Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Climate Action Plan 2023: Statements

 

2:25 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate and to listen to statements on the development of the Climate Action Plan 2023, which was presented by the Government just before the Christmas break. I am also pleased that we have this opportunity to review it. We will continue to do so as we implement it in the coming year and continue to evolve it to meet what is the greatest challenge of our time, namely, to protect the stability of our climate system for future generations and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change that we already know is inevitable because of the change that is happening in our atmosphere.

For clarity, we have known the science of this for some 35 years or more. Going back to that period in the late 1980s, the concentration of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was some 350 parts-per million, ppm. It took a number of years before the world started to address the reality of that science. A key moment in that regard was in 2015 – the signing of the Paris climate agreement - when 193 countries came together to commit to do what it would take to stabilise our climate, and doing so with all sorts of risks in avoiding crossing over tipping points that would see runaway climate change. When that was agreed only eight years ago, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had gone up to approximately 400 ppm. The frightening thing that raises alarm and the need for action is that today it is just short of 420 ppm. We are not going in the right direction. The scale of change has not been delivered. We must act now. This is the critical decade. What the Paris climate agreement said was that to reduce the risk of runaway climate change we must keep the global average temperature below 1.5°C. We must get to net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. For a developed country such as Ireland, that means we must halve our emissions this decade and be at net zero by 2050.

It is important to review it and to know where we are coming from in this regard. The initial legislation relating to a climate Act was set out in 2015, and the first climate plan was devised in 2017. An appropriate and correct Supreme Court judgment stated that it had not sufficiently addressed the scale of change we needed to make. It was on the back of that, and also the citizens’ assembly established in 2017, that we started on the path that brings us to this plan that we have today.

At the joint Oireachtas committee in 2018, all parties committed to a much more ambitious approach to how we reduce our emissions. In 2019, under the then Minister, Deputy Bruton, who deserves credit, a broad approach was initiated which we are still following, whereby we look at every aspect of the approach we need to take in government and set clear actions and timelines that we need to meet the objectives.

The programme for Government was established with climate as part of the three central ambitions of the Government. These are to address the housing crisis, reform our healthcare systems and show leadership in delivering climate action and emissions reductions. We followed the science. We stuck to what the Paris Agreement on climate stated we would have to do, which, in our case, meant an emissions reduction of approximately 7% per annum. This was based on a reduction target dating from 2018 because that was the period, during our entering into and signing of that programme for Government, for which we had the latest statistics. That is the broad context within which this plan is set out.

The Government has made significant progress through devising the much more thorough and powerful Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. By any analysis, this legislation is seen globally as the most ambitious, or the most rigorous, in holding the Government to account. The way it is set out requires a long-term vision and an iterative evolving plan with sectoral targets. Each Minister responsible for the relevant area has to show how we are meeting the overall targets. Since that period, sectoral emissions targets were developed in summer 2022, as required under law, which range in ambition from a 75% reduction in emissions for the likes of the electricity sector and a 50% reduction in emissions in transport, while industry varied between reductions of 35% and 40% down to 25% for agriculture. We are clear on the responsibilities each sector has. The climate action plan, agreed by the Government just before Christmas, turns those sectoral targets into specific measures in each of those sectors that we have to show can deliver the reductions we need.

The one exception, which has been debated at length in this House over the past year or so, relates to land use, land use change and emissions, where we committed this year to developing the scientific information we need to be able to make the further reductions that are needed for us to be able to meet our overall reduction target. I would prefer to have done that at the same time as the other sectoral emissions ceilings were being set, but we did not, and do not, have the information available to us to know exactly how we could or would do that. That is why it was more appropriate, as I said, to carry out that scientific analysis as part of the land use review, which I might return to, to make sure that what we are setting out is credible, achievable and based on good science. That is the only way we will be able to address this incredibly complex and challenging issue effectively.

I will add briefly, and this is key, that this process is iterative. It is one where the plan will evolve each year. Additional information and measures, changing circumstances, and reacting to what is actually happening, mean that this is a plan that is due to be revised, and has been, and will be, revised each year, which is the nature of the approach we are taking. That is the right way rather than setting out a ten- or 20-year plan and not actually taking into account what is happening. The key developments in this iteration of the plan, which is much more significant because it now has all the legal force of the 2021 climate Act behind it, and in assessing the report are outlined in chapters 12 to 16. I will concentrate my contribution on plans within the electricity industry, the built environment, transport and agriculture. I will briefly go over some of the key commitments in these areas, which frame what will be our whole economy in the coming years, including how we will have to deliver this as a just transition, and how we deliver these significant measures will be fought out and set right.

Electricity has the highest reduction target, based on what is achievable and what is in our interest in terms of the security of the country and its economic development. We should not be reliant on expensive imported fossil fuels but instead rely on our own resources. The commitment to go from some 5 GW of onshore wind power today to 6 GW in 2025, and subsequently 9 GW, is critical. We know we can do this. We know that we have a comparative competitive advantage. It is a sensitive issue in the context of planning and other local community issues, but that is a development we need to get right. In my expectation, a large part of the new power will be delivered by the likes of Coillte, Bord na Móna and others, when it comes to some of the land-bank areas in the midlands and elsewhere where we can do this in a sensitive way through working with local communities.

At the same time, this is a significant change in development from previous plans. We are setting a target within the next three years, which is incredibly challenging, to go to 5 GW of solar power and 8 GW by 2030. In the past 20 years, we have developed hardly any solar power. We started to ramp it up to 200 MW or 300 MW in the past year. That will exponentially increase in the coming years, as we put solar on our school rooftops and people's solar homes start to be deployed, but also as solar in the field is developed at scale. We need that level of deployment if we are to meet our targets, including our interim 2025 target under the three- to five-year budgeting framework. Reducing the cost to consumers and householders is also a key, critical, new development that will require huge effort for us to deliver it but we can and will do that.

Similarly, the development in this decade of 7 GW of offshore wind will include some 5 GW in phase 1 and phase 2 projects, which we expect will largely be on the east coast, before moving to southern and western waters. Offshore wind will also be deployed to convert energy into hydrogen, ammonia or other molecules that will give us a storage and export capability, which is central to our economic, and not just environmental, future.

As part of this renewable electricity future, we will also require 2 GW of further gas power infrastructure in order to be able in those periods when there are cold, high-pressure conditions - such as the likes of what happened before Christmas or this week - to have the back-up power to meet our energy needs. That will only be one component. A significant role will be played by batteries, pump storage, demand management flexibility, the use of smart metering and the use of some of the solutions in other areas, such as transport and heating, to give us storage capabilities and back-up flexibilities. This is the new industrial revolution of our time. We are good at it as a country. We are one of the leading countries in the world at integrating renewable power into a synchronised electricity grid system. We need to use that expertise, advantage and the capabilities we have through EirGrid, the ESB, the private sector, Bord na Móna, Coillte and other State companies to make this happen.

This is also a choice we need to make in industry, first, because of our national climate law but, second, because of European law. Some 20 Bills are going through the European Council and Parliament to trial out processes with the Commission at present, which will transform the European economy in this more digital, low-carbon, green future that the EU is setting us on. These are even higher targets than the ones set out in national law. We have to do this for Irish legal reasons to be part of the European solution but, in addition, there is no option not to take this route because industrial and business sectors are also going in this direction. They will look to work with governments and communities that are successful or have set themselves on the same path.

In industry, particularly in the area of heat, which tends to be the area that does not get attention but is the one we now need to focus on most to meet our targets, an inevitable transition is happening that we need to lead and accelerate rather than try to resist and hold back. Industry will deploy the use of heat pumps, in addition to them being used in our homes. For any high-grade heat, beneath perhaps a 200°C heat requirement, I see us switching away from the use of fossil fuels. We need to switch towards heat pumps instead from more than 50% by the middle of this decade to up to three quarters of new heating sources coming from that sort of supply by the end of this decade. We have everything to gain from that. There are significant efficiencies and competitive advantages but it is a transition that has to start and happen now.

The second element in the responsibility of industry relates to the construction sector.

I see the use of higher quantities of clinker within cement production as another way in which we can get significant reductions in CO2 emissions from the construction sector and industry. We also have to work on the percentage of embodied carbon within our building sector, including the use of cross-laminated wood products and other embodied carbon systems within our buildings. It is not just that we have to build all of these houses for people; we also need to start building with timber in new and different ways, based in the circular economy, that embed carbon in our buildings. By the end of this decade, up to 30% of the emissions reductions could come from that approach.

My last point on this industrial sector is that the whole emphasis will be on efficiency and this circular economy which, as I have said, is at the centre of the European Union strategy. The energy efficiency directive and the renewables directive, which has been agreed by the Council, will still steer us in that direction. We need to go with it rather than resist it. That is the best and most secure and stable form of economy for our country in the future.

I will refer to the built environment. I know I am touching on these key areas only fleetingly but getting this right was a key part of the substance of discussion within government. In the coming years, we have to get to net-zero emission and then zero emission buildings so that our buildings can be, as I have said, part of the solution rather than part of the problem. This is all doable. The technology exists in domestic heat pumps and in better insulation and air management and ventilation systems within our homes. We have everything to gain from this. It will not work if it is seen as a punitive or negative story. It is about creating healthier homes. It is the social justice project of our time because, by retrofitting our houses, as we plan to systematically do, we will end up with a country in which we can tackle energy poverty. We will be able to tackle it at the source by making sure that our buildings are fit for purpose and healthier. I particularly refer to our social housing stock and those on lower incomes. They are the ones we will prioritise within our retrofit programmes, which are working. We are on target. We introduced that scheme last February. It is innovative and extensive and provides widespread grants. It is delivering. We met our target of retrofitting 27,000 houses last year and we will meet our target again this year as we ramp it up to 37,000 houses. Yesterday, Deputy Harris showed that there has been a significant uptick in the number of people who are looking to work in the industry. We have put 2,000 people through the training and apprenticeship programmes that will help them get into this industry and we are only starting. We are only warming up. This is going to work because it involves a systematic approach over 30 years. The funding is guaranteed. It is being raised from the application of the carbon tax and a range of other different measures. That gives the signal to our young people and householders that this is the way to go.

I will move to my fourth point. I am conscious of time and, therefore, I cannot address these matters in great detail. I look forward to further debates in this House as we start to deliver. Transport may be the sector in which we have the biggest challenge. We have a problem in that, over the past 50 years, we have developed a car-oriented transport system and a pattern and model of sprawling housing in which it is difficult to achieve a low-carbon system. We are looking at a revolutionary change in transport and at bringing life, housing and activity back into the centre of our villages, towns and cities to reduce the overall volume of transport. We are talking about a quantum shift away from dependency on private cars. It is not about being anti-car or blaming individuals for their lifestyles or the daily choices they have to make. It is about recognising that, if everyone is driving, it will not work for everyone because our roads get clogged and it is not possible to keep up with that. In fact, the more you try to provide solutions by providing more road space, the more traffic you introduce, which sets you on a vicious cycle downwards. We need to change to a virtuous cycle, which is what this plan sets out to do. As I have said, we will do that by reducing the volume of travel. The target we are setting for ourselves is a 20% reduction in car kilometres. We will introduce the measures to deliver that because failing is not an option nor is ignoring the problem.

