Wednesday, 11 May 2022
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 to 19, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change oversees the implementation of the ambitious programme for Government commitments on the environment and climate change. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 sets out Ireland's key climate change commitments. It sets challenging carbon reduction targets for 2030 and the statutory commitment of achieving a climate neutral economy by 2050. The next step in the process will be to set sectoral emission ceilings that will determine the upper limits of greenhouse gas emissions for each sector. The cumulative sectoral emissions ceilings will keep within the overall carbon budgets approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas and which took effect from 6 April.
Agreed policies and measures designed to ensure that sectors quickly and significantly reduce their emissions have been set out in the Climate Action Plan 2021. The plan will be further revised this year to ensure that the actions it contains are sufficient to meet the reduction targets that will have been made explicit through the setting of the carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings.
The Cabinet committee last met on Monday, 9 May, and the next meeting is provisionally set for 4 July. The Cabinet committee will continue to meet regularly during 2022 to progress all aspects of the Government's ambitious climate action and environmental policies.
The climate action delivery board was established in 2019 and is jointly chaired by the Secretaries General of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. Membership of the climate action delivery board consists of Secretaries General from those Departments that have key responsibilities for climate action delivery. Its original remit focused on overseeing the implementation of the last Government's Climate Action Plan 2019. Since then, the programme for Government, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and the Climate Action Plan 2021 have changed the context of the work of the delivery board.
In November 2021, the delivery board updated its terms of reference to provide for these changes, including the addition of a requirement for the delivery board to monitor the implementation of carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings, which are now provided for by law. Quarterly reports on the implementation by Departments of actions committed to under the climate action plan will continue as before. These will continue to be submitted to Government and published on my Department's website to ensure full accountability and transparency in the delivery of our climate objectives. A full list of the members of the delivery board and its terms of reference are available on my Department's website.
This week the World Meteorological Organization warned there is a 50-50 chance we will breach 1.5°C at least once in the next five years. The alarm bells cannot ring any louder. The energy transition to renewables is the foundation on which everything will be built. The renewables industry is also ringing the alarm bells. It also states there is a 50-50 chance we will reach our ambitious 2030 renewables target. It points to a number of factors and I want to raise several of these with the Taoiseach. One is the capacity of An Bord Pleanála's marine and climate unit. At present it has eight staff. The industry reckons this is a fraction of what is needed. This unit will be dealing with five or six offshore applications next January, for example. Another element, which picks up on an earlier point, is the cost of renewables. With regard to the renewable electricity support scheme, the RESS 2 auction will be announced on 17 May. There is an indication at this stage that costs will be significantly higher than in the RESS 1 auction. What is the Government doing to address this? The industry points to the need for indexation and commercial rates. Will the Government establish a high-level cross-government committee to engage with the industry and look at the higher cost of renewables?
The World Meteorological Organization issued a warning yesterday, as we know, that there is now a 50% chance that temperatures will rise by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels within the next five years, by 2026. This is yet another wake-up call on climate, as if we needed one. The brutal war on Ukraine reminds us on a daily basis of our continued overreliance on fossil fuels. On a more optimistic note, as we saw in the pandemic, we can see the State, and other states, pivoting quickly to address urgent challenges. We need to see this sense of urgency brought to bear on the climate crisis.
We have called for urgent action on fast-tracking retrofitting and energy efficiency measures for homes and households. In recent times we have called for those homes that rely on turf for heating to be first in line for energy upgrades and greater subsidies. Has the Cabinet committee considered this? I thank the Taoiseach for his clarification on the membership and terms of reference of the climate action delivery board. We still have questions about the obligations on the delivery board and in particular its reporting obligations. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether it still has to report to the Government every quarter? Must it still present an annual progress report and updated action plan to the Government? It appears that some of the changes to the terms of reference removed some of these obligations. Again, we need to see urgent action and an urgent commitment to the work of this delivery board.
People Before Profit has for many years campaigned for free public transport on buses, trains and the Luas as the type of radical measure necessary to increase the use of public transport. We have also called for much more investment in public transport to make it more frequent and reliable and a more attractive service to use. The Government has gone a tiny way towards what we have proposed with a 20% reduction.
I welcome it but I do not believe it is enough. I have heard concerns from bus workers and I think they would like reassurances that given our privatised model that allows private operators to operate, the NTA will not now use the reduction in fare income as leverage to demand that lower tenders are put in and pressure is put on wages and conditions of bus workers, which have been under threat for some time. They need reassurance on that because our bus workers-----
The NTA because it is the one that tenders the routes. The NTA has given the 20% reduction but it is also the body that makes decisions about tenders. Bus workers do not want reduced fare income to be used as essentially a means of then demanding cheaper tenders and pressure being put on the pay and conditions of bus workers, who actually need a pay rise at the moment. They do not need pressure on their pay and conditions.
