Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Report of Committee of Selection: Motion
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 14, inclusive, together.
The climate action unit is part of the economic division of my Department. The unit was established in 2019 and it supports me and the Government in dealing with the challenges of climate change and driving the necessary transition to a climate-neutral economy. The unit assists in co-ordinating a whole-of-government response to the climate crisis, including supporting the delivery of the Government's climate commitments as outlined in the programme for Government. It supports the work of the Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change, the Climate Action Delivery Board and a number of related senior officials' groups and interdepartmental working groups. The unit is responsible for monitoring implementation of the Government's climate action plan and prepares quarterly progress reports that are published on my Department's website following consideration by Government. These reports document the status of each of the sectoral actions that have been committed to by Ministers and Departments whether they have been completed on time or delayed, and the reasons for any such delays. The unit also supports the work of the Department's green committee established in 2019 to implement a range of actions to improve the management of energy, water, material and waste resources within the Department.
There are too many homes in the State paying dearly to heat the sky. It is clear that the Government's retrofitting plan is deeply unfair in its design. It prioritises those with greatest means over those with greatest need. A wealthy household can access €25,000 in publicly funded grants for the deep retrofit while many with far greater need cannot access basic measures such as attic or wall insulation. Places such as north Mayo have some of the highest concentration of energy poverty in the State but north Mayo will not have the largest share of the retrofits. The better energy warmer homes scheme is one of the better designed schemes that targets the most vulnerable but it has been under-resourced. There are 9,000 people on the waiting list and it will take up to 27 months for people to get the very basics of the retrofitting. The prioritisation of wealthier households serves to add to the growing delays of those living in energy poverty. It is important that the Government looks again at the retrofit plan and assesses, measures and evaluates it properly in regard to who is taking up the grants and, moreover, who is not taking up the grants, such as people who desperately need them but cannot afford to access them.
We have an ambitious target to reduce our emissions by 51% by 2030. Some in the House believe we should abandon those targets but I firmly believe we should focus all our efforts on reaching those targets and reducing emissions by 51%. A key part of that will be renewables and a key part of them will be both offshore and onshore wind but the pace at which we are rolling out wind energy is too slow. Part of the reason for that is issues such as foreshore licences. A myriad of foreshore licences are stuck in the system at the moment. We cannot even find out where they are and when a decision might be expected on them. I realise that Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, should be up and running in the early part of next year but these foreshore licences need to be decided upon. When MARA is set up and marine area consents are issued, applications will go on to An Bord Pleanála. I do not believe An Bord Pleanála is ready or resourced to deal with these applications at the moment. We need to ensure the board is resourced and that it has the right expertise to deal with these applications.
The Government says it wants more ambition on the limit of 1.50C at COP27 but that loss and damage was a major achievement. The real story of COP27 is the failure of measures to limit global temperatures. It is like saying to the people of east Africa, "We can starve 40,000 of you and give you a few bob" or to the people of Pakistan, "We can cause catastrophic flooding for 30 million of your people and give you a few bob to compensate". We come home at the weekend to find a gloating tweet from the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan. He wants to show his support for building a liquefied natural gas, LNG, facility in this State. The Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Éamon Ryan, before going to COP27 sanctioned a licence extension for Europa Oil and Gas, which said it hopes to extract about 1.5 trillion ft3of gas. He gave the company the licence to do so. In the same week he also informed me that he will not allow the climate emergency measures to proceed on Committee Stage for fear it would cause existing offshore licence holders to take legal action against the State such as Providence and Europa Oil and Gas. Does the Taoiseach accept the science that argues we must leave the vast bulk of fossil fuels in the ground to deal with this catastrophic scenario facing us, and that the real failure of COP was to reduce the limit of 1.50C?
I note the Taoiseach mentioned climate change and security. I wonder did he raise the point that the single biggest institutional emitter of CO2emissions in the world is the United States military. Did he raise the point that major military powers are not even required to reveal their CO2emissions? We count everybody else's emissions but we do not count the US military's emissions.