Like every other sector, transport has to play its part. We will do that through an increase of at least 50% in active travel, although I expect it to go further. We must create safe spaces on our streets and roads, which we have not done. We have created a hostile environment that is scaring people away from active travel solutions and that sees 30% of our morning traffic comprising children being driven to school rather than being able to get there through more sustainable methods that are better for them and their families. That has to change.

On a similar note, I will address the increase in public transport that will be needed as we await the big rail-based solutions, which, unfortunately, take time to build. We will introduce demand management measures through road space reallocation and parking strategies to provide the space the buses need to be able to get through traffic more quickly and to work for everyone. That will not be easy. It will require courage and commitment in local authorities across the country but, under the law, those authorities must also now react. They have to develop plans in tune with what the overall climate action plan says we need. That is what we are going to do to deliver change in transport, along with all of the other sectors.

I only have a minute and so cannot do full justice to the whole of my last point. Agriculture must also play its part. I believe it will do so and that it will achieve more because doing so will be good for Irish agriculture. Reducing our use of fertilisers is essential to meeting our climate targets and will also save farmers money. We will move towards a less intensive system but I believe we can get paid a higher price for our produce in that system. There will be a smaller national herd but the critical thing for farmers is their family income and how we protect family farms as we do this. We will increase their income by investing in anaerobic digestion, supporting moves to diversify towards tillage and other sectors and bringing in income from forestry and solar power, as I mentioned earlier. The key project for this year is advancing the land use review, which will give us a steer as to how to make further reductions in the area of land use, implement the nature restoration law here, deliver the type of forestry we need to restore biodiversity and reduce emissions and protect rural Ireland and see it thrive in a low-carbon future, which is possible and essential for this country's future and for the security and future of our children.

2:45 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Cronin. I will take ten minutes and she will take five.

I welcome the opportunity afforded by these statements. I ask the Minister to reflect on the fact that this is a new project, coming on the back of the sectoral emissions ceilings and the first climate action plan. It is based on documents published a couple of days before Christmas. We have not yet got the annex of actions. I ask the Minister to consider whether there is a better way to bring this forward or a better timeline in which this would not be discussed so close to Christmas and in which we would have the annexe of actions at the earliest opportunity. We have not received a hard copy of the climate action plan yet. I accept that this is a relatively new process. If there is an opportunity to improve on it, as I believe there is, let us do so.

In saying that, I acknowledge that the climate action plan itself and the annexe of actions provide a strong framework for documenting the exact measures that will be taken by Government. Whether we agree with them is a different question but they do document the measures and allow those of us in the Opposition to hold the Government to account in respect of them. I acknowledge that.

The Minister has said we are going in the wrong direction globally. We are also going in the wrong direction in Ireland as regards emissions reductions. In fact, we are not realising emissions reductions; our emissions are increasing. As time goes by, we are eating further and further into the time period of our carbon budgets and into the emissions ceilings they provide. If we continue on our current trajectory, there is a real risk that we will max out or exhaust our first carbon budget well in advance of 2025. There is significant detail in the climate action plan and a ten-minute statement will not address all of it. I will break it down into a number of areas. There is broad political consensus as regards the ambition. That is set out in the science.

2 o’clock

There is a great level of detail in the action plan and a ten-minute statement is not going to address all of it. I will break it down into several areas. There is broad political consensus regarding the ambition and this is set out in the science. There are many areas where I and my party would be critical in saying we are moving too slowly. The path in some areas we can contest, while in other areas the path is quite clear but we are moving too slowly. I will touch on some of these areas in respect of renewables. In other areas, retrofitting, for example, I will contend that we are on the wrong path and our schemes are designed incorrectly. It is the same with electric vehicles, EVs. We accept the targets and want to meet them, but the path designed by the Government is not the correct one. It is acknowledged by everybody that there is a real need for additional quality information in several areas, including land use and agriculture. Regarding the financial end of this, work is being done in the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance. Let us make that happen as quickly as possible.

A point that I have made to the Minister before is that I see there is a move in respect of the governance structure and accountability and new mechanisms within the Department of the Taoiseach. The Minister needs to continue to push that. There is a need for accountability within the Department of the Taoiseach but also within the individual Departments. We have seen this at the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action where we have struggled to get responses and engagement from individual Departments. It is frustrating and my concern is that it shows a lack of priority in this regard within those Departments.

There needs to be an absolute focus, not by 2030 but by the end of the year. Sinn Féin published its vision for renewable energy and outlined a number of measures that need to be taken. There needs to be increased ambition regarding the proportion of community, State-owned and domestic renewables. We must empower our strong State agencies. It is great to have them. We must empower communities. We must see the guidelines updated that have been on the books for far too long. If we are to deliver on the ambition for onshore and offshore wind, we need to have community buy-in. We can achieve this if we take a particular approach. We need investment in ports, the grid and the planning system. I raise this point with the Minister regularly and I am sure he is aware of it but we need an identified workforce plan. I understand An Bord Pleanála has come forward with that. Is it up to scratch? Are those people in place? Will they be in place to deliver and assess the applications coming the Minister's way?

We need reform of the public service obligation, PSO. It is regressive between large energy users and residential energy users and also between residential energy users. The PSO needs to be reformed to ensure fairness. On retrofitting, we have published a policy and had a Dáil debate on this issue. The Minister is not taking on board the points made by me and others in the Opposition. We and the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCPC, have stated that shallow retrofit need to be introduced at pace. Up to 500,000 homes would benefit from shallow retrofits today. Far too many people cannot access schemes because they are not eligible for them or do not have the money to do so.

I appreciate that we need to scale up in respect of capacity. The Government needs to ensure the resources are applied in the most efficient and effective way possible. Sinn Féin has set out our proposals in A Fairer Retrofit Plan, which looks at taking an area-based approach. This area-based approach has been employed and I have heard that Fingal County Council has sought for it to be standard practice. In the better energy communities scheme, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has employed it, almost on a pilot basis, in Cork. This is the approach we need to take. We must identify the coldest and poorest households and retrofit those along with neighbouring homes to allow us to get through as many houses as possible, rather than retrofitting Nos. 6, 11 and 14 in one street this month and then doing Nos. 5 and 8 six months later, with everybody in between left behind. There is a possibility and need to take a fairer and more efficient approach.

Lifting people out of energy poverty is also a key priority. While I welcome the movement on the energy poverty strategy, it needs to happen at pace. It is the same with solar power. There is a great opportunity in this area. As I understand it, however, some energy providers are still not getting paid for the energy they are giving back to the system. This needs to be addressed. Again, it is an example of where the Government and the Opposition are on the same page. Why is this not happening in a timely fashion to show people the benefits and opportunities of climate action?

Regarding transport, there are great opportunities in the Connecting Ireland plan. I ask the Minister to please prioritise and resource this plan. A sum of €5 million was allocated in its first year. Sinn Féin has committed to allocating €25 million to it in year two. Let us make that happen. I have seen it implemented through the introduction of the 188 bus service. This is a route I have argued for since before I was a Teachta Dála and while still a county councillor. It has been welcomed by the community. Let us make more of this happen. This development is in stark contrast to the Navan rail line, which we are again hearing will not be delivered until 2036. That is far too slow. Communities want this rail line and will appreciate it. It would be a very positive development in the context of climate action. Let us make it happen.

2:55 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the climate action plan. As a Sinn Féin member of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, I am acutely aware we are no longer working to prevent climate change. What we are trying to do now is mitigate the impact and keep temperatures as low as possible and any increase as slow as possible. Here in the EU we have had heatwaves, droughts, fire storms, landslides and flooding. Even the temperature anomalies we experienced over Christmas showed that climate change has us firmly in its grip, with experts saying we are already experiencing now what they had thought would happen much further down the line.

Our task as legislators, and indeed as citizens, is to ensure that humanity, our so-called civilisation, can continue to exist on Earth, with all its seasons, habitats, flora and fauna and all the things that we took for granted as kids growing up. We hope we will keep these intact for our grandchildren too. With this action plan, though, I am a little worried. I remember only a couple of years ago when, in complete defiance of the science, the current Taoiseach spoke about climate change as if it was something kind of positive that might help us to keep our bills down. As such, I do not envy the Minister's position. This exposes a plastic, populist, soundbite-driven, headline-grabbing approach to climate, as with everything else, including housing, health, refugees. Frankly, the shallow approach has nothing to offer the State or, indeed, the world in the context of the challenges we face.

We agree with the objective of cutting emissions by 51% by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050. It is perfectly clear, however, that the Government's plan is not working and that we need new and far more dynamic climate approaches. Despite the fact that our carbon budget must fall by 4.8% in each year from 2021 to 2025, far from falling in 2021, emissions rose by 5.4%. The Government is kidding nobody but itself. I was reminded this morning that far from imagining ourselves as this greener than green island in terms of ecological integrity, Ireland is considered to be one of the most depleted countries in Europe as regards biodiversity and rewilding.

I worry that there is a residual sense in Government that our being a so-called "small open trading economy" will somehow trump what the climate scientist, Professor Kevin Anderson, who came in to us at committee, calls "the molecules of climate change". The molecules of climate change are coming for us whether we are ready for them or not. Sinn Féin is planning across all our Departments because climate effects everything - health, housing, transport, school buses, how we grow our food, how we heat our homes and especially how we get to work around public transport - and that is key to the climate plan.

I am starting to feel sorry for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, because I have his heart broken talking about the appalling state of the buses in north Kildare for people trying to get to work and for my constituents trying to travel to Maynooth University in my constituency. My constituents are desperate to do their bit for climate by getting out of their cars and onto public transport because they see what their children are facing and they want to be able to mitigate it as much as possible but the State must do its bit in return. The bus in north Kildare is either late or a no show. It sails pass them full, with people packed down the aisles and the bus nearly hitting the floor. Buses might seem like a small issue in the climate change plan but it is a significant issue because the poor service is forcing people back into their cars when they know in their heart and soul that they should not be driving. Many of them do not want to drive.

My comrades, Deputies O'Rourke, Quinlivan and Guirke, and I introduced a Bill on the need for a hydrogen strategy last year which, I am delighted, passed Second Stage on 14 January. It might sound a bit buzzy to talk about hydrogen in the future the Government loves to live in but we really need a hydrogen strategy. My party's Bill is just through Second Stage and I ask the Minister to have a look at it.

My party's plan to give free public transport to under 18s is ready to go. That way the public transport is the no-brainer option and it gets young people into the habit of using public transport and not buying a car. I have spoken to the Minister about that previously. They cannot afford electric vehicles. They are buying the old banger if the bus is not reliable. We have to get the essentials right and we need proper joined-up thinking.

3:05 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I am glad that we are here discussing the contents of the Climate Action Plan 2023, notwithstanding the delays in publishing the report and in holding this debate. I have stated previously, but it bears repeating, that the delay and missed targets are regrettably characteristic of the Government’s approach to the climate and biodiversity crises.

