Wednesday, 6 April 2022
Carbon Budget: Motion
That Dáil Éireann shall approve the carbon budgets, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 24th February, 2022, pursuant to Section 6B(7) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Acts 2015 to 2021 regarding the approval of the carbon budget.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for inviting me to discuss the proposed carbon budget programme, which, following a lengthy consultation and review process, received approval from the Cabinet in February and which is now before the Houses of the Oireachtas for final approval.
As part of the consultation and review process, the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action undertook an extensive review of the carbon budget proposals. I greatly appreciate the work undertaken by members of the committee to examine the proposals and engage with numerous stakeholders and experts in order to fully interrogate the carbon budgets, and, more broadly, seek political consensus in support of a robust climate action. I am grateful for the committee's recommendation to adopt the proposed carbon budgets and appreciate the other recommendations delivered in its report, particularly with regard to monitoring our progress, ensuring a just transition, identifying opportunities to enhance our ambition and the need for effective citizen and stakeholder engagement.
The need for swift, robust climate action is critical. Last year, at COP26 in Glasgow, we witnessed the powerful testimonies of many international leaders from climate-vulnerable nations who painted a stark picture of the impact climate change is already having on their nations and communities. The climate budget programme will support Ireland to deliver against its domestic, EU and international climate action obligations.
The year 2021 saw a step change in our approach to climate action with the signing into law of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and the publication of the national development plan, NDP, and Climate Action Plan 2021: Securing Our Future. The introduction of our carbon budget programme will help us to build on the momentum from last year.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 establishes our climate objectives in law and will underpin national climate action in the medium- and long-term. Under the Act, the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, submitted its first carbon budget programme in October 2021. The programme submitted by the CCAC establishes a pathway to achieving our legally binding climate objectives. It will deliver on our commitment to a 51% reduction in our carbon emissions by 2030 and set us on the way to net zero by 2050.
Last December, the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, caused a copy of this proposed carbon budget programme to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Dáil Éireann then referred the carbon budget programme to the joint Oireachtas committee for its consideration. On 7 February, the committee published its report and recommended that the proposed budgets be adopted by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Following consideration of the public consultation, the recommendations of the joint committee's report and input from my Government colleagues, the Minister took the proposed carbon budget programme to Government on 22 February and received Cabinet approval.
The motion being considered today on the Government's proposed carbon budgets taking effect is the final step in the adoption of the carbon budgets but it is only the beginning of the implementation process. The motion under consideration represents a significant milestone on this journey. Should the motion be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas, the carbon budgets will then come into effect and set out an emissions framework for the country that will support our overall climate objective.
Once these overall, economy-wide carbon budgets are adopted and have come into effect, the Minister and his Department will begin the process of preparing the sectoral emissions ceilings. These ceilings will determine how each sector of the economy will contribute to the achievement of the carbon budgets. It is my intention that the sectoral emissions ceilings will be presented to Government for approval by the end of June. Preparation of the emissions ceilings will include extensive consultation with all Ministers and they will be informed by new and existing analysis undertaken by members of the climate action modelling group. As well as this, additional external technical support will be drawn upon.
The work undertaken as part of the consultation and review process for the carbon budgets, including the joint committee's report, will also inform and support the preparation and development of the sectoral emissions ceilings. Once the ceilings have been prepared and approved by the Cabinet, they and the carbon budgets will be reflected in the next climate action plan. This will replace the indicative ranges of emission reductions for each sector that are in the climate action plan that was published in 2021. The process to deliver the next update climate action plan will include further consultation with other Ministers, the public and various experts and stakeholders.
It is crucial that while we prepare our carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings, delivery of climate action in Ireland continue apace. The Climate Action Plan 2021, which the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications launched on 4 November alongside the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, provides a detailed roadmap for meeting our climate ambition under the climate Act. The Government has also published an accompanying annexe of actions to support the delivery of the plan. The annexe sets out the detailed actions and measures, with timelines included, that are required to drive delivery and ensure our emissions will reduce. The annexe also identifies the key Departments, State bodies and other stakeholders that will oversee and implement these actions. The 2021 plan sets out indicative ranges of emissions reduction for each sector of the economy and, following the legal adoption of carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings, these ranges will be finalised and reflected in this year's climate action plan. The Government will support the changes through major public investment announced recently in the €165 billion national development plan, NDP. This will include increased funding for retrofitting homes, building new public transport, reskilling workers and supporting a just transition.
While the Climate Action Plan 2021 builds on the ambitious targets of the 2019 plan, it also represents a significant step-up in ambition and implementation. I will highlight a number of the most significant measures included in the plan. The plan commits to an increase in the proportion of renewable electricity to 80% by 2030, including an increased target of up to 5 GW of offshore wind energy. Second, it commits to a significant reduction in transport emissions by 2030. Measures will include enabling 500,000 additional walking, cycling and public transport journeys per day by 2030 and supporting the take-up of electric vehicles, EVs, to reach almost 1 million by 2030. Third, it commits to the implementation of a new national retrofit plan, intended to increase supply capacity and make retrofitting more affordable. Fourth, it commits our enterprise sector to seeing a faster uptake of carbon-neutral heating, increased electrification of high-temperature heating and the phasing-out of high global warming-potential F-gases. Lastly, it commits to reducing emissions associated with agriculture, which will be central to achieving our climate ambition. The plan provides a pathway to reducing emissions while supporting world-class food producing through an innovation- and science-based approach. There will be a reduction in the use of chemical nitrogen and a more targeted use of fertiliser while maintaining our position as a global leader in grass growth through multispecies swards. We will reduce emissions from land use and make a move towards being an overall store of carbon, which will involve further bog rehabilitation, increased afforestation and the re-wetting of peat organic soils. A new forestry programme will be prepared for launch in 2023.
The plan places a just transition at its core. It sets out four principles that will guide our policymaking and the implementation of our policy over the coming years to ensure we can effectively monitor and manage our transition and that our responses will remain flexible in order 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 the Government, building on research, engagement through the national dialogue on climate action and the annual review from the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, on how Government policy can further the just transition. In delivering this ambitious climate action plan and its future iterations, we must ensure we will bring people with us and that the transition is fair. The national dialogue on climate action, launched in March 2021, will facilitate public engagement, participation, community action, networking and capacity-building activities on climate action, giving everyone in society the opportunity to play his or her part. Last November, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications also announced €60 million in funding from the climate action fund for community climate action projects to support and empower communities to shape and build low-carbon, sustainable communities in a coherent way.
As I mentioned, the testimony presented at COP26 in Glasgow laid out the risks and challenges climate change presents. The science is clear and definitive on the need for urgent action. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report, Climate Change 2021 - The Physical Science Basis, establishes incontrovertibly that the negative effects of climate change are being experienced globally and will continue to increase exponentially, in both magnitude and volatility, along with global temperatures. We have made some progress towards this goal from Glasgow. Ireland had a significant presence and extensive engagement at COP26 on a number of key areas, which will feed in to global decarbonisation efforts. The Glasgow climate pact, the overarching agreement, keeps alive the ambition of restricting the global temperature rise of 1.5°C. It strikes a balance between increasing climate ambition, delivering on calls for increased climate finance and adaptation supports and leading the way for a new dialogue on the issue of loss and damage, critical to supporting climate justice for those most exposed to climate change.
The carbon budget programme provides Ireland with a strong and deliverable framework for meeting our national climate objectives and our international obligations to climate action and emissions reductions. It will require considerable co-operation and co-ordination to ensure we can achieve these budgets. The process undertaken to consider these proposed budgets highlights how to build political consensus towards robust and impactful action against climate change. It will take similar levels of engagement to achieve these budgets. The transition to a carbon-neutral economy will provide significant opportunities to foster innovation, create jobs and grow businesses in areas such as offshore wind, cutting-edge sustainable agriculture and low-carbon construction. While we all must act together towards our climate objective, I recognise the costs of climate action will be more acutely felt by some. As a Government, we are committed to protecting those most vulnerable and ensuring a just transition to a low carbon economy.
I am sharing time with Deputies Ó Murchú, Patricia Ryan and Martin Browne.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion. The carbon budgets were proposed by the independent CCAC and, after detailed scrutiny and engagement with stakeholders, were recommended for adoption by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, though not unanimously. The advisory council’s evidence at the committee hearings was clear: we need immediate and urgent action, a whole-of-government approach and a complete reorientation and reprioritisation to ensure we can make the necessary changes now to help meet our targets in the years ahead. We heard from other experts who said the budgets do not go far enough, and that cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, what I took from the totality of the evidence and the deliberations, and I believe ours is a committee that is serious about its work, was that we do not have the luxury of more time. The time for talking on climate has passed; radical action is needed now. These carbon budgets are the advisory council’s best estimate and, if implemented, can deliver the 51% reduction in emissions by 2030.
We in Sinn Féin are in no doubt about the scale of the climate crisis facing the world and, in line with our support for our 2030 and 2050 targets, we will vote to approve these carbon budgets as proposed by the advisory council, although the third budget should be subject to further discussion. While we agree with the ambition and the targets, we disagree fundamentally with many of the policy decisions the Government is implementing. We will continue to bring forward constructive alternatives that we believe will help us meet our targets in a fair and just way.
This debate on carbon budgets is timely, given the major report published on Monday by the UN's IPCC. The contents of the report are incontrovertible and the consequences of failing to act unimaginable. It can leave us in no doubt that it is now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C. We are on track for an increase exceeding 3°C, with devastating consequences for the globe. We know what needs to be done and how to do it, and we now need the Government to lead and deliver the just transition that will reduce emissions and secure a liveable future, and not just talk about it.
The reduction in emissions set out in these budgets will be very challenging to achieve. This challenge has been made all the greater as a result of the failure to act in years gone by. It is precisely because successive Governments ignored repeated climate warnings from scientists and permitted our carbon emissions to accelerate over the past 20 years that we have been left scrambling to make radical changes now. Incoherent policies have also contributed to the challenges we now face in energy, transport, housing and elsewhere.
While public transport is rightly encouraged, many areas across the State remain without real options. The investment was not made. Major public transport projects such as MetroLink or the Navan rail line have been repeatedly kicked down the road and remain undelivered, leaving these communities without sustainable transport modes. In my constituency this week, a lifeline public transport route, the 136, used by elderly people to get to and from the shops once a week is being pulled. That is public transport in Ireland in 2022.
At the same time, the red carpet was rolled out for energy-hungry data centres with no regard for our electricity generation capacity or the impact the policy would have on our national emissions. Similarly, successive governments gave us and championed a system of developer-led development. Communities got houses, houses, houses and urban sprawl. It was the opposite of compact growth or transport-led development. It created dependency on cars. There were no amenities, public parks or green spaces, and creaking infrastructure.
Ratoath in my constituency is one example. The water infrastructure in that town is crumbling under increased pressure from the growing population, leading to frequent water outages which impact on businesses, families, young and old and people with disabilities. As the town grew and developers and the local authority made money, citizens were and are being failed by the lack of timely investment in water infrastructure. There is a plan involving the Windmill Hill reservoir and trunk water main, but the work is too slow and outages far too frequent. I implore the Minister of State to contact the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, to have that work expedited. It is an example of much talk but little action.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report highlights that in order to limit global warming, major change in the energy sector will be required. Thankfully, we have the tools and know-how, but now we need a focus on rapid delivery. Ireland is uniquely placed to become a world leader in offshore wind and reduce our emissions significantly, but we have heard from the wind industry that our 2030 renewable target is already in doubt. The Oireachtas climate committee in recent weeks heard that we have just a 50/50 chance of meeting our 2030 target of 5 GWs of offshore wind. This is at a time when the head of the EPA says we can expect emissions here to increase in 2022. They need to decrease by 4.8% to meet the carbon budgets.
We heard that we need greater numbers of personnel in the planning authorities like An Bord Pleanála and that we need to ensure our offshore planning processes are as speedy as possible. We heard we need investment in BirdWatch Ireland and other prescribed bodies to ensure planning is done in a sustainable way. We need updated and new regulations brought forward and investment in grid infrastructure. EirGrid is not fit for purpose. We need our ports to be developed to ensure we can build and maintain the turbines and develop the supply chain industry here. We should designate those ports today.
Green hydrogen goes hand in hand with offshore wind and offers the State huge potential for the export of this green energy to Europe. I brought forward a Bill seeking to develop a national green hydrogen strategy as soon as possible. We should strive to become a world leader in this field, and I hope the Minister of State acts on this soon.
In relation to onshore wind, we are still awaiting updated regulations, with the outdated ones having contributed to numerous development problems in the past. The delay in bringing this forward is unacceptable, and the industry says the same. If lessons are not learned from bad developments like Derrybrien, then we will not deliver the necessary onshore wind in the time ahead. There are weaknesses at every level of the system. It is not Sinn Féin propaganda to say that. The industry and the agencies say it, if not publicly, certainly privately.
Sinn Féin wants to see a more equitable retrofitting system, one that prioritises those living in fuel and energy poverty and targets grant support at those who need financial assistance. Middle-income earners who earn too much to avail of free energy upgrades but not enough to have money to invest in energy efficiency measures feel left behind.
We heard from the SEAI yesterday. It is behind on one-stop shop targets and on tackling the two-year backlog in the warmer home scheme. It has no plan for renters or for those just outside the eligibility criteria. The Minister of State can see a pattern here. Every scheme the Government builds, including retrofitting, EV grants and the bike to work scheme, fails the equity test. That is a problem. I am fed up listening to Government representatives congratulate themselves on climate. It is a reasonable estimate thatthis Government will miss every emission reduction target it set itself.
Government Members' defence is they are serious about climate because they have a carbon tax. This magic carbon tax is, on one hand, minuscule. The increase on 1 May will make no difference to people, we are told. On the other hand, it is the cornerstone of the Government's climate policy. It will pay for retrofitting, renewables and sustainable farming, all of which are behind schedule and have missed targets, and it will protect the most vulnerable. It will not and cannot do that. No single tax could do that. In the meantime, it will punish people for being poor and drive them against the climate agenda.
As always, there are alternatives. The money can and should be raised in a different way. For example, Sinn Féin proposed that the retrofitting budget be increased by €125m in 2022 and outlined tax increases in different areas that would fund this. A solidarity tax on those earning in excess of €140,000 and a tapering off of tax credits for those earning more than €100,000 are two examples. These two proposals would raise €408 million in a year and would not hit workers and families who are just about getting by as it is.
The science is clear, the targets are in place and we need a focus on rapid delivery from the Government if we are to meet our 2030 and 2050 targets. I echo the words of the IPCC chair: “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future.” Carbon tax and tweaking the market will not do. Sinn Féin will play its part. We are serious about this but we want to see it delivered. It will be delivered only if it is done in a fair and equitable way. We have real concerns about the approach Government is taking. Go raibh maith agat.
