Dáil debates

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Climate Change Negotiations

9:12 am

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for selecting this important issue for debate. The importance of the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26 as it is also known, cannot be overstated. Speaking at the world leaders’ summit opening, Elizabeth Wathuti, a climate activist from Kenya, outlined the realities for those living on the front lines of climate change, facing droughts, famine and deteriorating living conditions. She gave a very clear message, saying, "The decisions you make here will help determine whether children will have food and water". She continued:

The children cannot live on words and empty promises. They are waiting for you to act.

It is no exaggeration to say this meeting is essential to prevent the worst effects of climate change by ensuring that global temperature rise is limited to 1.5°C. This will need emissions to be reduced by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 and from there to net zero emissions by 2050. As Elizabeth said, this conference must be about action and not words. Most states, including Ireland, have not done enough to meet vital climate targets.

I welcome the Taoiseach’s commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions by 51% by 2030 and to be climate neutral by 2050 but I must do so with scepticism. Our greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6% last year, which can be attributed to the significant decrease in transport and economic activity across the lockdowns. It was an indication of the massive change necessary in the next nine years if we are to reduce our emissions by 51%. Moreover, we failed to meet our 2020 target; instead of 20% below 2005 levels we achieved 7%. Ireland is a small country on a global scale, but we produce a disproportionate amount of emissions and we must take responsibility for our fair share. I am sure the Minister of State will cite the forthcoming climate action plan but we have already seen lobbyists and big players seeking exceptions for their sectors. This is against the backdrop of the historic climate case ruling last year when the previous Government’s national mitigation plan failed to comply with the requirements of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. The climate action plan will need to be an incredibly ambitious and detailed if it is to achieve what we all need it to achieve.

Most importantly, our climate action must be grounded in a just transition. This means a transition that ensures the economic and social consequences of the climate emergency are managed to maximise opportunities of decent work for all, reducing inequalities, promoting social justice, and supporting industries, workers and communities affected. However, the Minister of State will have to excuse my deep worry that this will not happen. The Minister of State and his party refused to accept the need for a more robust definition of "just transition" in the climate action Bill, and more recently there has been the abandoning of the programme for Government commitment to establish the just transition commissioner as a statutory office. These are deeply worrying developments and offer very little reassurance about the prospect of a fair and just fight for climate and social justice.

Speaking at COP26, Sir David Attenborough said:

This story is one of inequality as well as instability. Today those who have done the least to cause this problem are among those to be hardest hit.

This week, when climate decisions have never been more significant and attention is focused on this issue, what assurances can the Minister of State give me his Government will do everything necessary to achieve the massive changes necessary and that they will occur in a fair and just manner?

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Ireland is committed to concerted global action to address the climate crisis and Ireland engages in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC, and the Paris Agreement through its membership of the EU. Ireland has actively engaged with EU partners in preparation for the 26th conference, namely, COP26 in Glasgow, which commenced on 31 October and will conclude on 12 November 2021.

The Taoiseach is attending the world leaders' summit to deliver the national statement. This will set out how Ireland is contributing to achievement of the Paris goals, including limiting global warming to 1.5°C and to helping developing and vulnerable countries mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications will lead Ireland's national delegation for the continuation of the high-level segment during the second week of COP26. Ireland is committed to playing an active and constructive role at the COP this year, particularly on issues linked to our climate priorities and with the intention of illustrating the coherence between our international climate agenda and our domestic climate ambition.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, reconfirms the limited window there is in which to act to prevent more devastating impacts of climate change and underlines the increasing urgency needed to tackle the climate crisis. The report, based on the latest climate science, has observed unprecedented changes in the climate system. Every region of the world across the entire climate system has already been impacted by climate extremes. There is ever greater certainty about climate change and ever greater urgency about the need to tackle it. The role of human influence is undisputed and has resulted in warming of the atmosphere, oceans and land. The report reinforces and builds on existing evidence which links extreme weather events to climate change. Some changes, such as the rise in sea levels, are irreversible. This is leaving low-lying lands and coastal communities extremely vulnerable. This scientific evidence demonstrates that the atmosphere is warming and the climate is changing with each passing year. This year's COP is crucial in ensuring that climate action is taken in a manner that balances considerations of fairness, cost effectiveness and solidarity to ensure no-one is left behind.

