of the projects. However, grant agreements have already issued to strand 2 projects and the remainder will be finalised very shortly. The Minister has assured me that he expects a substantial number of the projects will be operational this summer.
Today we begin the journey to net zero and we legislate for the ambition of decades of work by environmentalists, climate activists, scientists, NGOs and more recently the voters across our communities who have demanded action to stop our climate chaos and biodiversity loss. We do this for the young people across this country and across the world who went on strike and marched and raised the bar and demanded action now, action that should have started 20 years ago. Many do not yet have a vote, but they certainly have a voice in this House and in today's climate Bill. We are acting for the future generations.
I want my children to grow up in a country that leads on climate action and finally casts off the mantle of being laggards in the battle to save our planet. I thank all those young people, the activists, the environmental groups, the individuals who want a better future and understand the action that is required. The voters of Wicklow put me here and put me in a position to create laws that will set us on the right path and keep us on that path. I ask them to continue to demand action from every party in this House for faster, bigger and better action on climate.
There is no room for complacency in the battle ahead of us and I do not underestimate that challenge. We all have a role to play. The journey we started today is for the benefit and protection of everyone. It is for our precious life-sustaining environment and biodiversity. It is for our future economic gains. It is for job creation, better health outcomes and secure comfortable affordable quality housing. It is for energy efficiency and better ways to live, to work and to travel. It is for all of us together in a fair and equitable manner across every part of our island. It is for our shared future.
It will be challenging, but the opportunities are enormous. Over the next decade the steps we take to reduce climate-changing gases will improve our health, economy and communities. Climate action will create thousands of jobs across all sectors. Jobs will be created in the maritime environment as we embark on harnessing wind energy to supply our electricity and energy needs. The marine protections we put in place as part of that development will protect our seas, provide a sustainable fishing sector and ensure healthy oceans, which are crucial for carbon sequestration.
Our coastal communities will see direct social and economic benefits from offshore renewable energy. We are already seeing that in Arklow and more will follow in town such as Wicklow and in the larger-scale ports, such as Moneypoint and Rosslare.
The ambition we have on the targets we have set for offshore wind energy will reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, lowering our emissions and providing energy resilience. It will provide us the opportunity to electrify transport and home heating. It gives us cleaner air, more comfortable homes, a better quality of life and enormous financial savings in energy efficiency. That is climate action.
Long-term, sustainable, clean and well-paid employment will be created as we make our housing stock energy efficient, warmer and healthier. I welcome the recent launch and promotion of apprenticeships and opportunities for mature apprenticeships and upskilling. As we transition to cleaner industry and take the necessary actions to wind down the high carbon-emitting processes, we will ensure that those workers are not left behind. We will have a significant future requirement for skilled workers across new technologies and continued improvements to construction trade skills. Our new and retrofitted houses will have solar technology, heat pumps, high levels of insulation, smart metering and energy-saving heating and lighting controls. This means thousands of jobs now and into the future.
Across the SME sector, which is vital for employment throughout Ireland, we will support investment to improve energy efficiencies in offices and commercial buildings. Improved operations, resource management and manufacturing processes to reduce waste and emissions save money. These aspects of business may not be at the top of the list for an owner of an SME at the moment as they struggle to re-emerge from the pandemic, but it is important for their future sustainability. We will support those SMEs. This creates savings, protects and creates jobs and ensures viability. That is climate action.
Investment in digitalisation, innovation and our fibre network will assist in decarbonising our economy and bring benefits across society. The pandemic forced many of us to work remotely from home and has shown that jobs can be located in smaller towns and villages, which have good broadband infrastructure, digital hubs and workspaces. Throughout the last year we have learned to appreciate what our local towns, villages and green spaces have to offer for our physical and mental well-being. Rejuvenating smaller towns and putting town centres first creates local jobs, improving the public amenity offering, making our town centres attractive for cycling and walking to school and to shops and for recreation. It also attracts business and investment.
Proper planning, higher densities, good designs and managed open spaces in our towns will sustain those local businesses. Good public transport through and to our towns and villages and to urban centres will reduce car dependency and congestion, improve air quality and create safer, quieter and more enjoyable town centres.
We need to seize the chance we have to borrow at all-time low interest rates to invest in the infrastructure deficit that exists in our public transport networks, both rural and urban, in our fibre and communications networks, in housing, in our water network, in town planning, in urban design, in placemaking and in our main streets. That creates jobs, putting life back into our smaller towns and villages. That is climate action.
We are now setting out on a path to reduce our carbon emissions. The actions we take to achieve this will be beneficial across society and for future generations. There are, of course, scaremongers who do not wish to change and those who fear change; we heard them here last week. They are also part of this, and we must bring everyone on this journey in the confidence that a carbon-neutral future is good for everyone. In fact, to continue as we have done has a devastating price. Carbon has a cost and if we do not act now with the highest ambition and achieve the science-based and proven targets, we will place an immeasurable burden on our children. The cost to them will be unaffordable and leave them with a worse quality of life. Every generation seeks to improve the quality of life and future for their children and, of course, that must be a just transition.
I am proud to stand here to support the Bill, as a Green Party Member and as part of a Government that understands the science that will provide the solutions that will vest in our people and our economy across society to safeguard our shared future.
On a personal note, I acknowledge the lifetime commitment to and work of the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on this issue. I also acknowledge the manner in which he has worked on it collegially across this House and in committee for many years and the faith he had when we Green Party councillors together that some day would be here to enact a climate action Bill. I am very proud to stand here today and I thank the Minister for the time he has spent on this issue.
I will begin with a short history of climate in numbers. When I was born, the carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere was 333 parts per million, ppm, which is above pre-industrial levels but consistent with a relatively constant global temperature. When I went to college, the figure stood at 360 ppm. On the day of my wedding, the concentration was 385 ppm. When my first child was born, the reading was 393 ppm. Today, the CO2concentration measure at Mauna Loa Observatory stands at 411 ppm. The composition of our planet's atmosphere has significantly altered in less than a human lifetime.
The changes in our climate system have been studied by scientists for almost 100 years. Thousands of experts from all over the world have been collecting evidence, reviewing scientific research and debating results. The resulting message is blunt: human-induced climate change is now a reality. According to the World Meteorological Organization, as of December 2020, the Earth's average temperature has increased by 1.2oC above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5oC limit set out in the Paris Agreement and the temperature limit which scientists regard as safest before climate change is irreversible. Worryingly, if the current trends of warming continue, as they have during my 44 years on this planet, we can expect to hit the 1.5oC limit as soon as 2034. Thereafter, we increasingly run the risk of triggering climate tipping points - points of no return. I refer to Hemmingway's response to the question, "How did you go bankrupt?" which was "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." So it may be with climate breakdown. It is our children's futures that we stand to bankrupt.
How does a 1.5oC increase in temperature translate to reality? The answer is sobering. Here in Ireland, summer droughts such as those we have seen in recent years will become the norm, damaging agriculture and food production. In winter, intensified storms will lash our coastal communities more often and flooding events from increased rainfall and rising seas will threaten to inundate our urban centres. Cork, Galway, Limerick, Dublin and my home town of Waterford, all of which are coastal and at sea level, are all vulnerable. There is an ugly truth in how climate breakdown will affect those beyond our shores. Climate modelling shows that people in the developing world, those who have contributed least to the emissions causing climate breakdown, will be the most adversely affected. I refer here to sub-Saharan subsistence farmers scraping a living from desiccating soils, Middle East families displaced by conflict over scant resources and Pacific islanders, whose entire nations may well sink beneath the waves. These are people who have done little to contribute to the changing of our atmosphere, yet they will be the ones to pay the highest price if we here continue to fumble in the greasy till.
