Dáil debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Climate Action Plan 2021: Statements


4:25 pm

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I welcome the opportunity to discuss the climate action plan. We should take these opportunities to the maximum whenever we can.

The recently published report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, as part of its sixth assessment, sets out the most up-to-date physical science basis for our understanding of climate change. The report confirms, among other things, that we have a limited window for real action to reduce emissions to ensure that current and future generations can live sustainably in a low-carbon and climate-resilient world.

In line with EU ambition, the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits to achieving a 51% reduction in Ireland's overall greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions from 2021 to 2030, and to achieving net-zero emissions not later than 2050. These legally-binding objectives are set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, the enactment of which was a key priority in the programme for Government. The climate Act underpins Ireland’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions and the achievement of a climate-neutral economy not later than 2050. It also establishes a legally binding framework with clear targets and commitments to ensure the necessary structures and processes are in place to deliver our national, EU and international climate goals and obligations in the near and long term.

Against this background, strategies must be devised to reduce and manage climate change risks through a combination of mitigation and adaptation responses. It is crucial that while we prepare our carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings, delivery of climate action in Ireland continues at pace. The Climate Action Plan 2021, launched on 4 November, provides a detailed roadmap for meeting our climate ambition under the climate Act.

The plan sets out indicative ranges of emissions reductions for each sector of the economy. These ranges will be finalised in the climate action plan for 2022 following the legal adoption of carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings.

The Government will support the changes through major public investment announced recently in the €165 billion national development plan, including increased funding for retrofitting our homes, building new public transport and active mobility infrastructure, reskilling workers and supporting a just transition.

While the Climate Action Plan 2021 builds on the ambitious targets of the 2019 plan, it represents a significant step-up in terms of ambition and implementation. To highlight a number of the most significant measures included in the Climate Action Plan 2021, the plan commits to an increase in the proportion of renewable electricity to up to 80% by 2030, including an increased target of up to 5 GW of offshore wind energy. It commits to a significant reduction in transport emissions by 2030. Measures will include enabling 500,000 extra walking, cycling and public transport journeys per day by 2030, and supporting the take-up of electric vehicles to reach almost 1 million by 2030. The plan commits to the implementation of a new national retrofit plan to increase supply capacity and make retrofitting more affordable. It also commits that our enterprise sector will see a faster uptake of carbon-neutral heating, increased electrification of high-temperature heating and the phasing out of high global warming potential F-gases.

The plan commits to reducing emissions associated with agriculture, which will be central to achieving our climate ambition. It provides a pathway to reduce emissions while supporting world-class food production, through an innovation and science-based approach. There will be a reduction in chemical nitrogen and more targeted use of fertiliser, while maintaining our position as a global leader in grass growth through multi-species swards. Reducing emissions from land use and a move to being an overall store of carbon will involve further bog rehabilitation, increased afforestation, and the rewetting of peat organic soils. A new forestry programme will be prepared for launch in 2023.

This plan also places a just transition at its core. It sets out four principles that will guide our policymaking and implementation over the coming years to ensure that we can effectively monitor and manage our transition and that our responses remain flexible so that we can respond to future transition challenges and target the areas in need of support. Each Minister, as well as the Government as a whole, will be expected to consider these principles as we develop and implement our climate policies.

We have committed in the plan to establishing a just transition commission, which will make periodic recommendations to Government, building on research, engagement through the National Dialogue on Climate Action and the annual review from the CCAC on how Government policy can further the just transition. In delivering this ambitious climate action plan, we must ensure we bring people with us and that the transition is fair. The recently launched National Dialogue on Climate Action will facilitate public engagement, participation, community action, networking and capacity building activities on climate action, giving everyone in society the opportunity to play their part. Earlier this month, €60 million in funding from the Climate Action Fund was announced for community climate action projects to support and empower communities to shape and build low carbon, sustainable communities in a coherent way. The Government will shortly publish an accompanying detailed annex of actions to support the delivery of this plan. This annex sets out the detailed actions with timelines to drive delivery and ensure our emissions reduce.

I now turn to agriculture, which is responsible for 35% of our greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly methane and nitrous oxide. Agriculture has long been a key pillar of Ireland’s economy, especially our rural economy, and it will and should remain so into the future. Irish agriculture has a strong reputation globally, built on our green image of clean air and clean water. It is the same reputation that underpins our tourism industry. We, as a country, need to maintain the green reputation through achieving the goals laid out in the climate action plan. At the same time, we need to reverse the water quality decline caused, in part, by agricultural run-off, and this should be addressed in the nitrates action plan. We also need to halt biodiversity loss and use the Common Agricultural Policy to ensure farmers are incentivised to provide and maintain habitats.

The 2021 climate action plan focuses on reducing emissions by between 22% and 30% by 2030 from 2018 levels. There are a number of key actions laid out in the climate action plan, which will be updated annually to take account of developments in science and policy. First, there will be a significant focus on the reduction in chemical nitrogen fertiliser on our farms. This reduction in fertiliser will be achieved through more targeted applications, reductions in run-off, use of nitrogen fixing plants in multi-species swards and use of low emissions slurry spreading technology, which has seen a significant uptake over the last three years. Recent increases in international gas prices are also feeding through to increases in fertiliser prices, which strengthens the imperative to reduce fertiliser consumption. Farmers need to be supported to do so without a loss in farm income.

Use of multi-species swards, in other words, a mixture of three or more species whose growth characteristics complement each other, resulting in improved productivity compared to when each species is grown on its own, will enhance productivity with significantly less nitrogen input. This reduces costs and allows the animals gain weight faster, reducing additional feed requirements. It is important that this productivity gain not only results in higher farm profit, but also in improved water quality and enhanced habitat that will improve biodiversity.

Ireland is at the bottom of the league table of organic farming in Europe. We need to reverse this and we need to promote organic farming. This will require sustained investment by the State and farmers in the transition to organic farming. The climate action plan targets an almost five-fold increase in organic farming in Ireland.

There are a number of other key actions laid out in the plan. We need to shift the focus fundamentally to increasing farm incomes through rewarding sustainable food production, enhancing biodiversity and protecting our air, climate and water.

Our homes, workplaces, public buildings and recreational facilities are responsible for 12.7% of our overall emissions, predominantly in the residential sector, not including emissions from the electricity we use in our buildings. The poor energy performance of our building stock means that our homes produce about 60% more CO2 emissions than the European average. There is already a vibrant retrofit industry in Ireland, with over 400,000 homes, or about one quarter of all homes, having received grants to upgrade their homes since the introduction of energy efficiency grants in 2008. However, the activity level to date is not sufficient for our ambition. We need to increase both the number of homes improving their energy performance and also increase the depth of retrofit that our homes must undergo. Most people will understand the need to improve the insulation of homes to improve air leakage and to ensure our homes have adequate and controlled ventilation.

We also need to focus on the switching of our solid fuel, oil and gas boilers to cleaner alternatives. There are two main alternatives that will be used and, in outlining those alternatives, it might be worth outlining some examples of other European countries that use them. In Scandinavia, as a response to the 1970s oil crisis, Norway, Sweden and Denmark set out to install district heating systems that used waste heat from power plants and other industrial facilities to provide heat to homes. This works by installing highly insulated piping to every home in a city and metering the heat, much like electricity, and charging users for the heat on a monthly basis. Approximately 50% of Danish heat is supplied in this way. The target in our climate action plan is to have district heating, from plants like the waste-to-energy facility in Poolbeg, to provide between 5% and 10% of our heat by 2030.

For homes in areas of lower density, rural and suburban homes will switch from fossil fuel to heat pumps, predominantly air-source heat pumps. Almost all new-build homes last year installed heat pumps as their heating systems. In Norway, 60% of homes are heated by heat pumps and about 43% in Sweden. In Ireland, we will use our vast wind energy to provide zero-carbon electricity for heat pumps in our buildings. A well installed heat pump can provide four units of energy, drawn from the energy in the air, to each one unit of electricity required to power the heat pump. The climate action plan seeks to install 600,000 heat pumps in Irish homes by 2030, with 400,000 in existing homes.

The national retrofit plan, published as part of the climate action plan, will support homeowners to retrofit their homes. We will be qualifying a number of one-stop-shops for retrofit that can support homeowners on this journey and organise the contractor, grants, advice and low-cost finance. The vision underpinning the national retrofit plan is that it should be as easy to retrofit a house as it currently is to buy a car, with a small up-front deposit and a low-cost loan that will predominantly be funded by the savings on energy bills. The Government has, in the national development plan and the climate action plan, outlined the very significant Exchequer resources available to retrofit homes out to 2030, funded in part by carbon taxation. The provision of zero-carbon, low-cost heat to our homes is one of the most important climate interventions the Government is making, delivering a range of benefits, including improved public health and air quality.

4:35 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Sinn Féin recognises the urgency needed to tackle climate change, we back our national greenhouse emissions target and we worked constructively throughout the extensive consideration of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill. It is worth saying that unlike some in government who argued against interim targets, for example, now deemed an essential element of the plan, Sinn Féin argued for them. We agree on the need to act now and on our overall targets. In that respect, there is much we agree with in principle and practice in the climate action plan. We agree but we wonder why the Government lacks ambition and impetus, why it acts so slowly and, worse, why it acts contrary to the stated position. Elsewhere, this climate action plan is devoid of credibility, in particular when it comes to financing €125 billion in private finance, which has to come from somewhere, and related delivery. There is no shortage of plans and this needs to be not just another one.

Sinn Féin will continue to push for a just transition. This is something that, in the first instance, must be delivered for communities in the midlands, who have been listening to promises for a long time. Just transition must be extended beyond the midlands to all communities and all sectors. For some, the transition between a high and a low carbon economy is the difference between a new petrol Land Rover or a new Tesla, or a switch to public transport. For others, it is a matter of being able to heat their home, feed themselves and their family or having a job to go to in the morning. Just transition needs to move beyond rhetoric and I do not see that in the climate action plan. I do not believe the Government has done enough to show communities and sectors that a just transition is on the cards. It has not set out a vision for just transition in this climate action plan.

On energy, I welcome the new commitment in the plan to increase our target on renewable energy to 80% of our needs by 2030. Ireland is blessed with massive potential for offshore wind but, unfortunately, decades of under-ambition and painfully slow regulatory development have suffocated the exploitation of this vital natural resource. Almost 20 years on from its construction, Arklow Bank phase 1 remains Ireland's only offshore wind farm, with an output of just 25 MW.

That is a damning indictment. Even now, on the brink of 2022, we still do not have a legislative framework in place for offshore wind generation. The industry representative body, Wind Energy Ireland, has warned that we have a narrowing window to meet the 2030 target and that was before it was increased to 80%. It highlights various areas that need to be addressed by government, including fixing the foreshore licensing system; providing more resources to relevant agencies; progressing renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, auctions and the maritime area planning Bill; establishing an offshore grid steering committee; strengthening our electricity grid; and developing specific ports to ensure offshore wind farms can be built from our island.