Because there have been estimates done which suggest it produces about 51 million tonnes per year but it is not required to reveal that. I find it amazing that the Deputy would even joke about something as serious as that. Did the Taoiseach ask for that? How does he tally his commitment to increase military expenditure and the EU's commitment to increase military expenditure when there is a direct relationship between the size of military activity, armies and so on and the level of CO2emissions and climate damage?
The Taoiseach says a lot of progress was made. It is just not true. The problem is seen if we look at the Taoiseach's speech in Egypt: fine words, and then he comes home and it is business as usual. I will give one example. The Minister with responsibility for local government has overturned the democratic decision of South Dublin County Council to ban new data centres for the duration of the next county development plan. It is a motion that was proposed by People Before Profit Councillor Madeleine Johansson and passed back in June. South Dublin is the data centre hub of Ireland and about half of all of the data centres in Ireland are there. We know that data centres in total are using 17% of our electricity now, more than all of the rural homes put together. To add insult to injury, the Government did not exempt data centres from the temporary business energy support scheme, TBESS, so we are going to be paying these data centres, which are consuming an inordinate amount of electricity, up to €30,000 a year, subsidising some of the biggest and richest corporations in the world. Does the Taoiseach not agree we need a moratorium? Will he not overturn the decision of his Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and reinstate the ban?
Some progress was made at COP27, particularly on loss and damage, and Ireland played a key role in securing that. I welcome this. However, it was disappointing to see the lack of a commitment to cutting emissions faster and, once again, there was no agreement to reduce or even phase out the global use of fossil fuels despite the huge focus on the concept of a non-proliferation treaty for fossil fuels which had been so well flagged in advance of the COP27 meeting. The loss and damage fund is welcome and it promises financial aid from developed countries, but we have no sense yet of what level of money is involved. The question of who pays will not be agreed until next year and that is the critical issue.
What extra money will Ireland be committing to the loss and damage fund? What proceeds will we use for this? Will the Taoiseach be seeking agreement at EU level for member states to lead on this internationally, as the EU led on the concept of a loss and damage fund? Closer to home, can the Taoiseach confirm when our own climate action plan will be published and will we have time to debate it in this Dáil?
It is not often I quote a British Tory but I will do it today. Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, said with regard to COP27:
Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text. A commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text, weakened in the final minutes.
Of course, that is hypocrisy. His government signed up to the text. COP27 was a sure sign that the corporations that rule and rob the world and the governments that act as their puppets are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If the Taoiseach says any different, he can tell me this: why did the EU governments, fronted by a delegation led by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, sign up to this text? It is completely inadequate, so why did they sign up to it? Why did the Irish Government sign up to this text? Is that really the best it can do?
In response to Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh on retrofitting, I sometimes wonder, when Sinn Féin makes propositions, if it ever wants anything done at all. It is a very good retrofit programme and there has been a 130% increase in applications. It is about getting energy efficiency into our entire system. Its fundamental priority is energy efficiency and reducing energy waste. There are some very good schemes that are targeted especially at those on low incomes. There is an independent local government retrofit scheme for local authority housing and there is the Better Homes programme, which is for people on low incomes more generally, and that has expanded. There is the 80% grant for insulation, which is more general and is more for the first phase. There is also deeper retrofit.
The issue is really about getting capacity up in the industry. It is very important that we give that certainty to the industry over the next ten years in terms of getting all the skillsets in place and all of the capacity to get moving. A lot of work is being done. It is not about prioritising the wealthy. That is an outrageous assertion that is made. This is about prioritising energy efficiency and getting a well-balanced scheme that does that.
Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan raised the issue of our targets. I take his point in respect of the need to really get going at speed. That is why the new planning Act is endeavouring to try to streamline, codify and consolidate all of the planning Acts over the last number of decades and to have a more streamlined approach. The new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority Act is also coming in and between it, an Bord Pleanála, the local authorities and the courts, there should be a much clearer and more transparent system, with timelines in place for people who put in applications so they can expect outcomes within a specified timeframe. That is very important.
With regard to wind, we need to move faster than we are moving. I will check about the foreshore licences. I was informed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine that things had improved in that regard. I look forward to engaging with Deputy O'Sullivan and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on that issue because we need to move on it. Again, the European Commission is looking at a particular clause whereby it would be in the overall public interest to move forward on offshore wind and that would transcend other interests in terms of getting wind farms built. At the moment, it can take eight years from concept to the actual construction of a wind farm across Europe. That is not good enough, given the existential crisis that climate change represents.