I add my voice to what Deputy O'Rourke has said. We support these carbon budgets but have serious worries about delivery. We have had the IPCC report. At this point, people just need to look at weather reports over a number of months to know the reality of what we are dealing with in relation to climate change.
Recently, Councillor Antóin Watters and I met Louth County Council on the necessary projects of catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM. One worries about the delivery of these projects and the difficulties around planning. Unless we can get our act together in this field, we might be wasting our time. What we aim for will not be significant enough to save the likes of Dundalk and make sure it does not end up underwater. We have to get serious.
The Climate Change Advisory Council is about transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy. That is what we need to do. We need to make the targets for 2030 and 2050. It is all about policy decisions. We have had a huge amount of conversation in the last while on energy, the sourcing of energy and energy security. We have more questions than answers. Public transport in this State is not what it needs to be to give people alternatives. The Government tries to force some alternatives on people with carbon tax without offering them what they need.
Deputy O'Rourke spoke on data centres. They are necessary for the companies that need them but we failed to plan for our energy security. Wind energy is where we should be at. We could be a major power in relation to offshore wind. As much as we have put frameworks together, we are all aware of the difficulties that exist with planning in this State.
I have just left a transport committee meeting where Mr. Peter Walsh of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, appeared before us. Obviously, everyone sees that there are major issues with tendering, contracts and planning. We have the system that we have, but if we are not going to resource An Bord Pleanála or the judicial system, we will have delay after delay. These are the types of issues that we need to get sorted. If we are serious about this, then we have to consider all alternatives that deliver, including solar power, a retrofit system that works and has equity built into it and the likes of a green hydrogen policy. We have to put all of this together. If we do not, then we will be in the same position in future and we will fail.
I wish to raise a particular issue, that of communal district heating systems and specifically Carlinn Hall in Dundalk where we are dealing with an environmental disaster. It was meant to be a biofuel-heated system but it is inefficient. The system is now being heated by gas. On 15 April, people will get bills in which they will be charged 42 cent per kWh. Due to this inefficiency, people end up using 100 units of gas to provide 50 units of heat. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and others in government. This is something that the Government needs to tackle. We need a short-term fix. These people are being charged colossal rates and have no major control over what is happening. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, says that it has no responsibility in the matter but we need to get serious about this issue.
We have had many discussions about the necessity of remote working. It can enable people to reduce their time spent commuting and so on, but we need to get serious about the delivery of national broadband. I have a great fear that tomorrow's numbers will be well short of the 60,000 connections that were meant to be delivered by the end of last month.
The latest IPCC report has highlighted that, to limit global warming, major changes in the energy sector will be required. It effectively says that we are sleepwalking into a climate catastrophe. Under current plans, the next generation of offshore wind farms will not produce electricity until 2026 at the earliest while a microgeneration scheme that pays households for producing excess green electricity is still not in place. There have been too many delays, announcements and re-announcements. This is not good enough. We need a step change in the pace of delivery across the board. The IPCC has confirmed that time is running out to save the planet and that meeting Paris Agreement targets will require a real and immediate national effort.
That the Climate Action Delivery Board only met once between 2020 and 2021 is a scandal as well as a serious cause for concern about how climate policy is being driven from within the Government. The Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform cannot be allowed to be passengers in the process; they must be drivers. We need serious progress on the sectoral carbon budgets process, as set out in the climate Act, and a whole-of-government approach. An updated climate change adaptation plan is essential to meet the challenges ahead.
The Government should adopt elements of the Scottish climate Act, which requires a just transition. The impact on vulnerable communities must be set out and responded to. This approach has been backed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and we need to listen to them. A just transition must be a proactive process and it must be integral. It cannot be an afterthought. It must not just focus on Bord na Móna workers, deserving and all as they are. It must also consider rural and farm communities.
Sinn Féin supports the carbon budgets prepared by the CCAC. This is consistent with our position on the climate Bill and our support for the 2030 and 2050 emission reduction targets. The carbon budgets are the council's best estimate for how emissions could, and should, be reduced between now and 2030. While we support the targets, we have serious concerns about the approach that the Government is taking to achieving them.
I commend the work of Kildare County Council in this regard and its recently published just transition plan for west Kildare. The plan's focus identifies projects that support and advance sustainable social, economic and environmental development in the transition to a low-carbon future in the region. Councils must be provided with funding to ensure such plans are developed and implemented locally. It is not enough to compliment their plans and move on. The Government must provide the money to enable councils to bring these plans into reality.
It is appropriate that we are discussing carbon budgets following the publication of the UN climate report, which was released on Monday. It was a worrying report that sought to reinforce the need for swift and meaningful action to be taken to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions across the globe if we are to survive the 1.5°C threshold, but there was a note of hope that we could all play our part in this ambition if our roadmaps were right.
To be clear, carbon budgets set out our targets and are adopted by the Oireachtas. However, it is individual Ministers who prepare sectoral emission ceilings for the sectors of the economy under their respective remits. The importance of the manner in which individual Ministers pursue these targets cannot be overstated. When deciding on measures, attention must be paid to the role that each sector and each element of that sector can play in achieving our targets. These measures are major responsibilities that will play a part in determining the direction that our climate will go. The sectors cannot get away from that and we all have our part to play, but we must never forget the notion of equality. We cannot forget that most people want to play their part to secure a world for their children and grandchildren in which the deterioration of the climate has begun to roll back, but they are often financially limited in the actions they can take to meet the demands being made of them by their sectoral Ministers.
Unfortunately, counterproductive measures are being rolled out. Those that disproportionately impact the least well-off have resulted in many people seeing the climate actions designed by this Government as being little more than the imposition of additional charges that result in a higher cost of living. This is because there are either no alternatives or, if there are, they are outside people's financial reach. We see this in the retrofitting scheme, which favours those with disposable incomes, and in the grants available for electric cars, which favour those in particularly affluent areas and who have money to spend on prestige vehicles. We see it in the carbon tax, which disproportionately affects those with little or no disposable income to spend on retrofitting and who have no alternative to using their cars daily to go to the shop, work or hospital. If the Government's approach is to present obstacles to achieving our objectives and exclude those who have the least while imposing taxes on them for little gain, it increases the likelihood that we will miss our targets.
Rural Ireland is being targeted in particular. Where is our public transport? Where is our district heating? In previous policies, this and previous Governments have often put obstacles in the way of achieving the targets we have been set and have hampered our ability to deliver on them. Where was the foresight?
European countries have rolled out district heating while we are still talking about it. Considerable opportunities lie in green hydrogen. Offshore wind energy, which can be used to make green hydrogen, has historically been left in the dark. Green hydrogen applications are increasing and it can be stored and used when the wind is not blowing, but we still do not have a national hydrogen strategy for this important energy source. Deputy O'Rourke has introduced a Bill that would do just that.
What about our farmers? The Common Agricultural Policy used to be about food supplies at affordable prices. That has been ditched, the playing field has been changed and our farmers are ready to make the change, but instead of being at the centre of those discussions, they are being spoken down to and vilified. Decisions are being floated without their input, yet the Government talks waffle about engagement while supporting trade deals at European and global levels such as the Mercosur trade deal and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
The previous Government set a target of making Ireland the data centre capital of the world with no thought about the impact that this would have on our carbon emissions or energy capacity and, therefore, I do not blame those who have the least for speaking out against Government strategies. Climate justice involves a human-centred approach to climate action and should involve bringing together workers, communities and employers to drive plans to achieve targets in a way that leaves no one behind.
Our global climate and biodiversity crises are existential and fundamental to our capacity to live and to the survival of our planet, but it is not all doom and gloom and we should never feel powerless. It is good to have this opportunity to debate carbon budgets, given that we have just seen the IPCC's report with its chilling prognosis but also a reminder that we can still act to avoid a climate catastrophe. We have many of the solutions already. From agriculture to transport, we know what we have to do.
The first Bill I ever published, when I was first elected to the Oireachtas 15 years ago, sought to impose a cap on Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. It was the first Bill of its kind in Ireland. Although that took place relatively recently, it seems a lifetime ago in terms of understanding the urgency of the crisis we are in. The IPCC report emphasises we are currently on a path to exceed 2°C warming worldwide, which could result in enormous loss of life, livelihoods, biodiversity and food security. The clear and stark message from that report, and I raised this with the Taoiseach during Leaders' Questions on Tuesday, is the need to take action.
All of us are encouraged by the activism we see in the engagement of younger generations, in particular, who are driving the charge on climate justice through the school strikes movement, the Youth Climate Assembly and many of their campaigns. I was proud to stand with many of them at the most recent global school strike on 25 March. This is a cause that hits close to home for young people in Ireland because they know, as we do, that this is about our children and grandchildren. We are already running through their carbon budgets, spending their resources, destroying their planet and moving in the wrong direction. Just last weekend we saw the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, confirm the extent to which Ireland's emissions are heading in the wrong direction. We learned that emissions from electricity alone rose by 21% last year undoing the small progress we had achieved in previous years. The EPA branded this directional move as disappointing, which is patently an understatement.
We need to ensure real and urgent action is taken to implement the measures we have already put into law and that we very much welcomed and supported through our ambitious climate targets. The adoption of carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings form part of that effort. We have called for this to be a whole-of-government measure with economic and environmental planning taking place in parallel. In that spirit, we are glad to endorse and support the first two budgets being put to the House today. I am very grateful to the different voluntary groups and NGOs that have been in contact with all of us, and with the Government, in recent weeks and have worked so hard to see those budgets improved and adopted, while recognising they are not sufficiently aligned with Paris Agreement commitments and do not constitute Ireland's fair share. I pay special tribute to Friends of the Earth, the Stop Climate Chaos coalition and the Just Transition Alliance for their constructive campaigning and activism.
I welcome the commitment the Minister of State made in his speech to the establishment of a just transition commission. The delays in its establishment have fed into a sense of a lack of sufficient urgency from the Government in taking the necessary steps to meet our emissions reduction targets. I also referred in my remarks to the Taoiseach on Tuesday not only to the delay in the establishment of that commission, which is so critical in bringing measures forward, but to inefficient governance through the lack of meetings of the climate action delivery board. I asked the Taoiseach whether that board met yet this year, noting that it has only met once in 2021.
Turning again to the budgets before us, I note, as have others, there is a degree of backloading of our reductions between 2025 and 2030. I acknowledge this is to facilitate the adoption of new policies and practices but, again, we need to see a greater sense of urgency in these budgets. The IPCC was clear that there is a very small window of three years to meet targets. We know the effects of global warming are cumulative, so we will be worse off for not taking quick action now. The adoption of reductions must happen on the understanding there is no room for any additional backloading of emissions reductions. It is imperative we do not overshoot the first carbon budget. These should not be seen as targets but, rather, a floor beneath which we cannot fall. It would be morally unconscionable to pass the clear tipping points the IPCC has identified, which would trigger larger-scale changes in Earth's systems and a loss of biodiversity, with many species already on the ready on the brink of extinction.
I will turn to the third carbon budget proposed from 2031 to 2035. I note this budget remains provisional. This budget needs to be improved upon in order that we can achieve net zero as quickly as possible, while noting that the law states 2050 is the latest target and some countries have adopted net zero targets earlier than 2050. The reasoning behind the adoption of these earlier targets by other countries should form part of the Climate Change Advisory Council research in finalising the measures for the third budget. Looking at those other countries, Sweden, Portugal and Germany have set a zero target date of 2045 in law. Finland and Austria have set earlier targets in policy of 2035 and 2040, respectively. The adoption by other EU states of these earlier net zero target dates shows us what can and may be done.
The Labour Party prepared an amendment to this motion, which would have had the effect of declining to approve the third carbon budget for that five-year period of 2031 to 2035 on the basis of the need to ensure greater research on this. Unfortunately, we were out of time with that amendment but I will put forward the logic that lay behind our proposed amendment to the Minister of State. While the Climate Change Advisory Council put forward a reduction rate of only 3.5% from 2031 to 2035 for this provisional third budget, this presupposed a linear path from 2030 to net zero by 2050. To return to the previous point, our climate law stipulates net zero by 2050 at the latest. We believe there should have been steeper and faster cuts built in. Our view, shared by Friends of the Earth, is the council should take into account the principle of climate justice about which our former President, Mary Robinson, has spoken so clearly. It should also have taken into account the obligations of the Paris Agreement, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibility in drawing up this third carbon budget proposal. Climate law sets a legal requirement for the CCAC to consider climate justice and the principle of Ireland's fair share in line with the further principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. We believe that, based on what the CCAC has already published, more research and analysis should be built into informing the finalisation of the third carbon budget and, indeed, a provisional fourth carbon budget. I am sorry we did not have the opportunity to table that amendment but I want to put that on the record, although we support the earlier budgets.
We in Ireland must do our fair share. This comes back to the point about responsibility and, in particular, global responsibility. We have spoken extensively in both Houses in recent months about the cost-of-living crisis and what needs to be done to alleviate the burden on ordinary people and on every household in Ireland. We know that the cost-of-living crisis, the energy security crisis as a result of the horrific war in Ukraine and the climate emergency are all strongly interlinked. Households throughout the country are struggling to meet the costs of housing, transport, childcare and more, in addition to rising energy and fuel costs. We are, however, a country that can do much more to support those who need supports with targeted measures while, in parallel, continuing on our path to end our reliance on fossil fuels. Some say Ireland is too small to made a difference but, looking at the global reality, 111 countries are the same size or smaller than Ireland. If they all said they were too small to make a difference, we would never reach global climate emissions reduction targets.
We need to do more in this country at every level and in all sectors. We speak every week about this but I was struck, in particular, by the recent words of Professor Kevin Anderson who addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. He contended that reaching a globally fair and equitable system of emissions cuts would require Ireland to reach net zero by 2029. This is much earlier than even those other European countries are proposing as their net zero dates. It is in that context that I emphasise we accept the need to pass these budgets without delay but to do so in a manner that will make it possible for us to improve upon our implementation and strategies to reach net zero.
We are told that without immediate and deep carbon emissions reductions across all sectors, it will not be possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C this century. Three years ago, noting the crisis we were in, this House voted to declare a climate emergency, but last weekend we learned from the UN IPCC just how critical this timing now is and how crucial it is that we act urgently, without any further delay, to implement the necessary measures. We have the targets in law. We need to do more to ensure they are reached before that very latest date of 2050 we have set for ourselves.
As my colleagues have mentioned, the IPCC report published on Monday made for grim reading. It did not tell us anything we do not know already. We are in a really dangerous situation with respect to climate. It was a hard scientific report put together by people who know what they are talking about. They have looked at the numbers. They have been looking at this for 30 years. The science is absolutely, categorically true: we are in a perilous situation with respect to our climate. The report says that by 2025, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak and then we must reduce them by 47% by the end of the decade if we are to maintain any hope of staying within the 1.5°C temperature rise over the pre-industrial average, which was the basis for the Paris Agreement.