The lack of action is already having consequences. Equinor pulled out of Ireland, citing the regulatory processes as one aspect of its decision for doing so. The Government did not bat an eyelid in response. This is a raging red alarm. Similarly, the guidelines for offshore wind are 15 years old. This has led to bad planning and animosity between some developers and rural communities. If the number of parliamentary questions and council motions being put forward by Government party representatives is anything to go by, I can say that it is accepted across the political spectrum that the guidelines are out of date and in desperate need of updating.

Meanwhile, the Government dithers and the same can be said about microgeneration. Communities have their hands up willing and wanting to play their part and the Government slaps them down. Similarly, hydrogen can play a key role in our energy transition. It could potentially provide a solution for some of the heavy industries and sectors where battery power is not feasible. Excess wind energy can be used to run electrolysers to produce green hydrogen. The fact that it can be stored and transported makes it particularly attractive to fill gaps in energy production when the wind does not blow, for example. Despite this, Ireland is one of only two European countries that does not have a hydrogen strategy in place. I cannot understand this. Is it a lack of capacity, expertise or ambition? I do not know what it is but something is lacking. The climate action plan fails to take hydrogen seriously. This is a mistake and one I would ask the Minister to act upon.

The MaREI institute has developed the TIMES-Ireland model to map out paths to 51% renewable energy generation by 2030, net zero by 2050 and beyond to 2070. It shows that it can be achieved, which is positive, and that the most efficient way to do it is to reduce demand. This is referred to as the low demand scenario. Then I think about Government Deputies cheerleading for data centres while the Government heaps carbon tax increases onto people who have no alternatives and no public transport, electric vehicles, EVs, heat pumps or retrofitted homes. We know that a significant majority of households use kerosene or solid fuels to heat their homes on these cold winter nights yet the Government rolls out the red carpet for data centres, which hoover up enormous amounts of energy. At the weekend, we read in the Business Postthat when Google said "Jump" Enda Kenny said "How high?". Why would we expect anything different from Facebook or Amazon?

I have been consistently putting forward ideas to kick-start emission reductions in the transport sector. School bus transport is significantly oversubscribed year on year but the current target outlined in Bus Éireann's sustainability strategy would only see a 20% increases in bus places by 2030. That is the equivalent of just 1,000 extra places each year. We are turning thousands of children away from public transport each year and putting them back in private cars, which makes no sense at all. Public transport fares are a huge barrier for many people and we are not seeing the ambition needed to reduce costs for people to encourage them to take the bus, train or tram, nor are we seeing the ambition to develop long overdue public transport infrastructure. Some mega projects continue to be delayed and some have been deferred into oblivion. Connecting Ireland is welcome and I do what the Opposition is supposed to do when we welcome a proposition. We encourage our constituents to engage with it and my constituents are ready to avail of the services. The difficulty is they will have to wait because funding is backloaded, with just 10% of funding allocated in year one and no guarantee of future funding.

This plan needs to be delivered on. The objectives of delivering on the emissions reductions are of deep and legitimate concern. We do not see a credible plan to get us there, bring communities with us and achieve those targets. The Minister of State needs to listen to the Opposition, communities and different sectors. They want to play their part but they need to be enabled to do so.

4:45 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. The rate of global warming has to be halted and there is no arguing about that. Sinn Féin wants to see that happen quickly. Everyone has a role to play but it has to be led by the State. However, the Government's plan does not stack up. In July 2019, I moved a Private Members' motion on behalf of Sinn Féin which sought to bind future Governments to reject the EU-Mercosur deal on free trade. We know the implications of that deal. It would see the Amazon rainforest depleted and destroyed for the sake of selling German cars to South America. The Government must respect that motion and I call on the Green Party Deputies here to ensure the intention express in that vote in July 2019 is upheld.

Forestry is key. We have had an unresolved crisis in our domestic forestry industry for over two years. In County Laois, for example, over 400 ha per annum were being planted. This figure collapsed to 26 ha per annum in 2020. Workers and farmers, not just in Laois, Offaly and other counties but right across the country, have lost confidence in the forestry sector due to the backlog in the licensing system. For our part, Sinn Féin is proposing to overhaul the licensing system and have a streamlined process all the way through for planting, thinning and felling. There are also all-party recommendations from the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to that effect.

There is no clear plan from the Government on sustainable farming. Just over 1.5% of farming in Ireland is organic. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine said this would be increased fivefold but that would only be 7.5%, whereas the EU target is 25%. We need more leadership from government to support family farms to move to organic farming, forestry and renewable energy. Our vision for climate action is based on helping families and communities to make that transition to the green economy and create green jobs. We want to provide public transport links between small towns. Some small steps have been taken in that regard but we need to move on with that work. I have put forward suggestions on doing so, as have other Deputies.

Sinn Féin wants to invest in State bodies like Bord na Móna and the ESB to develop biogas, biomass, hydrogen, wind and solar power. Bord na Móna has to be central to this. That is important because it has the land mass and resources. It can be the energy solution company and it must be to the front in these efforts. I ask the Government to focus less on punishing ordinary people through increasing carbon taxes and focus more on how we can meet our climate targets through providing alternatives for workers and families.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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We all recognise the urgent need to reduce emissions but our children and future generations will not thank us for what is emerging, namely, this negotiating and lobbying battleground that sees urban and rural dwellers pitted against each other. They will also not thank us for the urban-rural dweller narrative that is being created by the refusal of the Government to see the disproportionate impact that its view of climate action will have. Rural dwellers, with their solid fuel fires and diesel cars, are being pitted against urban dwellers with access to public transport and alternative heating options.

The reality is that all change matters but when local economies are affected, be they in Ballymore or Bali, statistically it is the working poor who pay the highest price and are disproportionately affected by the negative effects of climate change. Across the midlands, there is little evidence on the ground that just transition is approaching anything that could be described as "just", not when we see beef deals that will hasten the demise of rainforests but support beef barons. We also see a retrofit programme and an electric car scheme that are untenable for so many of my constituents. If environmental policies are to succeed, they must be underpinned by equality and justice and tackle the economic model which concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a few.

I want to highlight one specific sector, namely, public transport. Every year, the school transport scheme is substantially oversubscribed. Sinn Féin demonstrated how we could have a scheme that would remove tens of thousands of car journeys from our roads each day, helping to reduce carbon emissions. When something makes sense for the climate and reduces the burdens on families but also makes sense fiscally but is still not being done, that is when frustration grows and the Government loses the support of people.

For example, in August, in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, our bus service was slashed. That is something that began a number of years ago. It is that tried and tested method of reduce the service, reduce the number of towns it serves, reduce the frequency and, finally, reduce the service to nothing.

4:55 pm

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Government's climate action plan is lacking in leadership and it will place unfair burdens on ordinary people, while failing to deliver the real change that is needed.

The Government's climate action plan is based on the principles of eco-austerity - much of the burden being placed on ordinary workers and families. This is equally the position for family farmers and rural communities, which are facing considerable challenges.

There have been virtually no new supports brought forward by the Government to help farming families meet rising environmental obligations and many of these obligations are also counterproductive in terms of climate action. For example, it is ludicrous that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine intends to restrict suckler herd sizes while, at the same time, the Government continues to support the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which would see an additional 99,000 tonnes of less sustainable beef flooding the EU market. This will only hasten the demise of the Amazon and contradicts the recent COP26 leaders' declaration to halt deforestation by 2030.

In relation to forestry here in Ireland, afforestation can play an important role in meeting our emission targets. However, the Government is not doing enough to foster this sector. It needs to redirect resources within the Department to resolve the current licensing backlog. Delays in granting licences are forcing the importation of timber while Irish trees cannot be planted or felled. As well as acting as a disincentive to farmers and landowners to enter afforestation, this is threatening 12,000 jobs in the forestry industry. A new forestry strategy is needed that promotes the planting of native broadleaf forestry and incentivises new farmers and landowners to enter afforestation.

Another ludicrous aspect of the Government's climate action plan is the situation whereby thousands of tonnes of peat are being shipped across a continent to Ireland from Latvia. This does not make environmental, economic or ethical sense.

Rather than lecture farmers and rural communities about climate action and penalise them through carbon taxes and counterproductive policies, Sinn Féin has proposed a number of measures that would help family farmers to play a positive role in reducing emissions and making necessary changes. This would involve substantial investment in organics and facilitating new farmers in agri-environmental programmes.

Family farmers and rural communities are up for the challenge of climate action, assuming that they are treated fairly and adequately supported.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to join this debate today on behalf of Labour. It is timely, following the conclusion of COP26. Although many of us might have mixed feelings about what was agreed on COP26, undoubtedly some progress was made, albeit not, perhaps, as much as we would have liked. Certainly, the onus is now on countries such as our own to deliver on the climate commitments made.

I welcomed the recent publication of the Government's climate action plan which, as Members are aware, sets out 475 separate actions leading to the necessary emissions reductions that we have committed to, in other words, to halve our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It includes provision for extensive offshore wind power, the retrofitting of 500,000 homes and other targets, such as the putting of 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030. These were ambitious but necessary targets which my party very much welcomed. Without sight of the detailed annexe, however, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smith, referred and which apparently will be published shortly to support delivery of the plan, it is difficult to see how we can achieve those targets and what steps are to be taken. I am mindful of the Climate Change Advisory Council's clear recommendation that it is in the next two to three years that we need to see the necessary investment to develop the infrastructure, around, for example, offshore wind generation and electric vehicle, EV, charging that will help us deliver on those more ambitious yearly reductions targets that we have set ourselves for the latter half of this decade up to 2030.

There are huge questions as to how we can meet the targets, as to what are the steps that will be taken and whether Government is serious about meeting those targets. This is causing immense frustration among all of us affected: householders who are looking to do retrofitting, farmers who are not clear on agriculture targets and those who are still awaiting decent active and public transport infrastructure. Indeed, in my own area, in Dublin Bay South, there is huge frustration at the delays built into the BusConnects and the National Transport Authority plans. That frustration is felt across Dublin but, certainly, in Dublin Bay South, I am communicated with daily by constituents who are looking to do the right thing, who want to move to active travel and who want, if they have a car, to switch to an EV. Motorists are stymied unless they are lucky enough to have a driveway. There are many areas, such as my own in Portobello, where most households do not have driveways, where most parking is on-street parking and where there are simply not enough publicly accessible EV chargers to make it feasible or practical for many people to switch to EVs. I am frustrated by trying to ensure that we see the greater provision of EV chargers in publicly accessible areas across Dublin Bay South and I can see the frustration experienced by many who want to do the right thing but have simply not been given a clear pathway to do so through the lack of development of the infrastructure. It is difficult to see how we will meet that target in transport, for example, of putting 1 million EVs on Irish roads, or, indeed, meeting our targets of significantly fewer journeys by car, if we do not build and put in the infrastructure. I will not even start on the difficulties of getting pedestrian crossings and better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians in my area. There is frustration there.