The matter of climate action is so serious, we should have been scheduled for the Dáil and Seanad to debate this updated plan before Christmas and it is somewhat late coming to the House today, in January. Nevertheless, I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on behalf of the Labour Party to the debate, and I do so in the spirit of working constructively to overcome the immense challenges we face in meeting our necessary climate emission reductions targets.

This answer to our collective problem is inherently political, but it should not be partisan. Ireland must lose its reputation as a climate laggard and we must all work together to achieve a better status for us.

We are well into the key decade in which we must see our emissions reduced by half. We are already on the precipice of reaching that worrying milestone of 1.5°C global warming. We are mid-way through the first carbon budget, which requires emissions to fall by an average of 4.8% per year, and yet the Environmental Protection Agency has reported that Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 5% in 2021, during a pandemic year. At this rate, we are seriously diminishing the chance of meeting our climate targets. I have to ask if the Minister believes that there will be further slippage in the achievement of these targets.

I listened carefully to the Minister's speech. Indeed, there were some welcome announcements today on the roll-out of rapid electric vehicle, EV, charging points. The Minister's points about circular economy are vitally important and I support those. There is much in the climate action plan that is important and significant and yet it is heavy on aspiration but light on delivery. In the section on district heating, for example, all are agreed on the considerable potential of district heating schemes to curb emissions but there has been such a severe lack of delivery and such a severe delay in rolling out schemes, such as in Poolbeg. I visited the Covanta plant some time ago and saw the mechanisms there for achieving district heating systems, and yet no resourcing is put in place to ensure that they would, in fact, be delivered. That is the real problem.

To echo the sentiments of Friends of the Earth and other environmentalists, the real test for the Minister and indeed for the Government is to deliver not only ambitions but also outcomes. We need to see serious priority placed on outcomes on climate action, not just by Ministers and Departments, but also by State agencies they oversee. I have raised in this Chamber previously reports in the media, in particular in the Business Post, that elements of Government appear not even to be aiming to achieve their own targets. We have documents released under freedom of information confirming that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is conceding it will not meet its methane emission reduction targets. That is clearly serious, but it is not only the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I read recent reports about pensions in Ireland in The Journal’s Noteworthyoutlet, which has reported that an ambition in the 2019 Climate Action Plan to tighten scrutiny regarding the investment of pension funds in fossil fuels appears to have been quietly rolled back by the Department of Social Protection almost as soon as it was published, and no delivery. I note the absence of any such objective in more recent iterations of the climate action plan. Why are policies such as this falling between the gaps or, indeed, being reversed?

We in Labour have repeatedly called for the Department of the Taoiseach and the Taoiseach to take a stronger role in keeping climate action plans on track across Departments and across State agencies. In housing, for example, the Minister has said that Government has met its targets on retrofitting of housing. Let us face it. There is a significant building and deep retrofitting programme in place, with 120,000 dwellings to be retrofitted to BER B2 by 2025 and a goal of 500,000 by 2030. According to the Department’s own reports, construction of public housing slowed between the third quarter of 2021 and the same period last year. Anyone attempting to renovate a home now will know of the effect of inflation on the cost of building supplies. They will know of the difficulties in securing labour. It does not seem that it will be feasible to meet those ambitious retrofitting targets. Does the Minister believe that his Department is sufficiently resourced to ensure retrofitting targets are met and a greater co-ordination between Departments would be vital to see these targets achieved?

I will speak finally on the topic of forestry. Too often, the issue of biodiversity and the biodiversity crisis is overlooked in conversations about climate change. In that context and in the context in which we know that forests serve such a vital function as a carbon sink, I want to raise with the Minister the worrying proposal to sell-off land by Coillte. This is a proposal that has raised immense concerns. I have heard numerous people - constituents of mine and people across the country - who are really concerned about this. We in Labour are unequivocal about this. Coillte must adopt a new approach. They must plant more publicly-owned forests and partner with farmers to support farmers in developing new forestry on their own lands to provide a long term sustainable income, as the Minister suggested in his speech, and to help Ireland meet our climate targets. The proposed fund appears not to make any sense in the context of our overall objectives. Indeed, it has united environmentalists and farmers, and all sectors of society, against it. It seems that, under the reported proposal, Coillte will source the land for forestry, carry out the planting and management, but private investment will benefit from State grants and premia. We will see more monoculture forests, driven by a profit motivation. We cannot see how this will either boost biodiversity or support our agriculture sector to meet ambitious targets. Indeed, we think it is wrong for private investors to reap all of the financial benefits. Why is Coillte itself not simply managing these proposed forests and why is the Government not supporting Coillte to do this so that it is done in public ownership? I would like to hear some clarity from the Minister on that. I am aware this was raised earlier and the Taoiseach stated that this was not directly a matter for the Government. I simply do not accept that. The Government must intervene here to ensure that Coillte can be supported in this way. We want to see farmers provided with a new long-term source of income so that we can commit to a sustainable and biodiverse farming sector and a sustainable and biodiverse forestry sector. This is something that requires a urgent response from the Government.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Tá an tAire Stáit, an Teachta O'Donovan, ag roinnt a chuid ama leis na Teachtaí Ó Cuív, Higgins agus Dillon.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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First, I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Office of Public Works. In the first instance, I am delighted to be reappointed as Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works for another while.

The climate change we witness in the communities we must visit year in, year out in this country is not in any way political. It does not discriminate on the basis of where these people live, the background they have or the way they vote. It is having a huge impact all over Ireland. If anybody thinks it is not, they should walk in my shoes for a fortnight or three weeks. They should visit places such as Clifden, Bridgetown in County Wexford, Enniscorthy and Crossmolina, a town that has been waiting for so long. There is a constant threat and fear hanging over people with regard to what the weather forecast might bring in the next 24 to 48 hours. This is one side of the equation.

The other side of the equation in the immediate term is the issue of how our coastline communities continue to be threatened by rising sea levels. I say continually that we could reduce all of our emissions in the State to zero, which will never happen, and the water levels around us would continue to rise. We cannot have this discussion in a vacuum. We need to speak about adaptation and mitigation. We need to speak about resilience and responsiveness. Before Christmas I visited the city of Liège in Belgium. It was devastated by what can only be described as a climate change event a number of years ago. The statistics from it are terrible. Thirty-nine people died and 100,000 people were directly impacted. There were 11,000 vehicles washed away, 15,000 private dwelling houses were impacted and public buildings were obliterated. The cost to the Government of Wallonia, which is a small state in Belgium, was approximately €6 billion. The question is not whether the same thing can happen in Ireland but when it will happen.

We have to address in a very serious way, under a number of legislative headings, planning, resilience and the capacity to respond. The speed at which the OPW as an organisation is allowed to respond is far too slow. Everybody accepts this. When a planning Bill comes before the Dáil in the not too distant future I implore Deputies on all sides of the House to think not of the political implications of what their votes will do when they cast them but about people in Crossmolina, Bantry, Cork, this city of Dublin and communities all over the country that are waiting for the next amount of sewerage, filth, dirt and excrement to pour through their front doors. We in the Office of Public Works implore the Oireachtas and our colleagues in the European institutions to deal with this issue quickly. What is happening around us is not just about emissions. It is also about adaptation and mitigation. If we do not deal with it in the not too distant future, we will have an event such as that which occurred in Wallonia in our country and lives will be lost.

People speak about climate migration. Climate migration has started in Ireland. As I speak, houses are being knocked in County Roscommon because of an intractable situation caused by climate change and the rise of a turlough. People have to leave their homes. Collectively, everybody in the House has responsibility in this regard. It is not about the Government and the Opposition. Everybody has to stand in front of the mirror and ask themselves whether it is appropriate in 2023 that people in Roscommon are leaving their homes because of a planning system that will not allow their properties to be protected. I implore the House, on behalf of those who work for the Office of Public Works and the outdoor staff of local authorities, to deal with this issue.

3:15 pm

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I have to say I am very disappointed the debate is so short. I will try to raise as many issues as I can in a very short time. The first thing we need to do is progress offshore energy. There are a number of elements to this. We need fast, efficient and transparent administrative systems. We need to change the legal systems so decisions are made in good time. We also need to ensure community buy-in. I am concerned the community funds do not specify the geographic areas where the money should be spent. There is major concern in my constituency that the money will be spent away from the most affected communities. I want to touch on the importance of creating storage of electricity. Hydrogen is a very obvious example. We need to expedite this.

I notice in the Minister's statement that he is giving us three buses a day to the nearest town. The reality for those living where I live is that the vast majority of people do not want to go to the nearest town. They want to go to Galway because it has two universities, a hospital and major employment. What do we find? We find that people are using the buses but they have two main problems. One is that the buses are full by the time they are halfway to Galway on all of the major arterial routes, including Headford, Clarinbridge, Spiddal and Oughterard. Another issue is that it is hard to believe that in this day and age no bus leaves Galway for Clifden later than 6.10 p.m. It is absolutely incredible.

I am very concerned about the corporatisation of the ownership of land with regard to forestry. We could get the same amount of planting done by farmers if the incentives were there. We spent long enough trying to get our own land back not to give it away willy-nilly. I cannot understand why we cannot work with the farmers and farmer co-operatives to ensure the necessary planting.

The next point I would like to raise is the feed-in tariffs. Hundreds of people in my constituency, particularly in rural areas, are mad to sell solar power to the grid but they keep getting the push-off from the companies that have promised to give them a feed-in tariff. Then we speak about trying to persuade people to go green.

I understand charging systems will be put on the motorways. We should always watch the small print. On the news this morning, "main routes" were mentioned but this refers to motorways. The reality is that this means the counties of Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Donegal and Cavan will once again be excluded.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted that on the first sitting day of the Dáil in 2023 climate is the top of the agenda. This is where it needs to be. It is not just climate but climate action. Our action plan for this year is critical. There is no doubt that solving the climate crisis is a priority for Irish people. Unfortunately, while awareness and the will to make change is growing, so too are temperatures, sea levels and the number of climate disasters we see. This is why the climate action plan needs teeth. It cannot be advisory. It has to be actionable and enforceable.

The 2023 action plan puts climate solutions at the centre of our social and economic development. This year's plan is the first to be placed on a statutory footing. Previous climate plans indicated what should be done. This plan makes those measures law, legally obliging Departments, agencies and local authorities to follow the plan. This is a part of the plan I want to take the time to welcome. The sectoral emissions ceilings of the action plan are significant. The cornerstone of our climate response is our commitment to reduce emissions. It is also a pillar of the programme for Government, with targets of net zero by 2050 and a 51% reduction by 2030.

Recently, a constituent wrote to me stating that nationally only bold actions will do now and it is long past time for half measures and baby steps. I want to put those views of my constituent on the record. We are two years into our first five-year carbon budget and, worryingly, our emissions are only growing. This underpins the urgent need to reduce our emissions across every sector to turn the tide. The sectoral ceilings and the ability to hold Departments, agencies and local authorities accountable will be vital to allow us to turn the tide, as will Government actions that enable people to go green. The Minister knows this and I commend him, and his officials and team, on all of the work that has gone into the action plan because it will deliver change in Ireland.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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We cannot speak about climate action without speaking about forestry. I have repeatedly said in the House that if we fail on forestry, we will fail on climate action. The Government is failing dramatically.

