Dáil debates

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

5:05 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We meet at a critical moment. This year alone, we have witnessed record temperatures, wildfires, calamitous floods, and prolonged droughts across the world. Populations are on the move because, before our eyes, parts of our world are becoming less amenable to human habitation. On every continent of the planet, our people are living with the reality of climate change.

I am particularly concerned about the plight of the least developed countries. These countries are not only experiencing the overlapping impacts of Covid-19 and the devastating consequences for food supply of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, they are also bearing the brunt of the climate change that is unfolding.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, I heard at first hand from the Prime Minister of Pakistan of the devastation caused by the floods in his country. More than one third of Pakistan and over 30 million of its people have been affected. Crops have been destroyed. Vital infrastructure was damaged beyond repair. People had the sum of their lifetime's efforts simply swept away. In Africa, people are living through some of the most extreme effects of the climate crisis. This year more than 20 million people in the drought-hit Horn of Africa are mired in a severe hunger crisis.

We in Ireland do not sit in splendid isolation on this. Last month was the warmest October Europe has experienced singe records began, with temperatures 2°C above a 1991-2020 reference period, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. According to the World Meteorological Organization, temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average in the past 30 years; the highest of any continent in the world. As the warming trend continues, it expects exceptional heat, wildfires, devastating floods and other impacts to wreak a worsening toll on our societies, economies and ecosystems. It was against this serious backdrop that I attended the recent World Leaders' Summit at COP27.

What we are increasingly seeing around the world are not natural disasters; they are the consequences and the impact of human activity. The people who are too frequently bearing the brunt are those least equipped to deal with it. The challenge is profound and demands our attention now but as I said at COP27, it is not yet too late to ensure a liveable planet. Indeed, that can and must be our legacy to future generations. The latest report of the UN environment programme clearly outlined the scale of the task that we share and the urgency with which we must act. The report tells us that the commitments into which countries have currently entered do not provide a credible pathway to holding temperature increases to close to 1.5°C. In fact, unless we do more collectively , the most recent data indicates that the world is on track for a temperature rise of between 2.4°C and 2.6°C by the end of this century. That is why I said at COP27 that, as leaders, it is our responsibility to drive the transformation that is necessary.

At COP27, I also set out how we in Ireland are playing our part. As the House is aware, we have set a legally binding target of reducing our emissions by 2030 to 51% below 2018 levels and to becoming a climate-neutral economy by 2050. In July of this year, we fixed limits on greenhouse gas emissions for each sector of the economy from now until 2030, to ensure we remain within legally binding carbon budgets that are consistent with our targets. The work of achieving those targets will be, as we have been clear, challenging, our work has only started, but the sectoral emissions ceilings provide an essential framework to guide our efforts. No sector is or can be unaffected by the transition we all need to make.

The climate action plan 2023, which will be published shortly, will set out the ranges of emissions reductions for each sector of the economy and the actions needed to deliver on our domestic climate targets. If we are to achieve our goals, the period ahead will have to be one of delivery, with all shoulders to the wheel.

We are also working in close partnership with our EU colleagues. The launch of the European Green Deal in December 2019 brought a new impetus to climate policy and action. The European climate law sets a binding target of a climate-neutral EU by 2050 and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared with 1990. The associated Fit for 55 package aims to strengthen Europe's position as a global climate leader. Ireland supports its increased ambition and favours its quick adoption.

Putin's weaponisation of energy in his war on Ukraine has only underscored the need to transition away from dependence on fossil fuels as swiftly as we can. This swift transition is essential if we are to make the radical transformation needed to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, make our economies and democracies more resilient, our industries more competitive and our societies fairer.

As already stated, the impacts of climate change are not being felt evenly around the world. Countries that contributed least to climate change are dealing with its worst effects and will need support if they are to cope, or in some cases, to survive. I therefore welcomed the focus on loss and damage at COP27 and welcome agreement on the establishment of a fund. At the summit, I made it clear that Ireland stands with the communities and people who are fighting the devastating effects of climate change in their daily lives and that we are committed to playing our part.

In July, the Government published our international climate finance roadmap, which reaffirms Ireland's steadfast commitment to supporting people and communities in developing countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We have committed to increase our funding to €225 million per annum by 2025. The roadmap builds on the priority Ireland has long attached to supporting adaptation and climate resilience, while expanding our work with vulnerable coastal communities and small island developing states that are increasingly threatened by climate change.

While at the summit, I met the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. I heard directly from him about the existential nature of the challenge his country, which is made up of 83 small islands strung out over 1,300 km in the Pacific, faces. The country is living through more tropical storms of increasing ferocity and this is having devastating impacts on its economy and people. Indeed, the country is rated the most vulnerable to natural disaster by the UN. At the heart of our climate finance roadmap is a commitment to climate justice and to solidarity. We cannot simply leave the people of places like Vanuatu to fend for themselves.

At COP27, I also attended a round-table event hosted by the German Chancellor, Mr. Olaf Scholz, and the President of Ghana, Mr. Nana Akufo-Addo. At this event, I announced that Ireland will contribute €10 million to the Global Shield initiative for 2023 to protect the most vulnerable from climate loss and damage. This initiative is sponsored by the G7 and the V20 group of vulnerable countries and is aimed at scaling up the finance needed to protect against climate risks in poor countries. Given the impact of climate change on global food security, I also highlighted Ireland's commitment of over €800 million to support nutrition over the next five years and more than €100 million in response to the devastating drought and food security crisis in countries in the Horn of Africa.

I pay tribute to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for his tireless efforts in securing agreement on a loss and damage fund at the COP. I acknowledge the work of the official Irish delegation and its dedication and commitment.

The outcome of the summit offers hope to the vulnerable, whose land, water sources and livelihoods are being eroded every day because of the impacts of climate change. They can begin to look forward to targeted and strengthened support and protection from the global community. Although the overall agreement reached at COP27 does not go far enough on the issue of mitigation, the commitment of the conference to "keep 1.5 alive" is important and welcome.

As Deputies will be aware, the leaders' summit is only a part of the wider work that is carried out at meetings of COP. The work of civic society at these meetings is vital in keeping pressure on governments around the world to step up and deliver. I very much welcomed the opportunity to meet Irish representatives at the COP, including Irish youth climate advocates, representatives of humanitarian NGOs and international delegates supported by Irish Aid, academics and students from UCC and UCD, and representatives from second level schools.

The message from COP27 is clear: there is no time left to waste. No nation, big or small, developed or underdeveloped, wealthy or poor, can escape the consequences of climate change, which is happening now. The situation could not be more urgent, but it is important to stress also that it is not hopeless. We have it within our power to turn things around, limit the rise in global temperatures and mitigate the worst impacts of change that is already under way. The most recent UN report shows we are bending the curve of emissions downwards even if we are not yet doing so fast enough.

As I said in my address to the COP, this generation holds a special responsibility, but it remains realistic for our legacy to be a sustainable planet, a world alive with an abundance of plant and animal life, with cleaner water and healthier air, liveable cities and sustainable rural communities. We in Ireland must show the world that we are resolute in our commitment to bringing it about.

5:15 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important topic. I also welcome these statements. I acknowledge the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications for his work as EU ministerial representative at the loss and damage talks in Egypt. I thank the Irish officials whose work goes unseen but which was crucial to establishing a loss and damage fund.

Responding to the announcement of the fund, the climate change Minister of Pakistan, Ms Sherry Rehman, highlighted that the fund is not about some countries accepting charity but that it is down payment on an investment in our futures and climate justice. Her point about climate justice is really important.

Wealthier countries that account for just 12% of the global population are responsible for 50% of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years. Wealthier countries have contributed most to global warming. Many have built their economies and current national wealth on the back of considerable emissions. It is important that this be recognised and that funding be directed towards those countries that are now feeling the devastating consequences of global warming caused by these same emissions.

While the loss and damage fund was really positive, other aspects of COP27 were a significant disappointment. These included attempts to roll back on commitments made only one year ago at Glasgow and the inability to agree on strong language on the phasing out of fossil fuels - all fossil fuels. Advocacy group Global Witness highlighted that over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance at the climate change conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. That is even more than the number who attended in Glasgow last year. Their agenda is clear: to delay the transition from fossil fuels and greenwash ineffective actions in order to protect their profit and keep a business-as-usual approach for as long as they can. Fossil fuel lobbyists have no place at the UN conference. We would not invite big tobacco lobbyists to a lung cancer conference, so we should apply the same standard here. The interests of fossil fuel lobbyists do not align with efforts to cut our emissions radically. The lobbyists got a sympathetic ear in Egypt. Their exclusion in the future would be one step towards reforming the COP ahead of the next meeting, which is to take place in one of the biggest oil-producing countries in the world. It is vital that the public have confidence in the process and that it not be seen as a talking shop or circus. On the international stage, at European level, Ireland should be advocating the reform of the COP to ensure it is sufficient and effective and that it works.

If Ireland is to play its part in combating global warming, it needs a radical shift in the pace of delivery. We are almost midway through our first carbon budget but one would barely know that based on the action being taken. Instead of our emissions reducing by an average of 4.8% each year in the first cycle, they increased by 4.7% last year and will rise again this year. How are we supposed to meet the goal of a 51% cut by 2030 if we are this far off track now? Enormous cuts will be needed year on year at the end of this decade to make up for these lost years. In reality, the scale of those cuts, when required, will be such that they will be impossible to achieve in a single year.

I agree with the comments that Ms Marie Donnelly, the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, made at the sidelines of the COP to the effect that we need to tackle urgently some of the low-hanging fruit when cutting emissions here. In her comments, she specifically mentioned shallow retrofits, which we in Sinn Féin have been saying represent a considerable missed and available opportunity. Deep retrofitting is not happening at the scale required. The Minister's own figures show that. It is not credible to think that families across Ireland have a spare €30,000 to deep-retrofit their homes. I am not sure when the Government will realise that. Shallow retrofits and attic and cavity wall insulation are quick and affordable. In Sinn Féin's opinion, the State should be offering the full cost. Think of how many homes could be upgraded really quickly for a fraction of the price of a deep retrofit. It would deliver immediate carbon emissions reductions, help people save on their energy bills and improve health and well-being in the State's coldest homes.

The numbers for shallow retrofits have fallen off a cliff. In 2011, even at the height of the economic crisis, 51,577 attic insulations were carried out. In 2020 and 2021, similar to 2019, before Covid, the figure had dropped to below 5,000 annually, representing a full decade of missed opportunity. At that pace, it would take 100 years to complete the works on the 500,000 homes that the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has said would benefit from attic and cavity wall insulation. Therefore, I asked the Minister to heed Ms Donnelly's comments and focus heavily on shallow retrofits in the time ahead.

Another issue that could be resolved quickly but that has not been to date is the under-resourcing of our planning system. The wind and solar industries have been banging this drum for some time. Some vital green-energy projects are caught in the system for far too long. Sinn Féin proposed in its alternative budget increased funding for our planning agencies and environmental NGOs to speed up planning applications.