I note, in his speech, the Minister of State talked about retrofitting. There are frustrating delays here where the Minister of State noted "the activity level to date is not sufficient for our ambition". That sums up, unfortunately, a real lack of urgency and really serious delays that have been built into our processes. We need to address those as a matter of urgency because we need to see that sort of urgent and radical response driving governments around the world when it comes to climate change. The Taoiseach himself acknowledged this in his address to COP26 when he stated that "every second of delay" makes the task to cut emissions "that bit bigger". Of course, the Taoiseach is right. The crisis is cumulative and when we wait to take action, as we all know, the problem gets worse. Unfortunately, we have seen these substantial and significant delays built in. It means then that there is a lack of clarity about how we meet those targets. As I said, we urgently need the investment in the infrastructure now.

We saw delays in the publication of the climate action plan itself and I have addressed those in previous debates in this House. It was disappointing, for example, that it was not aligned with the fiscal budget, as had been initially promised. As we know, we are well into the key decade in which we have to put in place the infrastructure to reduce our emissions by half by 2030.

In addition to putting those measures in place, we also need to see - maybe this will be in the annexe - what are the vital redistributive measures that will deliver the just transition that will bring the public with us and that will ensure that those who might be adversely affected by necessary measures will be given the necessary supports. That is what we mean by just transition.

We have seen through the pandemic the value of State intervention, public service and collective solidarity. That sense of the importance of public services and of the public sector has been reflected in recent election results where we have seen parties of the left winning in Germany, Norway and elsewhere with a growing consciousness of the need for that strong collective solidarity to also weigh in behind our response to climate change. It is through that sort of solidarity, through the empowerment of ordinary people and through effective and clear communication that we will bring society with us on meeting those targets and then we will all reap the benefits of a world in which a better society is possible, with cleaner air, warmer homes, better infrastructure and support for biodiversity.

Labour is willing to play a constructive role. Indeed, we are doing that in opposition. I put forward, as the Minister of State will be aware, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021 and I was glad the Government did not oppose that. I am also putting forward a Bill on Dublin Bay to try to introduce a statutory authority for Dublin Bay to improve the governance of Dublin Bay to ensure that we do not see the sort of developments we saw this week with algae growing across the water and real concerns among sea swimmers and others who use the wonderful amenity, as I and so many of us do, that there is not any proper or adequate monitoring of water quality in Dublin Bay. It is that sort of initiative that we propose to take. We will also be introducing a right to repair Bill with measures to stop waste and to tackle the cost of living by requiring manufacturers of digital electronic equipment to make available repair information to consumers. We want to work with the Minister of State in a range of ways to ensure that we meet those ambitious but necessary climate targets and to ensure that we achieve that just transition that is also so crucial.

5:05 pm

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I am sharing time with my Government colleague, Deputy O'Dowd. I wish to acknowledge my fellow spokespeople on climate, Deputy O’Rourke from Sinn Féin and Deputy Bacik from Labour. I believe both Deputies to be genuinely committed to the issue of climate. Having listened to them, some of their criticism and their takes on the climate action plan are valid and legitimate. We welcome that kind of opposition. Some of the criticism is not valid or legitimate. To use Deputy O’Rourke’s words, I would say that we should move beyond rhetoric. That is something that should apply to all parties in the House, as well as the Government. I am thankful that we have a baseline of agreement about climate action among most parties in this House. It makes what feels like an impossible job to halve our emissions in less than a decade slightly more achievable. However, I think we really need to up our game, all of us, including the Ministers responsible.

I welcome many elements of the 2021 climate action plan but I think the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will acknowledge that it is not enough. We have a series of ranges of emissions reductions for each sector and we have to convert those ranges into definite, single numbers for each sector that will be compatible with the carbon budgets. We are getting to the stage where further delay is inaction.

We are still at the stage where we have unallocated emissions reductions, comprising 4 megatonnes overall in the climate action plan, as well as an additional 0.9 megatonnes in transport. We urgently need to start discussing where those additional emissions reductions are going to come from. We need to stop talking about more roads and multibillion euro motorways and over-intensification in agriculture.

One challenge is significant institutional inertia in the big emitting sectors, and business-as-usual thinking is still too dominant. I remind the House that section 17 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 specifically obliges public bodies, insofar as practicable, to perform their functions in a manner consistent with a number of criteria including the most recent approved climate action plan, the furtherance of the national climate objective and the general objective of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation. I will be honest here and say that I do not think many of our public bodies are acting consistently with the climate Act. In transport we are still talking about new roads for electric cars and electric buses instead of reducing vehicle kilometres and, as Deputy Bacik just said, fewer journeys. We are not talking enough about reallocating road space and achieving modal shift. In agriculture we are still on a pathway that involves the export of commodity products.

I am making these criticisms here and I accept some of them are uncomfortable but I also wish there were more making these criticisms with me, both inside and outside the House. It is not sufficient to say we are not doing enough. We need to describe exactly how we are not doing enough and to suggest measures that will bridge the gap. I call on Opposition parties and on environmental civil society groups to put the pressure on and start talking in specifics.

We need to stop ignoring the phenomenon of induced demand and accept that more roads bring more traffic volumes that bring more emissions even with 1 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2030. We have failed to quantify induced demand and we need to quantify induced demand and stop pretending it does not exist. We need to accept it politically but also officially. We need to get better advice. For example, the five cities traffic demand management report commissioned by the Department of Transport completely ignored road space reallocation and circulation plans, measures that have proven to reduce transport emissions in other countries. There is significant expertise in consulting firms on emissions reduction in transport and I see this expertise in Scotland and in Wales but not in Ireland. We need better advice and we need it urgently.

We need to look again at the emissions in the agriculture sector. We have to accept that technical changes to the ways that we spread slurry, genomics, feed additives and other business-as-usual measures will only get us so far. We have applied for another derogation from the nitrates directive for 7,000 out of 137,000 farms in Ireland, despite the fact that the water in 43% of our rivers is still of unsatisfactory quality and according to the EPA, agriculture is the primary contributor to this unsatisfactory quality. As far as I am aware, we still do not know what the emissions impact of continuing with the nitrates derogation will be.

I have addressed transport and agriculture but we also need urgent specific discussion on the other sectors. We have a few short months to make some very difficult decisions. We can talk about bringing people with us on the journey but if we are not prepared to make the journey in the first place, then that talk is pretty useless.

While I do commend the 2021 climate action plan, which contains many good measures, it is also not enough. We only have a few months to make the difficult decisions for the statutory 2022 plan. It is time we all got to work.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this debate and the Minister of State. I will concentrate on air quality and related issues and the future of all our health. The Environmental Protection Agency tells us that since the regulations controlling air pollution were introduced in 2015, some 1,300 people die annually as a direct result of solid fuel emissions from home heating and fires. One problem is that there is no enforcement of those regulations. The regulators are the local authorities. I reckon about 9,100 people have died as a direct result of air pollution from fossil fuels since 2015. The number of prosecutions in 2015 was two, in 2016 it was two, in 2017 there were none, in 2018 there was one, in 2019 there was one. Those are the only figures we have now. There is a great need for really fierce enforcement of these regulations. It is entirely unacceptable that local authorities huff and puff and do nothing about these deaths in our communities. It goes further. Much of this solid fuel is coming into the South from across the Border. We need a major clampdown of cross-Border sale of solid fuels on online platforms to protect our health and avoid illegal advertising. Suppliers are advertising solid fuels that may not comply with regulations due to be introduced here as part of our climate change policy. I looked online and found many examples of the abuse of solid fuel regulations and VAT and carbon tax avoidance. It is appalling. These are in nationally known publications such as the Irish Farmers' Journal, adverts.ie, DoneDeal and so on. There are companies supplying and guaranteeing delivery anywhere in Ireland of Colombian coal at €360 a tonne. First, that breaches the regulations on smoky fuel in urban areas but second, it cannot possibly be delivered at €360 a tonne unless those selling it are avoiding carbon tax. Carbon tax is clearly being avoided and our health is being destroyed in many areas by this illegal and unacceptable importation.

What power does Revenue have on this? Sadly it has no power to stop any cross-Border transport or movement of goods such as coal, according to a response to a parliamentary question. It cannot stop it because obviously there has to be free movement of goods. Solid fuel carbon tax payments are collected on self-assessment. No one is stopping these guys crossing the Border to check if people are paying their tax, the sort of coal they are delivering and where they are delivering to or to see if they are breaking any regulations. I have evidence that smoky bituminous coal is being delivered, unchallenged and unregulated, by Northern Ireland couriers into homes in smokeless zones in the South. That is absolutely unacceptable. It is unregulated and no one is doing anything about it. We are turning a blind eye. It goes back to the Deputy's point. What the hell are we doing? Let us get real and save lives; let us improve our air quality. All this is causing very serious harm. The Minister will be aware that the programme for Government supports a much more aggressive, regional approach, working with Revenue and other agencies to make sure that this stops. But it ain't stopping now. If anyone cares to write to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to ask what it is doing about the false and misleading advertising of solid fuel in the South, he or she will learn that it is doing nothing. It is still considering the matter. I complained in August 2021 and still await an outcome. It does suggest to the complainant that maybe the complainant could go to the Circuit Court or High Court for an order to prohibit these guys from doing what they are doing, which is breaking the law left, right and centre, all around our country.

That is not good enough from the State agencies and is not acceptable.

In summary, if we really mean to make changes and we really are about our business, then we must ensure the air we breathe is safe and fit for purpose. The fact is all the air sampling points in this country fail the WHO requirements on air pollution. We do not meet any of the WHO standards. One may ask why. It is because our European standards are brought in by the coal-producing countries that influence the EU. It is not good enough. We need new standards. We need them now. We should insist on the World Health Organization standards, which are 50% more rigorous than the present maximums we allow. We should change to those air quality standards and be significantly more aggressive in our approach to safeguarding our lives and the quality of air we breathe in all our homes. It is time for action. I agree with Deputy Leddin. As a Government and as an Opposition it is time we demand that change. The time has come for it. Let us not delay any longer.

5:15 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I was thinking earlier about this notion of moving from rhetoric to real policies. We all agree that is what we need to do. I remember being here for a debate on microgeneration, which I think was in 2016 during my first year in the Dáil. It was about people putting solar panels on the roofs of their homes, farmers putting them on the roofs of their sheds, selling it back to the grid and all the benefits of that. Everyone agreed. Five years later, we are still talking about it. That is the reality of it, especially for people in the farming community.

Last Friday I was with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine up at Shass Mountain in County Leitrim. If you want the idyllic type of farming, that is where it is. It is low-impact farming. You are talking about a few sheep on the side of a mountain. It is nature flourishing at its best. Despite this, those farmers feel under pressure. They feel nobody is on their side. They feel the Government is only there to beat them up and accuse them of doing the wrong thing all the time. When they talk about forestry, the only forestry they see around them is where land was bought out from under them by big corporate interests. Years ago the Government gave a higher grant to the farmer. It took that away and now gives the same grant to those same corporate interests. As such, this is going in reverse for the people on the ground who are dealing with the real issues. I agree we need to move away from rhetoric and into green policies. We need to have those policies implemented. We need to not be just talking about it.