As much as we owe it to our children to take action in respect of the climate, we owe it to those in developing countries too. In the sustain development goals, SDGs, we promised them climate action and action on biodiversity and on land and below water and, also, peace, justice and partnership. We are under binding obligation to our brothers and our children or, faoi geasa, as it would have been in Celtic myth. No good ever came of reneging on promises made. By contrast, our implementation of the SDGs in international solidarity and in intergenerational solidarity can strengthen societal and economic support for climate action.
There is no planet B. On this shared planet, this is our shared future. Let us act now. The decades of work to build and communicate the scientific evidence of climate change underpins the growing movements of activists demanding bolder and more ambitious climate action. It underpins the continuous efforts of policymakers and political leaders to agree on collective climate action for the next 30 years. It also underpins the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 before the House today. We are past the point of debating the science of climate change. Anyone in this House who wishes to make electoral hay by undermining unequivocal scientific evidence - we had a few of those voices in the debate last week - let them consider Isaac Cordal's sculpture, Electoral Campaign, and consider, too, if they wish history to count them among those grey heads slowly sinking under water. We must never underestimate the role that research and scientific evidence play in plotting our course. If anything, we will be leaning on research and science more and more as we develop solutions to mitigate the causes of climate breakdown. In availing of scientific research and innovation, we can plan a way ahead that averts the worst impact.
A great deal has happened on the international stage since this Bill was present a week ago. Last Wednesday, we set ourselves firmly apart for all the right reasons in the context of our stated ambition. One week on, we are hearing about commitments made across the world's major economies in their efforts to tackle climate crisis. We have set ourselves apart in establishing this climate Bill, but we are not alone in our efforts. We are at the centre of something much greater and more impactful. The science is clear and the need is great. In moving to our shared future, I do not see barriers, I see only opportunities.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021. We have to get to grips with the issue of climate change. That is beyond doubt. How we do it is the question. We have to become carbon neutral by 2050. We have to decarbonise. We accept the cessation of commercial peat harvesting, but this has been a big hit to the economy and jobs in the midlands. There is also a ban on domestic turf cutting. For some families and households, jobs have been lost and their social domestic fuel is gone, not in ten years, as projected, but in ten months. Some of these householders are former Bord na Móna employees. Earlier, Government speakers referred to the elaborate new high-tech systems for retrofitting houses. While that is where we want to get to and while it is the ideal, those systems are not available this year and households are also being told they cannot engage in small-scale domestic turf cutting. This is a major issue. These households have no alternative at this point.
Transition from commercial peat harvesting and small-scale domestic turf harvesting was to take place over a ten-year timeframe, but, as I said, it was done over ten months. Meanwhile, peat briquettes that are high in carbon are imported from Germany and further afield in eastern Europe. In the manufacture and transport of these products very high levels of carbon are emitted and thousands of carbon miles are clocked up. I have in my hand one such product from Germany. It was shipped here from thousands of miles away in Germany. This stands logic on its head. As someone who wants to get to a point where we carbon neutral, I do not see the sense in this. These products are sold within a stone's throw of the briquette factory at Derrinlough in Offaly. Meanwhile, that factory is being scaled down. We accept that commercial peat harvesting will have to end, but that does not make sense if at the same time we are allowing these products to be imported into the locality where briquettes were made and did not have be transported, and that facility will close in just under three years' time.
Last year, I raised the issue of small-scale domestic turf cutting in the Dáil. Nothing has been done in the interim to resolve matters. I have argued for a just transition and, during my time as Sinn Féin spokesperson on climate action, I brought forward ambitious policies in that regard. We need to move on this today. The science supports that. Jobs in the midlands are not plentiful. Household income in Laois-Offaly is 15% lower than the State average. Retrofitting has commenced. I welcome that. I understand the logic behind it. I have argued for it, but it needs to be accelerated. There are thousands of homes that require retrofitting, many of them inhabited by low-income families who do not have the money to retrofit. The schemes need to be accelerated.
In the area of renewable energy, we have a site at Shannonbridge in west Offaly that is in a pivotal position in terms of the national grid. It needs to be a connection point for renewable energy, solar power, wind energy, biomass and biogas.
The Mount Lucas facility should be scaled up to a large national training centre that can deliver the apprenticeships that are needed to train people to carry out retrofits and acquire the building skills needed to build the homes that are required to meet the housing shortage.
Commercial large-scale peat harvesting has to end. Small-scale domestic turf cutting will peter out over a generation or less but, for now, it must be protected. The families concerned have no alternative and do not have the income or capital to retrofit their houses. I fully support the proposed transition but it must be a just transition for Laois, Offaly and the midlands.
I welcome that many of the suggestions and changes that were put forward have been inserted into the Bill. However, there are still significant weaknesses in it. I hope the Government will keep listening to those who continue to have concerns and ensure there is the necessary public confidence in a just and fair climate action plan. Youth throughout the world have driven the pace of change on these issues. I commend, in particular, the young students in Blakestown Community School in my constituency, who have organised a number of protests outside Fingal County Council's offices in recent years to highlight the points we are discussing today.
I want to address the issue of climate justice, which will be a core part of getting people to buy into efforts to achieve our climate change objectives. Deputy Cowen spoke yesterday evening in the House about the importance of a just transition. However, the Bill gives many of us cause for serious concern in this regard. It appears that working people are being set up to bear the largest cost of the transition. Working families are already struggling as we come out of the pandemic. We had a warning this week by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, that the supports in place to help workers in some way to cope with the pandemic will be withdrawn over a short period. That is a cause for particular concern. If this is being done during a pandemic that has devastated the economic well-being of people in our community, how can we trust that supports will be put in place to help them through the changes needed to tackle climate change and enable us to reach the targets that have been set?
The challenges we face in my constituency of Dublin West are significant. Sinn Féin is working on a submission on the county development plan that will seek to address those challenges. Many of the themes for the next decade set out in that plan are intrinsically linked to climate change. How do we protect our trees and hedgerows, many of which have been devastated by urban sprawl and the years of corruption in our planning system? How do we protect our green spaces and green belts and ensure we have a green lung left in Dublin? How do we revitalise towns and villages that have been affected by Walmartisation? Massive superstores, built with only car users in mind, have sucked the life out of those towns and villages. Planning legislation such as that to deliver strategic housing development has rocked the confidence of communities in proper and sustainable planning and development.
How do we ensure we have strong public support for major infrastructural projects such as BusConnects and DART+? Another major public transport scheme, metro west, has been all but abandoned. It would have connected Tallaght, Clondalkin and Blanchardstown to Dublin Airport. Without it, people in Dublin 15 continue to have absolutely no public transport access to the airport. If we are serious about connecting communities and getting people out of cars, we need a free public transport system.
If we are to bring everyone along on this journey, a just transition must be about more than a few paragraphs in a climate strategy document. Justice must be at the very core of everything or our efforts will fail. We must avoid that at all costs.