We need robust, thorough and quality planning procedures for renewable energy projects and decisions to be made in a timely manner. The renewables industry said the average decision time for a planning appeal is 60 weeks. The average decision time for a strategic infrastructure development, SID, is 69 weeks, versus a statutory objective to determine cases within 18 weeks. We need more inspectors, ecologists and legal and administrative staff. Offshore projects to develop offshore windfarms need to put together environmental impact assessment reports as part of their applications, informed by fish and marine life surveys, marine mammal surveys and years of bird surveys. Environmental NGOs play an important role in this. Therefore increased funding for them would help them to contribute to complex planning applications to ensure we protect our biodiversity as we expand our energy production.

It is the same when it comes to our ports. Four Irish ports failed to secure EU funding under the Connecting Europe Facility, but the State has not brought forward any alternatives. Belfast is the only port on the island currently capable of hosting the construction of offshore windfarms. If we do not invest and ready our ports now, we will lose jobs and supply chain business from multibillion euro projects to ports in Britain and elsewhere. Given the planning issues in ports, offshore wind experts I have spoken to are not confident that our 2030 target will be met and are mentioning 2035 more and more. I ask the Minister to assure the House that 2030 is still on target and there are plans to address the significant concerns around planning and port infrastructure. I mentioned foreshore licences, marine area consents and the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA. There are key timelines that need to be addressed.

Regarding transport emissions, Sinn Féin has proposed an increase of 10,000 places in the school transport scheme to harness the demand for the system and take thousands of cars off the roads every day. This has been inexplicably resisted to date. There is significant capacity to reduce our transport emissions if we provide the service. We have consistently argued with the National Transport Authority, NTA, about the need to reduce fares to encourage people to use public transport. It told us that was not the case and that we do not get the type of response indicated if fares are reduced. It said there is no clear correlation. We know now there is a clear correlation because we have empirical evidence, based on the impact of the 20% reduction in fares, which has seen significant increases in the uptake of public transport beyond what the NTA expected.

Separately, in terms of solar, farmers have asked about reforming the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, grant process to allow them to sell electricity to the grid and a change to the capital acquisition tax rules to encourage more solar on farms. Neither of those things has been considered. Farmers want to play their part but are not getting much co-operation in this area.

I refer to points made by the Minister at his party conference at the weekend when he discussed the increased ambition for solar energy, a doubling to 5 GW of the target included in the climate action plan and delivery five years ahead of what was originally scheduled. We keep having targets. It appears that, in the climate action plan there will be more targets, increased targets, shifting targets and a move away from electric vehicles, EVs, and offshore wind towards solar. We need delivery. We need the logistical or regulatory roadblocks and the planning and infrastructural barriers to be lifted. This needs to be a decade of delivery. That is what was demanded, not just at COP but at national level.

5:25 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I would like to be associated with the remarks of an Teachta O'Rourke regarding the contribution of the Minister at COP27, as well as that of the Taoiseach. I am glad to speak about COP27. It feeds into the claims of climate deniers to say that COP has created so much hot air, it would make its own contribution to global warming.

It is important to put climate in the media and public spotlight. This is somewhere climate definitely needs to be because, like it or not, climate change is not something that is happening in a far-off country. The impacts of climate change are coming home to us in Europe. There is more torrential rain, warmer oceans and hurricanes coming further north all the time. There are more landslides, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves and flash flooding, and agricultural land is being rendered useless or damaged.

Last year there were killer floods in France, Belgium and Germany. Large parts of Greece, Spain, Portugal and France went up in flames. At the weekend the island of Ischia was devastated by the Himalayan-type rain that is hitting Italy with more force and regularity. Europe knows about loss and damage, although it is up there with the USA in inflicting it on some of the poorer countries in the world. In terms of money, loss and damage, as laid out in COP27 it is Europe and the United States that will pay the largest amount into the fund. However, as China is the worst cumulative emitter in the world, apart from the US. it must also play its part.

Gordon Brown spoke about China and its responsibilities during the weekend. I agree with him. We need to establish funds rather than loans, because there is something wrong about climate hammered nations paying the so-called developed world for the damage inflicted on them. Trócaire and other groups spoke at the Committee on Environment and Climate Action about trying to get loss and damage onto the COP agenda. It was great that was done because funding needs to be established on the basis of rights and entitlement rather than doled out or dangled as favours.

The financial planning to make this happen is critical. This was the point I made yesterday to Jim Clarken, the executive director of Oxfam. When Trócaire, Oxfam, Christian Aid and others came to speak to us at the Committee on Environment and Climate Action a few weeks ago, they made powerful and alarming presentations about the scale of loss and damage being experienced and the scale of the response required. I was happy to speak to the Kenyan ambassador, Michael Mubea, about climate change issues raised at the committee in respect of the Wajir area of Kenya.

There were excellent presentations at the committee earlier on the role of the media in communicating the climate crisis. The point was made that it is its job to communicate the scale of the crisis to us, given that we rely on the media to tell us what needs to change. So much of the media is owned by companies that may be resistant to the kind of profound change needed in our way of life. English language media, when talking about a heatwave, are still coming out with stock images of children at beaches with melting ice creams, with wildflowers behind them. It is kind of mad. It is welcome that the national broadcaster, RTÉ, is moving to address this in the context of climate change. As the old saying goes, when the last fish is eaten, the last tree is dead and the last drop of clean water is drunk, what use will money be to us then?

I realise there is criticism of COP, but the agreement on loss and damages at the eleventh hour is something that is to be welcomed. We now must pursue it vigorously because the Earth is changing underneath our feet. As a member of the Committee on Environment and Climate Action, a socialist republican and, especially, a new grandmother, I am worried about the world we are leaving to our children. I am especially anxious that we move with all speed to establish loss and damage funds to make sure the countries affected start to benefit from the funds immediately. It is in all our interests that we do that.

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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Tackling climate change is an act of intergenerational and global solidarity, and the COP process is the only multilateral forum we have to do so. It is vital we make this process work. COP has shown it is able to deliver commitments and agreements, but action is what really counts. Realising the scale of the climate crisis we are facing, it is difficult not to be disheartened following the conclusion of COP27.

The establishment of the loss and damage fund, which will provide financial assistance to developing countries stricken by climate disaster, a measure which was first called for by small island nations 30 years ago, is a welcome takeaway from the conference. We know developing countries are the most adversely affected by the impacts of climate change.

While we in the wealthy countries of the global north are still talking about prospective climate disasters landing on our shores, for many developing countries in the global south, the adverse effects of climate change have already arrived and with catastrophic effect. We have seen the flooding in Pakistan that has resulted in 1,700 deaths and millions more people being impacted and displaced, not to mention the devastating consequences the floods have had on Pakistan’s infrastructure. We have also seen a drought in the Horn of Africa that has left 22 million people facing a severe hunger crisis. Climate disaster is already a reality for some of the world’s most vulnerable countries and, closer to home, the soaring heatwaves experienced across Europe offer a sign of what is to come.

The loss and damage fund is a good step but it must be adequately and fairly funded. We know Ireland has the finances to contribute more to combating climate change globally than we currently do. Prior to COP27, our party leader, Deputy Bacik, called on the Taoiseach to show leadership and generosity in negotiations, and we echo that sentiment again now that the time has come to act on the commitments that have been made. We must contribute our fair share and take a leading role in holding other wealthy countries to account in contributing theirs. It is difficult to conclude that COP27 has done much otherwise to abate the cynicism the conference has generated in the past about its ability to go beyond agreements and commitments and to deliver real actions and outcomes.

The summit’s concluding agreement, the Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan, has called on countries to “revisit and strengthen” 2030 climate targets by the end of 2023 to “align with the Paris Agreement”, a reminder this Government so desperately needs. However, the agreement failed to advance ambition on the 1.5°C target, despite the fact that, under current trends, we will overshoot that target by more than 1°C. The science tells us we need emissions to peak before 2025, but this is left out of the plan and there is no clear commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. In fact, it more or less ignores the issue. It is extremely disappointing a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, something the Labour Party wholeheartedly endorses and called on the Government to sign up to prior to the summit, could not be agreed upon.

Regrettably, accusations of the COP summits as being all bark and no bite could just as easily be applied to this Government’s climate action plan. It is big on rhetoric but weak on delivery. Time and again it has shown it is not giving this existential crisis the attention it warrants. The last climate action plan was delayed significantly and not aligned with the fiscal budget as was promised. Carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings were not given proper time for debate before the Dáil rose in July this year and the Government delivered a ceiling that was below the optimal level for agriculture. A lower ceiling would be fine, except this Government has repeatedly shown itself to be incapable of even meeting its own targets. Just 45% of the 162 measures scheduled for April, May and June of this year were delivered on time, as per the latest climate action plan progress report. To date, nearly 25% of the measures promised have been delayed.

Moreover, Ireland’s emissions grew in 2021, even when compared with pre-pandemic levels. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded Ireland will be way off the target of a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030 and we remain among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases per capitain Europe - 60% above the EU average. Worse still, a recent report by the Economic and Social Research Institute shows our real carbon footprint is 70% higher than estimated when we account for consumption as well as production. However, the Government has shown its reluctance to hit the coffers of those making money from overconsumption in its hesitancy in implementing a windfall tax on energy company profits, a measure the Labour Party has been calling for since January.

While the Government hums and haws about introducing piecemeal climate measures, we in the Labour Party have called for climate action to take centre stage and inform all other policy decisions. Our economy, infrastructure and services must be climate-proofed. We have advocated for meaningful and practical measures that will make a difference. We want greater investment to harness the enormous potential Ireland has to be a world leader in renewable energy. The influence petro states had on proceedings at COP27 has made headlines. We want Ireland to be a leading green state at COP summits in years to come, showing other countries there is an alternative. We want to create a sustainable agricultural sector, which is why we proposed a doubling of the organic farming scheme and capital investment for a new agricultural rooftop solar scheme grant. A just transition means our vital farmers and agricultural workers must also see the benefits.

We want to change the way we see transport in this country. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, recently acknowledged we need systemic change in our transport system to reduce our reliance on cars, and he is correct. That is why we proposed a €9 per month climate ticket for unlimited public transport, modelled on the hugely popular German scheme. We have also called for significant investment in modes of clean and active travel through an expansion of the cycle to work scheme and the further roll-out and expansion of the city bike scheme. These are simple measures that would help us to cut our emissions radically, reduce our systemic reliance on cars, and have the added benefit of shielding people from the rising cost of fuel.

We should acknowledge the tremendous advocacy the climate crisis has brought about among young people. We have seen groups of young people like Fridays for Future, among others, protesting outside the Dáil. They understand that, because of this generation’s inaction, they will be the ones picking up the pieces. One of the key messages to come out of the recent Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was, “Future generations must live in a world where there isn’t a crisis and where children don’t have to take action because of the incapability of past generations.”