The programme for Government sets out an annual target of 8,000 ha per year in new afforestation, but instead the Government has overseen the near entire collapse of Irish forestry. We are now planting fewer trees than we were during the Second World War. Under a Fianna Fáil Minister and a Green Party Minister of State, forestry outputs have got worse since this Government came into office. Rather than engaging with the forestry and timber sectors, and farmers and local communities, to address the core issues that have led to the current dysfunction, Ministers have organised photocalls and press conferences and commissioned report after report, but all the while the crisis in forestry has intensified.

In an all too familiar story, the answer of the Government appears to be to facilitate the sale of thousands of hectares of Irish land to a British investment vehicle. We are told the Green Party Minister of State knew, as far back as March 2021, about Coillte's plan to use such a private vehicle to acquire land. Yet following the recent formal announcement by Coillte of its proposed arrangement with the Gresham House funds, Ministers have pretended they are neutral observers. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the shareholder, on behalf of the Irish people, in Coillte and he can and should instruct Coillte to stall this plan immediately. The Government can and should state categorically that it will not permit the use of €2 billion plus of Irish taxpayers' money to facilitate this land grab.

This joint venture is not about climate. It is not even about forestry. Gresham House has confirmed that 8,000 ha of its Irish portfolio will consist of existing forestry land and as little as 3,000 ha will be bare land for new tree planting. From the perspective of Gresham House, this is all about corporate profit. It is a typical approach that sums up the Green Party in government, an approach that points the finger at ordinary workers, families and communities, while the Government fails to reach every single climate objective it sets. A good forestry policy is one that delivers for the environment, for communities and for local economies. The Coillte joint venture with Gresham House will deliver in none of those areas, just as the Government has delivered in none of these areas. The Minister should, therefore, use this debate as an opportunity to confirm that the Government will stop this scandalous venture immediately.

3:25 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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Carbon emissions, climate change, the climate action plan, COP26, and COP27 are undoubtedly very important to us all, but they mean very little to those living in Dublin City Council flat complexes. The Government talks about this scheme and that scheme, but none of them impact on residents living in Countess Markievicz House or Whitefriar Gardens. The Government regularly announces how many schemes it has provided to help households to reduce emissions, but the tenants in Bishop Street or Rathmines Avenue do not see or feel any benefit from all these announcements. They are living in neglect and have been neglected for too long.

I was in McDonagh House and Pearse House recently meeting with residents and, almost without exception, every flat had serious dampness and mould problems, the level of which has serious health impacts on young and old. One family had an elderly parent who was receiving dialysis three times per week. The seals are broken on the windows and the cost of heating is huge, and this is clearly not healthy for this gentleman. One parent in St. Andrews Court is living in completely overcrowded conditions and has a young child who has a cough that is more like a smoker's cough, which is caused by the mould. Climate measures have to make a difference to residents who have been neglected for years.

Carbon emissions, reductions and schemes seem to be for the wealthy. That is what so many residents of flat complexes are telling me. Why not put solar panels on the roof of flats? The climate action plan does not affect families living in flat complexes and we need a change for those families. People living in the flats in Pearse House and Mercer House have been forgotten about and neglected. There needs to be an urgency around ensuring proper, adequate, decent retrofitting for residents living in flat complexes. Let us see real change for those living in flats. Let us see real improvements in the conditions of those living in the flat complexes across Dublin city.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I will always welcome talking about climate in this Chamber but today I wish we had the implementation plan for the climate action plan. The clue is in the title; we need to see action. It is not just me or other Members of the Opposition who are saying we need to move from talk to action. It is also being said by the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. Hopefully we will have statements again when the implementation plan is published because that is going to be very important.

I also welcome the fact that the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works was in the Chamber earlier talking about adaptation. Oftentimes, we forget adaptation when we talk about the climate. It is clear that climate change is happening. It is happening now and it is happening in Ireland. A major contribution must be in how we deal with and adapt to the changing climate and in preparing communities to deal with what is coming down the road.

I only have six minutes, unfortunately, so I will quickly go through my key points. I have repeatedly raised, in this Chamber, my fears about the Government meeting the targets it sets. While the plans are very thorough and are welcome, we need to see the actual targets being met and the delivery of these measures, and that is key. The climate action plan talks about taxation policy. I was very disappointed that the Government did not take on board the Social Democrats' proposal of putting a zero-VAT rate on solar equipment and services. That was a real opportunity the Government missed. This is allowed for under an EU directive and the Government should have introduced a zero-VAT rate for solar. I again ask the Minister to reconsider investing properly in solar for communities and to look at the Social Democrats' policy on that. It would involve large State intervention when it comes to rolling out solar panels for houses across the country. It would help people dealing with their electricity bills, help with the pressures on our grid and help with our climate policies. This is very important.

I would like to see someone with biodiversity experience on the CCAC. We cannot deal with climate and biodiversity separately. They are two issues so conjoined they need to be dealt with together. I understand there is not a biodiversity or ecologist specialist, particularly a terrestrial one, on the CCAC. There may be a marine biologist but there should be a greater focus within that committee on biodiversity.

Today, I want to primarily talk about just transition, on which the climate action plan contains a large chapter. When the Government talks about climate action, it continually refers to just transition and how it is important to bring communities along with us when dealing with climate and introducing climate action measures. In fact, the climate action plan states that the Government will "maximise employment opportunities, and support persons and communities that may be negatively affected by the transition" to a zero-carbon economy.

The plans by Coillte to partner with an international investment fund to plant forestry in Ireland, as a climate initiative, absolutely flies in the face of the whole concept of just transition in Ireland. The Government is using its funds through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. It is subsidising this partnership between Coillte and a UK investment fund. Grant aid will also go to this investment fund to enable international investors to buy up land and profit from it. That will, without doubt, push up land prices for farming communities across this country. Coillte has said it does not believe this will happen. Without a doubt, it is going to happen because there is only so much land in Ireland. If UK investors are subsidised by a state government to purchase land, it will only push up prices.

We need this Government to use some of the €5 billion in surplus this year to invest in rural communities, local grassroots climate action, our climate future and biodiversity. If we offshore this, we are essentially facilitating a land grab by international investors. It is similar to what we have seen in housing policy Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have overseen over the past number of years. When it comes to health, we see prioritisation of large corporations and now, yet again, we will see this when it comes to climate action. It is not good enough. I am pleased to hear some of the backbenchers in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael talk about this as well. I hope the Minister of State listens. I understand this is not primarily the portfolio of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, but it is a major issue. It is a climate action issue and the Minister needs to get involved. It is obviously the area of the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, as well.

This plan cannot be allowed to happen. We need to invest in rural communities. We need to assist people who will be disadvantaged by climate measures we need to take. Without a doubt, it will be very difficult for our rural and farming communities to deal with this. The Government will expect changes of them which they will have to implement and such changes will impact them financially and socially unless the Government supports them. This is the very antithesis of supporting those communities. It is supporting international investors to take land away from them. I ask the Minister of State to have a conversation with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and to sit down with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and knock this plan on the head. It is not how one deals with just transition or climate action within local and rural communities.

3:35 pm

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I welcome the climate action plan. It is the first statutory plan since the adoption of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and the agreement last year on the sectoral emissions ceilings. One of the critical pieces of the climate Act is that it provides for an annual revisable plan and should we find we are off track at any point, we can review and revise the plan such that we get back on track. That is one of the strongest elements of the Act.

Achieving a decarbonised economy and a climate neutral Ireland will bring new sustainable opportunities but it will also be challenging and it will require significant changes across all and every sector. I was pleased to see the announcement yesterday by the Ministers, Deputies Ryan and Harris, on the significant progress being made in the number of participants in the near zero energy building, NZEB, and the retrofit upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Following the opening of the education and training board, ETB, centres of excellence in retrofit training, there has been a continuous strong increase in the number of workers availing of the upskilling and reskilling opportunities. The increase from the initial 363 enrolments in 2020 to more than 2,000 last year puts us strongly on the path towards the target of retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030. The centre of excellence for retrofit and NZEB skills in Roxboro in my own constituency of Limerick City will provide training for approximately 1,500 workers per year.

Skills and resources have the power to underpin or, indeed, undermine our great effort. The skills challenge we face is not just directly in the area of renewables or retrofitting. Our whole planning system has to ramp up in order that, now that we as a State have set the ambition, we do not then get in the way. We have sent strong signals that Ireland will be a net exporter of energy, primarily utilising our west coast wind energy resource. This will be floating wind technology. Private industry throughout the world has heard the call and wishes to move fast and, within reason, we should not hold it back or get in its way.

I have a serious concern that while we are sending these strong signals we are still constraining this sector. Concerns have been raised in recent days. I draw the Minister of State's attention to an article in The Connaught Telegraphpublished just this afternoon. The concern is that the west coast ambition in floating technology is to be scheduled behind the south coast in the upcoming policy statement on phase 2 of offshore wind with regard to floating wind deployment. This is a very bad message to be sending to the global wind energy development sector, when developers are telling us they are chomping at the bit to get involved in the west coast of Ireland.

I ask the Minister of State to ensure the west is not scheduled behind the south coast and that we have a level playing field in the deployment of floating offshore wind technology.

Photo of James O'ConnorJames O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I will make a point on the climate action plan I have made in the House before around the calculation of the emissions budgeting for different Departments and sectors of our economy. As we all know, according to what we released in the most recent census, Ireland has a rapidly growing population. As a consequence,we need to engage in very serious work around infrastructure development, whether it is roads and transportation infrastructure, rail or any of the climate friendly transportation projects. Unfortunately, the undertaking of these projects have very large emissions, as does the construction of housing and expansion in Irish agriculture.

We have set ourselves a target to try to reduce our carbon budgeting to 2018 types of levels. However, I have highlighted a concern in the area of transport in particular. I was very dissatisfied by the response I got in this House from the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who went on quite an extensive speech about the planet burning rather than answering the question he was asked. This is about the current national development plan, NDP, the Government painstakingly tried to negotiate.

I make the point to the Minister of State that if we are trying to calculate our carbon budgets on 2018 emissions for future development of infrastructure, there were very few major infrastructure projects under way. We are talking about several projects listed within the NDP, whether it is the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, CMATS, around public transport infrastructure in Cork, the Cork-Limerick motorway or a number of important key rail and road developments including the construction of a €22 billion metro network in our capital city. The point has to be made that the 2018 targets are wholly unrealistic. I ask that the Departments of Transport and of the Environment, Climate and Communications go away to do the work, do an audit of the projects in the NDP and come up with some type of a palatable and realistic solution rather than coming in here to talk nonsense.

I am very concerned by what is being presented as a backbencher supporting the Government through its legislation. It is a difficult place to be when one wishes to get a point across or when one has a problem with something. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Ryan, may take up on that again in the new year.

I wish all the staff and the Ceann Comhairle a very happy new year.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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Few things we do in this House will be as fundamental as addressing and facing up to the challenge of climate change. It is, quite literally, an existential issue for life on this planet, not just for the human race. Biodiversity loss has been highlighted by several speakers already.

