Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Climate Action Plan
75. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way the emissions from the Defence Forces are accounted for under the carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings given the increasing acknowledgement that climate and defence will be intrinsically linked in view of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference. [56516/21]
At a cursory glance, the impact of climate change on defence and our Defence Forces may not be obvious. How are emissions from the Defence Forces accounted for under the carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings? This is important given the increasing acknowledgement that climate change and defence will be intrinsically linked, as discussed at the recent COP26 climate change conference.
I have a long written answer here which I am not going to read out now but I will furnish the Deputy with a copy. The climate action plan follows the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 which commits Ireland to a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and a reduction of 51% by 2030. These targets are a key pillar in the programme for Government. The climate action plan sets out a course of action over the coming years to progress further Ireland's response. The plan sets out ambitious decarbonisation targets for key sectors including transport, industry, the built environment, electricity and agriculture. The defence sector is not a specific sector identified in the national climate action plan.
The public sector is required to show strong leadership and commitment to drive the decarbonisation goals we have set for ourselves. The defence organisation has a positive track record in this regard. The plan also requires strong buy-in from private sector businesses, householders and others to make a concerted effort to reduce energy usage, conserve water and so on.
An important part of the climate action plan is that public bodies will lead by example. The defence sector is no exception. There are multiple examples of us leading in this space in terms of how we manage buildings and energy management in barracks. We have incorporated that into our capital investment plans in terms of efficiency, energy management and green procurement, which is essential as well.
When we are looking at replacing ships, for example, efficiency and energy management will be a big part of that, which it is. No sector is exempt from driving down emissions and that includes defence as well. That will certainly be factored into our capital investment programme. In fact, it already is.
I fully accept that a balance must be struck between reducing emissions and ensuring that we continue to equip the Defence Forces to allow them to respond effectively and efficiently to the challenges that come with climate change, be that at home, in terms of the fires we saw last night, or the excessive flooding that has happened. In terms of the climate impact, how are we equipping our forces to be able to respond in an effective and efficient manner in our overseas roles? We have seen increased desertification and an increase in sea levels and that has an impact on the movement of people, giving rise to more refugees. That is the reason I say it is a difficult area to get a grip on, in some respects, but because of the role the Defence Forces play, there must be a specific plan in this area. I accept we must reduce our emissions on the one side, but we must also increase our capability on the other side to respond to climate change globally.
It is important to put on the record that energy efficiency and decarbonisation are prioritised agendas already within the Defences Forces. The Defence Forces have been recording the energy consumption of their buildings and transport since 2007 and have reduced their energy consumption by 20% since the baseline year of 2009. The Defence Forces report their total final consumption to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland's monitoring and reporting system. In 2020, the activities of the Defence Forces accounted for 46.8 million kg CO2. The Defence Forces have implemented a structured energy management system, which since 2012 has been independently certified to the international energy management standard.
The Defence Forces senior energy executive, SEE, approves the annual energy plan of action for the Defence Forces. The SEE has been examining courses of action to achieve 2030 decarbonisation targets across all energy types. The current plan of action includes energy-saving initiatives across all domains: naval, air and road transport and infrastructure. That is happening there.
In regard to adaptation and response abroad, it is no secret that we are trying to advocate on the Security Council at the moment to get a resolution agreed on climate and security to recognise that the UN needs to be more active in that area.
I suspect that this is a conversation we could have for a number of hours as opposed to a number of minutes. I wish to refer to a comment that was made by the previous Chief of Staff, retired Vice Admiral Mark Mellett. He said: "Ireland has a 'false sense of security' and the State needs to position itself to deal with the gathering problems caused by climate change." Specifically, on the Government's commitment to offshore renewable energy generation by 2030 and the proposed development of the offshore wind farms, be it around Cork Harbour or the east coast, the security and monitoring responsibility will ultimately find its way into our Naval Service. Has any work been done to identify the primary and secondary needs of the Naval Service to be able to address those future needs? The year 2030 will come around very quickly. Before we know where we are there will be another general election and then it will be 2030. As Deputy John Brady stated, when we visited Cork naval base as a committee, one of the issues raised was the ability to be able to see underneath our seas. Going back to the future development by the Government of offshore wind farms, the question is what capabilities have been identified as primary and secondary for the Naval Service?
There are military-civil conversations going on all the time between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence in terms of prioritising capital spend. There are plenty of conversational opportunities in terms of prioritising sub-sea surveillance systems, if that is what the Naval Service wants to do, but we need to do it together with it. In terms of anticipating what the maritime security challenges will be in 2030, that is taking place. I am very familiar with the plans for offshore wind development on the south coast and east coast, and on the west coast as well. If we have a very significant offshore wind presence by 2030, that is a good problem in terms of the need for us to respond to its security, because we will be producing very large amounts of energy offshore, which is exactly what we need to be doing from a sustainability perspective. I suspect that it certainly will be part of our capital expenditure plan and resourcing up to 2030 for the Naval Service.