While I welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction, it must be acknowledged that we are very much on the back foot in the fight against climate change. I am deeply concerned by the notable lack of several important elements that are needed to tackle climate change effectively. The legislation does not include a number of commitments made in the programme for Government, which is very telling about the priorities of a certain party of government when it comes to climate action. Where is the provision for a meaningful just transition? Without it, communities will be left behind and public buy-in to a decarbonised future will be lost.
I am concerned that the Bill does not include a ban on the importing of fracked gas into Ireland. That is a missed opportunity. We share our world and no nation can stop this crisis on its own. That is why our actions must be of a collective mindset. By allowing the importation of fracked gas, we are, by default, making Ireland a supporter of fracking. It seems the only concern is that the fracking is not done in this country and in our sight. Profits reign superior to the environment and local communities. This missed opportunity reminds me of when the EU banned the use of dangerous pesticides, which was the correct stance to take. However, it allowed the large chemical corporations to continue to manufacture and export those harmful pesticides to the global south, thereby ensuring their profits at the expense of others. When it comes to climate action, an attitude of see no evil and hear no evil is fooling no one. Fracked gas might appear cheap but it comes with a heavy and very damaging cost to our environment.
Climate action is a huge step and we all need to play our part in it. There is much talk about global change and global action but we seem to ignore what is happening on our own doorstep. The Ringsend waste water treatment plant on the Poolbeg Peninsula regularly discharges raw sewage into Dublin Bay, mostly during winter. The condition of the water last weekend was disgusting. While it may not have contained raw sewage, it was not of a quality such that I would let a child or dog paddle in it. People should not be afraid of what they might step in on the beach at Sandymount Strand. Last summer, residents found the beach was almost unusable because of an algae bloom. The experts tell us this is a natural occurrence. Algae bloom may be natural but the amount that grows on Sandymount Strand is not natural. It grows in such volumes because of the particulates discharged into Dublin Bay. For many months of the year, it makes Sandymount Strand a no-go zone. This is not good enough. We need a short-term engineering solution to stop the regular discharges into Dublin Bay from the waste water treatment plant. We need the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and Dublin City Council to carry out an audit of the heavy industries on the Poolbeg peninsula and to heavily fine or shut down any that are not compliant with good practice. Dublin Bay is too important an amenity to do otherwise.
There has been much discussion of this legislation over the past few months. I am glad the debate on Second Stage is being given the time it deserves. The view among environmental activists is that the Bill does not go anywhere near where it should. Notwithstanding the good provisions it contains, many people have concerns. A large number of constituents have contacted my office to express their concerns about the provisions in the Bill and, even more so, what is not in the Bill.
A key focus for me is the need for the actions to tackle climate change to be fair for people and for a just transition to be a key part of Government thinking. There must be an element of social justice to it. Those who are least well off cannot be left, once again, to pick up the tab. Climate action can be a huge opportunity to improve people's lives, deliver warmer homes and ensure a better work-life balance. However, we must bring people along with us. We must give them the choices and the means to do so and we cannot punish them.
Carbon taxes are an example of poor policy decisions that impact most on those who cannot afford an alternative. Rather than work with people, the Government will penalise them for a behaviour they are not in a position to change. We need a definition of what the Government means by a just transition and there is an opportunity to provide it in this Bill.
The whole purpose of setting targets is that they are achievable. If we go beyond them, we will celebrate. The lack of accountability by previous Governments has got us where we are today. This is our opportunity to get things right.
My colleague, Deputy Darren O'Rourke, spoke about the need for the Government to invest significantly in public transport. Many communities have been failed by a lack of investment over decades. Governments have prioritised profitable bus routes but then complained when Bus Éireann has not made money. We need to stop looking to the private market to serve the public. If we have to get cars off our roads, we need a complete overhaul of public transport because the current system is not sustainable.
There is much good in the Bill but it is not a silver bullet. Much more needs to be considered before it is passed.
There can be no climate justice without social justice. We are not doing enough to ensure a just transition. Current Government policy punishes ordinary workers and their families and rewards big businesses and wind farm developers. This needs to change. I welcome the fact that we have a Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill but it needs to be stronger. It needs to be less aspirational and more legally binding. The climate crisis will not be solved by hopes and dreams. We need targeted action if we are to arrest the downward spiral. In years to come we will be speaking of the curlew and the corncrake as we now speak of the dodo if we do not act.
We cannot rely on crude measures like banning cars and culling herds and certainly not without proper planning and consideration for the consequences. Energy efficiency needs to be prioritised and our housing stock needs to be brought into the 21st century. I am assisting a lady who has been offered a grant for front windows and was told that perhaps she might apply for the back windows next year and a new door the year after that. This approach is wrong and it needs to stop. If we are not serious about sorting these things out properly, why bother at all? Is this what we are now reduced to?
Ireland is supposedly a very affluent country and ranks fourth in the IMF list of the ten richest countries in the world, as apparently measured per capita. Unfortunately, the contempt shown towards working class families for years has increased the unequal distribution of wealth, meaning that many are left behind when the tide rises.
We need to implement a rolling programme of upgrades for older housing stock. I am thinking of estates like St. Brigid's Square in Portarlington, St. Evin’s Park in Monasterevin, Dara Park in Newbridge and Maryville in Kildare town. Where is the just transition for the residents of these areas?
We need a comprehensive plan to ban the importation of fracked gas and, specifically, to ban liquefied natural gas terminals in Ireland. The Bill needs to be reviewed to ensure compliance with the Aarhus Convention. We need more engagement and consultation with the public. We say there must be nothing about us without us. Another way of looking at this is that those who are not at the table can find themselves on the menu. We must consider the views of our citizens. The Government cannot rely on carbon taxes alone to beat the working poor and their families into submission.
We all agree that urgent climate action is required and that all sectors and each one of have a part to play. There is a genuine fear that more will be asked of some than of others. Some decisions made by the Government have only added to these fears.
As someone who lives on a farm in a rural area, it is important for me to say that farmers and rural areas cannot pay the price for climate action, nor will we be sacrificed for climate change. People in rural areas rely on their car because there is no public transport and no alternative. Likewise, this Government and previous Governments have continued to heap carbon taxes on solid fuels at a time when bills have already been increased, energy poverty is on the rise and there are no affordable alternatives. We now have the situation, which would be laughable if it were not so serious, of peat briquettes being imported from Germany when peat production here is being wound down and jobs are being lost. The workers, families and communities concerned see peat briquettes being imported. It is absolute madness.
Many farmers have been playing their part for a long time when it comes to climate action but they are not being compensated for it. We need to acknowledge that. Many of them have been left greatly disappointed having been sold the promise in the previous general election that REPS 2, a new environmental scheme, was coming down the tracks. Instead, a pilot scheme has been announced with a focus on results rather than actions. It will cost €10 million, whereas €79 million was set aside in the previous budget for a new environmental scheme and other measures. A sum of €10 million is not enough. The signs are not good that we will get the type of environmental scheme that farmers are desperately waiting on to try to increase their income. Farmers need a scheme that recognises the work they already do and puts money in their pockets, that a box-ticking, overly administrative scheme. That is all that is required.