Five years ago, we discussed the issues of selling power back into the grid. We should have had it done four years ago. It should not take five or six years to set a rate to allow a farmer with a large shed to put solar panels on its roof and make it so he or she does not need planning permission for that because he or she already has permission for the shed. Why put people through all these hoops? I am not particularly blaming the elected Government but why do the agencies of Government always seem to want to find a reason to delay and procrastinate on all these issues? That is the big problem. The Minister of State and the other Ministers in government need to face that down. They must say that if they are to deliver on climate change, we must deliver solutions for people. They must ensure people feel they are going to get something that will be there for them and that they are going to be supported through it. People talk about a just transition but the vast majority of people in large areas of rural Ireland want an affordable transition whereby they can afford to buy into this, because at present they cannot. These people decide they want to retrofit their home, put solar panels on their roof and insulate it properly. They see there is a bit of a grant there for it but that they need another €25,000 along with that. Where are they going to get that? No bank is going to give it to them because they already have a mortgage and they already have got all the other things they need to manage in life, and they are struggling. What really need here is for the Government to be on people's side if we are going to deliver an affordable and just transition.

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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My biggest concern with the climate action plan is the place within it for the just transition and what I considered to be a lukewarm commitment to it. The transition to carbon neutrality must be achievable and affordable across the whole of society and not just for the select few. As I state consistently at the climate committee, it would be damaging to social cohesion and democracy itself if we were to have a two-speed State where the privileged inhabit a world of heat pumps, solar panels and EVs while the less well-off are left out in the cold and in the bitter cold of their homes. I tell anyone who is listening that Sinn Féin simply is not going to put up with that. I call upon the Green Party to back us up in that regard too.

I am also anxious we avoid siloed thinking and silver bullets. As we have seen with Covid where the vaccine alone is not a single solution, EVs, offsets and aspiration are no cure for the climate crisis. When it comes to EVs we must take due account of the social and cultural damage they are doing to communities far away from Ireland. Some are living in virtual slavery for the production of parts for what is being presented as this new green technology. We cannot expect exploitative, capitalist corporations to oversee human rights abuses.

I would also like to see a major input and action from the sort of organic farmers who appeared before us at the climate committee a few weeks ago. As I said to them on the day, if climate action was up to them, we would be halfway there. There are farmers, and plenty of them, who have a major commitment to biodiversity and working in harmony with the land as opposed to exploiting it for profit, as seems to be the intention of some farming lobbyists. These lobbyists remain extremely powerful. In our alternative budget, Sinn Féin provided for three times the investment in organic farming when compared with the budget introduced by the Government. That should be looked at again. Incentivising all who work on the land to protect and conserve must take precedence over the carte blancheto exploit and profiteer. We must remember that as a human species, and a very arrogant one at that, we are part of nature and not above it or separate from it. At present we are acting like total parasites and Mother Nature does not take prisoners.

I do not see any recognition or wisdom in the plan for the radically-changed times ahead, as we tackle this existential crisis. I have further concerns that it leaves too much to the individual and his or her responsibility and does not put enough pressure on corporates. The Government feels its place is to serve them.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I welcome the opportunity to debate the climate action plan. As the Minister of State said, it is very welcome we have opportunities like this to have these discussions. I welcome also the intention from the Government side and the talk of urgency, ambition and the need to actually get moving. I appreciate the comments from Deputy Leddin and look forward to working with him on the committee to ensure we put meat around those comments.

I believe the climate action plan is ambitious. The difficulty with it is whether it is achievable and whether it is going to be achievable by the Government. In order for us to determine whether that is the case, we need to look at past delivery on targets set down by the Government and how it is doing on achieving those. I am not looking back to previous Governments. I am talking about commitments that have been made by the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the current Dáil.

Retrofitting is one of the key elements of the climate action plan. There is a commitment to have 500,000 homes retrofitted by 2030. One of the key constraints on delivering that is the construction workers and the people to do it. I recently retrofitted my home and it was very difficult to get people to come on site to do that work and that is going to be an issue for anyone looking to get that work done. The fact is there is no specific retrofitting apprenticeship scheme in the country at the moment, despite all the rhetoric we hear about the need for one. In December 2020, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, said that within three months, there would be four retrofitting centres of excellence delivered across the country. That sounded fantastic and made for great press. Unfortunately, as only one has been delivered, that is a commitment that has not come to pass. On 18 February the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, launched the energy efficiency retrofitting programme. That targeted 2,400 social homes with retrofitting upgrades. To date, 1,099 homes have been completed across five counties, so there is a big deficit there.

In 2020, he announced the midlands retrofitting programme where 750 units were to be retrofitted. To date, only 100 units have been retrofitted. The average time between application for a warmer homes grant and completion of the upgrade is 26 months, but that average hides a postcode lottery when it comes to getting these grants. In my home county of Wicklow, there is a two-and-a-half-year wait for a surveyor.

Electric vehicles are, again, another key tenet of the climate action plan. In August 2019, the Minister announced the roll-out of 1,000 public charging points. Since that time, only two councils have implemented that measure and just 29 out of 1,000 charging points have been installed. Last year, the percentage of State vehicles that were electric was 1.12%. This year it is 1.5%. It has not even gone up by a percentage point, despite more than 4,000 extra cars being registered by the State in that period.

It is clear that while the ambition may be high, the delivery is not. Alarm bells are ringing very loudly for me when it comes to this delivery. When I mentioned it previously to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, he said that we are in the middle of the Covid pandemic. I acknowledge that will slow things down but in instances where there can be no Covid excuse, such as the percentage of State vehicles that are electric, why is the State not purchasing electric vehicles at present? That is not a Covid-related issue.

When it comes to the retrofitting of housing stock, how come some councils could carry this out during the Covid pandemic and some could not? It was possible because some councils did it. We have to recognise that we do not know when we will be out of Covid. We are in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis now. We, and the Government, will have to work out a way to meet these targets, regardless of what is happening in our health system. The Government will have to speed things up, implement measures properly and ensure delivery is there because it is has not been there to date.

I also want to talk about the level of spin we have seen in recent times. I was very disappointed with the discussion of the climate action plan and how it was a €125 billion programme. It gave the impression the Government was going to invest €125 billion to enable all communities to get involved in climate action when that was, in fact, private money. It was rather unfortunate the Government gave that impression because it made the climate action plan seem much more feasible than it actually is.

I have repeatedly heard Government Deputies talk about how the carbon tax is ring-fenced and directed towards climate actions. That is not the case. It is just the increases in the carbon tax that are ring-fenced. Government Deputies either know that or they do not. If they do not know that, I ask the Minister of State to explain it because it again gives the wrong message. The majority of the carbon tax does not go back into climate action. I have seen Ministers who think that is the case. This is a matter the Government needs to get clear. The Social Democrats agree with and support the carbon tax but we want to see it ring-fenced so every person in our community can afford to make the climate action changes we will require of them.

I would have liked more time. It is an important discussion and six minutes for the Opposition is too short, but I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this matter.

5:25 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I sympathise with Deputy Whitmore; five or six minutes is too little. Normally, transformative change of the sort we are undertaking is created by some disruptive technology that sweeps everything before it. What is unique about this crisis is that we have to make this transformative change by an act of human or political will. That challenges us all because the task of politicians is to resolve conflict. It is a test of the Opposition as much as Government parties because this is a task for a generation.

I have seen other parties come to the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action and demand more and more ambition yet, when it comes to looking at any of the tools necessary to deliver that ambition, they shy away. They do not want to see carbon pricing, for example. They do not want to see that people will have to make changes in their lives and want everything to be done by big oil or big business. They present that as just transition but that is not what it is about. Just transition is about helping people to make the change in their lives that is needed. There is a basic dishonesty in trying to pretend that there will not need to be change in our lives. There will have to be.

I have great respect for Deputy Martin Kenny but suggesting that microgeneration on the roofs of farms will solve the contribution of farming is simply not realism. We all have to talk about this in much more committed terms rather than finding a little political nook to wriggle off the hook of this issue and point the finger at the Minister of State, who is trying to make this happen. We all need to make this happen over the next 30 years. We all aspire to be in government over that period so we have a vested interest in all of us making this work.

Ireland is more reliant than anyone else on making these changes occur. We are one of the biggest carbon emitters in the world. We are higher than the rest of Europe in virtually everything, including transport, heating and agriculture. We are higher than them all. We are also one of the most export-oriented countries in Europe so there is a major obligation on us to be an early mover. Our enterprises depend on being able to sell into a market where tastes will change and people will demand environmental sustainability. We want to be in those high-margin premium markets so the onus is on our enterprises to make those changes early, but it cannot be penal. I see some people pretending that we must punish the ICT or farming sectors. That is not the way to get this done. We must work with both those sectors because they are part of our strongest export-oriented sectors. It is vital to the continued growth of rural and urban Ireland to see those sectors continue to be strong. We need to find solutions and work with those sectors to fix the problems they face.

The key is that the enterprises that make those changes early will be the profitable ones. If you talk to people who are engaged in smart farming, promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, they will show they are already cutting their costs by €6,000 by adopting some of the measures in the plan. Those of us who want to see a prosperous and thriving rural Ireland have to recognise it will be built on the infrastructures and practices of the future, not those of the past. I fought tooth and nail to get people to agree to the national broadband plan and there was a cacophony of opposition from across the benches saying that it was not the way to go.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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It is not going great.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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It is the way to go. We need to build prosperity in rural Ireland on the infrastructure of the future. We also need to help farming to do it.

There is a major job to be done in persuading the European Union to change the way it approaches agriculture. It does not value the modifications made in respect of methane emissions nearly enough. Farmers should be well rewarded where they make modifications to those emissions. The EU does not recognise our greater efficiency in agriculture, especially dairy, and that needs to change. We do not yet have a proper tool to reward farmers who invest in sequestration of peatlands or other lands. That has to change. We need policy tools to persuade farmers to come on this road with us.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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The four elements believed essential to life are earth, air, fire and water. It seems that human actions and inaction have damaged all these elements, especially over the past 150 years. We have seen the earth exploited through increased cultivation of our land, destruction of our forests and the increased use of landfill to dump our rubbish.

We have seen a marked decline in our air quality, especially in increased CO2 levels in our atmosphere and greater levels of all types of pollution in the air we breathe, leading to greater respiratory diseases in all, but especially in our children. Ireland has been part of this explosion in increasing CO2 levels on the planet. We have all seen the results of climate change in our use of fire, especially in our use of the internal combustion engine and the burning of fossil fuels to create energy to power our homes and industrial production.

As for water, we are all aware of increased sea levels; more frequent flooding of our towns and homes; more violent climatic storms; and pollution of our drinking water, along with the quality of water in our rivers and seas. Over the past five years, Ireland has experienced its wettest winter and hottest summer on record. We had the stormiest winter in 147 years and our first taste of a near-intact Atlantic hurricane. We are now examining and constructing nearly 100 flood protection projects throughout the country to protect our towns and cities from these climatic events.

The past ten years in Ireland have been the wettest ten years in the last 300 years, with average rainfall rising from 912 mm in 1971 to 1,224 mm in 2018. The scientists have been telling us for many decades that if we continue on this path, we, the human race, along with all other forms of life on earth will self-destruct over the next century. In fact, they say we have to reverse engines if our children and grandchildren are to survive and it is for them we must take the right steps to protect human life and property.