The rate of growth of emissions has slowed to about 1.7% per year, and that is positive, but the chances of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5°C are very slim indeed. In fact we are on course for double that with an increase of 3°C. We are at about 1.2°C right now and with that, we can see the devastation that is causing. We can see it here in Ireland with droughts and very frequent storms and we are seeing it more across the world where the global poor are most affected. Two degrees of warming would lift sea levels by almost 60 cm or 2 ft. Beyond 2°C, and we are on course for 3°C, we do not know how bad it will be and what will happen. What we do know is that feedback loops will kick in and we will enter a chain reaction of global temperature rise that will be utterly catastrophic. It will lead the global ice melt to accelerate exponentially. That is a situation where many of the coastal cities of the world will be underwater. Much of the coastal communities that we know now will be uninhabitable. We are likely to see the collapse of ecosystems and our ability to produce food. That is the course we are on right now.
What is before this House is what the Climate Change Advisory Council has proposed as a carbon budget. The council is not a representative body and nor should it be. It is a collection of experts in the science of climate change as well as experts best placed to guide us in the transition away from a fossil-fuelled and carbon-intensive economy. I commend the chair of the council, Ms Marie Donnelly, who came before the committee. She really is a steady hand. She is a voice of reason and very measured. We owe a debt to her for the work that she has done on the council and in the production of this carbon budget. I also commend her colleagues on their work. I want to give particular praise to the carbon budget sub-committee. It came before the joint committee. I would like to name them all but there were so many of them, it would use all my time. We were really impressed by their contributions. The CCAC is required under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act, which this House overwhelmingly supported last summer, to produce three consecutive carbon budgets. The first two were required to be aligned with the legally-binding target that we cut greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030.
What is a carbon budget? It is a self-imposed ration on the amount of carbon we will release into the atmosphere. It is not a sectoral ceiling. Those will come later. I note from the Minister of State’s contribution that we are going to get them at the end of June. That will be interesting. I think the Government will propose ceilings for various relevant sectors such as transport, housing, agriculture, industry, electricity generation and so on. A necessary debate should happen then about what the appropriate sectoral emission ceilings are. But this is the carbon budget; the five-year maximum allocation of carbon that we will allow ourselves across society through to 2026. The second one will be through to 2030. The third, as proposed by the council, is provisionally through to 2035.
The challenge for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, which I chair, was to look at the proposal from the council and assess whether the proposal was appropriate, whether it was something we would endorse or reject or what we had to say about it. We undertook a highly extensive process and I commend colleagues, who are here this evening, on returning to the Houses early in the Christmas recess to do that work. It was a very comprehensive piece of work. As I said, we invited the carbon budget sub-committee of the CCAC. We invited other eminent scientists, including Professor Kevin Anderson who Deputy Bacik just mentioned. We invited in the social partners and had representatives from each of the pillars and we invited in officials from the Departments that will be most responsible for ensuring that the carbon budgets are not exceeded.
In the end the budgets, were endorsed by joint committee but not unanimously. It was a difficult process. We are a highly collaborative committee and each and every member works very hard and diligently, week in, week out. People took their positions fairly and legitimately. In the end we did endorse the proposed carbon budget by a strong majority. I respect those who have different views.
I very much welcome Sinn Féin’s position today. I value the contributions of Deputies O’Rourke and Cronin to the committee always. I am a bit taken aback by Deputy O'Rourke’s criticisms of the Government. It is a little unlike his contributions at the committee, but I might return to those later.
The Labour Party is a party with a reputation for constructive opposition and it is very serious about policy. It is a loss to the committee that we do not have a Labour representative.
We did try to make amends and I hope that we will continue to see Labour engage very positively on the climate debate. Deputy Whitmore is in the House. I do not want to pre-empt her contribution, but the Social Democrats are probably inclined to say that the carbon budget is not good enough and should go further. I hope I am not misrepresenting her position.
From People Before Profit-Solidarity, Deputy Bríd Smith is a valued member of the committee. I expect its position will be that we should also have a more demanding carbon budget. If anyone is saying we should not accept this carbon budget and that it should go further, I challenge them to show exactly how to achieve it. It is really important that we get beyond the rhetoric here and that we start to speak in numbers because this is an incredibly demanding carbon budget. Supporting a moratorium on data centre construction is a valid position to hold but how many megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent will that give us? Free public transport is also a legitimate position but how many megatonnes will that give us?
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act requires us to get from around 60 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent down to about 30 megatonnes in the space of eight years. Stopping the construction of data centres and providing free public transport is all very nice to say, but it is not going to do it. If anyone is going to say that we have to have a more demanding carbon budget, then people need to show us their alternative climate action plan and their alternative carbon budget and let us scrutinise it. Let us look at the numbers. If they cannot show us then their credibility on the question is in doubt.
Earlier, colleagues mentioned the opportunity Ireland has around the climate action plan. I will not quote Robert Frost again but we are at a fork in the road in this country's energy policy.
We have a choice in the medium to long term to decide what our energy future is going to be. Voices in this House are calling for us to double down on how we did things in the past. Liquefied natural gas, LNG, is not the future for Ireland. We have so much renewable energy, especially off our coasts. If we are confident as a nation and believe we are world leaders - as we might be in the provision of data centres - then we can be world leaders in rolling out renewable energy and we need to hear that across this House. We need to hear that ambition and that confidence. The idea we would fall back on fossil fuel technology, especially in light of what we heard from the IPCC earlier in the week, is utterly ridiculous. We should not do it. There is an opportunity for Ireland, with the assistance of Europe, to become the global leader in the development of floating offshore technology in particular and the development of not just green hydrogen technology but a green hydrogen economy. It is a completely different type of economy, and that is what we need.
We need to learn the lessons of 50 years ago when we went through a similarly energy crisis, namely, the oil crisis. After the oil crisis the countries of Europe looked at how they might guarantee their energy security. Some countries were brave and innovative and developed the renewable energy industry we know today. Ireland sat back and it built a coal-fired power station. That has left us with many of the problems we have today. Let us not make the same mistake again. Let us develop a renewable energy industry, a green hydrogen economy and let us not be conservative. Let us become suppliers of green and clean energy to Europe, as well as meeting our own needs.
In the few minutes I have remaining, I will address the carbon tax. It is not the case the carbon tax is the sole pillar of the Government's climate policy. It is one important measure and it is a very important one. The increase amounts to €1.50 per month for the average household. This €1.50 per month provides €20 per month for those who are on the fuel allowance. It provides €12 per month for those on the living alone allowance and €12 per month for those in receipt of qualified child payment. If we are serious about climate then we need to get serious about the carbon tax. While I welcome Sinn Féin's endorsement of this carbon budget, I would like to see it change its position on the carbon tax because it is absolutely necessary for us to achieve our climate targets.
I am glad to speak on this important issue. As a member of the climate committee I admit I am very worried we are running out of time. Worry is the only sane and sensible reaction given what our world is facing with climate change and its advance. According to the IPCC report we are facing major capital cities being underwater. We are facing unprecedented heatwaves. We have already seen these across Europe, with 1,000-year-old trees being burned and animals and people fleeing for their lives. We have increasing storms in the north Atlantic and even with all this water we are still facing water shortages that are going to impact the availability and lead to the displacement of people across the world. We will see the extinction of a million species of plants and animals. As the UN scientists said yesterday, it is now or never. It is all down to us, that is, to politics and politicians, to make that not happen. We decide the budgets, the limits and the laws that will decide our planet's future and that of every human and animal life form that lives on it. We politicians have the power to obliterate human civilisation or to save and though it will not be popular or comfortable, it definitely will not be managed by latté-levy sound bites, because the responsibility to save it is ours and ours alone. Big business, the big emitters and the big polluters that lead to the big heating and the sea-level rises all operate within the laws we make and uphold. Even here at home, the capitalist delirium has taken hold. You could be accused of treason for mentioning we should have a moratorium on data centres. While we have workers sleeping in tents, there is a multimillion euro property development on land not too far from here that is going to be underwater in around eight to ten years, based on the current emissions trajectory. That is not just going to happen in Dublin but in many capital cities. Flood risk rises as the sea rises and we already know the devastating damage that can be done by a single storm surge. I cannot mention rampant capitalism without mentioning the armaments industry, the war in Ukraine, the war in Yemen and other ongoing wars. The carbon emissions that come from the arms industry are disgusting.
Carbon budgets are always important but there is great urgency now. Sinn Féin supports the carbon budgets as prepared by the CCAC and this is consistent with our position on the climate Act and our support for emissions targets from 2030 to 2050. Though we support the targets, we have grave and growing misgivings about how they will be reached, and I will talk about the carbon tax. It is due on 1 May, which is May Day, the workers' day. The Government can spin it any way it wants but right now people do not have an alternative energy they can choose. How can you incentivise people to change their behaviour when their radiators are already off, their lights are off, the shower is banned and driving is confined to work and school? All this is happening in a country that has made a meme about turning off the immersion. The Government has let the cat out of the bag and the carbon tax is seen as a revenue-raiser and not as a means of behavioural change because the increase in costs has already caused a behaviour change yet the Government will not stop the forthcoming carbon tax increase. The people affected by this energy poverty are not packing up their EVs, loading the electric bike in the back and heading off to their holiday homes to measure them for solar panels. They are frantic about how they are going to deal with another cost hit deep in a cost-of-living crisis. Therefore, while we support the carbon targets we will also support the people who are most affected by these decisions and Sinn Féin will make no apology for that.
I am also worried bad policy and decisions will see us miss those targets. In the process we will not only accrue fines but abdicate our responsibility to humanity. People always talk about the planet, but the planet is grand. In fact, humanity is really the main problem on it. We are living on this planet in a parasitic way and we must learn how to live in harmony with it. We will continue to bring forward our own proposals, as with green hydrogen. I have co-sponsored a Bill with Deputy O'Rourke to create a national strategy on it. We need a strategy to rein in our ambitions. It is not going to happen with just ourselves. We agree on the carbon destination though we have a different view on how to get there. However, there is no doubt we must get there.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the carbon budgets in the Chamber. I am always quite torn when it comes to these kinds of debates because I understand the commitment parties like the Green Party in particular have had over many years on climate and environmental issues and the role that party has taken in the current Government in pushing for and driving many of the changes we need to see. I am also torn because as a parliamentarian, a scientist and a mother, Deputy Leddin is right that I want to see the Government doing more and want to see change happening in a faster, quicker and fairer way. Deputy Leddin asked what we would do. We are saying the Government should do more and make it happen faster.
My party has outlined its policies and put them down on paper. This is not about my party, however. It is about what the Green Party said it would do.
Deputy Leddin said that he wanted us to talk about numbers so I will give him one number tonight, a key number and that is 7%. During the negotiations to form a Government, one apparent red line was a 7% per annum reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That was a green line from the Green Party. It put 17 questions to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the first one was whether they would commit to an average annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 7%. Apparently, this was a red line for the party and it worked because the Green Party got it into the programme for Government. The programme for Government states that the Government is "committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse emissions". This is reiterated four times over two pages. There is reference to a 7% average reduction and yet when we get the carbon budgets and get the opportunity to scrutinise them, it turns out that it is not 7% but 5.7%.
Deputy Leddin is correct to state that we heard from some very eminent people during our discussions at the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. He is also correct in saying that the CCAC has very highly qualified and passionate members. Some very highly qualified and passionate scientists also appeared before the joint committee. One of those scientists, Professor Barry McMullin, indicated that while the programme for Government contains an explicit commitment to an average reduction in total emissions of 7% per year over the period 2021 to 2030, the current carbon budgets amount to an annual reduction of just under 6% per year. It was not just Professor McMullin and the other scientists who appeared before the joint committee who said this; the CCAC also said it. The council stated that in the scenarios considered by the joint committee, the average rate of emissions over the ten-year period covering the first two carbon budgets would be approximately 5.7% per annum. This is not something that I, independent scientists and various environmental NGOs are saying; it is the CCAC saying that the carbon budgets will not meet the 7% target.
We can talk about what other parties are doing, but the Green Party is in government. Ultimately, the 7% was written into the programme for Government. It was a key commitment and red-line issue for the Green Party but, unfortunately, the carbon budgets are not going to meet that promise.
Okay, so the organisation that deals in science, which is what Deputy Leddin said at the beginning of his contribution, is now interpreting. This is what the budgetary process has come out with. We had debates on this matter at the joint committee and I and other members of that committee repeatedly raised our concerns about it. Unfortunately, however, our concerns were not taken on board.
In terms of what we need to do, we can have all the plans we want, we can have carbon budgets, the climate action plan and the Act, but the real issue is implementation. That is the most important element. Often there is too much rhetoric, too many plans and not enough movement or action. When I look at the key actions promised by Government I absolutely hope that it gets this right because in three year's time when we are facing into another election, I do not want to realise that the targets are not being met and the implementation is not there. At that stage, we will not have the time to ramp up to get it done properly. I honestly and truly want this to happen and for the Government to get it right but on wind energy, for example, the sector is saying that we are not on target to meet the 2030 targets. Retrofitting is going to be an incredible challenge. The way in which the programme is being rolled out is not reflective of a just transition. A huge number of people in our communities will not be able to afford to retrofit their homes. We are relying on wealthier individuals who are in a position to either fund the work themselves or take out loans to do so. The majority of people are so stressed about feeding their children, buying school uniforms, making their mortgage repayments and paying for food and fuel that they will not be able to think about taking out loans in order to make their homes warm and comfortable, regardless of how much we need them to do that from a climate perspective. It makes sense that people would want their homes to be warm and comfortable, but they will not be in a position to get the necessary work done. That is a big gap with the retrofitting programme. It forgets about the low- and middle-income earners who will not be able to afford it.
When we talk about transport, we need to move people not into electric vehicles but onto public transport and yet I have not seen any improvements in my constituency. I have not seen the type of transformational change we need in transport. The Connecting Ireland plan, the whole purpose of which is to bring public transport to rural Ireland, which is where we really need to expand it, received €5 million in funding this year. That is a paltry amount. This must be transformational. We need to put everything into it and we need to do it quickly.
I also want to talk about consultation. In his speech, the Minister said there was consultation with the joint committee and the public and also input from the CCAC but we need to move beyond tick-the-box style consultation. Were any changes made to the carbon budgets as a result of the public consultation? How many people made submissions? They have not been published yet and there is no indication of the numbers who made submissions or whether their contributions were taken into account. I do not think there were any changes made as a result of the recommendations of the committee. There were 36 recommendations in its report. As Deputy Leddin said, we worked long and hard and passionately to bring forward those 36 recommendations and get agreement on them. I am interested to know if they were taken into account. Where is the public consultation? Will the Government be publishing that? Will people be able to see where their input was heard? That is really important. If we want people to engage in this process and if we want to bring communities along, we need to make sure that when they do participate, it means something. I ask the Minister to come back with details of what will happen with that consultation.