Communities at the coalface in the current move from brown to green, including Lanesborough and Ballyleague, need urgent attention. We need to see the jobs in the Lough Ree power station replaced. These communities are already feeling left behind. In towns like Lanesborough and Ballyleague, which have proactive communities, people understand the change but they need to be supported. This issue should be given urgent attention.
We need to protect domestic turf cutting. Turf has been much more than just a form of heating for many families for generations. Under no circumstances, should domestic turf cutting be banned while there is no affordable alternative available. Many families in areas such as Ballinasloe where domestic turf cutting has been stopped have been left overnight without the source of heating on which they have relied for so long. Domestic turf cutting must be protected.
This is possibly one of the most consequential and society-changing Bills this Dáil and, dare I say, any Dáil will discuss. It requires substantial and detailed parliamentary scrutiny. It also requires public engagement. It can be legislatively successful but it may not have an impact or support. Without public engagement and support, it may not achieve the results we need it to achieve. I am concerned that as we discuss the Bill, everybody else’s attention is on Covid-19. While that is understandable, given the changes involved in this legislation, the attention it requires has been diverted elsewhere. When the consequences of this legislation and the changes that it will place on our shoulders become apparent, the public may not support it because they have not engaged with it. We must all do a better job at this.
It is extraordinary that so many people deny the basis of this legislation and deny the challenge of climate change, even in the face of incontrovertible scientific evidence and the lived experience. I refer to the lived experience of two so-called one-in-100-year flooding events happening in the space of three weeks in Crossmolina in 2015. These are flooding events of a type that we did not encounter previously. The damage caused by them is becoming regular throughout the year. Even in Ireland, we have experienced extremes of heat and weather that are as direct consequences of climate change. We see it worldwide. The evidence, the damage and the challenge it presents cannot be ignored. This legislation is necessary.
Before we come to the end of Second Stage, it is worth reflecting on the fact that the German constitutional court made very strong findings relating to the German climate action Bill, its impact on younger people in particular and why they are being forced to take up that burden. It would be beneficial for the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to take the time after Second Stage to reflect on that judgment and the detail of it.
The past 12 months in the context of Covid and its sizeable medical and other consequences have shown us how something relatively small can shut down the world. We must reflect on what the worst aspects of climate change would do to the world if they were to be allowed to proceed. Unless we change our way of doing things, that is what will happen. However, Covid showed that a national effort can be mobilised in pursuit of a common goal and protecting society. It also showed that many things that could not be achieved for many years were achieved, with many policy decisions being taken very quickly and suddenly. The silos of government about which I regularly speak in the House suddenly came down in the interests of a common goal. We need to apply that approach in the context of this legislation and our climate action policies.
Covid also showed that communication is key. Communication that is empathetic and understands where people are at is the key to action and mobilisation. Unless we get that kind of communication, which has an understanding of people’s fears and the consequences for various elements of society, this legislation will not work and its aims will not be achieved. There is significant disinformation around climate change, as is the case in respect of Covid. When one puts up a social media post about Covid, be that on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever, a message comes up to direct people to reputable sources on Covid. A similar approach should be taken by social media companies when it comes to discussions on climate change because there is too much misinformation that is destroying the discussion and moving people’s focus away from the actual key problem and down rabbit holes that have no bearing on the issue at stake. The social media companies need to step up to the mark in that regard.
Many of the roots of this legislation lie in a finding of the Citizens’ Assembly. It is welcome that there was citizen involvement. The Citizens’ Assembly model has proven quite successful. However, in the context of preparing the climate action plan, I believe the legislation will put the cart before the horse. The understanding is that there will be a national climate action plan which will lay down parameters and guidelines and is to be followed by local authority climate action plans which will take their lead from it. We would have a better chance of success were it to be the other way around, that is, for communities to come forward first and feed into the national climate action plan. I would like to see commitments in the legislation to regularly review the national climate action plan. There should be some sort of link between that review process and input from local communities.
It would be worthwhile to have local citizens’ assemblies based on the national Citizens' Assembly. I know there is a commitment that the public participation networks, PPNs, will be involved, but having a citizens’ assembly in each local authority area to focus on the issues considered by the national Citizens’ Assembly would make for far greater buy-in on and discussion around each local climate action plan. I was intrigued that many of the recommendations in the report of the Citizens’ Assembly on the national climate action plan secured more than 90% endorsement on the day. That is very healthy and positive but Members know that is not the way things go in real life. A more finessed local citizens’ assembly in each local authority area would give the Minister a far better insight into where people are and their fears and concerns around this whole issue.
For me, the climate agenda and action on the climate agenda are rooted in local activities and, in particular, the green schools programme at primary school level. We must thank primary school teachers and the green schools programme for inspiring so many young people of primary school age, creating awareness of the various aspects and challenges around climate change and prompting them to take action. Having taken action at school, they go home and take action there and, in many cases, force and drag their parents, guardians, grandparents and other family members into taking action. The strength of the primary school level programme seems to be lost at secondary school level and we need to consider why that is the case. I welcome the increased awareness and input on climate action issues within the new junior certificate geography curriculum, but I put it to the Minister that it should be incorporated in every subject. It should not be an issue just for geography. Climate action issues should be embedded within every subject. They can be incorporated into each subject to avoid a silo kind of approach and to have, rather, an all-education approach.
Local involvement outside of schools is crucial. I had the pleasure of engaging with the Westport Eco-Congregation on this issue. It was a really insightful discussion. Its members were coming at the issue from different angles and with various constructive inputs. It is a group that also takes action on the ground to deal with the issues. There are many groups that could be involved with local input into the local climate action plan process, thus ensuring the climate action plan process is rooted in communities across the island and that the climate action plan does not just come out of Government Buildings or the usual suspects but, rather, has local buy-in and investment.
I previously proposed to the Minister the idea of a green towns competition which would involve funding being put in place to allow towns across the country to compete to be Ireland’s greenest town. We in Ballina have set ourselves that ambition as a town following a challenge from former President and Ballina native, Mary Robinson. We have fantastic committees working on it locally that are trying to achieve what is required and to bring the community with them in doing so. The Ballina community clean-up group was established prior to Covid, but has taken on a new life during the pandemic. It is not just doing clean-up; it is investing in biodiversity and bringing nature back to the heart of the town. I compliment that group. It has mobilised people across the town to get involved because it is a local group that is getting involved with projects with which people can identify and wish to be on board. That is the kind of template that needs to be supported. It is local and can be supported in a manner that sustains and respects it and respects the input of those groups into the decision-making process.
I note that the public consultation on the 2021 climate action plan is currently open and will close on 18 May. There is very little awareness of that consultation. There were very intensive social media, press and television campaigns behind the consultations in respect of the national development plan and Covid, for instance. I put it to the Minister that in the two weeks remaining in the consultation period, we need to get to that kind of level of making people aware of this process, that they are welcome to take part in it and that it is in their interest to take part in it.
The Bill outlines new carbon budgeting processes and that is welcome. They will be challenging. I have a couple of concerns. Through many years, the elected Oireachtas comprising the Dáil and the Seanad has ceded power to unelected bodies. That is to our detriment. It has been constantly to our detriment in terms of getting answers and responsibility. The Bill proposes giving the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, the power to set the initial carbon budget which the Minister of the day would then discuss with his or her colleagues and spend time on in terms of its implementation. I believe democracy would be better served if the Minister and the Government, who are answerable to this House, presented the budget and involved the CCAC in a key way. I welcome the strengthening of that body and its new powers.