In this climate action plan, Ireland must take its place among the nations of the world to take the corrective steps to protect all of us. To put it simply, we need to reverse the increased carbon we created over the past 70 years in the next 30 years, before 2050. To correct this and to put us back on the best path to restoring our climate, the scientists have set out many strategies for us as a world community to take. While some of these are seen as dramatic and harsh, there is no doubt we will have to take numerous small and many large steps for the good of mankind and our environment.

The main changes would seem to be in the use of carbon fuels and energy to provide heat, light, transport and the production of consumer, industrial and food products. This plan is aimed at securing our future by cutting emissions, creating green jobs and protecting people and the planet. This plan commits Ireland to halving our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, at the latest. It commits us to creating thousands of jobs in the green economy, by investing in areas such as offshore wind, forestry and cutting-edge agriculture.

I am proud to say County Clare is already planning to play a major role in providing offshore wind energy, with two major projects planned off the coast of the county, one by ESB International in its Green Atlantic project and the other is by Simply Blue Group in partnership with Shell. The ESB project is also planning a facility for the production of green hydrogen fuel, with a view to exporting the fuel from the deep water berth at the Moneypoint facility in the Shannon Estuary. The development of these projects should provide more power than the output of the coal-burning Moneypoint station, which was once producing 45% of Ireland's electricity requirements.

This is a good example of how County Clare is making a major contribution in transforming from the old technology to the new green economy and the opportunities it can bring to all of us. This plan tells us that all citizens, communities and business will have a role to play. Government will support the changes through the €165 billion national development plan, which includes funding for retrofitting our homes, building new public transport, reskilling workers and supporting a just transition.

5:35 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the climate action plan. The devil is in the detail and I do not believe this Government has any intention of addressing the climate crisis we face, nor the energy, cost-of-living, housing and health crises. I could go on, but I only have a short time. We have a Government of crisis currently in crisis. It strikes me as a Government living on borrowed time, going through the motions and waiting for the end. The year 2030 is eight years away and yet there is no sense of urgency. I was hopeful this Government and the Greens this time around would be different, but the Greens are like the Labour Party when they get into government in that they just disappoint.

There is no point in setting targets without detailing how to achieve them and it cannot just be left up to struggling workers and families to take personal responsibility. One cannot expect working poor to afford an electric car and solar panels, especially when this Government has not even bothered to implement the European directive, which would allow them to sell excess power back to the grid. This Government is too busy sucking up to vulture funds and data centre developers to worry about ordinary people.

Is the Minister of State aware this Government is in breach of EU law? The Government has announced, on five occasions, that microgeneration is coming. It is beginning to look like the new school in Monasterevin where I live - it is coming for 20 years. The Athy distributor road was first proposed in 1975 which is 46 years ago. It had more green lights than the Long Mile Road. We need climate justice and not the flip-flopping we have seen from successive governments.

I listened with intent to Deputy Bruton. Where is the sense in offering incentives to dairy farmers to expand their herds, only to ask them to reduce them a few short years later? Where is the sense in banning peat production and allowing exports, while our own producers have to import it? We need urgent planning for an alternative to peat. Meanwhile, tree planting, about which I listened to the other Deputy talking, is at the lowest level since 1936, due to the backlog in licensing. Licences are being issued at one third of the normal rate. Time is running out for the planet and it is definitely running out for this Government. It needs to get off the stage before it does more damage.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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We are amidst a deepening crisis as climate change continues to accelerate apace. We hear of all the rhetoric and talk from Government of a just transition for our communities, grants and supports for retrofitting of homes and for electric cars. However, that is all it is to most people - it is talk. How can the average family afford a €40,000 to €60,000 retrofit of their family homes, while the cost of living continues to rise?

On top of that, we are now being told that local sports clubs are to have the primary grant for retrofitting of lighting pulled from 2022 onwards. What kind of message are we sending to sports groups and organisations which want to do the right thing? The message is clear that they are on their own and should not expect anything from Government. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant has been a vital resource for local not-for-profit sports clubs which want to move to a more environmentally-friendly source of lighting.

One GAA club alone has estimated an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of 30 tonnes. Modernising two LED floodlights can cost a sports club up to €80,000. I struggle to understand how this Government thinks not-for-profit community sports clubs have upwards of €80,000 in their accounts for such works. We need to provide community organisations the supports for a just transition at a grassroots level and not put barriers in their way.

We continue to see Irish coastal communities being failed by this Government. Raw sewage is flowing into the swimming areas on a frequent basis. It may be late November, but if one heads down to the Half Moon at Poolbeg lighthouse in Sandymount, one will see that people swim there all year round now, as they do at the Forty Foot in Sandycove. However, in the eyes of officialdom, official bathing stops in November. Why has the bathing season not been updated to reflect the reality thousands of people are swimming throughout the year? The Minister of State has the power to amend the bathing water quality regulations with the stroke of a pen. I ask the Minister of State to amend these bathing regulations and start to give coastal communities the support they deserve.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It is in everybody's interest that the environment we live in is sustainable and that we can cohabitate with the natural world and the animal world. That is in all our interests given the damage done to, and the potential damage that will be inflicted on, this planet.

We have come across environmental and social issues in the last seven or eight years where young people have engaged. I would compare what is going on now with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. People are at the cutting edge. People demand radical change. They will ask if the governments in situ, including in Ireland, are in favour of radical change. There is a question about whether this plan and other plans will challenge the environmental vandalism that has happened to the planet.

This plan has flaws. A number of flaws relate to private companies involved in the plan and to the over-reliance on personal responsibility with regard to environmental issues. There is no mention of free public transport. There is an idea about 1 million electric cars. When I heard that first, I thought it was a joke. We want to get away from car culture and congestion. People want to use public transport. This has to be looked at collectively rather than individually. If it is looked at individually, it will be doomed to failure. It is costly for people in this State to get their homes retrofitted. There has to be a State company that will facilitate retrofitting people's homes at cost prices. There is also the issue of offshore renewable energy. ESB is one company that is involved. It has existed for 90 years. That has to be looked at with regard to offshore energy.

An elephant in the room is the matter of data centres. If the projections are correct, data centres will use an enormous amount of electricity. It is incredible. There are no mitigating circumstances regarding how much they will use and the damage that they will do now and in the future. There are flaws in this plan. As I said from the start, we all want a better environment, but we have to look at the flaws of this plan and of other plans from other Governments across the world.

5:45 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Nothing will turn people off the climate action agenda that we need to urgently undertake more than big corporations, wealthy individuals and political elites lecturing ordinary people about their personal culpability for the climate crisis. I warn the Government that if it does not break from that reliance, it will turn people away from the climate agenda. It will alienate people. There is evidence that that is happening around the world. On the other hand, young people understand that system change is needed. It is not a matter of individual culpability or responsibility. The system needs to be changed. At the centre of what young people talk about, when they get out on the streets, is just transition. It is not just a phrase. They actually mean it. It will make the lives of ordinary people better. It is not the coded language of Deputy Bruton, who says that people need to realise that things will be tough and difficult. That goes back to responsibility. He went on to say why we need all the support for the corporate sector and that it will make the changes. He needs to make up his mind. If that road is taken, it will alienate people and all the targets in the world will mean nothing.

After looking at the targets and then our records on forestry, it makes me laugh. Ten years ago, when I came into this Dáil, there was a target of 12,000 ha of new forest every year. It was never met. There was 4,000 ha or 5,000 ha of afforestation at best in that period. We have the lowest level of forest cover of anywhere in Europe. Instead of trying to meet the targets, we revised them downwards. The targets in the climate action plan are half of what they were ten years ago when I came into the Dáil. There is climate ambition for you. Meanwhile, the State forestry company is trying to sell forests. Local communities had to fight to stop forests from being sold in my area. It also happened in Cork recently. One can look at the list of Coillte's sales or at previous attempts to sell harvesting rights. That happens because the mandate of the State forestry company is about commercial activity and making money, but it is not about protecting and expanding the forest estate. It should not have an industrial model but instead one that is about protecting the environment and guaranteeing a decent living for farmers and people who are protecting the environment through biodiversity and afforestation measures. That is just one example of many.

We need to invest in public transport. It is amazing that it has not been debated since the budget. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, heads the Department of Transport, which is the only Department which had a budget cut in budget 2022. I could give many more examples. Unless there is an investment into just transition and the State taking the lead on system change, these targets are worse than useless.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I commend my colleagues of all parties and none on their work on the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action under the chairmanship of Deputy Leddin. We have done significant work on the policy and legislative framework for this climate action plan and on a great many other topics that we have debated in the committee with great ambition. I note that Deputies Leddin and O'Rourke are present, along with other Members who have made a significant contribution to the process.

I was in Glasgow for COP26. At the conference, we heard from small island nations for which climate action is not an abstract discussion but one about the future of their islands and their existence as nations. It puts into stark contrast the amount of change that this State must undertake. We must use our considerable influence on the global stage to ensure that other countries, especially wealthy, industrialised countries like our own, make the significant change that we have outlined in this climate action plan and in the agreements that existed before COP26, including the Paris Climate Accords. It is regrettable that larger nations such as Russia and China did not engage properly with COP26 and that nations, including Australia, India and China, weakened wording in the final days of the conference. I am a glass half-full kind of person and I believe there is still opportunity within the agreement. We can ensure that we hold nations to account. We can use our position on the UN Security Council, albeit for a short period of time, and our influence to ensure that other nations hear our voice.

In the context of this climate action plan, the increase in our ambition with regard to renewable electricity is clear, with a goal of 80% of electricity generation to be renewable by 2030. The training offered through the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is a sign that we want to make the necessary changes within our society, especially with regard to retrofitting. I listened to the Members opposite, as I have for many years. There was much criticism and very few suggestions for change. They said that it is somebody else's fault, including big business or wealthy people, when they can be a significant contributor to the solution, which ultimately pays for the retrofitting schemes and other proposals contained in this climate action plan through taxation. We have a substantial amount of work to do.

There is one area where I am a little sceptical. I was sceptical when the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, announced it and I am equally sceptical now, but not for the reasons set out by Deputy Boyd Barrett. That area is the target in regard to electric vehicles. With the best will in the world, I cannot see us hitting 1 million. From a policy perspective, we should not be aiming to hit a target of 1 million electric vehicles. Replacing the fleet like for like is not the right step. I listened carefully to Professor Caulfield when he appeared before the committee some months ago and it led me down a path of research. We need to be putting more emphasis on the delivery of mass transit options and on getting our infrastructural plans past the drawing board and into construction quicker than we have been doing. I will not reference MetroLink because it is a very poor example, but there are other proposals put forward in recent years that have come to fruition such as, for example, Luas cross-city. There are other projects that we need to prioritise.

5:55 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy's time has expired.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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My understanding is that Deputy Matthews is taking four minutes.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Yes, but Deputy Dillon is getting three minutes.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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My apologies, I misunderstood. I thought Deputy Matthews and I were sharing eight minutes.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We are sharing eight minutes and Deputy Dillon is getting three minutes.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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My understanding is that the time is being shared as follows, four minutes for Deputy Alan Farrell, four minutes for Deputy Matthews and three minutes for Deputy Dillon. Is that correct?