I will begin by taking up the point made by the previous speaker in respect of this and other issues with which the State is dealing whereby we tend to leave people behind. For me, consultation is extremely important. The outcome of that consultation is even more important.
We do not factor that in at the early stages in order to impress on people that their concerns, suggestions or ambitions are heard. In order to gain the support of people, we need to deal with the issues they are grappling with at this time.
The programme for Government was written at a time when we did not know what the financial impact of Covid would be. We did not know about the Russian war or the Brexit issues that continue to knock us off course in terms of our economic development. At today's meeting of the finance committee, at which we discussed many matters relating to this issue, we were told that there would be offsets. I do not know what those offsets will be. My concern is for those who cannot afford to heat their homes and those who are concerned about whether they will be able to afford their weekly shopping. I am concerned about the marginalised, the elderly and the sick. I wonder how they are going to afford this. Today, I am told there will be offsets. Does that mean that the offsets, in some way by payment through another means, will put the money back into the pockets of these people?
I listened to the Taoiseach when he said that nobody will be worse off. Today, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, indicated that that would be the case and that he is currently in negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his Department. We should know all of these things now so that we can tell our constituents that there is no need to worry and how this is going to work. If one were cynical about these things, one would say that it is like a three-card trick. On one side, the money comes and we honour our obligation to the environment, the programme for Government, the Green Party and anyone else - all of us in this House want to protect the environment - and, on the other, the money slips back out into the pockets of whomever is affected. That is what I take from it.
I want to highlight all of those people I have just mentioned and the fact that they need to know where they are going. A responsible Government that is concerned about its people and protecting them will explain in layman's language where we are going with this, what the cost will mean for people, businesses and farmers and how that cost will be offset for those who are in difficulty. The people in difficulty are many. For example, the contractors were in last week. They told us that they may not be able to get diesel to do their annual contracting work, be it in forestry or farming. They want diesel ring-fenced in order that they can be sure they will have a supply of it. That is not mention the cost of diesel. The farming community has stated that its inputs in terms of general farm work are significantly higher. In terms of the offsets we are being told will be there, what is in it for the farmers and the hauliers? Another group that is affected are the growers. For example, a man who is growing tomatoes down near Wexford told me his energy bill has increased to €100,000. He is dealing with the multiples. The multiples are dictating the price that they will pay for his produce. He will not be in business because he will not be able to carry that cost. There are other areas where the costs can be passed on. At the end of the day, it is the customer in the supermarket and so on who will pay the cost. If a company is being levied with a 7% or 10% diesel surcharge in order for the transport company to stay in business, because that company is not a charity it is going to pass on that charge to the customer, which inevitably will feed into the increased costs associated with food and everything else that comes from the supply line. As I said, every now and then, we will be hit with a Brexit issue which will knock everything off course.
In terms of retrofitting, those who are serious about their homes and the environment and want to sell back to the grid are not able to do that. At the moment, they get no credit for what is sent back to the grid. Again, it is a case of the cart being put before the horse. These are issues that should have been sorted out long before now in order for people to be convinced that they are part of what we are doing here in terms of regulation and carbon budgets, or any other budgets for that matter.
There are questions that are not being answered for them. All they hearing is the term "carbon tax" and they are relating that to the increases of one kind or another in food, energy and utility bills. In rural Ireland, it is very different than it is in urban centres where there is public transport and access to services and facilities. Earlier this week, the five Deputies representing Carlow-Kilkenny were asked on radio if we would car pool and travel here together. That may be a great idea. It may be an even better idea for us to use public transport but none of that meets our needs because there are different demands on each of us. There are different demands on the public. We do not have the public transport to allow us play our part in all of this. I would like to know what is going to be done about that.
Similarly, with respect, the Minister has suggested various ways and means by which households can contribute by cutting down on showers, car journeys and so on. It needs to be realised that families throughout the country are already doing that. At the various junctions on the ring road around our city and Carlow are cars that are parked up because people are sharing their transport to work, school or college in another county. That is already happening. Some people are doing that because of the environment. Most are doing it because they cannot afford the cost.
In regard to the price of oil and so on, the rate of mineral oil tax on 1,000 l was €120 in March. It is set to increase further to €138 and then to €158. Likewise, with petrol. We cannot escape the fact that this is all being put upon the shoulders of people that are already carrying a burden in terms of their financial circumstances such that it is impossible for them to make ends meet or to participate fully in the development of a sound green economy with positive impacts for the environment. They want to play their part. I have never before seen at my clinics so many people who are suffering some form of poverty. It may be that they have cut down on all sorts of things or that they cannot afford to pay for certain things. There are those on low incomes and some in the squeezed middle who are so tied up in debt they too are experiencing difficulties. We have to understand that in this House. We cannot continue to impose extra charges on them. I am not against carbon tax, as I stated publicly during the week, but I want a sensible approach to it. If that sensible approach involves offsets, then I would like to know what those offsets are. If Europe is looking at the possibility of reducing VAT or allowing us to reduce VAT, then tell us that.
Plan for the short term and the long term. Explain to the people we represent the different steps we will take along that journey. If that happens, we might not hear scary stories from people who are concerned because they are running businesses and finding it hard to make a profit or are not making a profit. Farmers and others are in the same boat as businesses generally. They are uncertain about the future. We cannot forget those people living on the poverty line. They too are watching what we are doing and how we are doing it, and considering how it will impact their lives.
I ask the Government to tell us please what the offsets are. I ask it to tell us what it is doing about VAT at European level. I ask it to stop sending out messages that are confusing people. Stop telling people to cut back on different things in their homes and businesses and understand that people are already doing those things our of necessity. Listen to the various groups that come to us and plead with us to listen to their case. Bring forward some form of package to assist them. The Government should reach out to those people and tell them what plan it has.
My problem is the lack of information that the public is getting. It is getting mixed messages. Perhaps as a result of pressure applied by backbenchers or the Opposition, the Government has finally come to the point where in dealing with the carbon tax, it is going to have offsets and Europe is going to reduce VAT. People must plan now for the future. Business plans for the future. All I am asking is that we would hear about any plans in the House so we can tell the people we represent about the plan in order to reduce their worry and concern. There is enough of that in life as it is. There are enough people suffering form all sorts of illnesses and mental issues as it is. I call on the Government to be helpful rather than vague.
All of us understand and agree that this motion on carbon budgets is about setting the destination to which we want to get. We all share a common bond in our desire to get to that destination. Where we may have disagreements is in the route that we take. There are, of course, difficulties for many sectors when we get into this issue and try to deal with it. There are also opportunities for many sectors and we should not forget that. We all acknowledge that.
The farming sector is one of the areas that has the most difficulty. The people in that sector are very concerned about the situation. The farmers in my part of the world are mainly beef and suckler farmers who sell their cattle on. They are fearful that their whole model of farming will come under pressure. They anticipate pressure being put on them to reduce the herd but at the same time they see Europe, which we are all part of, doing trade deals with places like Latin America, where they are talking about cutting down rainforests in order to allow more beef to be produced. Those rainforests are, or were, the lungs of the earth. That interconnectedness is not lost on the ordinary farmers in Ballinagleragh or Ballysadare or anywhere like that. They are keyed in and understand the situation. They are angry that these things are being foisted on them and they see an unfairness in all of it. That needs to be addressed. It is not enough to tell farmers and people in the farming sector that there are going to be opportunities. It needs to be spelt out to them where those opportunities are and how they are going to be delivered.
I attended a farmers' meeting approximately four years ago. Someone at that meeting was talking about putting solar panels on the roofs of farmers' sheds and how it was going to be an opportunity for farmers. I have been listening to that proposal since I came into this House in 2016 and it still has not happened. I cannot for the life of me understand why. With all due respect to the Green Ministers and the Green Party members of the Government, I would have expected the Green Party to have sorted that out quickly when it got into government. That is just one example.
The other issue about the opportunities that may arise is the doubt around the income that is possible to be generated. Farmers, and everyone else in society, want to see what opportunities there are. If we are talking about new green energy, a new green programme and a new sustainable future, there must be opportunities in that. There must be jobs and incomes for people. We need to see where those opportunities are going to be and how we can deliver them.
There is a retrofitting scheme in place at the moment. I have met several people, as I am sure all of us have, who have come to my office and asked when, where and how they can get the grant. Most of us do not have answers for them. We should have. We should be able to tell them whether they will qualify or not. We should be able to tell them what rate of grant they are going to get and how they can source it. The biggest question they have is who is going to do the work for them. They want to know where the materials are going to come from. Those are real and serious problem that people have.
There is general consensus on our carbon budgets and where we want to get to over the coming years. There is also general consensus in the community. Most ordinary people have a keen understanding that this is something they can do. They want to work at it and pursue those goals. They want a more sustainable future for their children and their children's children but they need assistance. There is a bit of a disconnect in being able to deliver that.
We often meet people who ask us about the retrofitting scheme. An elderly person who wants to get a grant to put new windows into a house can approach the local authority. He or she will then be told that if their household income is less than €30,000, a 95% grant is available. If their income is more than €40,000, a 50% is available. If their income is between €50,000 and €60,000, a 30% grant is available. No grant is available if one has an income higher than €60,000. That is logical and clear. Why can we not take a similar approach when it comes to retrofitting houses? Why can we not say that the people who are on the smallest incomes and trying to manage while raising a family can get a higher level of grant and those with higher incomes, perhaps €100,000 or more, will get a much lower grant? Why can we not do that to try to bring balance back into the situation? That is one of the things that really frustrates people.
The big issue is the access to funding. We are told that a large part of the issue relates to energy and where we get our energy from. I certainly feel there are big opportunities in green energy, offshore wind and solar power. However, we need investment. The Government needs to be prepared to say that the investment will have to come first. We need big investment from the Government to be able to deliver those alternative energy sources. We need to be able to produce clean green energy. There is no point in people having electric cars when the energy that is driving those cars is coming from a gas-fuelled power station or some other fossil fuel power station.
We need to get this right. We are all in it together and we understand that. The destination is clear but the route to it is unclear for many people. The real job of the Government is to make a clearer route for people.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"having reflected on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, declines to accept the carbon budgets presented for 2021-2025 and for 2026-2030 as: — they are not aligned with the State's commitments entered into under the Paris Agreement; and
— therefore, calls on the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications to consult with the Climate Change Advisory Council in order to amend the budgets accordingly; and further calls for a revision in the third budget to ensure it reflects our climate obligations based on the latest science and the principles of climate justice.".
I will go through the amendment in order to make it clear to people what we are saying. We propose the deletion of the current motion agreeing to the current inadequate carbon budgets. We replace it with text stating that having reflected on the most recent IPCC report, the Dáil declines to accept the carbon budgets presented for 2021 to 2025 and for 2026 to 2030 as they are not aligned with the State's commitments entered into the treaty signed in Paris in 2015, and calls on the Minister to consult with the advisory council to amend the budgets accordingly. Our amended motion further calls for a revision in the third budget to ensure it reflects our climate obligations based on the latest science and the principles of climate justice.
Listening to this debate, I must ask what we are doing here. It is only days since the third working group report of the IPCC. The co-chair has told us that it is now or never if we are going to avoid going over 1.5°C. The UN Secretary General put it adroitly and accurately when he stated: "Some government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying."
The IPCC report is clear that we are on a trajectory to absolute disaster and catastrophe and the only thing that can avert it is deep economic and structural change or, in other words, a complete revolution in how are societies and economies are organised. Instead of taking action, most of the people and political parties here, including the Green Party, and the world, are just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Even worse than that, we are pushing the Titanicfurther into the water through the EU signing up for a long-term deal with the US to ensure demand for 50 billion cu. m of US liquefied natural gas until at least 2030. We are signing up for more fossil fuels and more fossil fuel infrastructure that will then have to be used for decades to produce a profit.
What we have before us is simply not in line with the science. The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, who is a member of the Green Party, earlier anticipated that we in People Before Profit would make the argument that the budgets presented are not adequate. He knew we would do that because he was at that committee meetings when scientist after scientist said very clearly that this was not enough and would not contribute to staying under 1.5°C of global warming. He went on to say he does not think free public transport is the answer and that he does not think banning data centres will help. I happen to think that it will. What we need is a significant reduction in energy usage and material throughput, on a global basis, but that can be done in a way that also improves people's lives with measures such as free public transport, a four-day week without loss of pay, retrofitting and saying we do not need data centres with all the algorithms and everything else. Let us use the energy we have to improve people's lives.
Deputy Leddin does not agree with those measures. That is fine; no problem. However, let us at least start with carbon budgets that are based on science. Then we can work out what policies we need to get there. We do not have that to start with. It is a complete abject failure by the Government and the Green Party that they have brought forward carbon budgets that simply do not measure up. What is contained in the carbon budgets is less than what is in the programme for Government. What is in the programme for Government is less than the EU commitments. The EU commitments are less than what is demanded in the Paris Agreement. Bit by bit, there is a complete disconnection from what the science is saying. That is because these budgets are attuned to political realities, rather than making the case to people about what we need to do and then finding a way to do it. We think it can be done in a way that improves the lives of ordinary people as opposed to making their lives harder.
The overall target in the Act of a 51% cut in emissions by 2030 is insufficient. It is particularly insufficient when taking into account the obligations set out in the Paris Agreement "to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances". Ireland is a developed country. It is the fifth wealthiest country in the world per capita, although obviously most people do not feel that; it is the billionaires who feel it. That is why we need a much faster trajectory. We should be aiming for a zero-carbon economy by 2030.
Second, the budgets make no provision for, or do not account for, emissions from shipping or aviation. For a country like Ireland, that is quite an omission. We are just going to ignore these emissions. We are not going to count them on our balance sheet and other countries will not count them on their balance sheets. That way, we all sail on towards catastrophe with our eyes wide open but everyone can pat themselves on the back because they had a carbon budget. The carbon budgets use a baseline of 2018. It is not 1990, which is what we should use, and not even 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed. The consequence is that we get higher budgets than we would otherwise be allowed if we used a baseline of 2020. It does not even include the Government's own programme for cuts of 7% per annum. The eminent scientist Professor Barry McMullin calculates that these budgets amount to an average of 6% worth of reductions per year, and that the CCAC's budget amounts to 495 metric tonnes of CO2equivalent, not 468, which is how much it would be if a 7% cut per year was delivered.
The budgets are also less ambitious than what is recommended by the EU. The EU looked for cuts of 55% by 2030, rather than 51%, and uses 1990 as the base year rather than 2018. If 1990 was used in the advisory council's carbon budgets, they would provide for a reduction of just 45%, not 51%. There is clever accounting going on to try to pretend that something closer to the science is being done here. The budgets are less ambitious than the United Nations Environment Programme's emissions gap report, which called for cuts from 2020 to 2030 of 7.6% per year to be in with a 50:50 chance of limiting warming to under 1.5°C.