We have to grasp this issue and challenge. We cannot simply sit on the fence or we cop out on this issue. It is not right to say we do not have the information and we will leave that to someone else. We all have a responsibility to act on this. The climate action plan is living up to that responsibility. It is driving forward the changes we need. It will be hard and difficult but the cross-cutting and cross-departmental nature of the plan really highlights the ambition as well as the complexity of this challenge we will have to address.

It is important, however, this is done in a fair and just way. The phrase, "just transition", is used repeatedly through the plan. We need to focus on just transition, on what it means and what it is, rather than it becoming jargon or a simple buzzword to quote.

If we look at the nature of the climate action plan in addressing the issue of fuel poverty through retrofitting homes, it shows we can address both climate and the challenge of decarbonisation while also addressing the challenge of fuel poverty. By building better, in the right way, we can address housing, homelessness and climate all at the one time. That cuts back to the complexity of this problem which is reflected in the complexity and comprehensiveness of this plan. It is fundamentally important that the element of social justice, alongside climate justice, not be lost. That must be the focus to deliver a climate plan that is fair for all.

3:45 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this plan. We spend far too much time in this House arguing about targets, mostly with the Opposition demanding higher targets than the Government has committed to, and not enough time looking at the innovative policy tools that we need to bring in to make a difference. I listened to the Opposition and, by and large, their contribution is finding fault with the measures that are already in the plan, not coming up with new ideas. I have also listened to people saying that 100% finance is needed for this. The reality is that if we cannot mobilise private capital as well as public capital, we will not achieve what is set out in the climate plan.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is like the housing crisis.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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We have to look at ways of leveraging private investment as well as public investment. I know this is close to the heart of the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth. There are two areas with opportunities for fresh thinking. One is carbon farming, where we pay farmers for the sort of thing we need to do, such as rewetting and reducing livestock herding on some of these drained organic soils. It offers a significant opportunity but the incentives are not in place. There are other examples.

The second matter is the circular economy and I know the Minister of State has done much work to contribute to that. The plan emphasises that there is much more to the circular economy than reducing waste, which tends to be the focus of the strategy at the moment. It is about the whole design of the supply chain. We all have responsibility, including those who design buildings, those who occupy them, those who produce food and those who consume. The ESRI has shown that we have 75% more emissions if we look at our consumption patterns than if we look solely at our production patterns. We throw away stuff with greater frequency. We buy expensive, high-end materials that we could use much more efficiently. We need much more efficient construction sites, use of our vehicle fleet, and so on. That is where we need to find ways to deliver. There is a new opportunity in those areas and we need to tap into them. We still need to see sectoral plans, which are crucial. I think we can deliver a much less adversarial approach to meeting our targets if we look at this through the prism of the circular economy rather than pointing the finger at data centres or farmers, which we are all too familiar with hearing people speak about. We need to change how we manage our whole supply chain if we want to achieve this. I get frustrated with people who want to find one scapegoat to blame for all the challenges faced.

There must be genuine commitment by the public sector to lead. I do not see it yet in procurement or its patterns. We can only have a call to arms to the wider population if the public sector is seen to lead.

The last point I want to make is that when land use is included, one discovers that land use is generating far more emissions than we thought. It has added another 3.3 million tonnes that have to be found under the climate plan. I do not see where that has been allocated or where it will be met. That needs to be clarified otherwise we will be revisiting the targets set for the different sectors, which will not be easy.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin supports the objective of cutting emissions but it is clear that the Government's approach is not working and that new ideas and climate action policies are needed. The current proposals are inequitable. Much of the Government's climate action plan puts a burden on ordinary workers and families, particularly family farmers and rural communities. Those living in rural Ireland find it difficult, if not impossible, to access services, whether employment, education or retail, without using a private car. A large proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the transport sector. If we are to meet our overall emissions reduction target by 2030, we need a serious increase in investment in our public transport services to reduce the dependency on private cars and to accelerate the roll-out of rural bus services. We need to cut fares and make bus and train stations wheelchair accessible for disabled people. We also have to ensure there is sufficient capacity on existing services. We need to have a public service that is reliable, affordable and safe, with sufficient capacity. I particularly want to mention the 109X route from Cavan to Dublin. That route is oversubscribed nearly every day when going home. People are left waiting at the side of the road for hours for a bus to come eventually to bring them home.

We encourage people to buy electric cars but it is too expensive for those who most need to do this. Those who have the oldest, dirtiest cars, who most need to replace them, cannot afford to do so. We need to consider looking at grants for second-hand electric cars to be rolled out.

The grants to retrofit houses are generous but only if people have money in the first place. More investment in the warmer homes scheme is needed, as well as in local authorities, which inform me that they do not get even nearly enough funds to retrofit their own supply of houses. Some of those houses are quite old and most need to be retrofitted.

Afforestation can play an important role in meeting our emissions targets. However, the Government is not doing enough to foster this sector. The programme for Government set a target of planting 8,000 ha. Only a quarter of that target was reached last year or the year before. There are ongoing problems with the licences. Farmers and private forestry companies have been deprived of licences to plant trees for some years now. The Government needs to look at and deal with those issues. It needs to support farmers in dealing with ash dieback instead of allowing a British company to come in and practically giving it land to invest in our country. Farmers and forestry companies here should be given the first option to invest.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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There are 166,000 vacant homes. Many are homes that people could live in and where they could raise families. Instead, this Government is leaving them idle, empty and rotting. When the Government tells us it is serious about tackling climate change, I ask how serious it is. It is serious enough about making ordinary people struggle to pay prices, taxes and unfair carbon taxes but it is not serious about tackling the wealthy speculators who are hoarding homes in the middle of a housing crisis. There are no simple fixes to climate change but there are solutions. Repairing and retrofitting a built house is better for the environment. Everyone accepts this. Using empty stock would make a real difference and it would deliver homes quickly. In my constituency, Cork North-Central, there are areas where one in five homes is empty. Does the Minister of State know how frustrating this is for families where three or four generations live in a house and the house next door is empty? It is wrong. Children are sleeping in hotels and the rich are profiting from leaving these homes empty. That is wrong.

We need to build new homes if we are serious about tackling the housing crisis and the climate crisis. We need to be serious about finding solutions. Tackling vacancy and dereliction is a fair solution. It creates homes for people, reduces dumping and makes it better for the environment. The Government's answer to that in last year's budget was a vacant homes tax of 0.3%. How is it serious?

A number of years ago, when I was a councillor on Cork City Council, I was told by the OPW that in 40 to 50 years, because of global warming, Cork city will need a flood protection barrier. Is the Government planning to protect Cork from flooding because of global warming? What plans are in place to do that?

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Incredible scenes have emerged from Germany over the past few weeks. The German Government has decided to destroy and demolish a village called Lützerath to make room for a coal mine. It has been met by brave resistance. Some 50,000 protestors turned up to resist, who in turn were subjected to incredible brutality by the German police. Indeed, yesterday, Greta Thunberg was arrested. In the town of Lützerath, we are seeing the brutality of the police against climate protestors while the Greens are in government in Germany, which is a dramatic illustration of the failure of the Greens really to deal with a climate catastrophe.

3 o’clock

This plan is less dramatic. It is less clear to people and less brutal than the police but its failure, which is an indication of the failure of the Greens in this country, is no less profound. If the justification for the Greens' participation in government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was action on climate change, this plan, in its own quiet way, blows that out of the water. We must compare, as we always should, the scale of the crisis versus the response and it is the equivalent of advising a patient bleeding to death from a gaping wound to use some tea tree oil on it. The failure is not an accident; it is built into this Government's management commitment to the capitalist system to allow the big business decisions on agribusiness, data centres and private energy to take priority over the needs of ordinary people and the need to avoid climate catastrophe. The only things the Government has are wishful thinking about the market delivering and wishful thinking on the future technology that will come down the line. The latest EPA report confirms that up to quarter 2 of 2022 Ireland's emissions grew once again, making it the highest per capita emitter in the EU. In total, Ireland's emissions are on track to exceed the combined ten-year carbon budget by between 23% and 26%. It is an absolutely brazen, clear and complete failure in every single aspect. The reason is the Government always puts the interests of big business first. To stop climate change and absolute catastrophe we need system change, a break with the ecocidal capitalist system and ecosocialist change that puts people's interests and our planet first.

3:55 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The proposed deal between Coillte, the State forestry company, and Gresham House, a UK-based investment fund, is an absolute disgrace on a par with the previous, utterly shameful plan first signed off by Fianna Fáil and the Greens in 2010, and followed through on by the Fine Gael-Labour Government, to sell off the harvesting rights of Coillte in 2013 to pay off the bankers' debts. I am thankful that shameful proposal was defeated through mass protests but now we essentially have a continuation of that attempt by the State and by the State forestry company to facilitate a corporate takeover of tens of thousands of acres of land and forestry to benefit a for-profit investment fund. The questions and answers produced by Coillte on this spell it out clearly. It states:

The [Irish strategic forestry] fund is designed to generate profits from the business of forestry and timber production. These profits will be retained within the fund and from time to time be distributed to the investors in a similar way as a company distributes dividends to its shareholders.

That is what this is about. It is a corporate grab of land and forestry at the expense of small farmers, biodiversity and water quality. It is absolute nonsense to suggest any of this is going to benefit the climate. As Friends of the Irish Environment pointed out when it wrote to the European Commission, a report done for the Department showed Irish forests, because they are being cut down and are based on a monocultural industrial model, are net carbon emitters because we have a totally dysfunctional for-profit forestry model. We need to reform Coillte, abandon this deal and adopt a sustainable forestry model.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I express solidarity with the tens of thousands of climate activists in Germany protesting the demolition of a village to make way for a coal mine. They have taken this stance despite the mobilisation of thousands of riot police against them and the detention and arrest of activists, including Greta Thunberg. The Minister of State might comment on the fact the Green Party's sister party is part of the German Government that is presiding over all this. Does he support the stance of his sister party or does he support Greta Thunberg and the climate campaigners?

What are the top ten carbon emitters in Ireland? In order, starting from the number one position, they are: Dublin Airport, the Drogheda cement plant, the Ballyconnell cement plant, the roads in Dublin, the Limerick cement plant, the Irving Oil refinery at Whitegate, Corrib, the Kinnegad cement plant, Shannon Airport and Cork Airport. Of those ten entities, seven are privately owned and operated on a for-profit basis and the other three are semi-State companies, but their emissions come in the main from privately-owned airlines that are also run on a for-profit basis. You cannot control what you do not own. A serious carbon action plan would move to nationalise the major carbon emitters and run them on an environmentally-sound, not-for-profit basis.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to raise a few issues. The first is the wind energy guidelines, which are grossly outdated given they are 15 years old. We have been promised time and time again that a new iteration of them is on the way. On the eve of the last general election, I think in December 2019, a draft version of the wind energy guidelines made its way into the Dáil and was debated. Along came the general election and the draft was put on ice. It never happened and it still has not happened. We are a long way down the road and the iteration put out in December 2019 is now outdated. We have repeatedly had blocks of legislation on planning and amending planning law coming through these Houses but the big elephant in the room is the fact we have an outdated wind energy policy. It is not good for those who want to develop wind energy and it is also not good for the communities that are surrounded by wind energy. It is bad on both fronts and gives little protection to those communities. I speak with many planning officials and they find it difficult to assess a modern application coming in for a colossal wind farm, yet planners are trying to benchmark it based on an old policy that is outdated. I ask that when the Minister of State responds later, he tell us when those guidelines will be published. The last I heard was that they were on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and then they went over to the desk of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and that the latter was looking at the noise output and had some level of concern. It is being kicked over and back. These things should belong in one Department and not be passed from one Ministry over to another. We need new guidelines. I think of communities in Clare, some of whom saw 12 to 15 turbines go up in their locality, and who embraced it. However, they are now seeing a proliferation and they need some protection in these new guidelines because it just is not there at the moment.

