Wednesday, 27 September 2023
Ceisteanna - Questions
Climate Action Plan
Climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity today. We must be the generation that turns the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss. The Government’s climate action plan 2023 requires public sector bodies to put in place a climate action roadmap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 and to increase the improvement in energy efficiency to 50% by 2030. The Department of the Taoiseach published our first climate action roadmap on gov.ie earlier this year.
It was developed with the support and guidance of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. It sets out an analysis of the Department's 2030 greenhouse gas targets and estimates a current gap of 28 tonnes of CO2 from our 2030 target of 231 tonnes, that is to say, we are 12% short.
The roadmap identifies current and planned actions to bridge that gap between now and 2030. An important part of that will be retrofit works to Government Buildings, to be undertaken as part of the OPW’s overall plan to make public buildings more efficient. The Department established a green team in 2019 which has already implemented a range of actions to reduce energy usage and Department emissions. Last year, Government Buildings took part in the Reduce Your Use campaign and reduced external lighting by 75% and heating use by 14% over the winter. The green team will oversee implementation of further actions, including extending sensor lighting as appropriate to other locations in the building, completing hand dryer replacements in bathrooms with energy efficient models, reviewing energy usage in ICT server rooms, continuing staff information and communication campaigns, rolling out climate action training to staff and ensuring widespread use of green public procurement. Separately, I have asked that the lawn in front of Government Buildings be considered for use as a wildflower meadow. The Department’s climate action roadmap will be updated annually to report on progress and incorporate new actions.
I claim a bit of credit for it as well. I thank the Taoiseach for outlining the actions that are to be taken. It is heartening to hear his personal commitment to tackling climate change as well as investing in and supporting climate action measures. This is the first Government to put in place legally binding limits and targets and it has taken many progressive steps to tackle climate change and take climate action seriously.
What is being done to ensure school transport plays a part in reducing emissions, particularly within the transport sector? The issue of school transport, in essence, not working in many locations throughout the country was raised three or four times on questions on policy or legislation as well as during questions to the Taoiseach. The potential of taking thousands of cars off the road daily with an effective school transport system is immense. We need to grasp it. There is a review coming. I will bring this to a local level; I am not ashamed to do so. In the Ballinhassig area, which is in my constituency, more than 30 students are impacted by this issue. That is more than 20 families who have to put their children into cars. They follow the existing school buses that pass by their houses and along their roads, following them in fossil fuel cars in most instances. That is a result of the crazy second school rule and eligibility. It needs to change. If we could get those 30 cars off the road, it would be a start. It all adds up. It is death to climate change by a thousand cuts. We need to sort that issue out. Those parents and children in Ballinhassig are in desperate need of a school bus place. Providing those places would be a start. It is one of many areas throughout the country where that crisis is being faced.
Last week, there were high-profile roll-backs on environmental policies from the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. He was quickly endorsed by Donald Trump, who said Sunak was smart and climate change was a hoax. I suspect the Taoiseach would regard those politicians as the bad guys on climate while he is in the camp of the good guys. I cannot see Donald Trump having a wildflower meadow outside the White House, if he ever gets back into it. However, let us take the following facts into account. This summer, the Climate Change Advisory Council stated the pace at which the Government is implementing agreed climate policy is not acceptable, given the existential threat and impact. The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Ireland reduced its emissions last year by just 1.9%. The agency warned that Ireland would achieve a reduction of only 29% in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, far short of a legally binding target of 51%. If you look at where Sunak and Trump are as one extreme and what needs to be done in society as the other extreme, is it not the case that when it comes to delivery, the Government is, in reality, closer to the Sunak side of the equation than it is to what needs to be done?
I agree with the remarks of Deputy O'Sullivan. All Deputies have spoken about school transport and the difficulties in that regard. We are all aware of anomalies that show up. Last, year it affected Annagassan in my constituency. There is still an issue relating to the Bush Post Primary School, where people are technically a fraction too close to the school and do not have a right to school transport even though it is their nearest school. Obviously, none of this makes sense as we try to make the necessary moves on climate action. We do not need to have people being forced into cars because they are not being given the choice needed.