The carbon budgets are not compliant with the Paris Agreement and its obligation to reduce emissions in a fair and equitable way between richer nations and poorer ones. Quite outrageously, the Climate Change Advisory Council essentially says this is not its job. It states, "It is not the job of the Council or the Carbon Budget Committee to make such value judgements." Conversely, the point was made by scientist Dr. Andrew Jackson that, according to the climate Act, "CCAC is specifically required by law ... to carry out its functions in a manner consistent with implementation of the Paris Agreement 'to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities". The carbon budgets back-load the cuts to the second budget, with cuts of just 4.8% per year for the first five years and cuts of 8.3% for the second five-year budget. As well as the political reality that this Government will be gone, the consequence of that is that any slippage in the first five years, and there already is some slippage, will be very hard to fix in subsequent years. Some stuff takes time - there is no question about that - but there are things that could be done immediately, like, for example, free public transport, rolling out mass retrofitting, and so on.
A very concerning point was made in the most recent IPCC report. It noted that the whole world, including these carbon budgets, is reliant on the deployment of vast unproven future technologies to deliver net-zero by 2050. The advisory council itself admits that future targets rely on carbon capture and storage technology, massive carbon sequestration and land use that is neither planned for nor possible at present. That is like relying on a future fairy tale presented to us by some of the techno-modernists who suggest we do not really need to worry about this today because a magic solution is around the corner, as opposed to dealing with the science that is presented before us.
At the committee, Deputy Bríd Smith proposed reductions of a further 67 metic tonnes of CO2equivalent to account for aviation and shipping emissions, as well as our obligations under the Paris Agreement, but all of those amendments were rejected by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. For that reason, we should not accept these budgets. We should send them back and come back with budgets that are actually in line with the science.
I have great respect for my constituency colleague, Deputy Paul Murphy, and he makes very compelling arguments. The difference between being on the Opposition benches and these benches is that governments have to govern. Revolution along the lines of which he is talking might be welcome, desirable even-----
I am just wondering about time needed, given the pace at which change takes place. I was reminded continuously during the Deputy's contribution of the movie "Don't Look Up". Therein lies the challenge. I am thinking of the Acting Chairman, who has some very young children. If they understood half of what was going on - given their youth, not their lack of intelligence - they would wonder why we are not being more urgent about this.
What is frustrating for someone like me is we were here having this same debate a number of years ago. That is where one of the differences is. In a previous contribution I praised the Greens because they have kept this item on the agenda and initiated this as a topic of conversation when no one wanted to know about it. They persisted and politics and society owe them a debt for that, which can often be easy to underestimate. They did so when it was politically unpopular but this issue has now gone mainstream, which is a welcome development. I often offer constructive criticism to the Minister in that he has been radical on the macro stuff, which is important because it embeds measures in law and that has been done for the first time here. He deserves great credit for that, as do his Government partners for negotiating the agreement on it with him. It is the micro things that appeal to people on the ground because it is in those areas that people can make a significant difference in the way they live their lives, do things and contribute to the reduction of their individual carbon footprint and they can be proud of that.
I know Members started to talk about the carbon tax this evening and I do not blame them for doing so because it is topical but carbon budgeting is essentially trying to reduce the carbon emissions on an annual basis and it is about setting particular targets to achieve that. It is well past time for this to even be debated but I used to be strong in my opinion on the following point. Countries like Denmark regionalise those budgets and I would have thought that carbon budgeting on a local authority basis would have been a competitive and attractive thing in Ireland. It would have also given individuals in each county, residential area and parish a sense of pride, for example, if somebody converted to a hybrid or electric car in a parish that would result in a reduction in the carbon footprint of that parish for the year and that kind of thing could be measured on a league table basis. We go for the national carbon budgeting and I understand why that is so. To have localised it more might have made it a little bit more understandable.
I have mentioned some of the changes previously. I got a lift from a taxi driver recently and I said this at a recent parliamentary party meeting. He availed of the €25,000 grant for an electric vehicle and had to borrow a little on top of it. He bought it from a supplier and the supplier claimed the grant from the National Transport Authority, which resulted in the taxi driver paying substantially less and then having to claim back. The reduction was front-loaded for the taxi driver. We should look at doing that for people who are retrofitting their houses and let the contractor apply for the grant. That would open up retrofitting to an awful lot more people because what puts them off retrofitting is that there is a big grant but they have to have a lot of money in their pockets to avail of that big grant whereas if the onus was on the contractor being employed under certain protocols to claim the grant back then people would need substantially less money to start going for retrofits in the first place. We should have introduced e-scooters on the city bike rental scheme two years ago. Imagine the reduction in our carbon footprint if we had brought them in. Imagine if, as I have mentioned for three years, we had allowed companies that purchased e-bikes for their employees to claim 100% of the cost of that back in tax. Imagine how many electric bikes there would be on our streets in our urban areas and cities if that had happened and the reduction there would have been in our carbon footprint. Those are the things that make meaningful differences to people's lives and allow them to make a tangible impression on the reduction of our carbon footprint.
I know the Ceann Comhairle has stepped out but I want to pay tribute to him for hosting President Zelenskyy earlier. He spoke passionately and emotively from the heart and he represented the views of the people of Ireland. I commend the Minister, who also spoke most eloquently. It was wonderful to hear him namecheck and quote some of the 21 previous speakers who had addressed the Houses. It put the momentum of today in context. I congratulate him on that.
On the business at hand, we are facing the perfect storm. On the one hand we are warned of impending environmental doom if we do not take decisive action and, on the other, we have hard-pressed families throughout the country creaking at the seams and desperately trying to make ends meet. While everybody in this Chamber is well insulated from the worst of the crisis, our communities are ravaged by a cost-of-living crisis. Some would have us choose between the environment and aiding these families in the deepest and darkest of financial hardship as we face into potential double digit inflation. I hasten to add that inflationary pressures will not abate and will ultimately wipe out any potential pay rises on a whim. It is possible and incumbent on us to tackle both challenges.
We cannot control the war in Ukraine or oil prices. We are a price taker, not an oil producer, and all these issues are beyond us but we must go to the kernel of the issue and make any and every effort to address the cost-of-living challenge. We can take real and meaningful actions to assist families who are struggling. We have heard many calls to pause the carbon tax but the impact of doing that will be minuscule. A reduction in VAT will assist and I commend An Taoiseach on his efforts at EU level in this regard. I also welcome the comments in recent days from him that he, the Cabinet and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, are working towards a series of cost-of-living support measures that will hopefully be announced towards the end of the month. The only way to genuinely help families in this time of crisis is if we put money directly back into their pockets. We have already seen a significant Exchequer boost in VAT revenues as a result of soaring fuel costs. That money needs to be ring-fenced and put directly back into the pockets of those who have been worst affected. We have the means and mechanisms in place that will allow us to directly address these issues.
We have to further broaden the eligibility for the fuel allowance and we also need to allow departmental officials flexibility and discretion when it comes to awarding the payment. If people are €5 or €10 over the income threshold for the fuel allowance that should not preclude them from receiving it in this time of crisis because the reality is that a bale of briquettes costs €6 and €10 will not buy a half bag of coal. To be arguing with somebody over €5 or €10 when it comes to applying for the fuel allowance seems derisory and insulting in this case. We also need a once-off fuel allowance payment in the month of May. This will cushion people into the summer as they prepare for the worst excesses of what will have been a difficult winter. This should be a full payment of €914 because the average oil bill is in the region of €720 and average electricity bills are in the order of €500. There is also a compelling case to be made to extend the fuel allowance to family carers as the carer's payment is not a qualifying payment for the fuel allowance. In addition, it is estimated that one in five family carers is not in receipt of a carer's payment. It is important that we extend the eligibility of the fuel allowance to many of these households because they are the ones that have been most adversely affected by the cost of fuel and these are the families that needed the heat most over the hard winter months.
I refer to the hard-pressed middle income families who heretofore have seen no break, help or assistance apart from an electricity credit of €200 and whatever benefit they gleaned from the reduction in fuel excise duty. We have an immediate and ready solution that can address the issues for these people. We have a network of community welfare offices across the country and among those numbers we can count some of the hardest working, most efficient and most empathetic civil servants we have in this country. They have their fingers on the pulse and they can see first-hand the challenges and difficulties that families are facing on a daily basis.
We need to give these community welfare offices a once-off fund, derived from money ring-fenced from the windfall from VAT on fuel in recent months. We should allow hard-pressed middle income families to access that fund. That is the only way that we will address the crisis that families across the country are facing. We need to start putting money back into their pockets. These are real changes that will make a meaningful difference and will not be hoovered up by energy companies, as we have seen so far.
This is not a debate about them or us or about environmentalists versus climate sceptics. An Taoiseach put it most eloquently earlier this week when he said it is about safeguarding the future for our children and their children. It is also about safeguarding the people in our communities, who need us now more than ever. They are turning to us with voices of despair and anger. They are asking for us, as a Government and legislators, to do something meaningful and tangible, by putting money back into their pockets to take the pressure off them. I have outlined three or four tangible measures and solutions that could address the cost of living crisis and could directly affect more than 700,000 households throughout the country. At the same time, crucially, we can do this. We can make a real and meaningful difference to those households. At the same time, we can maintain momentum on the environmental challenge that looms large for the world.
Several people contacted me about increases in carbon tax on foot of this debate. These carbon budgets are not to be confused with the upcoming increases in carbon tax proposed by Government. Sinn Féin will oppose the increase carbon tax. It is out of touch with the increase in the cost of living, as was said by the Minister's colleague just before me, that ordinary workers and families must endure.
The Government is still doing many things that increase emissions rather than reduce them. Data centres are still being added to the grid. There was a bad policy by the previous Government that wanted to make Ireland the data capital of the world. This plan gave no consideration to the impact that this would have on carbon emissions. The current Government is standing by idly as the volume of electricity that data centres use could reach 30% of all electricity used in the State by 2030. This Government is great at making targets, but it does not actually achieve many. While we support the targets laid out in this document, I am not optimistic that the Government will achieve them.
Sinn Féin will continue to hold the Government to account and we will criticise, but we will also bring forward alternative solutions to help us achieve these targets in a fair and just way. For example, my colleague, Deputy Darren O'Rourke, introduced the Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill, which called on Government to prepare a comprehensive hydrogen strategy. Inaction from successive Governments has left us lagging when it comes to the development of our offshore wind potential. Unfortunately, we seem to be repeating the same mistake when it comes to green hydrogen. Sinn Féin has a plan to resolve this and Sinn Féin in government would resolve this.
As the Minister knows, much of the debate about our 2030 and 2050 emissions targets has focused on energy, transport and agriculture. I would like to shift the focus to the built environment. Approximately 30% of our emissions come from the built environment, 20% from operational emissions relating to energy use and efficiency, and approximately 10% from the embodied carbon and materials used in the building of new infrastructure, homes, roads, schools, hospitals and so on. My colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, earlier outlined our support for an ambitious, just retrofitting plan, and his concerns with respect to the plan presented by Government. Even if the Government meets all of its targets, while operational emissions in the built environment will reduce, under the NDP, embodied carbon emissions are likely to increase unless we take significant action. Last year, the Irish Green Building Council published a good report that outlined many pathways to reduce embodied emissions. Both the Minister and this side of the House would fully agree on their implementation. If we are serious about reducing embodied carbon, then we have to accept that whatever we build in the future has to be built differently. We have to consider what is built, and how and where it is built.
I will make some concrete suggestions about areas where our party would be happy to work alongside the Government in future to reduce those embodied carbon emissions. We have to accept a clear phase-out target for high-carbon cement, not unlike what we have done with gas boilers as part of near-zero energy buildings. We should set a date, on foot of the sectoral emissions targets that were announced, for phasing out high-carbon cement, both for concrete and bricks. The technology is available in Ireland to produce lower-carbon cement and concrete products. It costs exactly the same as older technology and there is no reason we cannot have an ambitious phase-out for those projects.
We have to shift away from high-carbon products such as steel, cement and concrete to the new technologies that are being used much more comprehensively in Scandinavia, Britain, France and continental Europe. A number of good small companies in Ireland produce high-quality timber products, not for timber-framed homes, but for a completely new form of technology for building houses, schools and other public buildings. In many cases, it is zero-carbon and, in some cases, the emissions content is negative carbon. More importantly, it is cheaper, faster and higher quality. We need Government to be far more ambitious in the use of these technologies. If it is, it will have our active support. That also means we need to address issues with planning. We need to see the new rural planning guidelines published to make sure they complement all of these strategies. We need to have far more mid-rise, high-density development in our cities and town centres. We want to work with the Minister on these areas. We urge him to be ambitious. If he is, he will have active support from our party on this side of the House.
I learned from a constituent in the past couple of days that it is the practice of the ESB to apply a low usage charge at a fixed rate of €38.28 for a 66-day period. The low usage charge applies when usage drops below 125 kWh. It is the practice of a State-owned body to penalise consumers for reducing their electricity consumption. The Minister currently encourages consumers to reduce the time they spend in the shower and to change the times they use their washing machines and dishwashers, with other such measures to reduce their ESB bills, in the full knowledge that this is a complete fallacy, as those low-income earners and pressed middle class people will be the subject of a low usage charge if they take his advice.
It is patently clear that he is completely out of touch with reality and the challenges facing those on middle incomes in Ireland. Will he explain why Electric Ireland is allowed to apply higher standing charges to those customers who use low volumes of electricity? Surely any sensible energy or climate policy should reward those who use less energy rather than punishing them? Last year, I was one of only ten Deputies to vote against the climate action legislation. My decision is now vindicated, especially when I see the consequences for the people of rural Ireland. My opposition to the Bill was not as a climate change denier but as a realist. My opposition is because I know the solutions being proposed to deal with climate change are contradictory and ineffective, and will tax the poorest in society.
This practice of charging higher fees for people who use less electricity is another example in a long list of contradictions when it comes to the Government's approach to climate change. Different members of Government seem to be attributing the blame for the cost-of-living crisis to the invasion of Ukraine. The reality is that the biggest cause of the crisis has been the implementation of poorly thought-out energy policies that have resulted in rising costs, coupled with the consequences of Brexit. These policies include shutting down energy production in Ireland and instead importing peat from eastern Europe, banning gas exploration and instead buying Russian gas abroad, and imposing carbon taxes on fuel and home heating oil and then applying VAT on the tax. These are just some examples of how Government behaviour has contributed to the current problems.
The climate action Bill is about carbon credits, another fallacious policy. It basically states that the Government does not care how much CO2 is emitted, as long as it is outsourced to some other country.