In years to come, this Government’s legacy will be judged on its response to the climate emergency. After last year’s COP26 summit, the Taoiseach said “Climate action is a central tenet of the programme for Government”. However, the Government’s performance since then has left far too much to be desired. Despite this, we often hear from the Government that we are on the right path. Now is not the time for a leisurely stroll along this path; it is time for an outright sprint. It is time this Government took radical and meaningful action. It is time this Government, along with our friends who attended COP27, took the climate crisis seriously and delivered on the promises it has made.

5:35 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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As we have heard, climate change is a stark reality for much of the world's population and it is happening much faster than scientists had predicted. This is evidenced by the many incidences of extreme weather events such as droughts, flooding and forest fires across the globe this year, which caused substantial loss of life and destruction on a massive scale. Many societies face an existential threat, as well as threats to global food supplies and security. That is why COP27 was so important.

The agreement reached in Sharm el-Sheikh was historic, albeit after prolonged negotiations. Ireland's objectives for these negotiations were the provision of funding for adaptation to climate change and the provision of finance for loss and damage for climate impacts. We have advocated for climate justice at the United Nations, including at the United Nations Security Council. As we know, agreement was reached on the establishment of a loss and damage fund. Developed countries have signed up to providing aid to the developing countries that are hardest hit by climate related disasters.

We can now be somewhat satisfied with the outcome of COP27. That said, as other speakers have pointed out, it was disappointing there was no further progress on achieving greater cuts to greenhouse gas emissions or on the ending of fossil fuel use. Limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C by 2050 remains the target. Work needs to commence as quickly as possible on setting up this fund and establishing how it will operate in practice. The Minister has said we need to broaden the contributor base by including financial institutions, aviation, shipping and the fossil fuel industry, and I fully agree with him on that.

As other speakers have done in this House, I too pay tribute to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan. By all accounts he was central to determining the EU's approach to these talks and was in the thick of the negotiations to ensure a final compromise was reached in Egypt. His cross-departmental team is also to be complimented and we should make no apology for the size of our COP27 delegation.

What can we do in Ireland? We need to stay the course with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and implement our climate action plan. We need to implement the necessary actions to achieve a 51% reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to set us on a path to reach net zero emissions by no later than 2050. Actions on agriculture, energy, industry, land use and waste must be taken. In this regard, it is disappointing to see how even the smallest of measures to tackle climate change are fiercely resisted in this House. All of us in this House need to show real leadership if we are to have any chance of saving our planet from oblivion.

I would also like to say a few words about flood defences. We must ramp up construction of flood defences to protect cities, towns and homes generally. Melting ice caps mean a rise in sea levels. As regards my constituency, Dublin City Council is preparing plans for a Clontarf promenade and flood alleviation project. This involves the seafront from the wooden bridge at Dollymount up to the Alfie Byrne Road. Sandbags have been put in position at this location since 2014. The provision of these sandbags is quite costly and they are unsightly as well. The appointment of consultants for stage 1 has not yet happened. Comprehensive consultations will have to be organised with the local community on this scheme. Dublin City Council and the OPW will need to get a move on in this regard. I hope there will be no unnecessary delay in the construction of this flood defence scheme.

5:45 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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Like other speakers, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on his achievement. Multilateral discussion and negotiation is vital for progress in this area because otherwise we have beggar-your-neighbour policies, and that would bring us all down together. Mobilising countries to make these commitments is a difficult task because we even hear the free-rider argument being advanced here in Ireland, along the lines that we are only tiny and we should not be making an effort. What is encouraging is the USA and Brazil are much more engaged this time round, which is a source for some optimism. It is to be hoped China and India will also increase their commitments.

We had an interesting hearing today in our committee about how little research there is on how transformative change of this scale can be brought about by political action and not by some technological disruptive impact. There is very little research into how this is to be done but there is great consensus that we need a big system change.

Like Deputy Haughey, sometimes I despair when I come into this House and hear people who keep advocating for more and more ambition, but when it comes to basic changes that would change the system, like setting prices for activities that are damaging, they shy away and say they cannot have that, they just want subsidies for whatever pet projects they have. The reality is we must design new market structures, new regulations and new pricing regimes, and that will be very hard to negotiate with the public and on which to bring the public with us. We should set aside some of what I believe is cynical finger-pointing, be it at farming or data centres. They are not the issue here. We must bring about radical change in the way we live our lives, and there is no getting away from that.

I have said this to the Minister of State previously. It is a pity his senior Minister and the Taoiseach are not here. It is that I believe the circular economy, of which he is the pioneer, is a big element of how we might successfully bring communities with us, because it embraces the wider issue of how we consume as well as how we produce. This week, the Minister of State will have seen the report from the ESRI where we generate 61 million tonnes of carbon in terms of production but our consumption is 107 million tonnes of carbon. We import embedded carbon of 65 million tonnes in products we bring into this country. That is enormous. That is the cars and construction materials we use. We do not have sufficiently circular concepts being applied in those marketplaces to cut down on the use of materials, to use them frugally and to recover them when they are at the end of their use. Let us not forget that while 55% of emissions come from fossil fuels, 45% come from these other materials we use without proper regard. The Minister of State should be banging the drum and asking the Taoiseach shortly to change. He must say the circular economy should be at the heart of the climate plan and that the concepts that are more embracing of the whole supply chain are the ones that can bring the public with us. I strongly advocate that.

We saw today as well that young people are acutely conscious of the urgency of this but have little enough information as to how to bring it about. The circular concept can help people to be informed. I hope that if we keep knocking on the door of others, they will open it and put the Minister of State's work at the heart of the strategy.

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his update on the attendance by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, at COP27. Climate change is possibly the most important issue of our time, and our actions now will certainly affect what will happen for future generations. There are actions we can take now to reverse climate change and to support our transition to a low-carbon economy. Some of the biggest advances in technology have come from trying to limit and create alternatives to our dependency on carbon. As a Government, we must continue to focus on the decarbonisation of the electricity system to achieve our target of more than 70% renewable electricity by 2030, and to keep up with increasing demand.

Ireland must also reinforce the electricity network and scale up the roll-out of renewable energy generation, and we must develop power storage solutions. Investment will be required like never before for areas such as solar, wave energy and windfarms to allow us to harness the power of nature in a clean way, harvesting energy without harming the environment and destroying habitats.

As an island nation with no nuclear electricity, our ability to deliver on our net zero ambitions while safeguarding energy security through the continued role of natural gas beyond 2030 will be dependent on the timely arrival of emerging technologies. Major investment will therefore be needed to help decarbonise the gas network and make it compatible with a net zero future. We require policy and investment in this area to provide alternative solutions like green hydrogen production and the smart integration of the gas and the electricity systems.

My county of Mayo has an abundance of renewable energy resources, including the potential to produce 2 GW of onshore wind, which can be delivered in a very short time. We are ideally located to become a natural, renewable energy and hydrogen hub. However, the Minister of State must be aware that the opportunity is time-limited. We must ensure the opportunity does not pass us by and that we have essential policy drivers in place to deliver on this potential.

In July, I welcomed the Minister of State's consultation on the development of the hydrogen strategy for Ireland. That was an important step forward. What is equally important is the publication of the national green hydrogen strategy. Many people want to utilise the potential of this alternative. I have spoken to a number of developers who are anxious to get involved, and they want to know what incentives and financial supports the Government will provide in the strategy. That is an important step forward.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We are talking about COP27. There are certain pieces we welcome in regard to loss and damage, which is the idea of compensation or reparation for those parts of the world that are already paying a huge price for the fact the world is on fire and for our failure as a global community to deal with issues relating to emissions. We all accept there has been an insufficient amount of movement, even in terms of the promises, never mind delivery, as regards moving away from fossil fuels. Some may not have been wedded to that idea for climate reasons, but the war in Ukraine proves to us why we must ensure we make the journey to renewables.

Everyone has said it at this stage: we could be the renewables superpower or the offshore wind superpower, but we know we are behind where we need to be on the basis of our planning infrastructure that is not fit for purpose. We must bring an end to the Attorney General's review and see what pieces can be addressed. At this point, we know we do not have ports that are fit to deliver the sort of infrastructure we will need.

We just have to do all this better and faster. We have absolutely no choice. In that regard, the Government needs to show the ins and outs of how we are going to deliver the wins as regards solar energy, farming and anaerobic digestion, and green hydrogen across the board; whatever is needed. We have seen some wins in respect of public transport, some of which relates to financial incentives and the idea of reducing fares, but, as I said, it needs to be faster and better.

The Minister of State will not die of shock when I raise the issue of district heating systems and, in particular, communal heating systems such as that in Carlinn Hall. Last week, the feasibility study into geothermal began. We need to change the heat source for these heating systems, whether to woodchip or geothermal. In any event, we need a grant scheme that will pay for this and sort out the matter. We also need a short-term mitigation plan to get people through the winter because they are dealing with ridiculous bills.

5:55 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I echo the comments made by our party spokesperson on climate action, Deputy O'Rourke. Sinn Féin believes in more than just tackling climate change. We believe in a just transition to a sustainable, cleaner and better future life for all of us. We believe climate action can and must be achieved without penalising the most vulnerable in society.

It is amazing that after two and a half years in power, the Green Party has done little for those who are most at risk of harm or to tackle the behaviour of those who are causing the most harm to our environment. The average billionaire has a carbon footprint that is a million times greater than that of the poorest person, according to Oxfam. The top 1% are responsible for about 20% of global emissions. In July, it was reported that the US rapper Travis Scott had been flown in his private jet from Dublin to Clare, a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Unfortunately, there is no public transport option despite two and a half years of the Green Party being in government. In fact, the most recent figures pre-Covid, from 2019, show that 9,000 private jets flew into Irish airports, equating to 16 jets a day or one every hour and a half. Private jets emit up to 14 times more carbon than a commercial aeroplane. Flying a private jet from Dublin to Cork emits 2.2 tonnes of carbon, or the average output of a three-bedroom home in six months, yet after two and a half years in government, the Green Party still has not considered a single measure to tackle these private jets. Do not worry, however, because every time ordinary people turn on their lights or stoves or put petrol or diesel in their car to go to work or to take their children to school, they pay tax.

The rapper Travis Scott once stated, “All I got is myself.” It is lucky for him that the Green Party is in power, keeping him, other millionaires and billionaires safe from climate taxes every ordinary person has to pay.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I am glad the Minister is back in the Chamber because I want to take a moment to congratulate him and his political staff and the civil servants and NGO representatives who accompanied him to COP27 on the work they did. In particular, I congratulate him on his role as the lead EU negotiator during the negotiations regarding the loss and damage fund. It was meaningful work and it deserves recognition.