I do not think the Taoiseach will be shocked at my revisiting the issue of communal heating systems and Carlinn Hall. We need to move from a feasibility study relating to shallow geothermal to something that improves the situation for those people who have been under the cosh in the context of ridiculous gas bills.
In the context of the real wins, there has been reference to wind power across the board. The pieces have been moved in respect of planning as there is a move from things being developer led. We await the designated maritime area plans, DMAPs, and the outworkings but we need to ensure first that we have the likes of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority and the planning infrastructure resourced as much as possible. We cannot have hold-ups in this regard. In the case of onshore wind, there are difficulties relating to the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, 3 auction as there is a belief there will not be enough players on board. That is a failure that needs to be addressed straight away. We can talk about being a wind superpower but if we do not get these pieces in place, it will not happen.
ActionAid recently published a report on Ireland's involvement in financing fossil fuels and environmentally damaging agribusiness in the global south. It found that investment managers registered in Ireland hold an incredible $6.2 billion in bonds and shares attributable to fossil fuels and agribusiness in the global south. The top six investments are in oil and gas companies. How is that compatible with Ireland's emissions and climate finance commitments? We cannot continue to donate paltry levels of climate finance to the global south with one hand while funnelling billions of environmentally destructive investments with the other. Will the Taoiseach commit to reviewing the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018 to broaden its scope to include fossil fuel use, not just exploration, and to ensure so-called indirect investments through financial derivatives, hedge funds and so on are included? The Act needs to have a much broader scope, beyond just the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. It should be applied to all private finance flows from the thousands of banks and funds that are based here in tax haven Ireland.
I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan. Good school transport systems certainly have a role in reducing emissions if they reduce the length and number of journeys by car. Ideally, we will have electric buses and hydrogen buses. We are very much moving to that model at the moment. I had the pleasure of visiting Wrightbus in Ballymena, which is making electric and hydrogen buses as we speak and is phasing out the production of internal combustion engine buses. It is great to see that happening on the island of Ireland. Another thing that can help reduce emissions is people going to their nearest school because they will be more likely, therefore, to be able to walk or cycle, which is the most climate-efficient way of travelling, or if they cannot do so and have to go by car, it will be a shorter journey. That needs to be borne in mind in any debate.
In terms of the general issue, the problems that people are facing with school transport are coming up all over the country and are very much being fed back to me from petitions to offices. I know that the Minister, Deputy Foley, has been apprised of the situation, which she sees, and is working hard to find solutions.
When we examine Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, which were mentioned by some Deputies, we should also look at our emissions on a per capitabasis. Ireland's population has increased considerably in the last ten or 20 years. If you look at the graph of our emissions per capitaversus our total emissions, you will see that we are doing a bit better than maybe we think. Of course, with a rising population and more people, you are going to have more emissions. If our population had been stable or falling, as it is in many other countries, we would be doing much better. I am not someone who believes in preaching or self-righteousness when it comes to climate action. We are behind where we need to be in terms of the objectives we have set for ourselves. The UK is arguably doing better. They have reduced their emissions more than us, notwithstanding Prime Minister Sunak's recent policy changes. It was easier for them to do so. They had a lot of heavy industry and they were able to turn that off. It is trickier for us given the way our economy is structured. In 2017, in my very first speech as Taoiseach in this House, I said I wanted Ireland to go from being a laggard to a leader on climate. We are definitely not a laggard anymore. All of the independent bodies that do league tables and rate us and score us now accept that we are somewhere around mid-table. I want us to be a leader and I think that can be done in the years ahead.
On climate finance, I have not read the report that Deputy Murphy has referred to. I want to reiterate that we have made it a very substantial commitment to climate finance. It was made by the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, as Taoiseach. It will be over €250 million a year, and that is a not inconsiderable contribution. Climate finance is such an important part of the solution. The system change and the revolution that are going to have to happen will have to be funded and will need bond markets. That is why Ireland can make a contribution to it. One thing that we will examine as part of the establishment of our Future Ireland fund, which is the new sovereign wealth fund that we are establishing, is a new ethical framework around what it does and does not invest in. That will, of course, have to take into account fossil fuel production. I would say, in relation to the management of private finance here in Ireland, that a lot of that is just managed here. Those funds would just be managed somewhere else. I do not think moving them offshore would actually have an appreciable benefit for the environment.