Government policy penalises our own farmers with taxes, regulations and charges, while indirectly encouraging imported products from places such as Brazil, where thousands of acres of rainforests have been removed to create room to meet their farming needs. These have been produced in an environmentally unfriendly way and then transported here using the very fuel that the Government is trying to encourage us not to use. In full view of the obvious headwinds that face our small island economy, the Government is hell bent on proceeding with an increase in carbon tax. It appears that the Government does not realise that raising prices will make inflation worse. It is willing to ignore the facts that this would penalise the most marginalised in society. It is prepared to ignore the obvious, disastrous consequences for our economy in terms of unemployment and wage demands.
The people need initiatives that will deal with inflation, not initiatives that will compound inflation. All of this is at a time when our economy faces serious challenges as a result of the war and of the energy crisis. Let me just highlight again who these carbon taxes affect the most. They affect the people on lower and middle incomes. These are the people who spend the highest percentage of their income on essentials, such as heating and food. Low-income earners are the least able to afford to retrofit houses, or to buy a new electric vehicle. Retrofitting will benefit those who are on higher incomes, not the squeezed middle. People in rural areas of Ireland do not have the facility of public transport to avail of to replace their car journey or to go to work to help to reduce their carbon footprint. They mostly have no choice but to use their car which, today, they can no longer afford.
Carbon taxes are anti-poor, anti-rural and anti-logic and should not be implemented without first having an alternative that the consumer can avail of. If the carbon tax increase goes ahead in May, it would be another clear public demonstration that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are willing to ignore the struggling people and, instead, capitulate once again to the Green Party’s agenda in order to ensure that the Government does not fall. It is not too late for the Government to do the right thing. I say it again: the Government must remove its 55% tax take from all fuel until the war is over and until risks have abated. It will save jobs, it will save the economy and it will maintain the standard of living.
When I put this proposal to the House two months ago, some in the Government condemned it as the madness from a mad cow. It appears some economists are now catching the same mad cow disease and are agreeing with that proposal. Today, David McWilliams noted a similar view, as did others on this side of the House. Thankfully, they are now beginning to see these policies being of no benefit to the people. Events are beginning to resemble 2008 more and more by the day. The application of carbon taxes is Cromwellian and will tax the majority in society into penury. The people will not stand for it and neither will I.
Ireland has set itself the ambitious targets of a 50% reduction in carbon output by 2030 and of carbon neutrality by 2050. The recent IPCC report again outlines the significant challenges that are facing mankind and our need to prevent global temperature increases above 1.5°C over the coming years and decades. We need to significantly change our consumption habits and our energy use if we are to have any hope of achieving these goals set out in the climate policy. We must play our part, but climate goals must be implemented in the fairest way possible to ensure that no parts of our economy are targeted through unjust climate emission reduction targets. I am referring here most pointedly to the agricultural sector and specifically to the national herd.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, mentioned in his introduction the plans to reduce chemical nitrogen through the use of multi-seed pastoral land sward. I fully support this policy. In fact, I accompanied the Minister of State on a visit to Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and specifically, to the agricultural area of WIT. Significant research has been ongoing there on the development of pastoral land sward, with the stated intention of reducing chemical nitrogen and emissions. Despite the Minister of State’s aspirations to developments in this area, I can tell him that a funding application to further enhance the living laboratory project, which is ongoing at WIT and which is central to the pastoral land research there, was refused funding by our national research bodies. They are obviously working to a different agenda than the Minister of State.
In the south east, where the agrifood sector is the most significant economic driver, and where dairy, beef, lamb and tillage production are economically and culturally intertwined, I would like to see actions to back up the Minister of State's statements around developing options for reducing agricultural emissions. Multi-seed sward, reducing chemical nitrogen and fertilisers, rotating feed stocks, wet lands and tree planting all have a part to play in reducing farm emissions. These must be fully considered before any sectoral targets are announced that would reduce our national herd. The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, mentioned Government plans to introduce a new forestry plan. I am not sure what a new plan is going to do, considering the deficits within the existing plan that have been outlined to the Government for over two years and that have not properly addressed the situation as yet. We can all agree with more afforestation. We can all agree with more carbon sequestration. However, how is this to be achieved if we cannot manage the regulatory environment in over two years to help deliver it?
The Minister of State also highlights the need for Ireland to get moving on its renewable generation, particularly on wind. I have mentioned in the House before the slow development of the maritime area regulatory authority, which will be charged with overseeing the planning of our offshore sea area. Nothing has been announced by way of wind port investment for Rosslare. We have all heard how Ireland may have up to ten times its national required wind energy generation offshore. It is just waiting to be tapped on our eastern, southern and western coasts. However, who is going to tap it? Where is the evidence that we in Ireland are trying to create a skillset in understanding manufacturing and deploying offshore wind energy? Despite all the talk of the vibrant potential industrial sector opportunity that could await for this country, where is the evidence that we are developing science and understanding in this area, that we are implementing in our colleges and our institutes of technology, that we are incentivising research and development grants to engineering companies in this area to pursue wind science and development? The truth, as far as I can see it, is that we would sell the family silverware yet again by allowing overseas conglomerates to enter our maritime area, to develop commercial wind generation here and to run off and make profits that will be taken overseas. They will maximise the export potential of our wind, while paying us a pittance in licence fees, all the while charging us up the wazoo for the energy generation that is lying off our shores that we have failed and are failing to capitalise on.
I see no urgency to radically transform how we do business and governance in this country, how we strategically plan, how and who we make responsible to deliver on our stated goals. We can talk electric cars, wind generation, hydrogen fuel manufacture, biogas and organic digestion, yet we have implemented nothing nationally to adopt any of these technologies to date. We can talk retrofitting of houses in the midst of the construction crisis, all the while ignoring the complete lack of workers available to deliver on these projects.
The climate action plan can be simply referenced as the need to significantly reduce national production of greenhouse gases. Deputies such as myself have agreed in principle to support the actions of the Government in a national climate agenda. I, for one, have had enough of the copious hot air generation that has surrounded much of these debates over the past 20 months. We now need to see real intent and a visible, balanced plan with real delivery targets and real accountability for those charged with implementing it. We must do a climate action plan, but we must do it fairly and we must ensure that it takes account of the most vulnerable in our society and in our country, and that it does not damage into the future Ireland’s ability to compete internationally.
It was not as funny as that. That might not seem in any way germane to what we are discussing, but I learned a really important lesson that day. I learned what happened when human excuses meet immutable, external realities. I bargained in my training.
I told myself I was too tired or busy that day or that I probably had enough done and would catch it up later. I took my excuses out onto the roads of Dublin on an October bank holiday weekend and found out by mile 21 that the road just did not care what excuses I had prepared for myself. I feel that, to some extent, we are doing the same with the climate challenge. We are bargaining.
The language we use is that the science is not clear or the measures are too hard and unpalatable, that the consequences are too far away in terms of time or geography, or that we are small while others are big. The atmosphere just does not care. As we change its composition through human activity, it simply traps more and more of the sun's energy. The science is clear and the impact and effects of climate change are no longer far away. They are being felt and experienced in the here and now and will continue to intensify in the years and decades ahead.
If that was not abundantly clear before, the latest IPCC report published this week has made it so. One of the IPCC working group co-chairs, Mr. Hans-Otto Pörtner, stated:
The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.
I will admit that cost me sleep on Monday night as I listened to the breathing of my three sleeping boys in the other room. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 is part of our Government's response to that call to action. The carbon budgets being discussed this evening are an outworking of that legislation.
A figure of 500 billion tonnes of CO2emissions is the global carbon budget that scientists predict will give us a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. That translates to 62 tonnes per person worldwide, which in turn translates to approximately seven years of current per capita emissions each year in Ireland, or fewer than five years if we include agriculture. Total greenhouse gas emissions covered in the carbon budgets are 68.3 megaton CO2equivalent in 2018. These numbers are mind-boggling, to be honest, but we must make sense of them. The baseline year that our climate Act sets out is 2018. The first two carbon budgets must, therefore, be consistent with a reduction of emissions of 33.5 megaton CO2equivalent in 2030.
The proposed carbon budgets set us on a path to achieve a necessary climate neutrality by 2050 and present the potential to better our resilience to climate change and protect and restore biodiversity. They also meet the temperature objectives required of us within the Paris Agreement for temperature rise of below 1.5°C.
I share some concerns around the backloading of targets into the latter half of this decade. We must be honest with ourselves, however, and acknowledge that many of the bigger measures that are required will take time to put in place. We set out an average reduction of 4.8% per annum for the first budget period from 2021 to 2020, an average of 8.3% from 2026 to 2030, and in the third period, which is a provisional budget reduction target, an average of 3.5% year on year.
Following on from passing these budgets, we also need to ensure we deliver beart de réir briathar, that we deliver on these actions. Ms Marie Donnelly, chair of the CCAC, pointed out there is already a "significant [implementation] gap between climate action policy and climate action ... [delivery]". She went on to note, "Ireland’s failure to meet its targets is due to not matching the ambition of plans with timely and complete delivery of actions." Deputy Shanahan alluded to many of those things in that we need to speed up in our implementation. We have to go further faster, and I heard calls earlier to go deeper and be more ambitious with our climate targets. I would be all for that but we need to be able to tackle this climate challenge in a way that brings people with us, and, as the Minister often says, this is already a challenge beyond compare.
At the start this year, Mr. Ian Talbot, who is the CEO of Chambers Ireland, spoke about decisions made, or perhaps not made, by the State to lock in decades of transport-orientated emissions into the future. He identified how inactivity has caused the long delay in creating regulatory and planning certainty for offshore renewable energy. He commented that, "The main benefit to introducing budgeting is that it will no longer allow administrations to defer actions as the rolling five-year budgets require immediate action."
We know that political time horizon struggle to see beyond the next electoral cycle. In terms of budgeting, that will not do. We need to be long term and ambitious in these plans. One particular area in which we can address the twin crises of climate and biodiversity, because one is as serious as the other and they are, of course, interrelated, is land use change and forestry emissions. The climate action plan set out indicative ranges of emission reductions for pertinent sectors. I will again quote Mr. Hans-Otto Pörtner:
By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development...
There are things on which we are waiting. We are waiting on a land use review, a land use plan and a national soil strategy. Both of these are commitments within the programme for Government. We are also waiting on an EU nature restoration law to help restore a nature we have already lost. We need now to begin to plan for the departmental capacity and resources that will be needed to take on that combination and help us restore some of our natural and biological heritage and, at the same time, address land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, emissions to see how best we can use our land in terms of carbon sink and carbon sequestration. These must be acted on and delivered as quickly as humanly possible.
I will return briefly to my harsh lesson in 2009. I did finish that marathon, although, as Deputy Naughten insinuated, perhaps in a time I might not want to share with the House. Something it taught me was relentless forward progress, however, and that every step we take now must be a step in the right direction. No matter how hard it is for us to put one foot in front of the other, we must move in that direction.
Mr. Philip Boucher-Hayes, who I think is one of our foremost and best journalists in terms of climate reporting, posed the following question when reporting the latest IPCC report:
Q: What happens when you put 270 physics, chemistry and environment PhDs in a room for eight years?
A: You get a revolutionary manifesto for changing the planet and saving humankind.
Let us adopt these budgets this evening, as challenging and revolutionary as they are.
I will close with the lyrics of a song that has often played in my head since the time of my election, which responds-----
I will not sing it; I will spare Deputy McGrath. It reminds me of my responsibilities in this House, however. Deputy McGrath will know the song; he might join in. It goes:
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
[ ... ]
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'
The times and the climate are changing. It is past time to act. Let us heed the call, as Mr. Zimmerman asked, and support the adoption of these carbon budgets this evening.
We stand here today on the cusp of another increase in the carbon tax. It is a tax that is truly unfair and harsh. It penalises those who can afford it the least. The Government spends much time talking about the hard decisions on climate change but does not talk about the facts and figures that show ordinary people bear the largest burden when it comes to action on climate change.
The Government does not talk about how data centres take up 10% of the country's electricity and that is expected to rise to a whopping 70% by 2030. There are currently 70 operational data centres in the State, with Dublin having 25% of European data centres. They are not sources of employment. They are not bringing investment into communities. They do not bring people into local shops or groups in any way. They are a drain on electricity that is really needed at the moment.
When the Government talks about the carbon tax, should it not be aimed at big business, which uses the most energy, and not at struggling families who are only looking to survive. When I spoke to Deputy McDonald earlier, she made a point to me that many families are not surviving. They are going to moneylenders and credit unions and running up debts on their families.
Are we expected to take the energy that is required to hold all of Europe's data processing? That is the question the Minister has to answer. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party could send out a clear message to people. If the Government leads by changing behaviours, people will follow if they can.
The current application system for electric taxis is not operational at the moment, even though it was announced a few weeks ago. The NTA has informed me it is a technical issue. We could switch our entire taxi fleet to electric vehicles. Imagine the message that would send out and the emissions it would save if we were to do that. I encourage the Minister to act quickly, get that system up and running and let taxi drivers who want to move to electric avail of the grants. We cannot solve climate change in one fell swoop, but there are many positive measures on which we can work together, and we will work with the Government if those measures are sincere and true.
The IPCC report announced this week gives a start and grave warning that we must take seriously, namely, that it is now or never and that two to three years remain in which we can reduce emissions drastically to ensure there will not be irreversible consequences that our children, those in poorer countries and the poorest in our own country could feel. We need to act; now is the time. Actions are being taken, which I acknowledge, but a great deal more can be done. Solar technology has been around for a long time and it is incredible how many public buildings throughout the State do not have solar panels. It is incredible that of the more than 4,000 schools in the State, there is no scheme as yet for them to feed in solar energy to the grid. There are no regulations to govern that area. The same is true of community facilities and any number of voluntary organisations and their buildings. It is an obvious win and one on which we must move. The Government has talked about it, but progress has been very slow and we need to address that.
The other issue on which there is significant potential for generating energy not only for us but also in a European context and to allow us to convert to green hydrogen relates to offshore wind. Moreover, there is great potential for creating employment as well. In other countries, such as Britain and some of our other neighbours, steps have been achieved in this regard, whereas we are coming to this very late. I appreciate that predates the Minister and there have been recent announcements, but much more is needed. There is a need to engage with seafarers. My understanding is the seafood task force that has been talked about has not yet been convened. It would allow us to have that engagement in order that we can navigate the challenges that exist there. We need a clear signal that there will be an option for floating offshore wind in the next two to three years because that will unlock significant potential. There needs to be significant public investment to ensure the public and the community can benefit from it, and those who are going to invest in it need that clear signal to ensure the investment can start to be ramped up now. These are the kinds of steps we need to take.
I thank the Deputy for sticking to the substance of the motion, which relates to carbon budgets and not to carbon tax. Some people watching the debate at home might have been confused by earlier contributions.
The Acting Chairman told me earlier that it was his first time in the Chair and I wish him well, but we will not take any such clandestine lectures before we start our contributions. He will need a lesson in chairing if he wants to take up the role again.