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That is correct.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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On that basis, my time has expired.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Farrell for sharing time with me. This climate plan is hugely ambitious and it needs to be. It is a real challenge for every Deputy, every person living in Ireland and everybody who lives on the planet. Climate action is a massive challenge. It is such a big challenge for us in this Chamber because we have done very little about it for 20 years. People have spoken about it and people have been outraged about it but Members have done very little over the past 20 years to address climate change. That includes Government and Opposition. I note Deputy Boyd Barrett is shaking his head. I have not seen him do anything on climate action.


Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The average age in this House is 50. I checked that earlier today. Most of us will not be around when the real horrors of climate change hit this country, when farmers are having difficulty farming on flooded lands, when sea levels rise in our coastal communities and when parts of the planet will be hugely challenged by mass migration as parts of the planet will not be habitable. We will not be around for that. It is difficult for a politician to take a decision beyond that five or ten year term of their political career. What we are doing here is not for us. It is not for our political gain, our political careers or to ensure any of us keeps or loses our seat; it is about protecting my children and the children and grandchildren of everybody here, and for every child not yet born in this country, so that over the next 20 to 30 years they have some chance to grow up in a country that will not be hammered by climate change. That is the decision we are taking.

I hear criticism from the Opposition. I welcome that criticism. We have got to do more so I encourage them to keep that criticism coming, but please to match it with some alternatives. I hear nothing but rhetoric on this from the Opposition. We are the ones taking action on it. We are taking action on it now and they can sit there forever with their criticisms, but they might also throw across a few alternatives. We would consider them because we all have to act on this.

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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We now have a blueprint to take real and meaningful action to ensure Ireland becomes an international brand leader in how we approach climate action. We have seen so many areas of focus within this climate action plan, but I wish to focus on some practical issues that will make a real difference in rural constituencies.

Our green image historically stems from our agricultural sector. I want to ensure that this continues well into the future as we move towards greater production of organic and sustainable foods. If we summarise the actions in agriculture, the plan works towards significantly reducing chemical nitrogen fertiliser use to 325,000 tonnes per annum and improvements to animal breeding and feeding, as well as increasing organic farming land almost five-fold to 350,000 ha. I have been consistently repeating that we have to acknowledge the proactive role that agriculture will play in climate action. The plan aims to produce 1.6 TW hours of indigenous, sustainably produced biomethane per annum, which is a huge step forward in reducing our fossil fuel imports. Other actions include reviewing diversification opportunities for farmers, including energy production, agroforestry and woodland creation. These are all steps where the farming community are part of the solution and their willingness to step up to the plate needs to be remembered.

An issue raised regularly with me by constituents is the difficulty in accessing retrofit grants. Our existing retrofitting options need to be proactively highlighted and processes streamlined to increase uptake and ensure quicker turnarounds. It is great that the plan intends to drive demand for a new national retrofit plan. Other initiatives include blending a low-cost loan and SEAI grants to make retrofitting affordable and viewed as a real investment in our future. This will lead to a surge in demand for qualified people. It is great that three further training centres for retrofit upskilling are now planned. This is a clear demonstration that climate action and job creation can go hand-in-hand.

Other initiatives include the introduction of a programme to decarbonise the heating and cooling sector by 2050, as well as a phasing out of the use of fossil fuels for space and water heating in all new buildings. We are already making progress with community generation. Further efforts will see the roll-out of up to 2.6 TW hours of district heating. As recently as September, up to €6.4 million in funding was allocated to 15 community and home energy projects in Mayo as part of the community energy grant scheme. This was very welcome.

The climate action plan is very likely to be the most important initiative on which many of us will speak. The actions that we take in the short term will heavily impact the long term of climate action consequences and that essentially means the world our children will be living in. I applaud the actions contained within this plan. I look forward to doing whatever I can to get them implemented.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The next slot is being shared by Deputies Carthy and Ó Murchú.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The climate action plan, essentially, is a reflection of this Government. It is very high on rhetoric, but low in terms of detail and how we deliver upon it. I have heard the impassioned speeches from the Government benches.

I want to deal with one area that is hugely important in terms of how we will deliver or not. That area is forestry, which is unique in this document in that it is very precise in terms of its targets. It intends, through an afforestation programme, to secure the sequestration of emissions by 0.8 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 and to deliver 2.1 Mt of sequestration of carbon dioxide equivalent thereafter. That is hugely important. It is almost like double counting when you sequester carbon because if you do not meet those targets that means you have to find alternative sources. With the land use, land-use change and forestry, LULUCF, section of this document, that accounts for nearly 45% of the targets that have been set for sequestration. Here is the bad news: that target is not going to be met. It is based on assumptions that we will plant 8,000 additional ha per annum of forestry. This year, we will reach about 2,000 ha. That is down on last year. What is the worst part of this? This is being overseen by a Green Party Minister, who is ensuring that forestry becomes a dead duck in terms of agricultural policy. Over 80% of all new forests planted since 1980 were planted by farmers. The number of farmers who are participating in forestry schemes has dropped by 80% over the past decade. That drop is accelerating under the current Minister and regime. If we are serious, the Government should not be setting targets and producing glossy brochures; it should be working with farmers, the Opposition and local communities to deliver a forestry policy that will secure these targets. The current Minister is failing in that regard.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I was somewhat confused when I came into the Chamber in that it looked like there were only two parties in government. I think I am correct that nobody from Fianna Fáil has spoken yet, but things are as they are.

I am going to make my points in a straightforward way. I am glad we are having an over-and-back exchange and I am very glad the Government wants to work with the Opposition. We would be only too delighted to do so. However, it is all about delivery. At this point in time, as other speakers mentioned, we have a Government that has failed to deliver on its targets, including in regard to the public electric vehicles scheme, the retrofit scheme and training hubs. There has been a failure to front-load the changes needed in transport. The Government still has to get its act together on floating offshore wind. The minute all those things are done and the targets are delivered on, then we will get somewhere.

I will be straightforward again in referring to something I heard said earlier about the national broadband plan. It was the usual thing of, "I am very glad the Opposition is now on the same side as us and has seen the wrongs of its ways." We are not on side. We do not believe the correct contract was given or that it was done in the right way, but it is the only show in town. We all accept the necessity of facilitating remote working and Internet access for the public. We need delivery on that as soon as possible and we will maintain it at the top of our agenda. That is the way it is. However, we need to be absolutely clear on one point. We are not going to deliver climate change if the public sees it is being done on the backs of regular people by imposing carbon taxes without any alternatives being offered. We all accept there will be difficulties. There is nobody in the farming sector who does not know that is the case. There is a need for the Government to consult with people and show them a future roadmap. Unless that is done, there will no public buy-in and we will not have delivery of the targets set.

6:05 pm

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I may share time with Deputy Shanahan, who is not yet in the Chamber.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am sure he is in the environs.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I am glad the Minister of State is in the House to hear my few humble words on the climate action plan. The first point I want to make is that all plans can be torn asunder by the people reading them. They can nitpick and say this or that is wrong and will not work. The proof of the pudding for any plan is in its implementation. We need this plan and I agree we need to implement it. There are certain issues we need to watch out for, one of which is ensuring we do not turn people against us in implementing it. We need to bring everybody together. We must speak more about the potential in the plan for offshore energy and for the west of Ireland. For example, we need to put in the infrastructure to ensure Galway, Foynes, Cork, Ros an Mhíl and Killybegs ports are all ready to take on that potential. We must realise the full potential of the plan from a regional economic development point of view, as well as acting on climate action.

It is important to look at where we are at in this country right now and what grenades might be thrown in terms of issues that could create problems. One such issue is in regard to the retrofitting of homes, on which we have seen very slow progress thus far. I understand additional resources are being put into the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to try to move that on. At the moment, people who apply to the scheme may have to spend two years waiting for an engineer to come out and do a survey. I have seen that process happening, and I have seen excellent work being done afterwards, but it takes so long that people begin to lose faith. In the past, some people received a small grant to put cavity or attic insulation into their houses. They are precluded from applying for the new scheme, which would allow them do much more to bring their homes up to standard. That needs to be looked at to ensure people who got a token sum of €500 or €600 in the past to fill cavities are allowed back into the frame and can get more support.

An issue relating to protecting the environment was raised in the media in the past week. The more than 670 private wastewater treatment plants that are littering our country are a time bomb. In some places, raw sewage is spilling into people's gardens and into the seas. A sum of €300 million is the price the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, was given to put that right. Thus far, some €3 million has been put into it and approximately 16 private wastewater treatment plants will be upgraded and taken in charge by Irish Water. This is only tokenism, however, and the Minister needs to push matters along to ensure we get rid of this blight on our society. At the moment, it is left to residents to try to maintain the treatment plants and they are failing because they do not have the money to do it.

I know the Minister of State agrees with me that if we are to transform our transport system, we must transform our transport model. My pet subject is the western rail corridor, which is an example of what can be done to make public transport available to workers who need to get to work in the cities. The corridor is interconnecting Westport and Castlebar with Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. It is important that we push these projects along. Some of them are not very expensive and can be done quickly. They show how the transformation can happen.

When I was Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, my remit included flood relief schemes. We have seen the devastation flooding can cause in this country. In my constituency, there is a number of areas where severe flooding has happened as a result of climate change. We must ensure we address that issue, which requires addressing our way of life and living to ensure safety into the future for the coming generations.

It is important that we get closure on a number of issues on which the Minister of State is working. One of these is microgeneration schemes for domestic dwellings where people have invested in solar panels and are producing surplus energy. Those people had an undertaking they would be compensated for the excess energy they are feeding back into the grid. Right now, however, they do not even have a meter to measure what is going back into the grid, there is no rate of payment and they do not know when they will be paid. That is creating a distrust around climate action that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. Another small action that would help is to remove the need for planning permission to put solar panels on houses or roof sheds. People need to know they do not have to go through that process. It is important that we give homeowners a push, in the assurance that everything is working in the right direction.

I listened to the contributions from different speakers on the issue of farming. Farmers want to do and will do what is right. It is what they have always done to the best of their ability. They will be engaging in new means of working the land and producing food. What they need, and are looking for, is engagement and support to effect those changes. There will be a cost to doing so and they need to see that the schemes coming into place will support that, not take money from their basic payment schemes, which are there as a family support. Small family farmers, in particular, are very worried and that worry is added to by the vacuum that is being created. It is important to engage with them and get schemes in place that are workable and less bureaucratic that they have been in the past.

I heard a Deputy saying earlier that a just transition is about helping people to make a change. That is the point. We must help people to make the changes that are needed. If everybody does that, the just transition will work. Sometimes, in an effort to make those changes, we do not have the alternatives in place of which people can avail. I have spoken on several occasions about rural public transport. I often think about our school transport network, which delivers children to their schools in the morning, after which the buses are parked for the day before coming out again at 4 p.m. Making better use of those publicly owned buses could do a great deal for rural transport in my constituency and every other constituency around the country. We must utilise what we have.