It is critical that, despite the challenges Covid presents to a global gathering of this nature, COP26 is both as inclusive and transparent as possible. This is reflected in the make-up of our own national delegation, which reflects our citizen participatory approach to climate action, and the promotion and participation of women, young people and NGOs in the negotiator and observer groups. It is also reflected in our national negotiation priorities. A primary objective is the finalisation of the Paris rulebook, which will allow for the full delivery of the Paris Agreement. This includes consensus on matters such as carbon markets in Article 6, transparency, climate finance and adaptation. These are called for by developing countries.

Climate finance has enabled us to support people in the least developed countries, LDCs, and small island developing states, SIDSs, and to amplify the voices of these countries in climate change decision making. Ireland will support LDCs and SIDSs at COP26 in preparing for a climate resilient future, standing in solidarity with countries that have done the least to contribute to the problem of climate change yet face the harshest impacts. Agreement on a way forward for future finance discussions, solution-forward approaches to address loss and damage, and the scaling up of support to enhance action on adaptation are also key deliverables.

We are committed to realising the goals of the Paris Agreement, championing progressive action and ensuring that the most vulnerable are at the heart of all our engagement. Ireland has a strong commitment to, and track record in, providing a balanced share of climate finance for adaptation and including grant-based finance for LDCs and SIDSs. At the UN General Assembly in September, Ireland launched the champions group on adaptation finance with the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the UK. This group plans to advocate to other donor countries on increasing the quality, quantity and accessibility of climate adaptation finance, specifically to meet the $100 billion goal.

9:22 am

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I accept the Minister of State's commitment, but I remain sceptical. He did not address the abandonment of the programme for Government commitment to establishing a just transition commissioner. Our annual transition statements highlight the inadequacies of actions so far. Our society and economy need major change. That is possible and is something that can and should be done. We need the Government to take substantial and brave leadership and we need a unified approach.

Regrettably, in response to the Climate Change Advisory Council's report, we saw the same old narrative of climate action versus rural Ireland. Farmers know that we need climate action. They are among the cohorts most vulnerable in Ireland and they deserve more respect. Policies over recent decades have decimated small family farms. Those clinging to a business-as-usual model are putting us at considerable climate risk and squandering opportunities to protect rural living, spinning the false narrative that the current model favours farmers when it does not. Rather, it favours large agribusiness, including the likes of Larry Goodman and supermarkets. Ms Alannah Wrynn, a young climate activist from Clonakilty, summed it up. She stated:

This idea of the division between activists and farmers shouldn't be there at all. With a just transition to a more sustainable way of food production it's important that farmers are given the opportunity to become educated about it and that they actually have financial support.

Currently, the system does not support farmers. Rather, it incentivises them to do the opposite of taking climate action. The Minister of State knows as well as I do that the small environmental pilot scheme under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will not cut it where the targets that we need to meet are concerned.

The COP26 commitments on deforestation are welcome, but how are we going to meet them when there are serious backlogs in the issuing of forestry licences in Ireland? Despite assurances from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister of State at that Department last year when they passed very questionable legislation on forestry, that legislation has not resolved the problems restricting afforestation efforts and preventing communities from planting trees. How does the Government propose to end deforestation when it is taking two to three years to get a licence to plant trees?

In terms of transport, the Minister of State knows the scale of investment in accessible public transport and active travel infrastructure that is needed in rural Ireland. It has not been allocated. We all know that we are not going far enough.

These are just three examples from a litany of sectoral issues that need to be addressed in an effective action plan. We need an ambitious plan that will tackle vested interests and get all of government, civil society and private enterprise working towards our climate goals.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I agree that casting this as a rural versus urban narrative is not helpful. This is something that we can only solve by working together and being constructive in our approach. I thank Sinn Féin for dropping its Private Members' wind farm Bill, seeing that the Bill was the wrong thing to do and having the humility to change course.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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Respectfully, instead of slashing Sinn Féin, can the Minister of State answer my question on the just transition commissioner?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Let the Minister of State continue, please.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I agree that lobbyists seeking exemptions has been counterproductive. Sectoral lobbyists have come in looking for procrastination, but that has not served their members. Instead, it has led to more pain.

We cannot make progress on climate action without a just transition. It would not be feasible or viable to get people to change unless they feel that the changes are fair.

Clonakilty is a town that has been leading in being progressive on green issues. It is a thriving town in a rural area that has business because it has become a fantastic environment to spend time in and has attracted people to it. It has a bikes scheme and various other green measures that have been more progressive than those of some cities.

Regarding afforestation policy and the delays in getting planting licences, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, has made great progress. I believe that the metrics show that forestry licences are being granted much sooner than was previously the case.

If the Deputy has further questions that she wishes to ask me on these matters, my office is always open to her.