COP27 and the commitments made there, especially those relating to the loss and damage funding, are welcome, but the loss and damage fund is only one part of a complex issue. Developing nations do not just need us in the EU to write them a cheque when we cause irreparable damage to their lived environment through our consumption of fossil fuels; they need us not to inflict that irreparable damage in the first instance. Our responsibility for the devastating effects of climate change goes far beyond loss and damage funds. We need, throughout the EU, systemic change in how we consume energy, travel and farm, and that includes here in Ireland. System-wide change is the only way we are going to reduce our carbon emissions to levels that will allow us the time we need to reduce global warming and to get climate change under control.

We know what this will look like. We need to invest heavily in solar and offshore wind energy and to incentivise behavioural change by making travelling on public transport the best option for everybody, including communities outside our major urban centres, that is, those in towns and villages. We need to increase our spending and get serious about biodiversity conservation because that issue and climate change need to be addressed in parallel and tackled together. To that end, I welcome the outcome of the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss at the weekend and the work it has also done in that area. I hope we will see a much greater focus on biodiversity conservation over the coming months and years.

The leadership the Minister gave at COP27 needs to be mirrored by what happens domestically here and as it stands, the report card on the Government's measures to meaningfully tackle climate change is not good. We need to recognise the reality, namely, that Ireland’s emissions increased last year. Our activity was greatly reduced by Covid at that time, yet we still managed to increase our emissions. Ireland has the second highest carbon emissions per capitain the EU, and no targets set by the Government have yet been met. We will not be judged by the number of targets that have been set; instead, generations will judge us on meeting those targets. While it might be nice, therefore, to make big announcements about proposed reductions on carbon emissions from behind a podium, if the Government consistently fails to meet those targets, at best it will look as though it was unable to get them done, while at worst it will have been just telling people what they wanted to hear and hoping they would not notice when it did not deliver.

I hate being cynical when it comes to environmental and climate work but after so many years of false starts and failures to reduce carbon emissions, it is difficult to be but a little cynical. I worked for 20 years in environmental science and 15 years ago, I worked in New South Wales in what was then called the greenhouse office, where we worked on climate adaptation measures. I have seen up close the impact climate change and pollution are having on our environment and our communities and it has been difficult, having had that experience, to come into politics, where we do not see the immediacy of the response that is needed or the immediacy of delivery. I am trying not to be cynical and to give constructive criticism because, as I said, we need the Minister's Government to deliver on these matters.

As always on climate, Ireland talks the talk and at COP27, the Minister was tasked with walking the walk. He did that, but I am asking him to walk the walk at home as well, which means delivering on all the targets, actions and policies he has committed to over the past two and a half years. At the weekend, he spoke about a solar revolution and on expanding the delivery of solar within this country, which was welcome, but we need to see how the Government is going to achieve that. A few months ago, coming up to the budget, we heard about a rooftop revolution, but I have not heard anything about it since. I asked how large a budget was being assigned to that but I do not think any money was assigned to it. There did not seem to be a plan. I hope all this talk from last week will not end up similarly as just sound bites and not actions, because we need action. We in the Social Democrats have put forward a feasible, pragmatic and possible plan for how we could quickly, efficiently and cheaply deliver solar to 1 million homes, which would not only help people reduce their energy costs but also help reduce our emissions, which is critical, and the pressures on the grid. Will the Minister taking those proposals on board? We need to get that done.

Turning to a couple of items mentioned by other Government Deputies, there was a reference to cynical finger-pointing at data centres. To be clear, no fingers are being pointed at data centres; what is happening is finger-pointing at successive Governments that have failed to plan or strategically manage these large energy users and, therefore, have failed our communities and our energy grid.

There was also a comment about flood defences.

We absolutely need to ramp up flood defences. We need to make sure that we adapt because climate change is here and it is going to impact on us. We need to adapt our communities for that. Flood defences should not just solely be engineering solutions. We need to look upstream. We need to work with the environment to provide the solutions when it comes to the potential of flooding. That means looking upstream and making sure we are flooding areas that should naturally be flooding and that will actually protect our towns and villages downstream.

6:05 pm

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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The next grouping is a Government slot. Deputies Higgins, Alan Farrell and Devlin will share time. Deputy Higgins has four minutes.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about COP27. It is great that we are all here today dedicating our time to do so. The climate crisis is the biggest threat facing us and it is not a future threat. It is a current threat. It is here and now and deserves to be treated as the most pressing issue we face as a human race. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case, globally or here at home.

The two main priorities for this year’s Conference of the Parties were scaling up climate finance for climate resilience and addressing climate-induced loss and damage. I was particularly pleased that climate-related loss and damage took centre stage because those who have contributed least to the creation of the climate emergency are often those who are suffering the most. They are suffering through the extreme adverse effects of the climate crisis including rising temperatures and rising sea levels. It is a threat to their livelihoods and, indeed, their very lives.

Developing countries are already offering grim modelling of what is to come in other parts of the world. That is grossly unfair and unjust. The agreement that was reached at COP27 when it comes to loss and damage is historic and really progressive. I want to praise the Minister and the Irish delegation for the central role they played in getting the agreement over the line. In particular, I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, who has been really proactive in this space.

We all accept that it does not go as far or as fast as we and our EU partners would have liked. Having a deal to build on is better than no deal at all, however. This new agreement will hopefully have life-changing results for the millions of people, mostly in the developing world, whose land, water sources and livelihoods are being eroded every day because of the impacts of climate change. We have to do everything we can to help developing countries that are especially vulnerable. Inherent in this deal is an admission that richer nations have contributed most to the climate emergency through our emissions and bad practice.

I also really welcome the commitment to keeping 1.5°C alive, which is a commitment to ensuring that global warming stays within a 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial levels. Without climate mitigation efforts, everything else truly is in vain. If we can remain focused on delivering on our commitments around emissions and warming then it follows that we will have less loss and less damage that will need to be paid out. Mitigation must remain the number one priority.

I have been lucky enough to have had many brilliant schoolchildren and groups into Leinster House for tours this year, such as Holy Family Community School, Griffeen Community College and Coláiste Bríde. It is always top of their minds. As I said previously in this House, the time of climate change is behind us. We are now very much living through a climate emergency. We have the plan and record investment and we have set the targets. Not delivering on those targets or meeting those agreements is simply not an option. It starts at home in all of our everyday practices but the prime example must be set by the State; it simply has to be. We owe it to our younger generations and all those who have been so vocal on this to deliver on our commitments.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his very significant contribution to COP27 alongside the Taoiseach. Most importantly, however, I thank the civil servants who played a very significant role in getting this historic agreement over the line. It seems like every Conference of the Parties has a historic agreement. The importance of delivery is not lost on the Minister or, indeed, the Department.

Despite several urgent crises developing across the world, COP27 saw no diminution of the Paris Agreement, which is crucial in our collective global efforts to reduce our carbon emissions. As has been said on multiple occasions, every country needs to play its part in this process of not just hitting our targets or the notional targets of others for 2030 but also those of the Paris Agreement.

Historic commitments to develop a loss and damage fund have been agreed in order to address the unfolding climate impacts on developing countries and is extremely important. I welcome it wholeheartedly. Of course, we are left with the very real need to develop tangible benefits for those countries affected the most and to ensure there is no backsliding in years to come on the part of other wealthy nations. I am confident that this country will not do so but I am not so confident about quite a number of others in terms of what we must do to try to achieve these targets to mitigate against the use of the fund in the first place.

A new green renewable hydrogen forum has also been launched with an aim of enhancing investment in green renewable hydrogen. Of course, here, we remain in need of a clear hydrogen strategy. We know this technology will play a very significant role on the coming decades, particularly with regard to the storage of energy. By acting now, we can prepare ourselves for an energy infrastructure to incorporate this new method of storage into use in Ireland.

I would like to draw attention to the figures that were published by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, today, however, which show that Ireland is well below the European average for expenditure on research and development. While it is not specifically the Minister's Department, it should set concerning alarm bells ringing regarding the sorts of research and development that we perhaps could and should be instigating here, particularly with regard to battery storage and offshore wind technology, which will undoubtedly play a very significant role in this jurisdiction in the coming years. To see that we have fallen behind in research and development in comparison to our European counterparts is of concern. I ask the Minister perhaps to throw an eye over that to see what his Department can do in conjunction with his Cabinet colleagues.

The European Union has committed to a €1 billion fund for climate adaptation in Africa, including early warning systems, internal climate adaption programmes and new risk and insurance systems. These are all to be welcomed but again, achieving the targets that have been set at previous Conferences of the Parties and by the Paris climate agreement is of paramount importance.

As the Minister will know, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in conjunction with the ESRI, published a report yesterday regarding the attitudes and behaviours of young people in Ireland with regard to climate change. In fact, representatives from the ESRI appeared before the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action this morning for a fascinating discussion on views held by young people. The vast majority of those views are not a surprise to the vast majority of Members of this House, particularly by those who are paying attention. It showed a massive ambition on the part of young people. Deputy Higgins mentioned school tours. It is always the first subject they want to talk about alongside housing. They always want to talk about climate. As was highlighted today, we do not need a specific curriculum within our education system to teach children about climate change and the importance of climate action. They know it already. This study on the part of the ESRI in conjunction with the EPA shows that our children - the next generation - and the 18 to 24-year-olds who were surveyed know exactly what is required. They know that massive sacrifices will be required on the part of every economy across the country and every citizen within those economies. That is the point on which I wish to conclude. We must recognise, if anybody is uncertain, that we must make changes to our lifestyles because if we do not, we will not hit our targets. Missing those targets will, ultimately, cost lives.

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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As a member of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, I welcome the opportunity to examine the outcome of the most recent UN Conference of the Parties that was held in Sharm El-Sheikh from 6 to 20 November. I thank the Taoiseach for his earlier update on the conference. I congratulate him and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on their work at COP27. I particularly welcome the Taoiseach's comments about the need for urgent delivery and a swift transition.

The breakthrough at the conference to support least developed countries through a loss and damage fund is particularly welcome. Island nations such as Vanuatu, as referenced by the Taoiseach earlier, are at extreme risk as are people across Africa and Southeast Asia. It is important that developed countries support these nations as they transition to net zero.

While the full details of the loss and damage fund are to be finalised, I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to ensure that the fund includes very robust controls to ensure the monies are directed to those most in need.

Here in Ireland, the focus must be on a fast transition and we need to see far more urgency in areas like solar, retrofitting and upgrading the public transport network.

The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will be aware that I have raised in the past his own suggestion that solar panels be installed on the homes of people obliged to use additional energy as a consequence of a medical illness. Unfortunately, progress has been far too slow in this regard. Likewise, there has been slow progress on ensuring people with solar panels can sell surplus power back to the grid.

I would like to see further action on shallow and full retrofits. In my own constituency of Dún Laoghaire, the retrofitting of council homes is moving far too slow and it will take 50 years to retrofit the 4,500 units there.