The other point I wish to join colleagues in addressing is the Gresham House deal and the €1.3 billion, I think, to increase afforestation more quickly. It is a very bad deal for rural Ireland. In fact, it sells it out. There are so many people who still depend on farming. There are 8,000 farm families in Clare, which is hard to believe, out of a population of 120,000. That shows how dependent we still are on that in the county. I farm myself. I foddered this morning at 7.30 before getting on the train here. We are hemmed in by Coillte. We embrace forestry. However, the Government should not sell the national silver and gold. We should not let the land to a private consortium from Britain and allow it to afforest our landscape, which many farming families would depend on or might want to buy to add to their landholdings.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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I support the measures outlined in the Climate Action Plan 2023, which was published last month. The plan lists more than 180 actions and many sub-actions that must be taken if we are to meet our climate change targets. We have already seen this year stark evidence of climate change throughout the world. California has experienced devastating storms and floods, while northern Europe has experienced some of the highest January temperatures on record. Who knows what El Niño and climate change will bring for the rest of 2023? The scientific evidence is indisputable and record temperatures, wildfires, floods and droughts are occurring much more frequently. Global warming is the greatest global challenge we face today. The plan contains challenging targets and will involve real change in the way we live. These real changes will be in respect of electricity, industry, enterprise, housing, heating, transport and waste management.

Many of the changes will improve our health and our quality of life. We will switch to renewables, offshore wind energy and solar and decrease our reliance on imported fossil fuels. There will be a big switch to public transport, cycling and walking and a reduction in road space for the private car, including the one in three private cars that will be electric. Our retrofitted homes and businesses will be much warmer, family farms will be more diversified and will gain new income streams or enhanced landscapes, and biodiversity will boost our tourism product. All of this is worth making the necessary sacrifices to our current daily routines.

The plan is ambitious but like so many other areas of Government policy, delivery and implementation are crucial. It is a disappointment that even the smallest measure brought before this House for approval to tackle climate change can be fiercely opposed. The opposition to the proposal to ban the sale of turf is a prime example. When it comes to Sinn Féin, it becomes all populist and will not provide leadership on the issue. Its opposition to carbon taxes, even before the current energy crisis, demonstrates this. To implement this plan, we need buy-in from people. We need ongoing citizen engagement but it cannot just be left to the citizen. The corporate sector globally also has a major role to play, as well as Government and State agencies and local authorities. I welcome the agreement reached at the UN COP15 summit on biodiversity in Canada last month, which the Minister of State attended. The agreement is indeed very significant. The implementation of our climate action plan will clearly demonstrate that Ireland is doing its bit with regard to climate change and global warming, in association with the EU and the Green Deal outlined by that organisation.

4:05 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted to get the opportunity to talk on the climate action plan. The first thing I have to mention is the actions of the Germans in the last couple of days with the demolishing of a village and the extension of an open coal mine in Germany. As a farmer in Tipperary, we are all in the one EU. If that happened in this country there would be a huge outcry, and rightly so. We cannot get the climate of the world right. That is going to need the co-operation of all the rest of the countries in the world. I know Germany's energy security has been seriously threatened due to its huge dependence on Russian gas but it is hard to balance this equation with the extension of a very large coal mine in Germany.

Regarding emissions, we are talking all the time about reduction. We have to be positive. I will speak on the agrifood side. There is loads of technology that we can embrace and loads of infrastructure that will allow us to meet the 25% target that has been set. I will mention two of them in the brief time available to me. I met with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, the other day. It has done extensive work on genotyping of all bovine animals. It will cost a bit of money. To genotype all cows in a herd would cost €40 million to €45 million and each calf would then have to be done each year. This will allow a record to show which animals are the most efficient, whether in the conversion of kilograms of beef or the conversion of kilograms of fat and protein for dairy cows. For a reasonable investment, the ICBF says this could have an impact of a 20% reduction in our emissions. Having more efficient animals, and knowing what animals are the most efficient, has a huge role to play.

The second thing I want to focus on is Lisheen. Lisheen is a site of 1,100 acres on the Tipperary-Kilkenny border. This site has a huge role to play in our circular economy with the proper investment. We have wind energy on that site. There are advanced plans to put in a large solar farm there and there are huge amounts of water available. This is about the waste that is coming from our society, whether from industry or households, and the circular economy. This site in Lisheen has a proper designation and would have a huge amount to deliver to the circular economy and the meeting of our targets.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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It is an opportune time to have what is a very important conversation about the future of our country and our contribution to global sustainability. As the Minister of State is aware, a very significant chunk of our carbon emissions arises from our transport sector - just under 20%. There is an extraordinary opportunity presenting to us right now as a country to eat into those emissions and reduce them using public transport. In general, our people are ready to make that change, to effect that modal shift essentially to leave the car at home and begin to avail of the public transport options that are becoming available. We have a major issue with public transport provision in rural Ireland. Yes, it is beginning to happen but it is not happening quickly enough. It is not presenting people with the efficient, reliable kind of public transport opportunities they need finally to leave the car at home. Looking at the excellent research done by Professor Ian Walker in the UK, he concludes that people will simply avail of the most effective, efficient and straightforward opportunity when it comes to getting up in the morning and heading to work. I will give one example where it is not working and that is in the town of Gort in south Galway. There are numerous reports now of Bus Éireann buses turning up in Gort not on time or not on schedule and when they do turn up, they are full. There are people in Gort and all the intervening stops between Gort and Galway city seeing the bus literally driving past the bus stop with no opportunity for them to get on. That is not the kind of transport service we need to present to people if we are to encourage them to make that modal shift, that transfer from the car to public transport. I urge the Minister of State and all Ministers, both at Cabinet and at a junior level, to begin to focus on delivering the kind of efficient, reliable, rural public transport services and opportunities that can convince people it is time finally to leave the car at home and make that shift.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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I begin by thanking Friends of the Earth for the copy of The Climate Book. Local members crowdfunded to send a copy to each Deputy. It is a very informative book, which I find myself dipping in and out of. One of the chapters is called "Why Didn't They Act?" and the conclusion is that people in positions of power and privilege refuse to acknowledge that climate change is a manifestation of a broken economic system. This needs to change and it needs to change urgently. We live in a country where the top two richest people have more wealth than the bottom 50%. With this kind of inequality, a just transition is just a pipe dream for most people. It is certainly a pipe dream for most of our older people. Half of Irish homes are rated D or lower in terms of building energy rating, BER. Age Action Ireland - not Sinn Féin - estimates that more than 300,000 poorly-insulated homes are occupied by older persons, making them especially at risk of fuel poverty. More than half of the estimated almost 600,000 older person households have low home insulation and many older persons cannot afford the cost of retrofitting. We urgently need big changes in transport, agriculture, electricity and buildings. As the UN climate science body put it, we need "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society". I do not see the required urgency from this Government. The Rubicon has been crossed and this Government is allowing big businesses to burn our boats.

We in Sinn Féin have plans to address the climate crisis. There are massive carbon savings to be made in transport. We need to expand school transport and bring rural transport into the 20th century. We need to incentivise electric car ownership, especially for second-hand vehicles and we need to address the high cost of electricity. I know many people who are now questioning their commitment to electric cars because of the cost. It is time to act now, before it is too late.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The vast majority of people out there accept the absolute reality of climate change and the need to act. I do not think there is anyone here who can in any way understand the madness of what we are seeing in Germany, where a village is being demolished for a coal mine and coal-produced electricity.

Nobody considers that will be a viable solution into the future. We must look at ourselves and ensure we can make Ireland a wind powerhouse and not only say it in this Chamber. That requires a planning process that works and is properly resourced.

If we are talking about sustainability, I do not think anybody would like to defend the potential deal between Coillte and Gresham House. It is a terrible deal for Ireland and it needs to be revisited before there is even a chance of it happening. People will talk about issues in respect of state aid rules. That means we need to have a conversation with the European Commission. The proposed deal is hardly a solution. We have all spoken about a retrofit plan that will work for people. Those who are in most need of such a plan are those who do not have the resources to put €25,000 on the table. That is what we are talking about.

I once again raise the issue of Carlinn Hall and communal heating systems. I welcome the fact that a geothermal feasibility study has occurred. Indications are good. The people concerned are paying anywhere between 42 cent and 47 cent per kWh. The systems are mad. They are gas-fired heating systems that in no way work. The associated inefficiencies are huge and are probably increasing as people try not to use the system. That creates its own difficulties. We must ensure that the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has a grant scheme that can deliver, whether through geothermal solutions or a return to woodchip. We must ensure that people are not paying ridiculous rates. We have a wider issue in respect of the cost of electricity that needs to be dealt with but the Minister of State knows the particular issues relating to communal heating systems also need to be dealt with.

4:15 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I am glad to participate in the debate. I took careful note of the opening statement of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the stretching targets that he highlighted in the climate action plan. I have some questions about certain sectors. I will go through some of them and the Minister of State might reply to me in writing.

I will first consider the transport sector and the adoption of electric cars. We are now starting to see the pinch points in respect of electric car consumption. Range anxiety is building because of the lack of charging infrastructure in the country. Costs are rising. The Green Party was at the forefront of ensuring that hybrid cars were not included in the programme for Government, which was a mistake. Where are we going in the worldwide production of electric vehicles? We know that we will not get close to the target of 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. There also issues relating to the minerals that are produced in electric cars and the ethics around the harvesting of the likes of lithium and cobalt, particularly in countries where child labour is being used. Has Ireland taken any steps to try to understand those considerations?

The local authority in Waterford has announced a plan to provide an additional 12 on-street charging points in the city in the coming year. The rate of adoption of electric cars in the city is running at 15% per annum, which is the same as the national rate. Perhaps the Minister of State will come back to me on some of those points. Is it realistic to suppose that people who live outside urban areas can easily adopt electric vehicles? There are issues in respect of the costs involved and range anxiety. Those people cannot access suitable and frequent public transport alternatives. It seems that the climate agenda is trying to direct our rural populations into urban areas over the coming 20 years. Is that the way things are going?