As well as this, instead of falling over ourselves to produce all these electric cars, we should look at how we can get people to use alternative sources. One small example that the Minister of State might look into is a bus lane that is required from Claregalway into Galway city. It has been documented and talked about for nigh on ten years. It is small project, which would not require taking land, but for some reason it has not happened. We are trying to convince people that the best way to go to work in Galway is by bus. The private operators want to do it. They are blue in the face asking us to provide that bus lane, so that they can guarantee people will arrive at work on time.

6:15 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Ag bog ar ais go dtí an Rialtas. A Theachta Marc Ó Cathasaigh.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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This climate action plan is extremely ambitious, notwithstanding its implementation, which of course is where rubber meets road. It sets ambitious targets from here to 2030 and out to 2050. That begs the question for Members of this House of how we envision that future in 2050, 30 years hence. How do we envision that future in different sectors of our economy and society? For example, in transport, do we just imagine another lane on the M50 and continued congestion in and out of our cities? Alternatively, do we envision a different transport future in which we have a connected rural Ireland, quality public transport and active travel networks that help our children move independently around our towns and cities?

In agriculture, when we think to 2050, do we still see watercourses that are saturated with excess nitrogen, ever-increasing intensification and a monoculture in our fields and forests, or do we see something different? Do we see a true origin green in our farming, where we still produce the highest quality of food, while promoting biodiversity and farm family incomes?

On housing and planning, what type of communities do we want to build into the future? Do we want atomised and car-dependent communities or sustainable communities with quality public realm and warmer, more comfortable homes?

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 was an essential first Act on that imagined path towards the 2050 we want to create. It is heartening that 129 Deputies in this House voted in favour of that legislation. The climate action plan sets out a further roadmap, with 475 individual actions laid out. The Opposition claims the plan is lacking in ambition, which is good because I want to go further faster. I want to see implementation. However, if the Opposition wants more ambition, let it lay out its vision of what 2050 looks like.

On transport actions in the plan, although I do not propose to go through 475 individual actions, we set out to better balance movement priorities within urban areas and thereby transition the built environment from one that is vehicle centred to one that is people centred. I am less interested in autonomous vehicles and much more interested in autonomous children. We will implement an enhanced rural transport system through the delivery of Connecting Ireland. This project is now out for public consultation. We are actively encouraging people to engage constructively with it to improve the routes in the plans - there is no beating local knowledge in this regard - and help us move away from car dependency. Another action is to continue the improvement and expansion of the active travel and greenway network, as well as to have a coherent and connected national cycle network strategy. This will ensure that kids can get to their school independently, older people can walk safely or cycle around their own communities and our towns and cities are not choked with fumes, noise and unsafe streets.

Under agriculture, we have numerous actions. I will pick three. The first is to increase the current area under organic production threefold and more. The second is to use chemical nitrogen and fertilisers more judiciously to help farmers reduce input costs and keep the good of those inputs on their land. The third is to promote ecosystem restoration and conservation through payment for ecosystem services and investment in actions that increase carbon sinks while promoting biodiversity, for example, in our woodlands, bogs and hedgerows and through soil management.

In improving homes, the programme sets out to deliver necessary increase in upskilling, reskilling and apprenticeship supports for residential retrofitting. This is a huge jobs opportunity-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Deputies have four minutes each.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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I must have my timings all wrong.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I am sorry. Perhaps I should have told the Deputy earlier.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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How much time do I have?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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You have less than four minutes.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this debate. l confine my comments to two areas, namely, agriculture and transport. On agriculture, I have a basic and simple principle. We encouraged farmers, particularly those on the dairy side, to be more productive and increase cattle numbers. We have to find a way to support the productive farmer. If there are other areas where people wish to scale back, we need to support them in doing that. We need to find a model to preserve a sector that is highly efficient in global terms but contributes a high proportion of our carbon emissions. This will be difficult and it is where the transition fund must play a key role.

I will confine my comments to transport to electric vehicles. I speak to taxi drivers and ordinary people. People are making a seismic shift and considering buying an electric car. Many taxi drivers have already made the switch. They tell me that if their vehicle qualifies and based on the grant of €20,000 and the savings they will make from the difference in the price of petrol and diesel versus electric charging, they can change to a new electric car virtually at neutral cost. That is a good model. The key feature is getting people to move to electric vehicles. As with many others, I would like my next car to be electric. The question is how I will take that step.

The target of having 1 million electric cars by 2030 is an ambitious one. In this case, however, the target has to be ambitious. The key issues are cost and charging points. Do we have enough charging points? How long will it take to charge a car? That is a key question. On how electric cars are used, they are good for commuter driving but travelling any sort of distance depletes the battery.

In summary, the issue is how we use the just transition to reach our targets. In farming, the transition fund must be used to ensure that people who are productive in farming are supported. We need to find a way of ensuing non-productive areas make an exponential contribution towards carbon reductions. We must not put young, productive farmers - male or female - in a position where they have to reduce their herd. That is not an easy challenge but it is, nonetheless, an important one.

On electric cars, we-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Deputy’s time is up.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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-----have to ensure we put charging infrastructure in place and address cost. We need to get to the point where people will choose an electric vehicle the next time they change their car.

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I wish the Ceann Comhairle the very best. I welcome this opportunity to examine the Government's proposed Climate Action Plan 2021. The science on climate change is clear. As temperatures continue to rise, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, with increased risk to global food supplies and security. We now have to act. We can build a greener economy and society which create opportunities for us all.

The plan lists actions needed to deliver on our climate targets. It sets indicative ranges of emission reductions for each sector of the economy. I will briefly touch on three aspects in the time available to me. I welcome the Minister of State's comments that a one-stop shop will be established to help people retrofit private homes and that details of suppliers, contractors and finance options will be available. This mirrors a call I made recently in that regard. Perhaps the Minister of State in his closing remarks will provide an update on plans to retrofit council housing stock.

As energy prices continue to rise, many people living in council housing will be eager to see the benefits of retrofitting. We need county-by-county targets and detailed timelines so people know where they stand. Perhaps the Minister might also touch on plans to increase afforestation. Ireland currently has one of the lowest levels of forestry in the EU at 11%. That is just ahead of Netherlands on 10% and Malta on just 1%. We need serious ambition in this area to at least double the level of afforestation, which would still leave us at half the EU average of 39%. I also appeal to the Minister to do everything in his power to inject a sense of urgency into Government agencies that manage and deliver public transport. We need more urgency around major projects.

Many constituents are onto us about retrofitting schemes, particularly the elderly. While the forms are simple and easy to use, and I commend their simplistic nature which will ensure that everybody can avail of them, the Minister will be aware of the timeline and delay associated with these schemes. We need to do more. If people want to work with us to ensure they have warmer homes, we need to do everything we can on the other side to facilitate that as much as possible, be it for public or private homes. There is a great yearning from the public to assist the country in achieving its targets, whether for 2030 or 2050. Many of those targets are ambitious but it is incumbent on all of us to work as clearly and collectively as possible to ensure we reach those targets.

6:25 pm

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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The Rural Independent Group is behind everything that can be done to reduce emissions but it will not accept a carbon tax that is being foisted on the Irish people. Irish people will pay the highest rate of carbon tax anywhere in the world at €41 per tonne following budget 2022, with a statutory target of a staggering €100 per tonne by 2030. Like everyone else, we want the planet to be sustainable. However, it is not an accident that the haulage, farming and taxi industries are going to the streets on the issue of carbon tax, because this is crippling their business. Governments in other countries have capped the massive increases in the price of fuel due to inflation. Depriving people of their livelihoods is not the answer. The Government's answer was to close the peat factories and now we are importing peat. There are other cases of the Government closing down different situations and importing stuff into the country. The Green Party is a city-based party with no Deputy from outside a city. The Minister does not understand how the food gets to the shelves. He does not understand that what he is doing is costing every taxpayer in Ireland extra money to feed their children. He does not understand it even though every time he has stood up here he was asked to come down to Limerick. I would tell him what rural Ireland is like but he is a coward and will not come down.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Minister will not like to be told that Moneypoint and Tarbert power stations have had to reopen. Why did they have to open? The Minister did everything he could to shut them down. It was part of Green Party policy, the same as doing away with a proposed liquefied natural gas, LNG, project. The Minister shut that down. These stations had to open in spite of him and we would be in the dark here tonight if it was not for them.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Will the Minister wake up and admit that? I would like him to answer that question when he is responding later. I will be listening very intently to what he says. He should answer the people and tell them that his failed policies were going to result in Ireland being shut down for electricity. Some people received redundancies, or were on pensions retired at home, and they got the call asking them to come back because the stations had to open up and if they did not we would not have power. That is the Minister's failure in government, his failure as the leader of the Green Party and his failure as a politician. He has failed disgracefully. He has all these grand ideas but they are backed up with nothing - zero - and what he is actually doing is hurting people. I am not a climate change denier but I have heard from other Deputies who buy into this and they are saying that we should go further quicker. What do they mean? Do they mean that old people should not have heat in their homes? Is that what they mean? They say they want to get away from the car culture. What do they want? Do they want people at home to be walking around or going on bicycles?

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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What the Minister is doing in Ireland will not even move the global greenhouse gas scale, yet our people are being taxed out of existence and targeted financially because of a Green nirvana agenda that is more fanatical than realistic. Our small island country produces just 0.13% of all the worldwide emissions. That is all. Yet our farmers, who produce the highest quality food from fresh grass, are being blamed by the environmentalists. Deputies in this House and the media, including RTÉ, are blaming the transport sector. Yet there is no blame for coal producers in Romania, China and Colombia. The Government has stopped us burning turf and timber and one Fine Gael Deputy said people should be penalised for selling turf and timber. The Minister should remember that we are all under the one sky. He does not realise that and he is trying to paralyse the people who are working. Sadly but gladly, the transport industry is coming up to the gates of Leinster House tomorrow. That will be the start of letting the Government know what it is doing because it is blackguarding the people.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The Green Party believes its view of the world is superior. The hollow talk of building back better, just transitions and our glowing net-zero future sounds great from an ideological standpoint but means the burden will be borne primarily by rural residents. The rural-urban divide is perhaps most evident when it comes to public transport. The CSO data indicate that rural-urban public transport use is very unequal. This is due to the lack of public transportation options in rural Ireland.

Agriculture should not be carrying a levy to fight global warming. Food is not a luxury and agriculture should not be the sector that suffers so others do not. During the Dáil debates on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 earlier this year, the Rural Independent Group tabled a large volume of alternative proposals. Deputy Matthews, who is gone now, said there was no one putting forward proposals. We put forward 100 amendments to the Bill, all of which were voted down by the Green Government in which the Minister stands. Some of the amendments we put forward would have meant a 0% VAT rate on insulation or all children living 1 km or more from a school having free access to school transport. We wanted farmers to be rewarded for making lands available for biodiversity, including scrub, and have previous penalty reduction payments reinstated. We said the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, should be revamped to make it more economically viable for farmers and that a new and substantial carbon offsetting scheme should be introduced for the agriculture sector, which would include a blend of tax incentives and grant aid. These are just a few of the amendments we submitted but they were all rejected.