We are opposed to the proposal. We are ten Deputies, as Deputy Verona Murphy said earlier, and we are regarded as laggards, blackguards, backward, gombeen men and whatever else. What have we seen since the Government came into power? It can blame the Ukraine war or whatever it likes, but this was always coming. Last October, we sought a debate on these issues, as did anyone who is in business or who knows anything about business. Ordinary people cannot heat their homes or turn on their electric blanket, if they can afford one. The Government is making the people perish and it is punishing people on lower incomes and those who are less well off.
Meanwhile, the blackguarding goes on. People who have installed solar panels cannot get onto the grid, and nor can people who have installed a miniature wind turbine near their house. People have made all kinds of efforts to install various kinds of heating systems and want to make an effort, but they cannot. The laggards and the blackguards are the Minister's Government and successive Administrations, which have blackguarded the people. The Government thinks that now, it can frighten them into accepting anything. That is not going to happen. Just because it frightened the life out of people with Covid, it thinks it can frighten them now with the latest green policies. It has a rude awakening coming. We are not climate change deniers but we know that people need to live as well as everything else. Why is the Government not hitting data centres or big business? The Government and the Minister – I am shocked – have become servants of the global masters instead of the people. The ESB is making ridiculous profits, as are Bord Gáis and the whole lot of them. They are piling increases onto the people.
I will conclude with the permission of the Acting Chairman, in case he lectures me again. To think the Government might come back here after a two-week break and introduce another carbon tax increase is utter folly, and I do not mind saying it here tonight. It can keep on with its folly and we know where it will get its Deputies. I will not mention "airy-fairy" or anything like that in case people get insulted, but folly-folly and dolly mixtures are what the Government is now.
I will use my short time to relay a conversation I had yesterday with a constituent of mine. He specifically asked me to address this to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The man, who lives in a housing estate in Killarney, asked me to name him but I am not going to do that because I do not think that would be polite or right. He is a real man, living in a house with his daughter, who has special requirements. His house is old and the only way of heating it is with bags of coal and timber, which he buys in the shop. They allow him to heat his water, keep the room warm and run a couple of radiators, and he has a gas cooker in house. He told me that his biggest problem is that timber has increased in cost, given the price of petrol and everything has increased, so the people who sell timber have to charge more, and the price of coal has risen significantly. This is the only way he can survive.
I do not want to hear Minister tell that man to avail of the grant because that is insanity. He is struggling to pay for a bag of coal when he buys it, and he said he has always been living hand to mouth every week. He does not have the money that is required to refurbish his house to avail of the grant, so there is no point telling him he will get €25,000 if he can pull another €40,000 from underneath his bed. Where is he supposed to get it? He cannot get off the ground to carry out the improvements the Government recommends.
Will the Minister take into account that man and his daughter, who has special requirements? They need to live today and next week, and they need to heat their home. The Government is not going to do anything to help them but instead it will hurt them. I am shocked and surprised at the backbenchers who will support it in its endeavours.
In a recent radio interview, a Deputy from west Cork said carbon tax was difficult but good. I could not believe how anyone could be so far removed from his constituents. Just imagine every farmer, fisherman and hard-working father and mother in west Cork, who are now worried beyond words, wondering where they will get the money to buy food or fill the oil tank. That statement, made by a rural Government Deputy, mesmerised many, who mentioned it to me. I will tell the Minister how impossible carbon tax is to pay, on top of every other expense. Parents, businesses, farmers and fishermen are on the phone to me day and night because of the cost of fuel to be used to take the kids to school, drive to work, fill the tractor to draw feed for cattle or fill the boat to take the crew out to fish for the week. They are telling me in their hundreds to do whatever it takes to prevent the Government from applying this additional Government tax known as carbon tax, including a vote of no confidence, if it has to come to that. That is how angry they are.
As I said, they cannot afford to fill their home heating tanks or their cars or tractors with fuel. Some fishermen have told me it is not worth their while going out onto the water and that this country does not pay them to go fishing because they cannot afford to go for a full week. This additional increase, which will come in May, is coming in order that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can remain in government and keep the Green Party happy. It is time to wake up. This country is on its knees. Old people are freezing in their homes with no heating, in some cases because they earn €1 more than the fuel allowance threshold. This payment also needs to be considered. Representatives of farm contractors visited Leinster House last week. They cannot afford the fuel for their machinery. That is the bottom line. Farmers cannot afford to pay hauliers, so many of them have decided to go out of business.
Government Members are standing idly by and allowing all this to happen. This Government is grinding this country to a halt and it is time to move out, as it has the economy of the country almost ruined.
The Government's answer is to take €10 in every €17 in tax from the people of Ireland. The cost of building materials has gone up by 40%. That dilutes the Minister's retrofit grant, which is now non-existent, at €23,500. It is gone with the price increases. People cannot afford to do what the Minister wants them to do. The weekly shop for two adults and two children has gone up by €60. The Minister's answer to the agricultural sector is a 2 cent per litre reduction, even though it will now cost €50 extra per acre to bring in the silage which feeds the cows that produce milk. Who will pay the extra tax? It will be the consumers who will pay the extra tax on that in their shopping bill. Who will make the tax? The Government will.
To take a simple thing, people try to save on energy costs by not using the tumble dryer. They go out to buy a clothes line and clothes pegs. The Government is taking 23% tax in VAT on the clothes line and clothes pegs, on baby wipes, shower gel and toothpaste. If I could get a bar of soap, I would need to wash out the Minister's mouth with it but I would pay the 23% VAT on that.
All the Minister supports is Dublin Port and Dublin Airport. Some 31 million people came through Dublin Airport pre Covid. How did they get up and down the country? In cars and buses. Where did the carbon footprint go? It went up. The Minister will not support Shannon Airport and give it the big investment to increase the dispersal of traffic from Cork, Foynes and Dublin Port. By lifting a ramp, the Minister could reduce carbon and carbon tax by reducing the 87% of trucks with food produce that come through Dublin. Why not come through Foynes and other ports and reduce the tax at 7 miles to the gallon that every truck burns?
I firmly believe there are major problems with the idea and delivery of carbon budgets. If they were merely indicative targets, that might be one thing. However, these budgets are legally binding, inflexible and punitive. The concept behind them is to support our movement towards a so-called zero-carbon society in 2050. That is a fairy tale which will punish people in the process.
The Minister will be aware that Professor Michael Kelly of University of Cambridge recently delivered an eye-opening lecture to the climate science forum on the cost of Ireland's transition to a zero-carbon society. It would do the Government good to listen to that lecture carefully, instead of following blindly one agenda which is hysterical and whips up unnecessary fear and anxiety in people who want to play their part. Instead of that, the Government is dividing society and punishing the people who cannot afford it. How dare Government Members dictate to people how they are to heat their homes? People are expected to wait 24 months on a waiting list for a retrofitting scheme. Is the Minister suggesting the people freeze in their homes until their grant comes through? If it is out of their reach and they cannot afford it, what happens then? It is outrageous.
Professor Kelly says the cost of expanding the electricity sector in terms of transmission alone was estimated to be between €15 billion and €20 billion, an incredible amount. The final bill, according to the professor, will be in the region of €123 billion for the electrification element of decarbonisation and an astonishing €255 billion for the retrofitting of buildings. The professor's view is that we do not need both zero-carbon electricity and zero-emission homes. He says net zero is an unobtainable pipe dream, and I agree, without a major national commitment, a command economy and lower standards of living. He also says we ought to repeal net-zero legislation and replace it with more realistic and pragmatic targets. I support this call because Government Members are punishing people and do not want to listen to any other view. They are arrogant, elitist and dismissive of every other view.
They are punishing people who want play their part. It has been announced that the ESB will increase the price at electric charging points. That news was released today in an RTÉ report. People who are trying to play their part are being punished, including the farmers on microgeneration schemes that the Government has not honoured. They cannot get onto the grid despite having invested heavily. What the Government is doing is disgraceful and needs to stop now. Government Members need to wake up instead of going around like superheros in capes trying to save the planet and punish Irish people.
The public consultation on the carbon budgets concluded last month. Last year saw a step change in Ireland's approach to climate action with the signing into law of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and the new climate action plan.
There is a stark picture of the impact climate action is having on all nations. Negative effects of climate change are already being experienced globally. Carbon tax is a key pillar underpinning the climate action plan to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero no later than 2050. Significant portions of carbon tax revenue are allocated for welfare and retrofitting schemes.
Low-income households will see the carbon tax offset but I have concerns regarding this tax. We are told that €41 per tonne is equivalent to €1.50 per month to household. We all know and see every day that households are struggling with the increase in the cost of fuel and the cost of living. I met with some taxi drivers today and they told me some of them will have to give up their job because they cannot afford to keep their taxi on the road. I met with hauliers who tell me the same. I meet with farmers regularly because of this.
We speak about transport in rural Ireland and I can only speak about Carlow and Kilkenny, particularly Carlow. In Dublin, there are all the buses and train services. In a small rural town like Carlow, we do not have all those services. It is unfair for us to promote or work on something that we know we need to address.
The other issue is something I have been constantly fighting for and on which the Minister has given me a commitment. Carlow town does not have a bus service. My understanding is there will be an electric vehicle there and I welcome that the Minister is saying we will have it this year. We have to get it this year. I cannot go back again to the people of Carlow and say they are not getting their Carlow town bus service. When we want to work on climate change and promote climate action, as we are doing, the proper infrastructure, such as proper cycle lanes, has to be in place. I ask that the Minister ensure that town bus service is delivered.
The fuel allowance is finishing this week. I ask that it be extended. It is so important. We cannot forget about people. We have to know what is the roadmap, what is the plan and what sort of communication we need to deliver to the people. It is important that people understand. People are struggling and I see it every day. We have to be mindful and make sure we are not losing men who want to drive a taxi but cannot afford to.
The carbon tax is coming in on 1 May. There are concerns about that and I have had several phone calls about it. I know the Minister is aware of that. Do we look at an extension or what do we look at? It is important that we get our communication out there. We all want to have our homes and everyone else's home retrofitted. The windows, doors and heating in houses are important but we need to make sure there is proper communication and the funding is there.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, which takes place at a time when the world can see the writing on the wall when it comes to climate change. It is a time of acute increases in the cost of living, specifically relating to energy costs. I welcome the comments of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on a series of cost-of-living measures to be introduced soon. Such a step is important as it recognises the struggles families face with regard to heating their homes and making choices about food. The recognition of that, in the context of where we are economically, is important.
The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, should also note that, as my colleague has just mentioned, there is a compelling case for additional measures through the Department of Social Protection on top of the €1.9 billion that has already been committed, including giving consideration to the extension of the winter fuel allowance for a further period. Perhaps that is what she, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste had in mind in their prior comments.
Returning to the climate budget, I am pleased that the Government and its predecessors, having recognised the necessity and urgency of this matter, committed to delivering real and transformative change across every sector and every corner of Ireland. We have set some extremely ambitious and difficult-to-reach targets and goals for our country. As has often been highlighted by the Department and the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, which I serve upon, we aim to reduce our carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. These are significant and challenging targets and there is no easy way to achieve them. There is no one policy or silver bullet to help us reach these goals.
However, a vital component in the battle is the role of the carbon budgets. These budgets will allow us to map out not just our societal landscape, but also our sectoral landscape in a series of five-year budgets, allowing us to manage our emissions and adjust our activity as necessary, thus ensuring that we make the best possible effort to meet our climate responsibilities. The carbon budgets will facilitate a change in policy and introduce a new level of responsibility and accountability that will be shared by all Departments, industries and sectors. By acting now, we can ensure that we leave a planet that is fit for human existence, for our children and for our children's children.
This week saw the publication of the latest UN report on the impacts of climate change and the cost of inaction. The report highlights that, while it is not too late to limit climate change to 1.5°C, it will be too late without immediate action on a global scale. If not this week, then certainly last week, I believe the Taoiseach stated: "Oh Lord, make me chaste but not yet."
I thank the Minister. I listened carefully, as I always do, to the Opposition. I do not want to convolute the subjects of carbon budgets and carbon taxation, but there is still an argument in the House that now is not the right time to do this. To be frank, the right time was ten or 20 years ago, such is the impact that climate change will have, not in 20, 30 or 40 years' time, but in the next decade. We are already seeing the change. By acting now, we can ensure that we try to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
As a small nation, our impact on the world can vastly outweigh our size. We have a massive diplomatic footprint. It is impactful and important. By building a broad coalition of nations, we can become a global leader in the fight against climate change.
I wish to raise the issue of energy security in Ireland and the wider EU. This morning, we heard first hand from President Zelenskyy. Like others, I compliment the Ceann Comhairle, but also the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for his excellent speech. We must continue pushing back against Vladimir Putin's ability to make war. Much of that comes from the availability of Russian oil and gas in the market. While we in Ireland do not have a significant level of supply from Russia, some of our EU partners do. We have a responsibility to use our significant diplomatic footprint to influence others to make the right decision. The decision by the EU and the wider West to turn away from their dependency on Russian energy is not just morally right, but entirely necessary. Ireland has the ability to produce vast quantities of renewable energy, primarily wind energy. Over the next short while, we will see our energy bills rising due to the knock-on effects of other European states competing for a reduced supply of energy in Europe. We will also begin to see a doubling down on renewable energy sources home-grown in Europe, but we must act faster.
I was in Glasgow a few months ago at COP26. While I was there, I took the opportunity to meet ScottishPower, which produced 106% of its energy requirements through offshore wind energy in a single day in 2019 or 2020. I believe it was an August day. Ireland has a significant opportunity in the form of the Atlantic off the coast of Donegal in the north, Kerry in the south and so on. Such places will have significant opportunities once we get the legislative framework correct, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority established and, of most importance, have communities up and down the country, especially ports, in a position to supply those sectors. I do not just mean in the Shannon Estuary, either. I am sure that other locations will be identified in the years to come.
Wind energy and solar development are to be welcomed. I hope that we will see investment in them increasing dramatically. They will increase our ability to produce energy at home and give us the potential to become a clean energy exporter to the rest of the world. Solar energy generation, particularly on farms, commercial buildings and homes, must be ramped up and the ability of those providers to feed into the network must be rewarded. The Minister has heard from many Members this evening on the necessity of ensuring that such providers be supported and rewarded for their efforts, particularly where farm buildings are concerned.
Our ambitions around offshore wind energy must not be limited to the private sector. We must get involved as a State, and if gaps are identified in the coming years or decades, we as a State must plug them in light of the significant opportunities for us, for example the potential to produce tens of thousands of well-paid jobs while protecting the environment. This will require changes in a number of policy areas, not least our planning and management systems and the speed with which the State responds to these pressing needs.
There is no community in Ireland that does not want to see climate action plans delivered. More than that, every community wants to play its part in this effort. We must do everything we can in the House not to frustrate the process, but to provide people in communities with the tools and ability to contribute to our national targets and achieve what I hope will be a carbon-neutral society.