In terms of parliamentary democracy and respect for ourselves as parliamentarians, our carbon budget by its nature should be introduced, in my view, by the Minister.
As for the input of communities, the document that goes with the legislation has a phrase to the effect that the climate change plan should offer the least burdens and the greatest opportunities in the pathway to decarbonise and achieve the carbon budget for a given period. We all agree with that. The least burdens and the greatest opportunities should apply in this regard. The burden and the opportunity should be shared. However, many communities feel the burden is heavy on them and the opportunities are limited. I speak for many rural communities, which already feel alienated from this process. I speak for the agricultural community, which seems to be in the firing line every time, despite what it has done over at least 20 years in terms of changing processes and ways of doing businesses and farming.
If this legislation is to work, have an impact and get buy-in, we must ensure, as is laid out in that document, that we offer the least burdens and the greatest opportunities to rural communities. We must ask the agricultural sector to come with us in partnership on this journey, rather than telling it what to do, blaming it or fingering it, and the Minister must engage in that partnership with it.
One sector that has made huge changes in the past 20 years is the hill farming and sheep farming sector. It potentially will be asked to make massive changes under the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. That cannot be allowed to happen, given what it has done already. Now is the time to engage with all communities around this, particularly the agricultural community, on a partnership basis, rather than a lecturing basis.
The challenges of decarbonising transport, including public transport, are necessary and welcome but, for rural communities, there is not an option. The option is one's car or one does not get to travel. We have to look at investing in public transport as well as decarbonising it, also opening it up, investing and ensuring it all lines up in rural areas. We have a myriad of services but few of them seem to talk to one another in a way that makes them practical and effective for people's day-to-day lives. With the Minister's transport hat on, let us try to put something together so that all our transport services add up. Let us invest in public transport as well. We have spoken about the western rail corridor. That is a perfect example of how we can link regional communities up with regional capitals for education, work and healthcare. A proper service in place will give people the option of leaving the car behind. That is not an option they have at the moment.
There are many communities for which the road is necessary. Not investing in roads is not an option. Otherwise, the Minister will isolate people or force them to live in the big cities where there is already overmuch pressure on systems and ways of living. The Government cannot ignore road investment programmes with a view to emphasising public transport. That will drive more people into cities and into bigger carbon usage.
The area of retrofitting offers massive potential and opportunity in terms of achieving the aims of the climate action plan, reducing our emissions and enhancing people's living experience. We talk a lot about it and there are big targets but it is about trying to start making those targets happen around the country.
The Bill contains a number of commitments in respect of oil and gas exploration. There is a programme for Government commitment in this area. However, work is also under way in the Department on an energy and security review to ensure our energy security is upfront and is being dealt with in the context of changing the energy inputs. It would be useful to have that review completed before we move towards a complete change of our energy mix. It does not make any sense for us to ban offshore exploration and ban fossil fuels in our gas and oil but still import fossil fuels from countries where that ban is not in place or where they are quite heavy users of fossil fuels. That makes no sense whatever and we need to be clear on that.
Before this legislation came in today we had the marine area planning Bill, which is very welcome. I commend the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, as well as the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on bringing that forward relatively quickly, despite its complexity. Without that Bill, this Bill will not happen. That Bill will change the opportunities for offshore wind but let us be sure that before we make decisions on our energy mix, we can be confident of the supply into the future.
I have raised hydrogen and other issues with the Minister previously and I fear there is not enough ambition around the potential uses of fuels such as hydrogen in relation to our energy mix. As the world is moving quickly to hydrogen, Ireland is uniquely placed in terms of using wind to drive on the hydrogen agenda. We can be a world leader there if we show more urgency.
As I said at the outset, this is hugely consequential legislation and it will change the way we do things in every aspect of our lives. It is happening in the Covid bubble and the legislative bubble and we need to do more to involve everybody in the discussion and make everybody aware of the consequences of this legislation. If we do not, we will lose people. We will not bring people on this journey but it is absolutely necessary to do so.
While people are willing to contribute and share their part of the burden, they need to see the opportunities for themselves, their communities and their families. They need to see those opportunities are real and not pie in the sky or a form of spin. They need to see that the changes they are being challenged to make in their daily lives have a point and that everybody is shouldering the burden, regardless of income or geographical location. They need to know the changes we are making in Ireland are being made internationally and that we as a country are sharing our burden and that burden is being shared internationally.
We all want this Bill and its aim to succeed but we have to ensure we bring people with us. We have to do a much better job of bringing people with us and showing the opportunities that come from this Bill. We have to do a better job of reassuring people that, while there will be burdens, those burdens will be shared fairly and shouldered collectively. If we do not do that, this Bill will only be a piece of paper. It will only have some sort of legislative impact but it will not have public buy-in and there is no sense in doing this unless we get public buy-in.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for looking after our interests. I appreciate it.
When the school student climate strikers came out on the street in this country and across the world, they shouted and had on their banners and placards the slogan "System change, not climate change!" They also loudly shouted about the need for a just transition as being absolutely critical to delivering the radical climate action we need to stop climate disaster. This Bill should be a reflection of the demands and aspirations of those school student climate strikers and the demands they are making for truly radical action to prevent a climate disaster. I would like to be able to celebrate it as such but, to be honest, it is not. There are so many compromises and get-out clauses in this that it may well be a dead letter.
The Bill is littered with the phrase "as far as practicable". It is a constant refrain. It is stated that, as far as practicable, we will do this, that and the other. If it is not practical, we will not be doing it. That is the clear implication of the constant use of that phrase in terms of the responsibility of Ministers and the factors they must take into account. In spite of all the references to climate justice, the single reference that the Minister was forced to put in, which was not included in the first draft in the context of the just transition, is that of "as far as practicable". As a result, the just transition is an optional extra. Many of the targets are also optional extras, particularly when one looks at some of the key assertions made in the Bill. Section 4 states:
For the avoidance of doubt no remedy or relief by way of damages or compensation is available with respect to or arising out of any failure, of whatever kind, to comply with any provision of this Act or any obligation or duty created thereunder.
There it is, with that one paragraph there is a legal get-out clause in respect of everything, of every single aspect of the Bill. Why those get-outs are needed becomes apparent when one looks at some of the other measures that are put forward in the Bill.
The Bill refers to: "the need to deliver the best possible value for money consistent with the sustainable management of the public finances". Where have we heard that before? That is neoliberal, capitalist austerity lingo. There is no doubt about it. That is what it is there for. No doubt it was heavily lobbied for by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Where have we heard that stuff about the sustainable management of the public finances before? The Bill goes on to refer to “the need to maximise employment", of which I am very much in favour. However, there is then a reference to "the attractiveness of the State for investment and the long term competitiveness of the economy". This means we will not be doing things that might impact on the attractiveness of the State for investment and the long-term competitiveness of the economy.
What is envisaged is not system change when one takes those get-out clauses into account. In fact, that is a legal assertion that we are going to work within the existing system and that said system is the absolute framework outside which we are not going to step. That is not what the school student strikers were saying. They were saying that we have to break the shackles of the existing system that has given us the climate crisis. Unless we do that, what we are referring to is the pursuit of profit by the companies that are destroying the environment. We must consider that 70% of global emissions come from 100 corporations. If we are setting it out in law that we are not willing to do anything that might annoy these corporations or make us less attractive to them, that is a get-out clause and it means we are not going to take the action against the companies that are responsible for destroying the environment. That is what it means.