Ultimately, if Ireland went back to the Stone Age it would do nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as the emissions coming out of China, India, Australia, the USA and Russia continue to climb. It must also be noted that any statement coming from China on any issue, including emissions, should be taken with a grain of salt. All 400 private jets that carried most of the world's grandees, tech people, lords, ministers, various royals and world leaders to COP26 are back at base, which is a total contradiction of what we are fighting for here today.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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What strikes me most about the 2021 climate action plan is not only its lack of ambition and bravery, but most important, its complete lack of any sense of togetherness in the face of this immense global issue that we are facing together. It is clear that the plan is not in line with climate justice. The statement by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stating that the bulk of funding would come from the pockets of individuals and households just demonstrates how they plan for this to be yet another unfair burden on ordinary people, rather than a real and effective way to tackle the defining issue of our time.

We are at a defining moment. With rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, shifting weather patterns and threats to food production, the impacts of climate change are truly unprecedented in scale. What is the Government’s response to this? It is not to address the fact that, according to this climate action plan, data centres are forecast to take up 23% of this country’s electricity demand by 2030, but to aim instead to get individuals to retrofit their homes, despite the huge personal cost of this. The Government’s response is not to address the huge investment needed for public transport, including a well-functioning train service that might extend to my constituency of Donegal, but to try to have a million EVs on the road by 2030. This is, again, despite the immense personal cost this will have for motorists.

The solution to assist with this personal cost, according to the climate action plan, is to provide grants and support from the State balanced with some private sector funding. I will not even begin on the issues that arise from relying on private sector funding but it is clear that none of the three Government party leaders have assisted their constituents in applying for SEAI grants recently or they would know of the huge backlog and years of waiting that applicants are currently facing. Even if this backlog was addressed, SEAI grants do nothing to assist ordinary families. These grants are aimed at those who already have the money to invest in retrofitting and electric vehicles. It is clear to me that this climate action plan is restricted to the wealthy and that investment in climate action is a luxury for the few, unfortunately.

In his analysis of the climate action plan, Dr. Rory Hearne rightly argues that "Green-washing in policy should be analysed for what it is. The vested interests of propertied speculators, fossil fuel interests, and an economy based on endless growth in material consumption can no longer hold sway." The climate action plan is disappointing, at best, in addressing the issue of an out-of-control data centre sector driving the entire country towards power cuts. I cannot stress enough the importance of urgently clamping down on data centre development. I strongly welcome the Government's announcement that it will review its policies on data centre growth to keep them in line with emissions and renewable energy targets. I sincerely hope the Government is true to its word on this but history would suggest otherwise.

All in all, the 2021 climate action plan is too little, too late and there seems to be no attempt to bring the country together to create meaningful action in the face of an incredibly terrifying climate crisis that will sadly affect us all.

6:35 pm

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Climate change and how we deal with it is the defining issue of our generation, an issue that will impact forever, at least in human terms, on future generations. While we recognise and accept individual responsibility, as we must, we must also look to our Government to put systems and structures in place to facilitate us as citizens to play our role, not to absolve us from responsibility but to facilitate our engagement as mothers and grandmothers of the generations to come.

The climate action plan promises much but delivery is still very much in question. We need clarity on how we can play our part. One of the issues that really concerns me in all of this is the narrative of urban versus rural. In terms of context, Ireland did not have an industrial revolution and therefore agricultural production, which sustains much of rural Ireland, makes a proportionately higher contribution to greenhouse gas emissions than in most other countries. We also conveniently forget that Harvest 2020, stated Government policy, promoted higher levels of production and, consequently, a significant increase in the national herd. All of this finger-pointing is getting us nowhere.

Too many people, especially in rural Ireland, feel left out, not of the debate which they are right in the middle of, but of shaping the solutions and of playing a meaningful, positive and realistic role in mitigating climate change. That role includes sustainable food production and Ireland and the EU recognising, for example, that we need to look again at the Mercosur agreement and all of its implications. The role also includes payment for carbon farming. The most crucial aspect involves individuals and communities coming to the fore in areas like, for example, microgeneration projects rather than the huge, towering wind turbines planned for places like Croagh and Dough Mountain in County Leitrim. I refer to projects involving solar panels and small turbines because that is where we get community support, community buy-in and positive outcomes. We need to see agro-forestry that sequesters carbon, provides income, protects biodiversity and provides areas where people, animals and plans can interact in positive ways instead of the community-destroying Sitka spruce we have marching across the landscape.

The debate around the national herd is fraught. It is crucial to point out that suckler herd numbers are decreasing year on year. Slowly and quietly, a sector that underpins many rural counties along the west coast and elsewhere is fading. In the next CAP the target for sucklers is 385,000 and the kicker is that just 20,000 farmers take part in the beef genomics scheme. Nobody is talking about this or taking the bull by the horns. We need an honest, robust debate about the future of the suckler herd. Platitudes are useless. A recent report from KPMG showed that if agricultural emissions are to fall by 30%, then farm profitability will also fall by 30%. Is there a just transition? If this plan is to work, and we want it to work, then we must engage with rural communities.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I thank Deputies for contributing to the debate this evening. At COP26 in Glasgow, it was interesting to note that there was not a single country represented that did not recognise the absolute urgency and need for us to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement to try to keep the increase in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees. As Mary Robinson said during the course of the proceedings, we cannot negotiate with science. That target or limit was set for a very good reason because going above it risks us reaching a tipping point resulting in runaway climate change that is dangerous beyond compare.

Similarly, it is important to reflect that in terms of the basic science, this is not an issue that divides this House. Nobody here spoke in opposition to the certainty that climate change is happening, that it is caused by our emissions, particularly from fossil fuels, land use and other short-lived greenhouse gases and that we have to act fast. If we accept the science, then we must act fast and, as clearly set out, cut our emissions by half this decade and achieve net zero emissions globally by 2050. That is a challenge beyond compare and it has never happened before. No country has halved its emissions in a decade, which is what we are setting out to do. However, that is what we have to do to protect the future of the next generation.

An interesting perspective on this for a country like Ireland is to consider the alternative if we do not meet the targets. Every other country is clearly going in this direction. Our next-door neighbour, the UK, has set out similar net zero plans and if one looks to the Continent, the major economies of Germany and France are committed to going in this direction. Germany is likely to accelerate now with the expected formation of a new government involving the Green Party, which will push for further and greater ambition. The US economy is doing the same. Despite the setback in Glasgow with the Indian and Chinese governments creating some uncertainty around the phasing out of coal, it is clear that every single modern economy is going in this direction. It is inevitable that economies are going to decarbonise and those countries that are first in this process will benefit most.

It is important to remember that we need to do this for basic climate justice, that is, justice for the next generation and for the poorest people in the world who are suffering most from the consequences of climate change but we also need to do it for economic reasons. If we are not beyond compare in our ambition and do not make some of the hard decisions we need to make, we will fall behind and will not develop the opportunity that exists to be good at this, to learn how to do it and to share that knowledge and experience elsewhere. We have the structures in place to do it. We have political agreement on the imperative and we have a national development plan that sets out a public capital investment programme worth €165 million. An additional €100 million in private capital must also be deployed.

We also have in the plan from Eirgrid, Shaping our Electricity Future, a clear understanding of how we can develop economic opportunity across the island by tapping into renewable and microgeneration power resources. As Deputy Harkin rightly pointed out, this has to be community centred and not just based around big business. We know we can do that. We also have a climate action plan that sets out the framework we will follow in order to deliver, as well as an Act that provides that if Departments are failing, they are held to account by the Climate Change Advisory Council and this House and will have to amend policies, year on year, to get us back on the path to decarbonisation.

I described it at the Oireachtas committee the other day as a straitjacket, but it is an appropriate description because we have not delivered the change nor risen to the opportunity and we need to test ourselves because it is not easy to change. The reason it is important that there is political agreement on the basic science and on the imperative is because six Governments in a row will have to follow this course. That is what we signed up to when we enacted the climate Act. The next Government as well as this one will have to do it. The more thought we put into the measures and the more consensus we can get on the basic approach, the better, because then we will not be stopping and starting. We will be giving clear signals and certainty to all people on the course we are about to take.

I will briefly make a couple of points in response to some of the issues raised by Deputies in the course of the debate. Deputy Bacik raised a valid question about the series of actions which will be published within the coming weeks to show exactly how the Government is going to hold itself to account on delivering the key measures we need to take.

I heard in contributions from Deputy O'Donoghue, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and others that there is a rural-urban divide on this. If there is, let us stop that straight away, because that does not serve anyone. No one is pointing the finger at any one community, industry or sector and saying: "You are the problem, you are the ones that have to be held to account." We are all involved in this. Farming will be at the centre of the solutions, but it will also be at the centre in the future in terms of paying farmers properly for the important work they do in providing food and managing and looking after our land and nature, the natural systems which are under real stress. They are heavily polluted, and biodiversity has been lost. Let us start paying farmers for the restoration of those natural systems, as well as the high quality food that they produce. That is surely something that will not divide. Why would that divide us, as we set out mechanisms to pay farmers, foresters and fishers properly, to protect and make sure that we live with our natural systems and the natural beauty that we love on this island?

I always say transport will be more difficult because, in truth, through our planning in the past 50 years, we have embedded dependency on the car, which will be hard to unwind. It is not that we are saying "No" to people driving. Cars will be electric. We will need people to have those choices and freedom to be able to move around, but the current system does not work, not just in climate terms but also due to gridlock geometry. If we go back to reliance on those systems and replace the combustion engine with electric vehicles, we will still have those problems. This is an opportunity to switch fuels, shift to other modes of transport and to reduce the overall volume of traffic so we can all get around in a much more efficient and better way for local communities.

There are significant opportunities in energy because we have a massive resource in offshore wind in particular that we can and will tap into. First and foremost, on this cold day, we should start with heating. We should start thinking about how this is an opportunity to improve every single home so that we do not have to spend so much on keeping ourselves warm and healthy in our homes. This is achievable. I was at a very interesting meeting earlier today with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland where we mapped out some of the future for heating. It will involve district heating, which will bring communities together. It is a much more efficient and cheaper way of heating homes. It will involve a switch to heat pumps from oil-fired central heating, as oil burners need to be replaced. That is what we are going to have to do. The Government will support it with grants and one-stop-shops, as will the future Government, because it makes such sense. There will be a clear pathway to this better way of heating our homes.

My last point is about industry. I am only just skating over the surface. Today, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities pointed out that all industries must play their part. That includes data centres. They must live within this plan. Every sector must. No sector is held beyond the others. We are not naming and shaming. Everyone in business and in industry knows that this is the way the world is going and if they want to be in business it is the way they must go too.

That is what we should do as a country. We will be good at this. We will make this transition. It will take time to ramp up the ports to deliver the offshore turbines we need. It will also take time to make the switch from oil-fired burners to heat pump technology, but we can and will do it. It will be organised from these two Houses. Local authorities will have a central role. We will do it together.