As I have raised with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, equally in the past, we need to see an accelerated roll-out of improvements to public transport services, particularly in Dublin, with a continued focus on rail and Luas extensions. These projects are critical for the new communities being developed as part of the Housing for All programme.

Unfortunately, my time is limited here today but I also would have liked to touch on wind power, forestry and food security. I welcome the additional funding announced in announced in budget 2023. It is clear that funding is available. Now we need to see delivery as neither Ireland nor the world cannot wait.

6:15 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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The devastating impact of global warming is clear for all to see. The vast majority of us realise we have to reduce our emissions, to cut our carbon footprint and urgent action is needed across the State. We have seen much talk with this Government on the action that is needed. I agree with the previous Government speaker in saying that the pace is glacial.

We need a fair retrofit plan which will help meet our climate targets and when I say a "fair retrofit plan" I am speaking on behalf of our constituents. I am speaking about families living in Glover's Court, Mercer House and Pearse House. The conditions they are living in are completely unacceptable and, in many cases, shocking. They do not see any change. Egypt and Cairo are 6,000 km away and it is even further if one is living in a flat complex in Dublin, because they do not see any likelihood of their homes being retrofitted or insulated. Of course, the council will say that it is doing what it can with the resources it has. Ultimately, however, the Government is not giving the resources that are required and needed to retrofit flat complexes with the speed that is required. Many of the communities we represent are being excluded and forgotten about. Working families are facing very significant pressures with the cost of living and the vast majority do not have €20,000 or €30,000 to invest in a deep retrofit.

Dublin City Council tenants living in Pearse House or Leo Fitzgerald House cannot insulate their own homes as the council will not let them. They have to wait for the Government and it has firmly placed residents living in the flat complexes in the back of the bus. It is highly unfair that families are being left in the conditions they are subjected to by Dublin City Council and by the Government. Many of these flats have the worst energy ratings going, where many of these homes were built in the 1940s and 1950s and have little or no insulation, with a heat loss that is insanely high. The Government has to commit to resource Dublin City Council to ensure that the flat complexes and regeneration are fast-tracked, otherwise we have failed as a society to support Dublin City Council’s housing tenants.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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The war in Ukraine has brought home the risks of dependence on volatile fossil fuels. The floods in Pakistan, the drought in the Horn of Africa, and European heatwaves and flash floods, have given us a glimpse of what the future looks like if we do not make significant progress. The Government must take bold action, reduce energy poverty and wean the country off fossil fuels and it must be a just transition.

I am concerned about the recent rise in the cost of charging electric vehicles. If we do not get a handle on this it will threaten electrical car sales where they are only beginning to grow steadily. While electric cars are not the only answer, we must ensure that they remain an affordable option. The scientists who produced the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report has said that we need deep and immediate cuts in polluting emissions. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, investing in a new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness. President von der Leyen, who will address the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas, has said that COP27 has confirmed that the world will not backtrack on the Paris Agreement and that it is an important step towards climate justice. We need a little less climate conversation and a great deal more climate action. While COP27 agreed international action, we need a better response here at home to ensure we play our part.

It is good that we finally have sectoral emissions ceilings, even if they do not yet match the national ceiling. Now we have to deliver the measures which will ensure we live within the carbon budget.

At COP26 in Glasgow, Ireland became a founding member of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance led by Denmark and Costa Rica and my colleague Chris MacManus, MEP, was delighted to vote for the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty last month. We need more actions like this.

Earlier this year I attended a briefing in the audiovisual room on the joint recommendations from 42 organisations on how to tackle energy poverty and energy pollution at the same time. Forty-two groups as diverse as Friends of the Earth, Pavee Point, Age Action, Oxfam and everywhere in between, were there.

I will finish with this point. We have the roadmap and we know what needs to be done. In the words of Greta Thunberg, less "blah, blah blah" and more action.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I want to start by being absolutely honest about COP27 from my perspective. It has been a colossal failure and nothing of real substance has been achieved. As one report noted, it will make no difference whatsoever, the fossil fuel industry will continue to expand, greenhouse gas emissions will increase and the climate crisis will get worse. As if to copper-fasten this, the Minister granted a licence to Europa Oil & Gas (Holdings) plc before he flew to Egypt. We will see thousands, if not millions of tonnes of additional CO2being released into the atmosphere as a result of that decision if the company is successful. That, indeed, will fly in the face of the science and will lock us into decades of more reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure.

What should we say about the much-lauded loss and damage fund. I know plenty of NGOs and individuals who have welcomed it and I respect their view but I am extremely doubtful of its effectiveness and of its likely success. The details are hopelessly vague or, more accurately, completely non-existent. We do not know where the money is to come from, when or how it will come. We are told that a transitional committee will be set up by world governments, which will then work with a view to operationalising the funding arrangements. They will invite:

international financial institutions to consider, at the 2023 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, the potential for such institutions to contribute to funding arrangements, including new and innovative approaches, responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

To translate that into English, next year we will set up a committee to look into inviting private institutions to consider funding a possible fund. We will trust the future of vulnerable nations and peoples to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and will look at innovative approaches to funding arrangements. What could go wrong? When has the World Bank or the IMF ever let down the people of the developing world or indeed workers and ordinary people anywhere? The Minister is aware that I am being entirely ironic when I ask that question.

While the failure on the actual emissions and the supposed deal on loss and damage have made the headlines, I want to highlight what I believe to be another major failure of COP27. This is the continued support for carbon markets and carbon trading as a mechanism to curb emissions. People Before Profit has long argued that the carbon trading system and the very idea of carbon credits is a set-up for fraud and utter failure. It is simply a medieval indulgence to allow for continued fossil fuel use. Whatever hope there was in this system must surely have rested on the fact that it should be open and transparent and where we could see what was working and what was not, even in the logic of a carbon market. Incredibly, however, COP27 has made even that idea more remote. There is an excellent summary on the website called climateandcapitalism.com.

It states:

COP27 managed to take a giant leap in the wrong direction when governments agreed two paragraphs on confidentiality and Article 6. The first paragraph starts as follows: "The participating Party may designate information provided to the Article 6 technical expert review team during the review as confidential."

There goes openness and transparency. One observer stated: "The confidentiality provisions on [Article] 6.2 are [so] embarrassing. You could drive a space shuttle through that loophole and have plenty of room on all sides."

This guarantees that we will have more fraudulent accounting of emissions, allows for more global emissions and profiteering and shores up a system of three decades or more of catastrophic failure to rein in the fossil fuel interests driving this crisis.

COP28 will be no different from COP27 and the answer to the crisis lies outside the conference halls of the great and the good. It lies with those fighting for global justice against a capitalist system that is causing the crisis. There is no hope in the mechanisms of market and capital, but there is hope in young people who are correctly identifying that we need system change and to stop the rush for profits, and that we need to see it as the cause of our planet overheating.

Is the Minister aware of Ronan Browne, a young student in UCD who has been on hunger strike since last Wednesday? Mr Browne intends to go on thirst strike tomorrow. His desperation to highlight this crisis and demand action has brought him to this point, namely, endangering his own life? I ask the Minister to take note of that and visit or make contact with Ronan Browne. Young people are in a desperate panic about what is happening to the planet and their future. They mobilise and fight back but they feel very frustrated about it. It behoves the Minister, as the person responsible, to answer that young man and persuade him to fight back against the system but not to take any chances with his own health and life.

6:25 pm

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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Next is a Government slot. Deputy Carroll MacNeill is sharing with Deputy Creed.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Minister on and thank him for his recent important work on behalf of Ireland.

I will discuss wind energy, particularly offshore wind energy. I want to highlight two points. The first is the proposal near my constituency for the Kish and Bray banks. I support offshore wind energy completely. The opportunity for cheaper electricity, energy security and to shift away from fossil fuels to renewable sources is a no-brainer. When the proposal was put forward, I, like everybody who saw it, had many questions, such as the following. Why does it have to be put there? Could it not be put further out? What about the impact on the seabed? Should I be concerned about that? How will the energy come back in? These are natural questions people have in any case, but particularly with a big physical change.

My approach and that of the Fine Gael Party has been to get and provide information in a factual way to people. They are located there because there is a deep sea channel in the Irish Sea which makes if difficult to put things further out. People say they have seen fixed turbines located 80 km off the coast of Denmark. Why can we not do that here? The reason is that there is a deep sea shipping channel, which is why Dublin Port is where it is. These are reasonable questions and people deserve answers.

On biodiversity, there was a lot of concern among local coastal groups and it is always important to raise any such concerns. I got very good answers from the Department of the marine on that. I went further and spoke to the Climate Change Advisory Council on the matter and to the excellent Yvonne Buckley in Trinity College Dublin, who has carried out significant studies on the opportunity for new ecosystem development at the bases of fixed turbines. It is clear from that body of research that, first, the question does not take account of the biodiversity impact of the status quoand the failure to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Second, it is clear from the emerging evidence that new topographies on the seabed create their own space free from shipping and other interference, where new ecosystems can develop. That is a significant opportunity. As far as I can see from the academic research, going beyond what is provided by the Departments, it is firmly favourable.

In the context of offshore wind energy, we have a significant opportunity off the west coast, in particular in relation to floating wind energy. There is concern around security. It is not apparent from a policy perspective that we are having a conversation around security, either in terms of delivery or design considerations. The Garda Síochána Act 2004 indicates that gardaí have jurisdiction as far out as the continental shelf, but we need a policy conversation about how that will work and where security will be vested, whether in the Defence Forces or not. That is not just for physical security but also as a crisis response. It is obvious from the attack by rogue regimes in the Baltic on Gazprom that these new pieces of infrastructure could become targets of such regimes and of disruption to the European or Irish energy grid. It is important that conversations are held now with developers and designers, as well as at Government level, about managing the physical security around offshore floating wind energy.

Ireland has the opportunity to be the centre of gravity in Europe for offshore wind energy. It is nothing but an opportunity but I worry. We will not meet our 2030 target of 7 GW but we should press on anyway because the opportunity is so significant. Once that machine starts going and developers see trapped electrons coming onshore, it will accelerate and expedite. The one policy piece I would press with the Minister relates to a conversation now, not later, on building physical security into design information stage.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I had the privilege in 2018 of attending COP24 in Katowice, Poland. It is difficult to imagine a construct less conducive to effective decision-making than the structure the Minister dealt with at COP27. In that context, I congratulate him for snatching victory, in certain terms, particularly on the issue of compensation for poorer countries for the damage inflicted on them by the developed world. That is a significant development but it is possible to argue there was some regression from progress made in COP26. The terminology in COP26 concerned the phase down of unabated coal and phase out of inefficient fuel subsidies. There was no mention in the conclusions of COP27 of progress on that.

While acknowledging the Minister's achievement, I urge him to be cautious of failure to build on the commitments achieved. They are not insignificant. They have been around for 30 years but it is the first time tangible progress has been made on them in terms of compensation for the most affected nations, the small island nations literally in danger of being drowned by our failure to act in time on climate issues.