I am sharing time with Deputies McNamara and Fitzmaurice.
I will pick up on Deputy Alan Farrell's last point. The one thing we have not done is empower local communities or people. We have patronised them and introduced a divisive carbon tax when what we needed was leadership, not just from this Government, but from previous governments as well. Climate change is an existential threat – I have no doubt about that. I have followed it in Galway when we led the way – not me, but the people on the ground. Another Deputy said that the people would follow. The people have done their damnedest. Actually, excuse the word. They have done their best to lead us. They did that in Galway. Does the Minister remember what happened when they led us in Galway and we introduced recycling? The then Government took the power away and brought in a waste management plan. The Government did not like what we were doing, which was zero waste in a positive way.
I have no problem with carbon budgets, but I support Deputy Paul Murphy's comments that they are not going far enough. We are in the third instalment of the IPCC's trinity of reporting, with this its sixth report. Its first report started more than 34 years ago in 1988. It has led the way forward. The first part of this instalment examined what was happening and warned that climate changes were becoming irreversible. The second part was its report in February, which focused on adaptation and warned of catastrophic impacts. The third report – this week's – focused on mitigation. As has been stated, without immediate and deep carbon emission reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach. The report goes on, but I will not quote the figures.
I am 100% behind the Government in terms of taking climate change measures. I have the greatest respect for my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and, while I disagree with them, I understand their frustration. The carbon tax should never have been introduced, and certainly not in the manner it was. It is divisive and has repeatedly let Governments off the hook for providing proper leadership. We have no choice but to transform our society. Transformative action is urgently needed. Otherwise, we are finished. I make no apology for saying that.
We do it in a way, however, that benefits and empowers communities and stops the division. If we look at Galway and Connemara, seaweed and wool are two indigenous industries that should be thriving in those places but there is absolutely nothing. There is no policy for the islands. An interdepartmental committee has met repeatedly, starting in 1996 and again a year ago, but there has been nothing and no policy for the islands. Scotland was mentioned. It has a policy for its islands underpinned by legislation and the populations on those islands are increasing. That is not happening in Ireland. There is major potential in seaweed and wool for rural areas, but nothing is happening.
We have begged, implored and done everything possible to have a feasibility study carried out for light rail in Galway city so we can have a green, lean city, and can channel the energy and opportunities that are coming from the transformation. Instead, we are going down the cul-de-sac of an outer bypass that is going nowhere and will put more traffic on the road. We keep doing this. We keep dividing people from each other as opposed to asking how we can face this challenge together. As with neutrality, how will we use our voices to say this is the way forward, we will show you and we will be together in that, rather than the divisive nature of it?
Let us stick with Galway. I see the Minister rubbing his head. I rub my head all the time. I am surprised I still have hair because I am so utterly frustrated by what happened in Galway more than 22 years ago this year. The people there led us on recycling and light rail, for which 24,000 people signed a petition pleading for a sustainable way of running their city, for taking traffic off the road and bringing in park-and-ride. We put it into the city development plan in 2005. Management repeatedly told us it was too early to run it out, and now we have traffic congestion in Galway and no master plan for the common good. I have brought this to the Minister's attention. I realise he cannot do it on his own, but a voice has to be raised to ask that we do not keep doing this, and to say this is completely hypocritical and is against climate action and the policies that are supposedly sustainable. That is not what is happening on the ground.
I heard the Acting Chairperson say earlier that there was a danger of people becoming confused regarding what this debate is about and that it is about a carbon budget. This is not about a carbon budget. It is anything but that. This is about a target but how we meet it is not included at all. The sectoral ceilings are not part of this. They will be agreed at a later date. I invite the Acting Chairperson to say specifically that those ceilings will be put before a Vote of this House because anything less is fundamentally undemocratic.
Imagine if the Minister for Finance stood up on budget day and said that expenditure in the country will be €87,593 million and then sat down and said, "Thank you very much." That would not be a budget because people would ask what the current expenditure and capital expenditure would be and how it would be broken down between Departments. If the Minister was to turn around and say, "Ah well, that will just melt your little heads lads, don't worry about that, just leave that to us, we're the big boys here in the Cabinet, we'll sort out all that, just vote for the headline figure, the €87,593 million expenditure because that is all you need to worry your little heads about", that would not be a budget. That is what the Government is putting before us and it is fundamentally undemocratic to do so. I invite the Acting Chairperson to say that the sectoral ceilings will be voted on by this House because anything less is not a budget. It is just a headline figure.
I wish to address a couple of other matters. We generally use taxes towards achieving a good. It is all well and good to talk about carbon taxes and taxing bad behaviour, but we have to have alternatives in place. I will point to two in the Minister's Department. There was a time when you could go to Iarnród Éireann, deliver a package and it would go to Dublin the same day. That stopped so now people have to use couriers, which is more carbon. Inflation was lower in France than any other country specifically because it managed to lower the cost of electricity since they have a State-owned electricity sector, just as we do. We have not done that in this country.
I agree with the previous speaker that if the individual targets are not laid before the House one by one, it is totally undemocratic. If I go on a journey from my place to Dublin and check it on Google, it tells me where I will start and finish. We have not done the measurements in the line of anything in agriculture. We are at a default position. I met members of Teagasc and we looked at different figures. We do not know where we are going. We do not know what we are putting up at present so how do we know what we have to get to?
Let us be clear that nobody is against offshore but the reality is it will take until 2032. It will not be next week or next month. People are under ferocious pressure at present. I hear people from Government bodies saying that they do not agree with carbon tax, or that they will have a meeting this evening or whatever. There is one way we will show them tonight and that is to vote against this Bill. That is the way we will show them. There is no point in saying it in a half-hearted way.
On the farming community, what people do not understand is the food they eat comes from a farm and the more the price of diesel and inputs go up, the more they will pay for food. That is the reality. The Minister talked about new ideas. Anaerobic digestion is under his remit. At present, if you are in Bord Bia, you cannot use anything out of an anaerobic digester, if that digester came from where Irish Water has either sewerage or a water plant. That is not a runner and it is all blocked at the moment. People in the cities will get a fair shock very shortly when their sewage does not go anywhere.
On top of that, we have always said that the UK, the Corrib gas field and part of Norway gives us our gas. We saw this evening that the UK is cutting out everything from Russia. This is what will happen; nationalism will start to play a role. People in Germany will say they will mind themselves, the Brits will say the same and we will be like the pet lamb in a set of triplets. There will be only two teats on the ewe, we will be the third one and we will be starved. That is what will happen in the line of energy in this country.
For God's sake, at a time of war and at a time when people are paying colossal prices for stuff, we are talking about more ways of screwing them in the coming years. It is time we copped on in here. If the Government believes in what it is doing, it should put it before the people of the country in an election and they will soon tell it what they think.
I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. I will respond to as many of the points raised as I can that I was able to hear in the Chamber. The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, was present for the earlier addresses. I will respond very quickly. It will be rapid-fire but that is appropriate.
On the 2018 figure referenced by Deputy Paul Murphy, this Government started in 2020 and that was the first recorded period we could measure our emissions from. We had to set ourselves a target. I agree with him that we have to be careful about what might be called techno-optimism, which is that there will be some easy, magical, technological solution. Technologies are coming but more than anything else it requires political will. We have to be careful about the false promise that everything can come for free, be it public transport or any other service. That is one point on which I differ from the Deputy.
I also agree with Deputy Lahart. It was interesting that he referred to the "Don't Look Up" movie in respect of how we communicate regarding this. How we explain it, how we listen and how we engage will be critical. It will be more important than all the technological issues. I appreciate what he said, which is true, regarding the Green Party's role through the years in raising the alarm, in looking up and in looking ahead, but that now belongs to every party and every Independent in this House. This is not an issue that will work if it is seen as partisan or belonging to one political family and not another. It has to belong to everyone if we are to make the scale, leap and jump we have to make.
I absolutely agree with Deputy Flaherty and many others in the House that we have to help our people through this particularly difficult time as regards the cost of living. We should first and foremost look at many of the measures the Government has put in place, such as the €2 billion in funding. There are also many measures that can be an immediate solution. For example, the 80% grant for retrofitting covers attic and wall insulation, which gives an approximate cut of 25% in the average bill at a time when prices have just gone up by 25%.
Those measures are real. They can and will be delivered in a timely manner to help people out of the difficult situation that we all recognise we are in.
Deputy Ward from Sinn Féin spoke on data centres. A number of Deputies raised this. We must manage data centres differently. There is no out for any sector. No one industry can say that it is not part of the responsible solution. We are certain to do that. In Tallaght - the Deputy will be aware of this - a data centre is being built where the waste heat is being used to heat the council offices, the university and local buildings. We can do that elsewhere. People have asked what benefit those data centres can bring but if we start thinking and designing in that way where they are part of local entry solutions where that waste heat, which is the biggest problem in data centres, is used, it becomes part of the solution.
I agree with Deputy Ó Broin, also from Sinn Féin, on what he said about the need to look at the built environment and particularly the need to switch away from steel, concrete and cement and think about the embodied carbon in buildings and he is absolutely right. These new technologies with cross-laminated timbers give us building materials where we have an abundant resource supply in our forest system -----
To Deputy Verona Murphy, I would say the ESB is one company that over the State's history has done a huge service to the Irish people and it will do so again now. It has a critical role in delivering all the solutions we need at local level as well as thinking big about large offshore and other projects. It is companies like the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte - semi-State, public companies - that work for us and are owned by us which are part of the solution.
To Deputy Shanahan, I would say that I was disappointed that the research arm in WIT did not get the funding on the multi-species sward. I hope it will return and look for it again and stick with it because it may take time and persistence. The Deputy also mentioned wind research. Primarily, now, the research will be on the art of doing and of delivering. It will be applied research from what we learn by going big in scale off foreshores. Deputy Ó Cathasaigh knows about that for places such as Waterford and Wexford. I hope his sons will be able to rest and sleep at night. Even if the window is closing rapidly, which it is and it is very tight, it is by acting and taking those steps, as he says.
It is never too late. It is never the wrong thing to do for the Deputies' sons and daughters and all our sons and daughters. This is a better alternative way to go. This is the way the new global economy is going.
Also from Sinn Féin, I agree with Deputy Gould about the need for the taxi fleet to be ahead of the game. I will check with the NTA about the new grant system and make sure that it is getting a fast turnaround. However, one thing is sure. The taxi drivers I have spoken to, and I get a lot of taxis, say that it is a fraction of the fuel costs and they are really good cars.
Well, it is correct. We need to lead by public example in the public service. I also agree with Deputy Ó Laoghaire. The public service has to lead by putting solar panels on our buildings and particularly schools. I will follow this up with other Deputies but I would say that the Port of Cork, more than any other place, with the Shannon Estuary probably second, is where we would see huge potential in developing this offshore wind. That is not only on the energy generation side but also the application of that to deliver industry in Cork.
I will follow that by responding to my Rural Independent Group colleagues, Deputies Mattie McGrath, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Collins and others. I will make the point again that this will be good particularly for the west, south west, north west, and south east of Ireland because that is where the resource is strongest. It is in places such as Bantry Bay that we will bring the power ashore, but not only that, or in Shannon Estuary or Cork Harbour. I hear what Deputy Michael Collins says about the cost of fuel making it very difficult for trawlers and fishermen at the moment but the answer to that is not to turn our backs on what the likes of our ports could actually become, not just fishing centres but the centres of this new industry.
The reality of what we can do is what we are doing. Some 400 houses a month now, which has gone up from 170 a month last year, are part of the warmer home scheme. We clear that backlog. That is practical and real. It is happening in the midlands.
Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland has a role in meeting what we have set out in retrofit; that will be key.
To Deputy Murnane O'Connor, we will deliver that bus service for Carlow.
To Deputy Alan Farrell, it is not just Shannon and Cork harbours although they will be the centres of development. The other area where the offshore wind will come ashore first is in Dublin. That will require significant investment in upgrade of the grid in Dublin which will not be without its challenges but it will also guarantee and secure the industries in the greater Dublin area to help pay for all the public services that we need.
Deputy Connolly was correct to voice frustration about the lack of progress in Galway over the years. I hope the Circular Economy Bill which has passed Second Stage and comes back to the Dáil on Committee Stage next month can be the answer to the anguish I heard her speak of around the need to develop recycling and the need to develop wool, seaweed and other such materials which will help us create a circular economy here. I believe that legislation is fully progressive and in line with the kind of recycling ambition and vision that she has. Let us bring it back to Committee Stage. Let us deliver the Bill and then the actions and promise that it brings.
To Deputy McNamara, those sectoral targets will not come back to the Dáil for a vote-----
-----or agency has had huge impact on the development of climate policy in this country over the past five years. If we can do that in the same way in the next five years we will meet these challenging budgets and targets.
When Deputy Fitzmaurice says that we will not go offshore until 2032 that is not good enough and those timelines are too long.
The Minister will see with planning. He knows this country. We cannot take a drop of water in Roscommon two miles not to mind putting a wind turbine out on the sea. We are letting people drown in Roscommon and we are talking about building 200 m masts abroad in the sea. For God's sake.
What we are going to have to do, not only to meet our climate targets but also to respond to this energy crisis, which stems from our reliance on fossil fuels, is to accelerate sustainable mobility, the retrofitting of our buildings and projects offshore so the energy starts to come onshore in 2026 and 2027 rather than 2032. Everything we are going to do in the remaining three years of this Government will be to make that a reality.
I want to finish. I wanted to get to every Deputy and I am fearful I might have left one out. I think Deputy Fitzmaurice had the last word. These budgets set the ambition.
Returning to what Deputy Paul Murphy asked: are the budgets in line with the science? We set up the CCAC with the best climate scientists in our country. They are the ones who set this incredibly challenging leap we must make. We know every other country in the world is going to be trying to do it at the same time. We can, and will, be good at this. It will only work if we only do it in a way where we are listening to our people, engaging them, helping communities, looking to-----
I apologise a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. One of the members of that advisory council, one of the Minister's own Greens, Dr. something-or-other, has said this is not the time for another carbon tax increase. One of his own-----
I am asking for your co-operation. I am going to ask, for the last time, for your co-operation and for the first time, if I do not get it, I am going to abandon the session. It is as simple as that. We are actually in the middle of a voting procedure and I am going to repeat, in the interests of clarity, the procedure and the question.
Resume your seat Deputy, please.
As fewer than ten Members have risen, I declare the question defeated. In accordance with Standing Order 82 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
I repeat that as fewer than ten Members rose in their places, I declare the question, "That the amendment be made", defeated. The names of the Deputies who claimed a division will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
Before I move on to consider the motion, I ask for co-operation. I know it has been a long and difficult day but I ask for the co-operation of Deputies, particularly during a voting process.