Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Climate Change Policy
2. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he plans to take to ensure that Ireland will have a just transition towards meeting Ireland's international emissions reduction goals in advance of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, and in view of the recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the climate crisis. [44137/21]
I welcome the Minister to the House. What steps does the Government plan to take to ensure Ireland will have a just transition towards meeting its international emissions-reduction goals in advance of COP26, which is due to take place in Glasgow at the end of October. In advance of this event and in light of the alarming content of the recently published report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, we need to take the necessary steps urgently. I would like the Minister to outline those steps.
I formally welcome Deputy Bacik to the House. Well done to her on her election. I wish her the very best and look forward to working with her as a constituency colleague.
We have to make sure our transition is just. Social justice must be achieved in the wake of addressing the ecological crisis. There are so many different parts to that. The Government and its predecessor have done a lot of work on the establishment of a just transition commissioner, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, who has been working very specifically in the midlands. The midlands is our first example of determining how to transition a community in genuinely difficult circumstances. We have to switch off the extraction of peat and the use of peat in power generation and other areas and create alternative employment.
I believe that work is starting to bear fruit. We are starting to see a significant number of new jobs as Bord na Móna switches from brown to green. There has been significant investment of €100 million in the rehabilitation of bogs. More than 200 people are now employed to work on bogs. Those are the same people, using the same skills, who were previously involved in peat extraction. I could go into the details of how those projects are being rolled out and creating real employment. Bord na Móna is expanding, as is employment in the midlands. The retrofitting of social housing within local authorities is also occurring and that is an example of what we need to be doing. That is only the start and there are many sectors in our society that we need to start thinking about and planning their transition. We need to start considering how to manage the transition of the agricultural, forestry and car sectors.
I am engaged in ongoing work with the National Economic and Social Council. Its secretariat has done a lot of good work and thinking around structures for just transition. Work in the midlands is ongoing. We need to work with the European Commission to use European funds to build on the work that has already been done. I will come back to the Deputy with further measures in which we are engaged.
I thank the Minister for his warm welcome. I appreciate that, as a constituency colleague. I was thrilled and honoured to have been elected this summer to represent the people of Dublin Bay South.
I also thank the Minister for his response on the just transition point. There is a broader issue here, however, about the dangers of unregulated free markets and untrammelled economic growth. There is a need for us to look at how we can address climate change, the climate emergency and crisis. We must build an economic and class analysis into our response so that we do not see green policies in a silo. I know the Minister agrees with me on that point. Those policies do not exist in a vacuum and must include an economic and class response.
I have seen a very scary map of what Dublin would look like - what a rise in sea level would mean for us as citizens in Dublin - if COP26 does not hold back global warming. We know that COP26 is seen as the last best chance of keeping global warming to 1.5% above pre-industrial levels. If it does not succeed in doing that, we know the consequences for all of us.
Interventionist measures are required and the State is going to have to play a significant role to subsidise and support the retrofitting of social housing and the provision of the fuel allowance. We will have to use a sufficient amount of the carbon tax revenues we are going to raise to make sure that people are protected from fuel poverty, particularly in this time of rising international gas prices. I will also make the broader point that many of the measures associated with the transition will bring with them a more balanced, more equitable and fairer economic system. I will offer a basic example. The transport area is a huge part of the emissions problem. A major part of the solution is going to be the development of active travel and public transport. I have always seen that as a social justice project as well as an environmental project because those on the lowest incomes tend to have the least access to cars. Active modes of transport are often the most economically efficient, in that they cost the least. We need to think of the co-benefits of some of the environmental measures that will deliver social change.
I agree with the Minister on the issue of cycling, in particular, and the need to invest in public transport. That is more than a transport matter; it is a social and economic justice matter.
We were disappointed that the Minister did not accept the amendments we submitted to the climate action Bill but we very much look forward to working constructively, as part of the Opposition, with him on the upcoming publication of the climate action plan to ensure real commitment across all sectors and Departments to ensure we meet our emissions targets. As I said, the consequences are too dire for all of us if we do not do that. I look forward to working with the Minister. My party leader, Deputy Kelly, yesterday spoke about the dangers of short-termism in politics. As the Minister has said with regard to this issue, we must move on a multi-annual basis to take account of long-term thinking and to work constructively together to ensure that climate change is addressed and that we meet these targets. As a constituency colleague of mine, the Minister will appreciate the consequences for Dublin Bay South, where there is the prospect of flooding. There will be consequences of a rise in the Grand Canal and the Liffey and Dodder rivers. We can see the consequences starkly across Ireland and the world.
I agree with the Deputy and the Labour Party leader, Deputy Kelly, that we need to think long term. I also believe that the response to the climate challenges requires a politics of collaboration and co-operation. This is not an issue that should divide us. It is not a party political issue. It is an intergenerational issue but it is one we must tackle together.
Probably the most contentious area of the just transition is agriculture. I am firmly of the view that we need to start paying a new generation of young farmers and foresters to be part of this transition. One of the benefits, as we pay for nature-based solutions, will fall to the poorer areas of our country, which are often are more regional and rural areas distant from the major cities. The climate response is going to require massive investment and redistribution, as it were, through carbon taxing and other measures, including via the Common Agricultural Policy, whereby we invest in those areas for the restoration and protection of nature as part of our climate adaptation and mitigation strategy. That will be a part of our just transition.