I urge the Minister to engage with Simon Steele of the United Nations, who is the chief architect of this structure, on the reform of it. Two things need to be done. The structure is like the ploughing championship on steroids. Is it any wonder the outcomes are compromised when Saudi Arabia has a pavilion of 1,000 sq. m while Malawi has 9 sq. m? Nepal and Afghanistan are not represented at all. Large corporations with deep pockets are wine and dining and doing deals on the margins. We need to separate the jamboree element of it. I acknowledge we need engagement with the fossil fuels industry. We need just transition and to use natural gas and liquefied natural gas as a way of transitioning out of dependence on fossil fuels. However, we need the jamboree out of the way before decision-makers of 200-plus nations gather to make real decisions. The construct in place at the moment is not conducive to effective decision-making. The Minister could usefully insist and demand in the coming 12 months that there be a change in that decision-making process. That is critical. There were 45,000 attendees and 600 registered lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry.

It is a cocktail that is designed to impair rather than facilitate progress on the critical issues of our time.

I wish to make an observation about the climate debate in Ireland. I agree with the points made by others about the poverty of the climate debate domestically, which is reduced almost to a finger-pointing exercise. Depending on where one comes from, I will defend farmers and somebody else will defend the gas guzzlers lining up outside south County Dublin schools to pick up children. We all need to contribute more. If we were to resolve the issues of data centres or agriculture as their critics would have them, we would still have an enormous amount to do. We need to broaden that debate.

One of the areas where we are missing a trick is on mainstreaming the approach to the circular economy. The early motto of the environmental movement was reduce, reuse, recycle, and we need to re-embrace that. I welcome the progress announced during the week on the incentives to recycle plastic bottles to meet targets which puts a greater onus on plastic recycling. That is important. It is important to acknowledge that more demanding directives are coming from the EU now. That is a way to engage the broader population on a genuine commitment.

The term “conspicuous consumption” was used in a different context in terms of people’s purchasing power and how offensive it can be. We need to apply the term “conspicuous consumption” in the context of the climate change agenda. We are all, as consumers, conspicuously consuming excessively and contributing to the damage we are doing our global environment. By embracing reduce, reuse, recycle and repair, there is a pathway for all citizens to engage in a constructive positive way in the climate change agenda because we all need to change our modus operandi, namely, the manner in which we engage, the manner in which we consume and the manner in which we spend our hard-earned money. That is how we can get greater buy-in from the public on the climate change agenda, which is the challenge of our time.

6:35 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I congratulate the Minister on his work and on that of the Irish team in progressing the issue of loss and damage, which is a very positive and very significant aspect of the negotiations. It is imperative that we are seen to deliver on that. It must not just be governments that deliver on it but also the big polluters out there. The oil industry and the airline industry also need to deliver.

There is a misconception among the public that what happens a COP relates to the implementation of targets and all that is happening is that we are negotiating targets and reviewing the targets that were already set. However, we in Ireland and people in Europe and across the globe need to start focusing on implementing this legislation and these targets rather than just talking about the targets. I find that very frustrating. We set ourselves a target of reducing our overall emissions between now and 2030 by a further 48%, which will be a monumental task over the next eight years. We really need to focus on implementation.

When the Minister visited my home town of Athlone over the weekend, he made that very point and outlined the measures that need to be implemented. We need to drive innovation if we are to achieve that. That innovation will require long-term investment in research. Science Foundation Ireland is now involved in that. I hope that will bring about solutions post 2030. However, we need to look at practical implementable solutions in the short term between now and 2030.

I will put three of those to the Minister, all of which come within the remit of the Green Party in government. The first relates to air quality. The warmth and well-being pilot I launched in 2016 to target people with chronic respiratory disease who are in fuel poverty has been found to be a phenomenal success. Research independently produced by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was presented in the Oireachtas two weeks ago. It shows that where we carry out deep retrofits of the homes of people with respiratory diseases who are living in fuel poverty, such individuals end up attending their GPs and emergency departments less frequently, require less use of hospital services and use fewer prescribed drugs. This is a win for climate, a win for health services and a win for the people with these chronic illnesses. If we are to capitalise on that, we need to invest in the retrofitting of homes of people in fuel poverty and those of individuals with chronic respiratory diseases. As the Minister knows, there is no scheme to invest in the homes of people with chronic respiratory diseases. However, there is a commitment to deliver retrofitting for the homes of people in fuel poverty. The difficulty is that it is taking nearly three years to carry out retrofitting where people have submitted applications for that. This is far too slow. We need to prioritise the retrofitting of homes, particularly the homes of those in fuel poverty.

I wish to speak about land use and land use change. As the Minister knows, we set a target within the agriculture sector of reducing emissions by 25% between now and 2030. While many people are willing to kick farmers and the agriculture community, very little by way of carrot is being doled out to the agricultural sector. We could have a win-win situation by encouraging farmers to sequester carbon and be rewarded for it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has pointed out that mitigating greenhouse gases alone will not get us to net zero. We need to increase our carbon stocks in our soil, hedges and trees. To do that we need to measure the carbon that is already there. We need a reporting and verification process. Our colleagues in Northern Ireland have already started to roll that out field by field and hedge by hedge, but we are not doing it. We have decided to pick 20 pilot locations around the country. Sadly, even the pilot locations we have picked are 20 cm too short because in order to meet the internationally verified specification for soil carbon, it is necessary to go 30 cm into the ground. Our pilots are only going 10 cm into the ground, meaning we cannot even use the evidence we are producing here to put a baseline in place. We should be replicating what is being done in Northern Ireland and do a complete assessment of soil carbon right across the country in every single field and incentivise farmers to increase the content of carbon in our soil, hedges and forests across the country.

My final point relates to broadband. As the Minister knows, the national broadband plan is being rolled out across the country, delivering high-speed broadband to 37% of our population in the most isolated rural locations.

It has the potential to reduce dramatically our transport emissions if we can encourage people either to work from home or in the digital hubs that are being constructed around the country. We have already delivered 300 of those hubs around the country and we need to put a pro-active approach in place to engage with employers to use those hubs.

There is another thing that we need to do. By the middle of next year, there will be 30,000 homes with fibre cable outside their doors. As a result of that, the wireless antennae, and people have been availing of wireless technology up to now, will be decommissioned. I want to see the Minister recycling and redeploying that equipment to more isolated rural areas, providing those people with wireless broadband technology pending the delivery of the fibre solution. The only way to achieve that, I believe, is to give publicly owned sites, free of charge to those wireless companies to deploy that technology. I have already put this to the Minister and he has said to me that he will look at the proposal. We need to start seeing delivery on that.

6:45 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I appreciate the Acting Chair for coming back to me.

Is ar ábhar tromchúiseach atá an díospóireacht seo. Níl aon amhras ann ach go bhféadfaimis a bheith ag féachaint ar ghéarchéim dáiríre agus go bhféadfadh tionchar a bheith aige, ní hamháin ar an tír seo, ach ar an domhan ina iomlán, ar eacnamaíocht an domhain agus ar phobail ar fud an domhain, go mór mór iad siúd sna tíortha ina bhfuil ioncaim ísle.

The situation we face is undoubtedly urgent, grave and requires urgent action. In the past couple of years, discussions such as those at COP27 have become part of the domestic political calendar and have attracted more attention. As ever, there is a mixture of positive and disappointing outcomes. I welcome the establishment of the loss and damage fund, which will channel funding from richer countries to countries that will be the most impacted by climate change. It is undoubtedly the case that typically the poorer countries will see the worst effects and in developed countries it will be the poorer citizens who will see the greatest effects. Wealthier countries account for just 12% of the population but they are responsible for 50% of the greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels in industry.

We have a crucial role. We are a small country. It is not just a matter of the emissions that we expend, although per capitaours is well above much of the rest of the world. Every State has its responsibility and we must play our part and demonstrate leadership. Ireland missed its emissions cuts last year, we missed it in the previous year and we will likely miss it again this year. That is a cause for huge concern. We need significant resourcing of our planning agencies to speed up offshore delivery and a number of items, including the whole area of public transport. I have to acknowledge that there has been progress in relation to that and I welcome the announcement about Cork metropolitan rail today. More that can be done but it is significant and hopefully it will take a lot of cars off the road. Despite progress in that area, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

I acknowledge some of the work that our spokesperson, Deputy Darren O’Rourke, has done over the last couple of years. In particular, the Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill 2022 identifies the lack of a Government plan to develop this source of green energy that holds big potential for Ireland and that can play a crucial role. It goes hand-in-hand with the role that will be played by wind energy and particularly offshore wind energy.

There is also the Planning and Development Regulations (Amendment) (Solar Energy for Schools and Community Buildings) Bill 2022. I will come back to it in a second, but it is a crucial area and it is low-hanging fruit for solar panels, schools and community buildings. There is also the public transport document which he been published, and which identifies where progress can be built on in that regard.

Finally, there is the document that we produced recently, Schools as a Catalyst for Climate Action. As education spokesperson, I had some role in developing it. If the Minister has not seen it, I ask that he consider it. It identifies a number of areas, such as curriculum. There has been progress in recent years in relation to the leaving certificate but there is still much more scope at primary and indeed at early years levels, obviously in an age-appropriate way, to ensure that climate change and sustainable development education are integrated.

In terms of the bricks and mortar side of it, there are 4,000 schools that would love to have solar panels. It is a no-brainer for them because it could generate energy when the schools are closed and because it would save money for schools that are already cash strapped. Schools are already places in which there is a huge awareness. We see green flags on countless schools across the State. They are already leaders in lots of ways. To me, therefore, it is a no-brainer and we need to expedite it. Those regulations went out for consultation. I would rather they were progressed; we need to progress them to ensure that they can happen and to back up the budgetary commitment, which we welcomed.

In the last seconds I have, I will raise the issue of school transport. Every child who wants a place should be able to get a place in a medium term. It makes sense for emissions, for traffic, for the cost for parents and for everyone.

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted to get this opportunity to talk about the challenges that are facing us and the result of COP27. I am a farmer and proud of it. Thankfully, the next generation has gone into partnership with me. With every sinew of energy that I have, I will fight to protect rural Ireland and our production base. Yes, we have to meet the challenges of climate change, but if that hinders our ability to produce food for the world in a sustainable manner, we are failing in meeting that challenge.

Last week in Tipperary, we had two very good news stories as regards climate change. First, we got planning permission for the Lisheen by-products campus, which is adjacent to the old Lisheen Mine. This is a major step forward for us. I believe in a just transition for rural Ireland that sees climate-friendly policies and practices that are both economically and environmentally sustainable being adopted. With industries like this, we are proving the important role that rural Ireland and the agricultural industry must and will play as we fight climate change while also enjoying spinoffs of local and rural employment. This facility will create 30 jobs. It will also produce renewable electricity for 33,000 homes. It will reduce our emissions by 0.3%. That might seem small, but it is through small steps that we will reach our emissions targets. This campus will use waste from the agrifood industry as well as brown bin waste. To me, industries like this are the way forward. I have been working on this for a number of years.