The Minister mentioned electricity generation and the great opportunities being presented to Ireland. He also spoke of the significant potential to develop offshore wind. I will speak about the offshore wind options that are being surveyed off the south coast at the moment, specifically in my own area in County Waterford, adjacent to the Copper Coast. A number of farm licences are being considered for wind farms totalling anywhere between 50 and 70 pylon turbines that are fixed to the seabed. All those pylons will stand at a height of 350 m, which is far higher than the Spire in Dublin. I am told by people in the maritime industry in the area that the shelf that runs along that coastline dips below 60 m close to two miles offshore and, therefore, these pylons cannot be fixed. I would like to understand, because we have had no clarity yet, where these pylons are going to be situated. How close to the shore are they going to be? In respect of a just transition, I will mention the potential amenity damage. What compensation will be offered? I understand that for some of these farms, a community dividend of between €15 million and €18 million is being considered over the lifetime of the project, payable in the first 15 years of a 25-year project. I do not see the sense in that. If wind turbines are spinning for 25 years, the community needs to be compensated. It is not fair to say that 1.5% of the overall investment of more than €1 billion is adequate to compensate the coastal communities that are going to be impacted by the harnessing of wind power.

Contracts are being drawn up for the provision of wind energy. The regulatory body has not been activated and the delay in doing so is difficult to understand. Where is the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, now? Negotiations are taking place with wind energy providers at the moment because surveys of the sites would not be happening if that were not the case. I would like to ask some questions about the contract terms. Has the State secured itself in respect of the future spot rate at which electricity will be charged to the Irish grid as opposed to the rate that will apply for electricity that will be exported from Ireland? Is it the case that Ireland could find itself paying more for the electricity produced on our shores than it would pay on the open French or German markets where electricity is exported? Has consideration been given to including in the contracts any lever or pivot to allow the State to buy out the wind farms at any point in the 25-year term? There are many reasons the State might wish to make such a purchase. Is such a clause included in the contracts being devised at the moment?

I will move to the agricultural sector. The Coillte deal with Gresham House has been referenced a number of times. The proposal appears to be for upwards of 250,000 acres to be privately taken in by Coillte and Gresham House. That would in some cases require Irish landholders to sell their holdings. Some €2.1 billion in State support and subsidies are potentially on offer to Gresham House. Those supports and subsidies should go into the rural and regional economy. They should go to support Irish farm growers and not to funds on Threadneedle Street and Bond Street.

The Minister of State might be interested to know that Coillte achieved 110% of its target for the processing of licensing applications in 2022. I am sure it was happy about that. By contrast, it only achieved 80% of its private felling targets and 60% of its private afforestation targets. Our private growers cannot get their forestry licences approved. At the same time, a new forestry programme is being talked about by the Department and nothing as yet is being considered for the ash dieback programme, which many growers are availing of. They need to understand the impact before they can go again. I echo the calls made by others in the House. I am opposed to the idea that State subsidies would go to support UK or other foreign equity firms investing in our domestic forestry sector. An ample number of growers and farmers in this country are prepared to grow forests if they are given access to subsidies and licences. That is not happening at the moment.

There is also an issue around multi-seed pasture land. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, was in Waterford approximately 14 months ago.

I thought he was coming down to review the great work being done by the Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, into multiseed sward analysis which has been going on for five years. At the time, he did not have the time to look at it, unfortunately. I recommend a film on Netflix to the Minister of State, entitled Kiss the Ground. He may have seen it. It is narrated by the American actor, Woodie Harrelson. It talks about desertification, which is an ongoing climate challenge right across the world. Largely it has to do with the tilling and spraying of land which is stripping topsoil and ultimately killing the microbiome underneath. A great deal of work is being done here, particularly in WIT, on multiseed pasture land which it appears could remedy part of this problem and return the microbiome. It could also make additional inputs in regard to carbon sequestration. We do not have a policy in place to incentivise farmers to move into these systems. Will the Minister of State take those issues on board in the climate action plan? I would appreciate it if he addressed the questions I have asked. While we need stretching targets, we also need just transition, with the emphasis on the word "just".

4:25 pm

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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For reasons of planning on transport, energy and climate and protecting nature, I got involved in politics. For 20 years I have knocked on doors talking about the climate challenge. The climate plan we have introduced is the reason I am here. I am proud that the Green Party in Government has delivered that. I have no doubt in my mind that without the Green Party in Government the climate challenge would not be met. It is a huge challenge. We know that and we have not done enough to face it. Our children, grandchildren and future generations will suffer, not just immediate, close-to-home suffering brought about by storms, droughts, flooding and the increased cost of food and energy, but also the global creep of climate disaster, entire populations being displaced, global food shortages and wars over diminishing natural resources. Every responsible parent, guardian, grandparent, aunt and uncle inherently wants a better future for the next generation. As parents, we want to provide better for the future but we are failing the future. We are the generation that is failing that future. Everyone in this Chamber knows what needs to be done. It is big, complex and difficult and we should have started 20 or 30 years ago, but now is that time.

We have heard today of huge investment in public transport across bus and rail systems in both urban and rural areas, with towns and villages that were never served before being served by buses; investment in walking and cycling infrastructure; and safe routes to school for our children. We have heard about the retrofitting programme, which is paid for through carbon tax to some extent and is creating thousands of jobs providing warm energy and efficient homes throughout the country. We are doing more on that. We heard about the investment in and progress on renewables. Solar and onshore wind plants are being built as we speak throughout the country and delivering electricity. Every bit of solar and wind infrastructure we put in means there is coal or gas that does not need to be burned. Massive acceleration of offshore wind will provide us with independence and surety of supply and the ability to export electricity through interconnected cables. These are being built at the moment and will connect us to Wales and France. Very soon, we will be exporting hydrogen as that industry progresses.

Agriculture also plays its part. I know farmers are up for the challenge of playing their part in diversifying, planting trees, embracing the concept of regenerative farming and moving to a less intensive fertiliser model through organic production. It is imperative that we support those farmers to ensure they get the price for the extremely valuable, good quality food they produce.

In the most critical challenge of our time, are we doing enough? The answer is clearly "No". We need to do much more. We need to be faster, greater and unified in our challenge. It is not too late to change the outcome and the end of this story. The Climate Book by Greta Thunbergwas provided to every Member of the Oireachtas. I recommend reading and acting on it.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to discuss the climate action plan. As a climate action spokesperson and member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I am proud of the role that I and my colleagues of all parties and none have played in assisting the Minister on the legislative side of these plans and building upon that which was published and enacted in 2019.

In the short time available, I will cover four key themes. The first is building and the need to support homeowners in the State's plan to retrofit up to 500,000 properties by 2030 to building energy ratings, BER, of A and B. The Minister of State will appreciate how important the State-backed finance arrangements are to that particular programme. These have yet to be announced. This finance is key to ensuring that homeowners can make the change and retrofit their homes to include heat pumps rather than gas or oil boilers and improve the quality of their homes. A property with a BER of A or B gets better ventilation which is beneficial to human health. A key point with regard to Rebuilding Ireland and Housing for All is that we are not building enough properties with timber. Our afforestation rates are clearly a constraint on that particular goal. That needs to be addressed and incorporated in our building regulations in a firmer way. If an incentive programme needs to be provided to achieve that, we should provide one.

In regard to energy, the acceleration of delivery of offshore and onshore wind farms and solar power is important to ensuring we can reduce the carbon footprint of our energy sector. A new planning and development Bill to be introduced shortly will make a substantial contribution to that. MARA also has a critical involvement in the delivery of offshore wind power. The hydrogen strategy is to be published, and should be published promptly. Those considerations need to be kept in mind when it comes to the all-important implementation, which is key to the success of this plan.

Transport is the third area. Massive reductions are required in carbon emissions. Improvements to rural bus services are needed, as is the accelerated delivery of BusConnects, not to mention the importance of electrifying the vehicular fleet throughout the State.

Finally, I mention the importance of ensuring that businesses play their part in this and are incentivised to reduce their carbon footprint in the business they conduct daily.

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I rarely take issue with my colleague, Deputy Matthews, but I emphasise that the Government parties are as one on the climate action plan. I appreciate there are many Green Party fingerprints on the plan but we in this three-party Government are passionate about it and have enthusiastically supported it. I commend Deputy Matthews on acknowledging that there is a will and desire in rural Ireland to meet our climate action targets. There is a groundswell of enthusiasm among farmers for the challenge that lies ahead. That is reflected in the interest in the new agri-climate rural environment scheme, ACRES, which is significantly oversubscribed. While it is an issue for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I believe we should bring all farmers into that scheme.

If we want to see the progress to which we aspire in regard to climate action, we need to make it more accessible and make it work for people. Everybody in this Chamber will have had people come to their constituency offices who have become perplexed trying to access the SEAI grants or find out how the grants fit their circumstances and what they need to do. Many people have been told in one-stop shops that unless they spend €40,000 or €50,000, they will not get a grant. People want to do this in a number of stages. They may only want to replace doors and windows or a heating system. We have to allow them to do this incrementally. We need to look at the way the one-stop shops are working. Many of them are shutting people down too quickly rather than engaging them. Most people believed the one-stop shop would provide them with an opportunity to discuss what they wanted to do and what was best for their particular property or premises. To my mind, that is not the way it is working. It needs to be a much better engagement and consultative process with members of the public. It may be a role for local authorities to do information days and road shows. We need to bring people on a collective journey. We have to realise that we want to do something very quickly but to do that we need to bring people with us. To bring people with us, we need to get buy-in.

The retrofit programme in the local authorities is encountering significant cost issues.

I have taken up this issue with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and I know some local authorities are looking at dropping the idea of the heat pump and the air-to-water system to try to save costs. I think that would be a retrograde step and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage needs to look at that. If it is the case that more funding needs to be given to this, we need to do it. The Government is enthusiastic about climate action, as, indeed, are the people of Ireland, but make it easier for them.

4:35 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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In two minutes, it is very difficult to do justice to the climate action plan but because I am distinctly underwhelmed by its content, it is probably best that I only have two minutes. In that time, I want to contribute briefly on both the home heating issue and agriculture. It is a hugely important document but it strikes me as a debate where all of the oxygen in the room was taken up with the debate about the sectoral targets and very little was left in terms of putting detail in the plan on what needs to be done. Nowhere is that more evident than with regard to home heating.

It is great that there are targets for 120,000 homes to be retrofitted by 2025 and 500,000 by 2030. Bravo, that is great, and to have heat pumps for those for whom it will work is fantastic. However, I have a question about putting all of our eggs in the electrification basket. What of the 1.5 million homes that are unmentioned in this regard? There is reference at page 170 in the document to accelerating the electrification of the remainder of those homes, most of which are heated by home heating oil boilers. Why is the report silent on hydrotreated vegetable oil, HVO, which is a sustainable alternative fuel? All new boilers are compatible with that technology. For €500, the existing boilers can be retrofitted with that technology, which would deliver a solution. For somebody whose house boiler goes belly-up, deep retrofitting is not a quick fix. Deep retrofitting is several months of work, and getting a contractor and possibly getting planning permission is a big job. I do not think it is wise to put all of our eggs in one basket in terms of electrification. If the power goes out, how are those homes going to be heated if they are entirely dependent on electricity?