I suggest to the Minister that the use of language referring to the sustainability of the public finances in the Bill rules out the radical move towards a greater use of public transport that we need. The evidence suggests that. If we want to take radical climate action and get people out of cars, we must increase investment in public transport and make it cheaper and more accessible. Let us look at what is actually happening with public transport. Cash fares have gone up 87% in the past ten years. In 2008, the PSO element of public transport funding was €85 million. The PSO was cut every single year until 2019, prior to Covid, and currently stands at €47 million, almost half what it was in 2008. At the same time, we have announcements that Expressway services in rural areas such as Wexford, Waterford, Sligo and Dundalk are to be cut. The public transport system, which is not based on profit, is being slashed in favour of private for-profit transport providers that have no interest in cutting fares and every interest in increasing them in order to increase their profitability. We have seen the outsourcing of 10% of Dublin Bus routes. Do we honestly think Go-Ahead Ireland has an interest in providing free public transport or making routes that do not make a profit for it available? Of course it does not. That is not what it does, it is out to make money from people. Such companies cut the unprofitable routes in favour of profitable ones. That is how they operate. If we want a public transport system that is so state of the art that people would not dream of getting into their cars, we must have the level of subsidy required to invest in routes that are not profitable from a narrow commercial point of view or from the point of the view of the so-called sustainability of the public finances. That is what we need if we are going to make the radical transition that is necessary. We need to be able to say to taxi drivers that it is not going to be a punishment for them. I have asked the Minister repeatedly for this. This year, many of them are facing the possibility of having to exit the industry because they do not have the money to replace their cars and they most certainly do not have the money to pay €50,000 for an electric taxi that is disabled-accessible. All that is available to them is €20,000. Where are they supposed to get the other €30,000, particularly when they have lost a year and a half's income? They will not be able to do it. They will be pushed out of the industry. There will be no just transition for them. That is the reality of these things.
Let us take forestry as another example. We had a report in October 2020 that Irish forestry is not a carbon sink, but is now a net carbon emitter. How on earth could that be the case? It is explained in a report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is because we have the completely wrong forestry model that is run for profit. It is about plantations of Sitka spruce and clear-felling. When one operates forestry on that basis, one cuts when the market will deliver the profit. Clear-felling also gives rise to large amounts of emissions and destroys the biodiversity we need to address. It is critical to address the climate and biodiversity emergency. We need to move to continuous cover forestry and agroforestry on a massive scale, and I regret to inform the Minister that that means bucking the market. We cannot be hemmed in by attractiveness to foreign investors and by the so-called narrow sustainability of the public finances if we want to do those sorts of radical things.
We have the carbon tax and the just transition for ordinary people. Critically, we need to retrofit. At the moment, we are punishing people. Some 400,000 people are in fuel poverty. What are we doing to provide investment to ensure a just transition in order that people are not punished by the carbon tax? I will tell the Minister what we are doing in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. We are providing an extra €1 million that will be used to retrofit 41 houses next year. That amounts to 1% of the housing stock. That is not radical. All the rest of the people who are living in fuel poverty, some in council housing and some not, will continue to be punished with the increasing carbon tax because we are not serious about putting in the investment. That 1% is roughly replicated in the context of the money that is being put into retrofitting on a national scale. We are not doing it and that is because, in order to do it, we have to break away from the neoliberal market model. We have to say that it does not have to be sustainable in the narrow sense but that it has to be sustainable in the actual sense of the just transition and of the system change we need in order to facilitate climate action.
I am deeply worried that this Bill has the outward appearance of radical action but contains all the get-out clauses which mean that the system will not change and that just transition will not be delivered.
Where is the binding reporting mechanism for the just transition to make sure that happens? Where are the powers for the just transition commissioner to call people to account if the just transition does not happen? They are not there because the investors we are so worried about would not want them.
Where are the taxes? It was insisted that we were going to tax the big corporations that continue to pollute and which are the real problem. They are not there. I am worried. As I said, this is decoration. It is the appearance of radical action when actually it is a balancing act to appease the big polluters and corporate interests.
I want to express my support for the open letter published recently by more than 400 academics researching climate and environmental change protesting the worldwide attempts to criminalise non-violent climate protest. The letter states that those who put their voices and bodies on the line to raise the alarm are being threatened and silenced by the very countries they seek to protect. I agree with that, and I want to add my voice to this important issue.
I want to draw attention to the fact that the Bill does not include measures to ban the importation of fracked gas. It should have done so. I hear Green Party Ministers swear blind that such a ban will be included in separate legislation. Climate activists will watch like hawks to see that that legislation is indeed brought forward, and brought forward quickly. Perhaps the Minister can provide us with a date as to when we will see that legislation.
I am for climate action. I am also for climate justice. The idea of carbon taxes on the general population, taxes that will rise year on year up to 2030, is something I oppose. These taxes are counter-productive. They will rightly be perceived by many as unjust and they have the potential to turn people away from the necessary climate action agenda. A total of 71% of greenhouse gas emissions in the past three decades came from just 100 large corporations. That is where carbon taxes need to be directed. They need to be targeted precisely at forces such as those which pollute for profit.
Worldwide, data centres account for 2% of world energy demand, a figure which is expected to quadruple to 8% by 2030. However, in this country data centres and other large users are expected to account for 27% of Irish energy demand by 2028. Ireland is fast becoming Europe's data centre capital. There are currently 54 such centres, with planning permission in place for a further 31. They all require high levels of energy to power and cool machines. It is estimated by the Irish Academy of Engineering that data centres are set to add 1.5 million tonnes to Ireland's carbon emissions total by 2030. We should act like our house is on fire.
Ireland cannot become Europe's data centre capital and reach emission targets. It is not enough to say that data centres should use renewable sources. Of course they should, but at the current rate of growth they will end up using close to 50% of all energy from renewable sources. This drive needs to be slowed down. The case for strong carbon taxes on the owners of these centres is clear and undeniable.
What we need in Ireland and internationally is a green new deal that puts the environment first and promotes the question of a just transition, one that is just for society and ordinary working people. What kind of policies might be enshrined in a green new deal in this country? I suggest the following issues would be among those at the core of it. There should be massive State investment in renewable energy. There should be a State-funded programme to retrofit houses, including the State building social and affordable housing and retrofitting new housing. There should be free public transport, via a public transport system which has had a major increase in investment. There should be a four-day working week. There must be a major increase in investment in reforestation. Agribusiness should be taken into public ownership and a plan should be drawn up, linked to a move towards sustainable, carbon-free agriculture.
Policies such as these clash with the imperative within a society to put profit first. One cannot square that with a system which puts profit first, before people and the environment.. We cannot fund that without massive increases in taxation on big business and the wealthy in society. It points towards the need for a break with the current economic system, the system of capitalism.
Young people on climate marches carried signs that read "System change not climate change". The system that needs to be ended and replaced with something better is capitalism. Capitalism is the system responsible for those 100 companies that account for 70% of global carbon emissions. Capitalism is the system which results in the top 10% of income earners in the world having up to 43% of the environmental impact, while the bottom 10% of earners have between just 3% and 5%. Capitalism is the system that the author of the Stern report referred to when he stated that "Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen".