Also this week, there was an announcement of €1 million for the national bioeconomy campus again on the Lisheen site. Professor Kevin O’Connor and his team in UCD are constantly coming up with initiatives and technology to help the agrifood industry meet its targets and I was delighted that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine gave €1 million to that campus this week. That site in Lisheen has unique characteristics and zoning. We also need a master plan for that site, and I ask the Minister to use his influence at the Cabinet table to get funding for a master plan for that Lisheen site. I am certain that more industries will follow, in the same way that the bioeconomy industry was announced this week, with technology that will help us in our battle to reduce our emissions.

We put €90 million aside in the budget this year to put solar panels on farm buildings. That needs to be extended to any emission savings that can be done on farms, whether that is through the aeration of slurry tanks, putting rubbers on slats etc.

6 o’clock

Numerous initiatives are now coming forward that can reduce emissions at farm level without impacting on the ability of the farm to produce food. I urge the Minister to extend the scheme for solar panels on farm buildings announced in the budget to other technologies to allow us to reach our 25% target without hindering our ability to produce.

I am the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I will refer to peat and our inability to issue licences for its harvesting. If we are going to meet the challenges of climate change, everyone has to bat together and be on the one side. It is inconceivable that we are failing to give licences to harvest peat for the horticulture industry, a homegrown industry that produces food in a natural way, is an example of the circular economy and involves nurseries, mushroom producers and so on. All that is needed to supply peat for the industry is 0.1% of our bogs. Despite assurances from various Ministers the situation was going to be sorted out, we have consistently failed and left our horticulture and nursery industry to import peat from other countries in Europe. That does nothing for us economically and it most definitely does nothing to reduce our emissions. Legislation is in place to allow peat to be cut on bogs smaller than 30 ha but we are not able to get licences issued. I urge the Minister to use his influence at the Cabinet table to get that issue sorted out. It will benefit everyone in trying to meet our targets.

6:55 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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There were to be three speakers in this slot but only two are present so Deputy Ó Cathasaigh may use the remainder of the slot.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach for giving me the opportunity to get out of the Chair slightly early so that I could take a speaking slot. Although it might seem frivolous, when reflecting on the achievements and otherwise of COP 27, I think of the Sergio Leone film, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". We saw much of each. I will work back, beginning with the ugly. Before COP 27 ever convened, I spoke about my unease with Coca-Cola acting as a title sponsor and my unease in respect of Egypt's record of human rights abuses. I was very taken by Deputy Creed's contribution earlier in this debate. He spoke about the jamboree or circus surrounding COP 27. There is no doubt it is an unwieldy process. It absolutely is, but it is the best we have until something better comes along. There is no way to deal with this issue other than through multilateralism. Deputy Creed has been out there and his experience is invaluable. Perhaps there are ways to reform it but, at the moment, it is the best we have.

To work backwards to the bad, there were disappointments in this COP, as the Minister knows well. There was a significant watering down in this language about low emissions technology, which leaves the door open for fossil fuels. We need to move our language towards the phasing out of fossil fuels and away from last year's language of phasing them down. That is not good enough and will not get us where we need to go.

The bad and the ugly were rolled together in the presence of 600 fossil fuel industry lobbyists. As Deputy Creed said, many small island developing states and African countries will have been able to afford to send far fewer representatives than the fossil fuel companies.

I will join with others in noting that it was very difficult to get the issue of loss and damage funding on the agenda for this COP. It was only included at the very last minute. It was a significant mark of respect for the Minister's leadership in this area that he was chosen to be the EU's chief negotiator on what was the most contentious and fundamental issue of this COP. It was a huge achievement on the part of the Minister himself and, more importantly, the dedicated team of civil servants he brought with him, who achieved an incredible amount of work in a short space of time. In describing how the impact of climate change on vulnerable countries has been ignored, the environment correspondent from the BBC, Matt McGrath, not to be confused with Deputy Mattie McGrath, said, "For decades the victims of a changing climate were the ghosts the richer world just couldn't see." I found that very poignant because many of those small island developing states - I think of places like Tuvalu - are already, in some senses, ghosts. We know the global heating we have built into our atmosphere means these island states will be inundated. It was very important for Ireland to step up to the plate and ensure those ghosts, people in the developing world, were made visible because we owe our place on the UN Security Council to the votes of small island developing states. To keep the Sergio Leone reference going, the loss and damage facility was "A Fistful of Dollars". As it ratchets up, we need to look "For a Few Dollars More", to fit the full trilogy in.

I will comment briefly on the approach of this House to both today's debate and the debate on climate change. It is not good enough for us in the Green Party to be good at this. We need everybody in this House to upskill and to be better. I would have liked to see members of the Opposition travel to COP 27.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Was 55 not enough?

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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I would still like to see members of the Opposition travel to Montreal. It is important we all pull in the same direction because too often we say we would like climate action but not this one. As a House, we all need to work together, to be honest with people and to really explain the scale of the challenge and the depth of the change needed.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I will meet Deputy Ó Cathasaigh any day, but not out at a COP. I will meet him out on Moanyarha bog where the turf cutters look after the bogs and the flora and fauna. I will meet him there any day. He can bring his cargo bike and see how far up the hill it gets him before he has to push it.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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The Deputy can be quite sure that it would not be my first time on a bog.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The tongue will be out. The sheer magnitude of the Government delegation to COP 27 damaged the credibility of the case for climate action. The event has really and truly turned into something akin to a jolly boys' outing to Margate. Figures on the number of delegates have been provided to our colleague, Deputy Nolan, by Departments. There were 11 individuals from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, two from the Department of Finance, ten from the Department of Foreign Affairs, two from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, one from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and two from the Department of Health. That is without mentioning the countless hangers-on from the NGOs, who are dictating policy in this country. They are unelected and are terrorising people around the country. We have been told the Department's delegation cost €12,900, but a spokesperson failed to provide the cost for the group's stay at the five-star beach resort. I hope the Minister had a good time. What was the need to bring such a large delegation? What is that about? From the figures provided in response to this question, we see the cost of travel was more than €50,000. Think of all the gas-guzzling jets. It is a mockery. Imagine anyone seeing this when the Minister is claiming to be the great leader on this. More power to him. I am glad the people over there liked him and had smoked salmon with him. However, the cost fell to the taxpayers here.

The Government used its presence at COP 27 to reiterate its commitment to more than double Ireland's annual international climate finance contribution to €225 million by 2025. That is nice money. What about the people in the cottages who cannot heat their homes? Can they have some of that? Some €18 million of that money was announced by the Minister, Deputy Ryan. It is no bother at all to him to announce how other people's money will be spent. Not to be outdone by the Minister, the Taoiseach was also there announcing the spending of Irish taxpayers' money to garner favour with the COP elites. In the reply to a parliamentary question, he said we are going to spend another €10 million. That is what the Taoiseach coughed up.

This is shocking. It is easy to wine and dine and have the big fancy dinners at the expense of the Irish taxpayers, whose tongues are out while trying to live, who cannot put food on the table, who cannot light their fires, and who cannot pay the cost to fill their fuel tanks or anything else. It is a mockery and the backbenchers are there praising it. It will come home to them soon.

7:05 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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With hard times upon us, with energy shortages and blackouts at hand and food shortages in the offing, the climate catastrophe brigade, the political and business elites have once again headed off for a bit of winter sunshine and a talking shop exercise that is now commonly referred to as COP, or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This year it was the turn of Egypt to wine and dine the assembled hordes. It certainly seems that fine wine flowed freely and posh food was piled high as the hypocritical finger-pointing elites homed their attention in on how the ordinary citizens are going to have to do without.

The COP meetings have long followed an entirely predictable pattern. Each year hundreds of posturing delegates and thousands of protestors, celebrities, and assorted hangers-on fly in from around the world - 400 private jets, from what I gather, causing untold damage to our climate - to lecture us all on our carbon footprints. They then start up the negotiations and rapidly reach the usual deadlock, before announcing a last-minute breakthrough. Then, in the cold light of day, everybody accepts that nothing has been achieved beyond expanded waistlines and serious hangovers for all the delegates. Exposing Irish taxpayer funds, which are supposed to combat climate change, to the criminal abuse of climate finance is reckless. Based on research carried out by Deloitte and others, it is now clear a substantial proportion of the international climate finance fund is ending up in the bank accounts of dictators and criminals. Therefore, one simple question exists: why would the Taoiseach or the Minister, Deputy Ryan, fly to Egypt to announce to the world that Ireland would dramatically increase its contribution to such a fund? Irish taxpayers deserve to know the answer to this question. The Minister took 55 people with him, as far as I know. Maybe the Minister will deny this. Maybe it was 54 people or whatever. We need to know exactly who they were. The taxpayers are paying for it and we need to know who these people are and where they are from. This is a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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COP 27 was a meeting of about 137 world leaders, representing 90% of global forest cover, committed to halting and reversing forest loss by 2030. Last week here in the Dáil we saw at first hand the gallop out to COP 27 while the forest farmers in this country are on their knees to keep going. They remain on their knees. There has been no funding here for the forest farmers affected by ash dieback. Forestry would be a quick win for Ireland. The growing of trees can dramatically reduce carbon, yet there is nothing to help farmers to fix the old problem of ash dieback, which the Government could have prevented in 2012 if the Government had told the farmers in the first place that the trees coming in from Holland had the disease.

The Taoiseach has pledged €10 million to the Global Shield initiative and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has pledged €225 million. A total of 28 delegates went from the current Government, plus minders. A reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy Carol Nolan showed us 11 individuals went to COP from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, two from the Department of Finance, ten from the Department of Foreign Affairs, two from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, two from the Department of Health, and one from the Department of Agriculture - one. What does the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine look after? He has a responsibility for dairy, forestry and fishing, yet he took only one representative from agriculture. They flew off on their jets and they would probably have been better off sitting here drinking Red Bull, which might have given them wings. That is what they did. They left the foresters behind and they left the ash dieback issue behind.

Does the Minister, Deputy Ryan, realise that in this country one person dies from hunger every 48 seconds? Yet, the Minister is closing down food production in the State. I ask the Minister to remember that every 48 seconds one person dies from hunger, while the Government is slowing down production here and increasing the amount of food coming into Ireland from other countries. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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As I have three minutes and 15 seconds, I will do my best to be focused and not wander off. With regard to this conference, it is 30 years since the United Nations Framework on Climate Change was signed by approximately 154 countries in 1992. This latest conference took place in Egypt where, during the conference, almost 700 people were arrested, according to human rights organisations. Climate activists, NGOs, and the media reported surveillance and intimidation from authorities and, significantly, the number of lobbyists at the summit rose from 133 to 636, when compared with COP 26 in Glasgow. That is according to various recognised organisations.