This action plan, unfortunately, is not technology neutral and it should be, as long as it is delivering in terms of decarbonisation. HVO is delivering an 88% reduction in carbon heating. The plan, unfortunately, is entirely silent on agriculture. Farmers can deliver and they are the solution, but they can only deliver with proper incentives.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I call the Rural Independent Group, which has six and a half minutes between the speakers.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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This plan is a typical con job by this Government, particularly by its Green Party component, and the people who support it. We had the COP shenanigans and the cost of all the aeroplanes that flew out there. They try to use fear. I definitely did not want the book referred to but I got it in the post as well. I did not ask for it, I did not read it and I will not read it because I know what is going on is a sham and a scam. We have the details here already of the failure to roll out broadband, the failure and scandal of the national children's hospital - you name it, because there are countless State projects. Everything that is in this supposed plan will not be achieved and is not achievable.

On the other hand, while this is going on, the Government allows Coillte to be sold off to an English company, Gresham House - a lovely name - and all the sequestration that is in that will go to that company. The farmers who have that land will not have any bit of it. It is the biggest con since time immemorial.

We then have an Irish farm plastics company, operated mainly by ex-IFA people who were in the know, who were scamming and who have driven out private producers which were doing great work picking up farm plastic. Declan Doocey is one in Lismore who they have broken and blackguarded with unfair competition laws. It has been raised in this House and raised at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine by Deputy Michael Collins and others, but those in government do not want to know about it. The blackguarding they are giving ordinary people is simply shocking.

The owners of hundreds of thousands of houses want retrofitting but they cannot afford to do it and cannot get grants or get the materials. Leave it all to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, but she will not allow people to cut a cipín, never mind a tree. There is such a bad taste now in farmers’ mouths that they will not go near forestry because she has blackguarded them every which way she can and stopped them from cutting trees, even though they had contracts to do so. It is a shocking situation and it should not be allowed.

This is a three-card trick of the worst order. They keep bringing in more plans here and it is all talk and no action. They have fools made of the children. That is what they are trying to do.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Given the Minister, Deputy Ryan’s speech earlier, he now accepts there will be a drop in numbers in the national herd, something the then Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and others promised would never happen. It is another betrayal by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of the farmers of this country. He said also that farmers must be compensated for this drop in cattle numbers. How does he propose this when farmers in west Cork are being told they must change their practice of slurry spreading for environmental reasons? One farmer in west Cork told me this change will cost him about €14,000 and no grant will cover this. The same farmer asked me where he can find the money as he already owes the money to the bank and credit union for previous farm improvements, so he is in dire straits. The Government is going to put these ordinary, modest farmers out of business. That is the real plan, so Ireland and its farm and meat production will be the same as our fuel, which comes from the UK, in that we can bring it in from Brazil.

In November, I asked the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who went with him on this lavish trip to Egypt to the COP27 farce. It is reported that 55 people travelled with him as part of the 400 lavish jets which filled the skies with poisonous fuels. Surely a first-class business flight would have done a Minister going to Egypt and the 55 people with now-hidden identities could have joined on Zoom. They are out there, telling us to tighten our belts, while they fly, dine and wine for two weeks to best of their ability. Disclose the identity of the 55 Irish people. The taxpayers paid for this and we need to know.

I am also calling on the Minister for Transport to intervene on Dublin Bus's highly misleading and toxic advertising posters on its fleet. That this advertising imagery, which is sponsored by veganism campaigners, states that Irish agriculture is the single-worst offender in terms of greenhouse emissions is scandalous.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. He has one and a half minutes.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I admire the people of Germany who are actually opening up a coalmine to keep their people warm. What did the Government here try to do? It tried to stop people cutting turf to keep themselves warm. I can tell each and every one of those in government that in the last four or five weeks, people appreciate a fire when they have nothing else and they have no other option given to them. I am one of those people who is burning turf in my fire, and they can go to blazes, the whole lot of them. A lot of other people will continue to do that because they have no other way of keeping themselves warm.

With regard to petrol cars, I have nothing against electric cars but we do not have the infrastructure or even the electricity. All I am saying is that we could convert petrol cars to LPG, which would reduce the emissions almost entirely. We could run diesel cars on biofuels but the Government is doing nothing like that.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy’s time is up.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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It is one minute and 30 seconds. What it is doing is selling out our land to English investment funds. We spent 800 years trying to get rid of the English and here they are, letting them back again to buy what land they can.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy’s time is up. I call Deputy Nolan.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Acting Chairman kept interrupting me when I was not anywhere near the time.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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The current deal between Coillte and Gresham Holdings needs to be stopped immediately. As a rural Deputy, I am strongly opposed to it. The Government needs to step in and show leadership, and proper leadership that we have not seen before. I know a number of organisations, whether farming organisations like the IFA or forestry organisations like SEEFA, have expressed serious concern, and they are not alone. These stakeholders need to be listened to. I urge the Government to step in immediately.

On another issue, on 5 January the Irish Climate Science Forum, ICSF, sent the Minister of State and the Government its own scientifically informed and professional analysis of this plan that we are debating. The ICSF shares the Government's vision of a sustainable future as aspired to in COP23 but points out that in order to be achievable and socially acceptable, it must be based on the latest objective science, consistent with real-world observations, and pragmatism on the limits of mitigation and on the greater benefits of adaptation. The ICSF notes that COP23 is based on exaggerated climate science and also leads to a nonsensical strategy. Indeed, it states that the aspired to deep level of mitigation, if ever achieved, could seriously damage the Irish economy. It states that prudent mitigation should instead focus on areas with quantifiable benefits in energy efficiency, economic benefit and social gain.

In this context, given the Irish energy supply and the electricity grid, there is an increasing risk of national blackouts and the most urgent imperative is the approval of the LNG import terminal.

4:45 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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There are only two of us due to speak now so Deputy Fitzmaurice will take whatever time remains after I have spoken.

Climate change is destroying our planet in a very real and devastating way. While we all contribute to it, not all of us will feel the effects in the same way. In fact, it has been shown that those who contribute most will be affected least. How can we say we live in a fair and equal society when this is the case? How can we allow some of our citizens to suffer more than others? In the case of Ireland, it will be low-income families and rural communities that will suffer the most.

The Climate Action Plan 2023 is full of contradictions. It aims to work towards solutions that are "meaningful, inclusive, fair and accessible". Having reading the plan, however, there is a real lack of a rural approach and the very few mentions of rural communities are simply not grounded in reality. For example, the plan references the national broadband plan, which it states, "will ensure that households and businesses in rural parts of Ireland will have a similar level of connectivity as households and businesses in urban areas" and that "for each new remote worker, an estimated average net saving of up to 10 kWh per day will be achieved, reducing commuter transport energy use and carbon emissions". This sounds great, but it is completely detached from the fact that a lot of areas in my constituency of Donegal do not have access to fibre broadband and will not have access until at least 2026. I am not sure how this is "fair and accessible". My constituents have been calling for broadband access for years and every year this is not addressed is another year of rural depopulation and local business closures for my constituency. I live within the Eir feed plan, so my area is not part of the national broadband plan, but I do not have the high-speed broadband that has been touted so much. That is due to Eir and the way it screws everybody in this State for what it gets.

The plan makes one brief point on ACRES and the only other mention of rural communities is the rural mobility programme. I am pleased that the plan recognises that "Dispersed and low-density development has led to high levels of transport poverty in certain regions and for certain cohorts of society." I am also pleased with the statement that "This is a particular challenge to rural communities". The challenge should be to improve the transport routes to ensure that people can be connected. That is not happening fast enough. I recognise that there is a plan in place to update transport routes, but we should really be focusing on free and accessible transport.

I am also pleased that we will see the establishment of a just transition commission this year. I can only hope that it makes a better attempt to address rural concerns than this plan does and that it will not just be a case of forming a commission and saying the job is done and away we go as happy as Larry.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Climate Action Plan 2023. I often wonder about plans, including the climate plan. The rich can always afford the obstacles that are put in front of them, but the poor always suffer. Motorists in rural Ireland must contend with the carbon tax and the attempt during the past year to try to stop them burning a bit of turf. It is a half of 1% of the whole country. We then saw 500 aeroplanes going to COP27 and nearly €100,000 spent on doing up offices. One wonders what agenda is being pushed here.

In the context of the Government's plan, if we want to help the climate situation, there is some low-hanging fruit that I did not see in the plan. The first thing I would do is provide bus transport for every child going to school, in the way we did in the 1980s. We are not able to do that today although we are supposed to be a society that is wealthier than we were in the 1980s.

In regard to the second point, I cannot for the life of me understand why this is not done. We are not going to have electric cars or the provision of hydrogen by 2030, but if we want to try to hit the targets, which at this stage are unachievable, there is an additive for diesel, similar to the dye added to white diesel to make it green diesel, which reduces emissions by 20%. There is a boat in Cork that operates on this type of diesel. Funnily enough, the company concerned tried to talk to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to see why we do not do that. I have since contacted the Minister of State in the Department, Deputy Chambers, who in fairness has come back to me. It is a solution for the next ten to 12 years. We are not going to magic up electric cars overnight.

In addition, the Government has done so much to increase insecurity. If the Minister has a look, he will see auctions of machinery in various parts of the country this week, because contractors are getting out. Why are they getting out? It is because they do not know what future there is for them. What is that going to do? It will put more pressure on other people, create unemployment and result in less service around the country.

Deputy Pringle talked about making sure that people in all parts of the country are looked after. What is the plan? Coillte is to become a subcontractor. We are now going to let it mind the forests for an English entity to which we will give grants. I accept there will be some money involved for Irish people, but most of the money is going out of the country. At the same time, we will be trying to rewet 8,000 ha in the north west, midlands, west and south west. If the Government were honest, it would admit that the plan is to make a theme park out of certain parts of the country. That is not going to wash because many people live and work in their communities and they make a better community. That is how we build an economic area. Now, under all the plans, we are making the situation lopsided.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the invitation to provide a statement on the Climate Action Plan 2023. I also thank all Deputies for their constructive and insightful contributions today, which are always welcome.

In closing, I wish to restate the significance of the climate action plan, which sets out the steps we must take to achieve our climate objective and to evolve into a more resilient, healthy and energy-secure society.

The climate action plan provides the sectoral emissions ceilings, which were approved in July of last year. They contain specific emissions reductions targets for the various sectors of our economy. The plan also provides an update on the progress that is being made in meeting Ireland's national climate objective. It seeks to identify any challenges or obstacles regarding this progress. Moreover, it sets out clear, tangible policies, measures and actions across all sectors to meet our climate goals and emission reduction targets.

The plan includes actions that will transform and improve life in Ireland. For example, we are going to generate enough power from renewable electricity to provide power for every home and business in the country by 2030. We will retrofit 500,000 homes across the country to BER B2 standard. Sustainable transport modes will account for half of all daily journeys in the country.

The science is very clear and definitive on the need for urgent action. The negative effects of climate change are already being experienced globally, and they will continue to increase exponentially in magnitude but also in volatility, along with global temperatures.

Additionally, I reiterate the Government's commitment to climate action, which will benefit Irish citizens. It will foster innovation, create new jobs and improve our overall quality of life. As we transition away from fossil fuels and progressively decarbonise, we will ensure that the way we decarbonise captures the unique opportunity to ensure a just transition which protects those who are most vulnerable. I again thank all Members for their contributions.