We cannot afford that market system if we want a future for the next generation, halt the threat of climate change to our planet and offer a real future for young people. We need to end the system which puts profit before the environment. We need to end the system of capitalism and replace it with something better. I would suggest that something better is a democratic and socialist society, rationally planned in the interests of all.
I am quite glad that I get to speak on the second week of the debate on the Bill because it gives me a chance to read and listen to the contributions Deputies have put forward, which has been very interesting. There has been quite a spectrum of responses to the Bill. For some the Bill goes too far and there is a feeling that it might pit communities against the inevitable reforms that will be required by the very real changes brought about by global climate change. I agree with some of those concerns. We have a challenge in terms of making the just transition work for farming. Ireland is not unique in the reaction to some of the change around carbon emission reduction and the fear it will impact on the average worker and those who farm the land most.
For others, the Bill does not go far enough. There are concerns around governance not being robust enough and that not all Departments will be involved. I also take those concerns seriously. It may be that we need to calibrate the reporting or governance around them as the Bill takes shape and is working. If this is not an all-of-government project, it will not work.
My concern in all of this is the impression conveyed by both sides of the House and both sides of the argument that this is an all-encompassing initiative and is almost like a full stop in terms of our country's approach to addressing our role in climate action. For me the Bill is, in fact, an answer to, if not a pathway away from, a lost decade where inaction and calculated political indifference saw us at the bottom of every table of progressive climate action. Let us be honest; many Deputies in the House are not particularly bothered and do not particularly care about climate action or the impact climate inaction might have on their constituents.
That is their prerogative but it is important that every side of the argument from every side of the House recognises that the decade of inaction and indifference we have just experienced has left the Irish nation singularly vulnerable to the economic, social and environmental impacts of climate change.
Whether one believes in or cares about it, climate change is not a slow train coming at the Irish people. It is a very fast train coming down the tracks at us and due to our international agreements and the extreme weather events we are experiencing in our own backyards now, we will have to deal with it. We can no longer ignore it or escape it.
This could have been easier. In the past ten years we could have reached out to farmers to gradually phase in land management and biodiversity measures. We did not do that. We will have to do more now in a shorter timeframe and we cannot pretend that will be easy or without worry for small and medium farmers.
In the past decade we could have been talking to communities about pooling their resources and capitalising on the very real opportunities that we see other communities in the EU capitalising on around community ownership of renewable energy sources. We did not do that either. We will now spend millions of euro on retrofitting homes and on retro-engineering community energy, instead of being ahead of the pack on public investment in green technology.
We could have spent the past decade looking at high carbon emission industries in specific communities and targeting them for just transition supports in order that the average worker would be able to upskill and benefit in a real way from the new jobs that will be created by the inevitable change that is coming in all our industries in response to climate action. We did not do that. Our ability to retrofit our homes, install solar power and run district heating systems will be slower now than it could have been because we will struggle with capacity in the sector.
We should not be proud of the past decade because it was a political and societal choice to ignore the need to plan for our children’s future and for their survival. We decided not to do that. This House decided not to do that and the new task will be harder, more painful and more expensive than it needed to be because of that choice.
This is an incredibly important Bill. It sets out internal Irish structures to finally address climate action. It is a one of a suite of measures that sits in parallel to other things we must act on now to safeguard our future and plan for our children to not just survive but to thrive. The first on that list of parallel issues would be the issue of biodiversity. Ireland is in the middle of a biodiversity crisis. We have widespread species collapse, river pollution and mismanagement - we have just seen the burning of our beautiful national park in Killarney - and the widespread loss of habitats across the country. The curlews, corncrakes, barn owls and bats that I used to hear above my head growing up in Limerick were common around Ireland. If we continue along the current path, future generations will not enjoy that.
It is now time to consider recognising the right of the Irish people to nature as part of their right to live in an environment consistent with human dignity. For the families who are battling rising flood waters and the incredibly high number of children up and down this country who are struggling with asthma across our towns and villages due to low air quality, it is fair to say we may have reached a tipping point for them where the degradation of our natural capital may now be impeding the human rights of Irish residents.
Second, Ireland must become a leader in global climate agreements. Our efforts to meet net-zero emissions must be complemented by adaptation and resilience measures and, importantly, the mobilisation of climate financing for countries that have not developed modern infrastructure. We give out about the infrastructure in Ireland all the time but we are incredibly privileged here. We live in a well-developed country. Many countries around the world do not enjoy that type of infrastructure and we need to work with them to ensure that the move towards climate action does not disenfranchise them.
The issue of emissions from farming is a global one. I would put it in the second bracket of global climate agreements because farmers feed the world and the world will have to reverse the recent unhealthy move to meat-heavy diets and return to a more balanced diet, which existed a generation or two ago. We have no target for herd reduction in this Bill but the reality is that we could reduce the herd by more than 70% and we still would not have to import beef for consumption here. What we are doing by not addressing this issue is onshoring carbon emissions from other countries so that they can eat beef. We will have to pay the fines on those carbon emissions. In effect, the Irish taxpayer will be paying the environmental fines to allow somebody in Essex or Surrey to eat a steak. Import or export, this is a global community issue. All of us will have to eat less meat. We will have to have less livestock just to survive.
Third, Ireland had an interesting year in 2020. We placed people in significant roles in finance within the EU. Mairead McGuiness was placed as the EU Commissioner with responsibility for financial stability, financial services and capital markets union. It is an incredibly important role. Our own Minister, Deputy Donohue, was placed as chair of the Eurogroup. Instead of acquiescing to the global move towards tax reform that President Biden has been citing in recent days, it is time that we used our outsized international presence as a small country to lead reform because there can be no climate justice without tax justice.
Finally, we must actively lead within the UN on the children's environmental rights initiative, CERI, which has three primary objectives. The first is the UN recognition of the human right to a healthy environment, with specific reference to children. The second is the creation of a general comment from the Committee on the Rights of the Child as it relates to the environment. The third is the decision by the parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to clarify and advance fulfilment of children’s right to a healthy environment through an optional protocol.
Last month, at the Human Rights Council's 46th session, a core group led by Costa Rica issued a statement calling for states to engage in a consultation process on the recognition of the right to a healthy environment. Sixty-nine countries supported that call. I am proud to say Ireland was one of them. We should progress that and act with them to make sure that happens. Ireland should now sign the Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action launched at the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid. This is an obvious area of leadership for Ireland and it builds on the Kwon-Gesh pledge, which was pioneered by Ireland and the Marshall Islands in 2019, which is not that long ago. It places young people and children at the heart of climate decision-making. UNICEF wrote to all New York missions on Earth Day this year to ask them to progress that pledge.
After our lost decade, those are the initiatives and that is the place for Ireland to now lead on climate action.
If there is consensus now across the House to take climate action, it is worth asking why it did not happen before now. One of the most common arguments against it was not even an argument. It was a question that was put forward to the effect that we want to do this climate action but who will pay for it? That argument was really powerful even though it was misleading. It contained the built-in assumption that it would cost a lot of money, that we would probably have to pay for it and that climate action was an additional frippery that would be added to the real business of living our lives. It was like building a conservatory under one's house or ordering another course in a restaurant. It was an unneeded extra, a luxury, and something we could not really afford and we needed to get back to business.