In the context of the sub-committee dealing with climate change, will the Taoiseach check to see when the territorial plan will be agreed and submitted to the Commission in order to draw down the matched funding to the NDP, which is €84 million, to provide the just transition funding and allow the body administering it, namely, the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, to be set up and in place to effect the sort of impact we wanted and expected to see on foot of the decision by An Bord Pleanála in 2019 to close power stations following the planning applications made for duel-powered stations at that time? It is imperative that this be put to work and that the acceleration of decarbonisation can be the incentive for coming out of this better than we went into it. I ask the Taoiseach to update the House as to the progress relating to the submission of the territorial plan, which in turn will ensure that funds can be drawn down and that can be put to work as soon as possible.
It has been suggested in this Chamber that the answer to our energy needs is drilling for more oil and gas off the Irish coast, which would take years before an appropriate location was found. It has been suggested that LNG might be the answer to our energy needs. It has also been suggested that perhaps we should reopen the bogs. I am not talking about the turbary rights where Deputy Cowen has fought for the rights of individuals to burn turf in their homes. It has been suggested that we should open the bogs for the production of energy. Surely by the time all this is done, the appropriate way to deal with the energy crisis is to advance and expedite our switch to clean renewable energy. Surely we should bring forward at a much faster rate mechanisms whereby we can increase and scale up floating offshore wind in particular, so that it can do two things - deal with the energy crisis this country is in the midst of and deal with a climate crisis that will bring catastrophes, the likes of which we have never seen before.
I thank the Deputies for the issues they raised. Funding has been provided by the Minister to increase the capacity of An Bord Pleanála. Along with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Attorney General, I was determined, coming into office, that we would get the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 passed so that the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority could be established to deal comprehensively with applications for offshore wind development. That is extremely important. All Deputies raised the report of the World Meteorological Organization. We had a previous debate in the Dáil about stopping carbon tax increases. We must get real in terms of providing resources to enable us as a State to address climate change. The Deputy raised legitimate points.
-----in the future to the scale we want if we do not have revenue. We will not get environmentally-friendly farms or protect people from fuel poverty if we do not have revenue. That motion was on the issue of turf, which can be resolved, and carbon tax. Parties like the Social Democrats, which talk about climate change, voted for that motion.
No, but on the Private Members' motion. The point I am making is that future generations will not forgive this generation of politicians if we do not deal comprehensively and urgently with this. There will be significant challenges. We are up against it in terms of meeting the targets that have been set.
In terms of the climate action delivery board, we now have the Climate Change Advisory Council, which will report annually in respect of the targets Government has set and the targets set under the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Act. The delivery board will be reporting quarterly. There is no need for it to do the work of the Climate Change Advisory Council in respect of its annual report, which will be the key report in the respect of the delivery of the climate action plan and the targets within the legislation.
I welcome the implementation of low bus fares on public transport. This is a good thing. I admire Deputy Boyd Barrett's capacity to always turn a positive into a negative fairly quickly. By no stretch of the imagination is anybody seeking to suggest that a reduction in fares for people travelling on buses will be used to reduce the pay of bus workers. In particular, bus workers in the public sector will be covered by the normal public service pay frameworks while those in the private sector will be covered by a variety of processes in terms of labour relations mechanisms. There must be further work with private sector operators in respect of low fares and the Minister for Transport is engaging with them in that regard.
I do not have exact timelines but work is advanced in terms of the submission of the territorial plan for just transition. This is important and I am very anxious to get accelerated delivery in terms of just transition more generally, not just the submission to Europe but also the utilisation of our own funding in terms of the commitments that have been made and the targets set for retrofitting, for example. We need to get faster realisation of what has been committed to.
In respect of the matter raised by Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, I do not believe we should open up bogs again to meet further energy needs. There are immediate issues around energy. We are a large importer of fossil fuels and will continue to be for a number of decades. Gas will be a transitional fuel. However, there is no doubt that the only future is to double down on renewables and to do so as fast as we can. This particularly relates to offshore wind energy. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, his Department and the Government at Cabinet committee level are endeavouring to drive this as fast as we can in respect of offshore wind energy to reach our 2030 targets and become a net exporter of energy through renewables from 2030 to 2040.