What did the Secretary General of the United Nations point out? He said that COP 27 took place not far from Mount Sinai, a site that is central to many faiths through the story of Moses. Although we cannot hope for a miracle here, we need meaningful action. The Secretary General said it was fitting the meeting was near Mount Sinai because climate chaos is a crisis of biblical proportions. The signs are everywhere. Instead of a burning bush we face burning planet. He went on to say that we need to drastically reduce emissions now. Of course, this was something the countries copped out of at COP. The Secretary General welcomed the fund for loss and damage as essential but that it was not the answer. He talked about fundamental change in the way we look at our banks and financial institutions and what we allow them to do. The Secretary General said many more things besides.

I say my few words today in the context of a summer when 20,000 people died in Europe from heat waves in temperatures that would have been virtually impossible without climate breakdown. We are the lucky ones. All over the world we see that we are at the brink of famine in Africa and other countries, and we have also had floods in Pakistan.

I mention all of this by saying we can control leadership in a way that does not divide the city from the country. Ireland is a tiny country that should be united in a recognition the planet is burning. Ireland can be green and produce and export. The ESRI has produced a report that is absolutely frightening, telling us our emissions are 70% higher when we consider what we import. As all countries do that are rich, we import to keep consumption going, and the poorer countries lose out. In Galway, for example, we persist with ridiculous outer bypass roads and roads that are going nowhere, when there is a golden opportunity to look at light rail and sustainable transport. We must take it away from management who are not showing vision, and lead the way.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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The Swedish eco-activist Greta Thunberg famously described COP 26 as a load of "blah, blah, blah". She went a bit further with COP 27 describing it as a sham that provides a platform for "greenwashing, lying and cheating". There is also plenty of blah at COP 27, and none better than from our Taoiseach. If you were to believe the Taoiseach, you would think Ireland is leading the world in addressing climate change. The reality, however, is very different. While Ireland may have very ambitious emissions reduction targets, we are nowhere near to meeting them. Ireland has the third highest emissions per capitain the EU. The official statistics do not give the full picture. As said by my colleague, the ESRI report says our greenhouse gas emissions are up to 70% higher than calculated. This is when we take into account what we actually consume, as opposed to producing. We have bought very high levels of emissions from countries that produce chemicals, rubber, plastics and so on. When it comes to carbon impact, of the high-tech products we import, we import 55 times more than we produce but it is the emissions that are embedded in imports for households that make up the imported emissions. This is because under existing international rules to combat climate change, a country's emissions are based on what it produces. This allows richer countries, in effect, to export their emissions to poorer countries in the global south. This penalises those countries who are involved in a more carbon-heavy stage of the global supply chain. It is an extreme example of greenwashing and the hypocrisy of events such as COP.

COP 27 was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which says a lot, and was supposed to be the African COP but the Africans and those suffering the worst of climate breakdown to date were not the key players in this event. As usual, the biggest group were the lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. According to one NGO, there were at least 636 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. This figure was greater than the combined delegates from the ten most climate-impacted countries. The United Arab Emirates had the biggest delegation with more than 1,000. The UAE has a population of just nine million but is a major oil and gas exporter. Oil and gas lobbyists were included in 29 national delegations. These figures give a very clear indication as to who has the real say at these gatherings.

It was no surprise, then, that several commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow, such as the target for global emissions to peak by 2025, rather than being reinforced, were actually dropped from the final text. There was no mention of fossil fuels and hardly any mention of the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Next year's COP will be held in Dublin - enough said.

Climate breakdown does not affect just the future; it is happening now, with calamitous effects on those countries and communities least responsible for it. We are in a catastrophic situation now, with global warming at 1.2°C, and we are heading for double that within decades. Large parts of the planet will become uninhabitable. This is inevitable unless we bring to an end the social and economic system based on the needs of major multinationals, the fossil fuel investors and the 1% and replace it with a democratic planned economy based on the needs of people and their environment. We need climate transformation.

I congratulate the Civil Service on getting the loss and damage package but, as Clare Connor of Friends of the Earth said, the gain in loss and damage is undermined by the failure of COP27 to phase out fossil fuels.

7:15 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I thank all Deputies who contributed to the debate. I will start by reflecting some of the stories that were told at COP about the climate change happening in the world this year. It was heartrending to listen to the Pakistani Minister for the environment make the case that her country was destroyed this year and is still suffering from the scale of that damage, with some 35 million people displaced. Interestingly, she said that every single person in Pakistan is now fixated on what is happening to their climate because they have seen what it has done to their country. I was very privileged to meet a number of ministers and young people from different countries, including ministers from some of the low-lying islands in the Pacific that Deputy Ó Cathasaigh mentioned. They described their experience of the water they draw from their wells now becoming brackish. It is not just that the sea level is rising and threatening their shore; it is coming up through their water system. They know and understand that their time on their islands may be short. With passion and commitment they had to try to raise the alarm in the world about this need for change.

We have known about this for 30 years plus but it has now reached a stage where we have to act. There are the farmers and families in the likes of the Horn of Africa who have seen five years of drought one year after the other. Their need for a response was centre stage at COP27, as it has been at previous COPs. I believe there was significant development to give some sense of hope in this world which is burning in the decision made by 198 countries to establish a mosaic of loss and damage funding mechanisms to help cover some of the cost of the damage that we already know is inevitable and that is already being done. I will reflect briefly on what was agreed at the conference and on some of the detail.

First, and perhaps most importantly, there was a response to the call from the Prime Minister of Barbados at the start of the COP that the injustice of the current finance system needs to be addressed and that the World Bank, the IMF and the multilateral development banks have a critical role and responsibility. I cannot remember who here asked what we have agreed to and if we have agreed only that the parties will meet in March. That is significant, however, because it is a political mandate and a political signal and a really powerful message that the parties have to change their ways and change the access to special drawing rights, which would allow the poorest countries in the world access to finance where they need it most. It will change the debt rules and the mechanisms for them to raise finance, which they cannot do today. As the Prime Minister of Barbados said, they have to borrow at 14% while we borrow at 4%. It is therefore not insignificant when the world comes together and collectively agrees to change the rules and to change the way those multilateral development banks work.

Second, and this was hard-fought and not easily agreed, in the final text, the final wording, there is clearly an agreement that we will expand and broaden the base of countries that may contribute to such a loss and damage fund to include the likes of China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries that can no longer be categorised as developing-world, just like some of those small island developing countries and less developed countries. While that is not certain or finalised in full detail, I believe there was significant progress and change in getting the agreement on the loss and damage fund to recognise that it has to be broader.

The European Union had a really significant role throughout the last week of negotiations in COP in reflecting that other industries have to play their part. The fossil fuel lobbyists did not have their way in COP because there was clear commitment from the European Union especially towards new innovative forms of financing, as they were described, to recognise the $3.9 trillion in net income earned by the fossil fuel industries this year. A percentage of that could and should go towards covering some of the damage that has been done. In the aviation industry, as Mary Robinson said at an event I shared with her, 4.5 billion airline tickets are sold every year. A €1 contribution per ticket in the aviation sector would give us the scale of funding we will need to provide climate justice in our world. While none of that is finally nailed down, there is really a clear commitment, agreement and political mandate that that is where we are going and that is why that was significant.

The European Union had a very significant role in the negotiations because in the middle of the week we listened to what the other countries, particularly some of the poorer countries in the world, were saying. Our position was not that one fund, certainly not one based on the old 1992 rulebook, would be the appropriate outcome we needed, but we listened to and heard their political need for a clear signal and commitment. On Wednesday of that week we changed our position and said, let us talk about the fund now and the nature of the financing mechanisms. Then, later in the week, when the detail of what would be put in place was shown to us towards the latter days, it was not adequate. As a Union, we collectively said a bad deal is not worth it and we would better have no deal. We said that clearly on the last morning, Saturday morning, and said we would not be able to get agreement on the basis of the text that was before us. That morning and afternoon it changed and we got the text improved. To answer the question as to why would we send Irish civil servants to such an event, it is because they were the very centre of the global negotiations at a moment of critical importance. It was Irish civil servants who were critically responsible for the improvements in that text of a major historic international global agreement.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Fifty-five per cent.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It was the Irish civil servants negotiating on behalf of the EU, the Irish civil servants, the top legal advisers within the EU, those Irish civil servants who have incredible expertise and knowledge, particularly in the issue of loss and damage. We are good at this as a country in terms of how we help the poorest. We do not have a colonial legacy; we have a tradition that goes right back to the missions, followed up by Trócaire, Concern, Goal and other agencies and followed up by what our Department of Foreign Affairs does.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Some €6 billion on NGOs every year.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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To those who say that Irish civil servants should not take their place in the centre of global negotiations, I disagree completely. I commend them on their work and their public service-----


Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----that reflects well on our country.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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One for agriculture and one for forestry.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It is better for the world that we engage.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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The Minister is entitled to reply to the debate without interruption.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes, but it is raiméis.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I ask that all speakers be respected and that the Minister be allowed to continue without interruption.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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In the closing hours of those negotiations there were a number of things we stood up for and delivered. The most important, to my mind, was a change in the text, which, in the middle of the Friday night, took out the wording about protecting the most vulnerable. It was Irish civil servants and our negotiating team that put that back into the centre of the negotiations, recognising that the existing tranche of climate finance does not go to the poorest, by and large. The vast majority goes elsewhere. We stood up because we as a country have always stood up for the poorest countries in this world.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You could do that every day at home.

7:25 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We should recognise that that change, namely, those words about the particularly vulnerable countries being put back in, which was put back in by the Irish team in the negotiations representing the European Union, was a significant development that we can and should be proud of and I want to commend them.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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And our own people can go to perish.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I agree with all those other Deputies-----

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Sorry Minister, may I intervene for a second? As Deputy McGrath sits in this Chair from time to time, may I ask him please, if he cannot respect the speaker, to respect the Chair.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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If I can I conclude, to all those who said we needed to get a better deal on mitigation, yes, we held the line so that it did not retreat from Glasgow but we did not advance. There is increasingly clear understanding, however, that this is the direction we are going. I agree that this is about delivery. Well, we have delivered in government in the past few weeks. We have delivered a completely new forestry programme that will be good for rural Ireland, good for the countryside as well as good for climate. On Monday, we delivered the first of the new deposit return schemes so there is less plastic and less recycling. We delivered, this morning, as Deputy Ó Laoghaire said with DART carriages for Cork.


Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We delivered last Friday with a new interconnector to France, which will help us go low carbon and bring down the cost of electricity. We are delivering now every day-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Delivering for the bankers.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----and we are focused on that to live up to the promise we made to the poorest people in the world: we will not let it burn.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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And never delivered on ash dieback. Fair play.