It is clear there has been a change of heart about that and we realise there has been a mistake. Our whole economic system was being measured with GDP even though the inventor of GDP in the 1930s said that it is not a measure of general welfare and we should not use it in that way because it is a measure of consumption and production. The faster that one exhausts one's finite resources is not a good way of showing how rich one is. The faster one gets through all the food in one's cupboard does not mean that one's family is getting wealthier. Why would we think that even for a second? Yet, despite that, we would see stories in the newspaper about a drop in GDP of 0.5% this quarter and asking if we were getting poorer or richer as a result. It was all ludicrous.
Wealth, human happiness and the success of a nation are not measured by how fast it exhausts its finite resources. I do not know how we had that idea. How do we measure viability and evaluate the investment of taxpayers' money in large projects? We have a cost-benefit analysis system. If, for example, a giant road is being built, a cost-benefit analysis measures the travelling hours saved by all the people who will be driving. This is multiplied by how much an average person would be paid to work, and that is the cost saving. What is not taken into account is the extra time it takes for people in the area who are not in a car, including those on bicycles, to cross the road or the time for which those on buses are stuck in a traffic jam. They do not count; their time has no value. The person working on a laptop on a train has no value. The lives, time and health of people walking along the road who are breathing in the fumes and who then get respiratory illnesses — our rate of asthma is twice that in any other country in Europe — have no value because it is really handy to pick just one number to do sums and compare things and to say that anybody who argues with it is wrong. Therefore, we are going to change how we do cost-benefit analyses of our major projects. We are not going to do it in the old way anymore. We are going to do something more sensible, just as we do not measure the health of our economy with GDP because it does not make sense.
In Ireland, the Government spends a lot of money and we are in an era of major State investment. A lot of the money goes through public procurement frameworks, which are guides to achieving value for money, obtaining good quality with money spent, spending transparently and fairly and ensuring there is no corruption or favouritism involved. We can add to that by requiring that we spend our money in a way that supports our strategies and Government policy on sustainability to help our environment and meet our social aims. We are allowed to do that legally by the European directive, and we will be progressing legislation in that regard over the course of the year.
It has emerged during the pandemic that there is an absolute need to have broadband. There was a debate some time ago as to whether we could afford it and whether there was a good cost-benefit argument for extending it to every house in Ireland. It turns out we cannot really live, conduct commercial life, interact with the Government and even interact socially without broadband. We must deliver it. We must accelerate the delivery and invest in it. It can help us to achieve our climate goals because it allows people not only to work from home but also to work in their community. They can go down to their village or suburb and they do not have to commute. In the past, the benefit of a project was measured as the amount of time saved by a driver. There was a clear reason for it: time spent driving is hell. Everybody hates the torture of a life that involves commuting back and forth, varying journey times, just not knowing how long journeys will take and hoping each one will be the quickest ever, with every one involving stress and unhappiness. Avoiding that hell by reducing the total amount of commuting and getting people to work in their local village or home will improve the quality of life for everybody. It will improve communities. Already in suburban areas, villages and towns, we see more people socialising on the streets. They have happier lives and are not involved in the absolute hell of long-distance commuting.
We come back to the misleading question of who will pay for what is proposed. Again, it is not an accessory. It is an absolute revolution in the way we will do things. The answer is that we are not going to do something additive or extra. This is not icing on the cake. We are changing the old way of doing things and replacing it with something new. Rather than this resulting in a cost, it will result in savings. Not needing to own a car saves money. Having an electric car saves money because fuel is not being put into it. An insulated home saves money on electricity and heating bills. We have to do this. On the concept of sustainability, which is a technical word that makes people turn off, ultimately something that sustains is something that lasts, and when something lasts one does not need to pay to replace it quickly, again saving money.
Can we make all these huge changes? Can we change our transport system, the way we do agriculture and the way we heat our homes and generate electricity? Faced with an existential challenge a year and a half ago, people all around Ireland and the rest of the world came together and changed their habits of a lifetime. They voluntarily made huge changes to their lifestyles. At the same time they were making these changes, scientists and doctors were working to push the boundaries of innovation. Working together with a common purpose, with science and medicine coming together to solve in a technical way the existential problem facing us, has meant we are now in the final chapters of the pandemic. If we can do this to combat a pandemic that was threatening the lives of our older people, some of whom are here, we can also change our system to protect our young people, including our children and grandchildren. We can make those changes. I am delighted to see this is no longer a party-political issue and that there is broad consensus. I hear people from all parties and none saying they want a climate Bill. If they want to make changes to it, that is great. Let us work together. A Bill is not perfect on day one; there is a process to go through. We will go through that process, work together, co-operate and collaborate to solve this problem for everybody in Ireland.
I support sensible measures to encourage people to lead more environmentally healthy lives but I have major fears about whether this Bill will lead to that. While I believe the Minister and his colleagues in the Green Party are sincere in their motives, I disagree with the approach they want to take. First, this Bill could best be described as motherhood and apple pie. While it sounds wonderful, what will it mean when push comes to shove? We are being asked to pass a vague Bill that will give Governments free rein to do as they please for the next 30 years. I agree with Deputy Naughten's statement that the Bill is anti-democratic and that, by passing it, we are tying the hands of future legislators and depriving them of a say. When we deprive Deputies of a say, we are effectively depriving people of a voice. Past behaviour is a key indicator of action in climate-related matters. Past behaviour is a key indicator of future performance, and this is very true when it comes to action on climate-related matters. The past behaviour of successive Governments has targeted the wrong outcomes. We need only return to 2008 when a Minister responsible for the environment, Mr. John Gormley, told us to buy diesel cars. Sales of diesel cars went up by 30% in six months. The Green Party was delighted. It said consumers had modified their behaviour and turned to fuel-efficient cars, claiming this was evidence that its policies worked. Less than ten years later, the Green Party says that was wrong. Yesterday I heard Mr. Ciarán Cuffe, MEP, say he believes speed cameras on the M50 are a great idea. He said the approach is proven to slow down traffic but that it is not where we want to be. He said we need a modal transport shift, with more people on buses, but preferably on bicycles, meaning that in the future one lane can be dedicated entirely to buses. This is happening all over Europe, he said.
What I have never heard from the Green Party or this Government is that an extension to Dublin Port is a bad idea because of nitrogen oxide, NOx, emissions. Mr. Cuffe may know what is happening all over Europe. Ports in major cities are being wound down or relocated, or commercial activities are being minimised and users are being dispersed to regional or less congested ports, but not in Dublin, it appears. Anyone would believe that the Environmental Protection Agency reports do not matter or that people's lung health is not as important in Dublin Port. Is it being ignored for political reasons? Is it easier to pay the nitrogen oxide exceedance fines than discuss the hot potato, which is that Dublin Port activities could be shared with regional ports to the people's advantage? Dare I mention that removing a toll barrier at Dublin Port tunnel would make a world of a difference with regard to emissions?
The entrance has one of the highest levels of NOx emissions of anywhere in the city, according to the EPA. Perhaps that is simplistic. It would not make us world leaders because First World countries do not have toll barriers and tolls, just Ireland. We have both-----