Deputy Bríd Smith raised the issue of loss and damage. I make a general point. Ireland is not responsible for the world. One gets the impression from some of the contributions here today that somehow because COP did not reach-----
-----certain outcomes, it is Ireland's responsibility. Ireland makes a very progressive and constructive contribution to these international gatherings and takes it very seriously. Our officials and political representatives at COP apply themselves seriously to this to try to get agreement. An agreement is better than no agreement. I genuinely believe that.
With regard to loss and damage, we have made proposals. We have put forward a target of €225 million per annum by 2025. We are not there yet but that is Ireland’s commitment in terms of funding. We have to increase our funding significantly next year and the following year to reach that target, and we are doing everything we possibly can to reduce-----
I take that point but a lot of questions have been asked. I have dealt with loss and damage and I have dealt with the failure to limit general temperature. I was coming to the Deputy’s next point, which is the licence extension to Europa and existing licence holders. I have other questions to deal with so I do not know whether we can get a few minutes extra.
On the extension, Europa already has a licence. There are legal constraints on the Government in terms of existing licence holders. This Oireachtas decided to ban, or recommended the banning of, the issuing of any future licences. The Government has adhered to that and it is part of the programme for Government. However, in terms of existing licences holders, of which there are just a few – one or two to the best of my knowledge – and in particular the case of Europa, the Department officials, independently of the Minister, examined that within the legal framework and we have to obey the law.
We cannot break the law.
In terms of existing licence holders, that is the legal position, and the vast majority of fossil fuels are being left in the ground in Ireland. That is the reality and the Deputy knows it. We are not entertaining any new licence applications.
-----his absolute zealous focus on the US is noted. Without the US, last year there would have been no COP of any merit or substance. President Biden has brought about a significant change internationally to the whole climate change agenda------
-----along with his representative, John Kerry, and several former American presidents, all of whom are focused on trying to get outcomes at these COPs. That needs to be acknowledged, unlike other big powers that are not making the same contribution at this stage to the international effort. The US has an awful lot more to do in general and not just in respect of its military. There is a far more polarised debate within the US on this issue, as the Deputy will be aware. It is far better that we commend and affirm those who are progressive in the United States, who make no issue about climate change and who are trying to advance progress on climate change-----
-----rather than decrying them all the time. For the Deputy, the US and nobody else is the big baddie of the world, in terms of his presentations.
Deputy Paul Murphy raised the issue of data centres.
-----has come up with a policy proposal that the Government is adopting. The Government has published a statement in respect of a moderate position on the utilisation of data centres and further data centres.
Fair enough. I get constantly interrupted as well, which is fair enough. I do not have an issue with it.
Deputy Bacik referred to climate finance. Our commitment is €225 million by 2025 on a permanent basis. Within that, we allocated €10 million to the global shield. What are now required are concrete proposals and initiatives around climate finance that we can support. Our embassies, particularly those in Africa, are working bilaterally with governments and NGOs to see how best we can apply that money to climate finance issues. There is a need for integration across other files as well. We cannot deal with it in silos. It is difficult. The World Food Programme made the point that there is too much silo thinking across the entire aid programme now. We need more crop resilience and we need to invest more in all that. It is kind of part of climate finance. The food production systems are failing in many countries because of climate change. The question is to be answered is how we can make their food production system more resilient. That is where some of our climate finance could usefully be applied and allocated. We need to work with NGOs and like-minded governments across Europe because the European Union remains the biggest donor in this respect. It is probably the most constructive contributor to COP more generally, along with others.
Deputy Barry again referenced Alok Sharma, the lead for COP26 in Glasgow last year, who did a fantastic job in what he achieved there. I do not believe his point in respect of corporations is correct. He referred to politicians acting as their puppets. I often wonder whether we have some useful puppets here for other jurisdictions, but that is another day's work because-----
The point is the European Union governments are the most consistently constructive and proactive on climate change. Deputy Barry and his colleagues can never bring themselves to acknowledge that.