Thursday, 16 November 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Climate Change Policy
4. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment for an update on the national adaptation plan, including when it will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50260/23]
Will the Minister provide an update on the national adaptation plan and indicate when it will be published? Adaptation is coming to the fore at the moment as we see the damage being caused by storms, but it is much broader in its scope than the need to address that issue.
Observations show that Ireland's climate is changing, with increases in average temperature, changes in precipitation patterns and weather extremes. Climate change is expected to have diverse and wide-ranging impacts on Ireland's environment, society and economic development, including on the built environment, managed and natural ecosystems, water resources, agriculture and food security, human health and coastal zones. Ireland will need to adapt to these impacts, including, in particular, flood risk, over time.
My Department leads and co-ordinates national climate adaptation policy, primarily through the development and implementation of the national adaptation framework, NAF. The current framework, developed under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, as amended, addresses these risks. The NAF outlines a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to climate adaptation in Ireland to improve the enabling environment for adaptation through ongoing engagement with key sectors, civil society, the private sector and the research community. The key objectives of the framework are implemented through activity at sectoral, regional and local levels. Departments and agencies are responsible for implementing adaptation measures in sectors under their remit.
Following a statutory review by my Department in 2022, a new framework is currently in development and a first draft is expected to be completed by the end of this year. A public consultation will follow in early 2024, following which the new NAF will be submitted to the Government for final approval.
The current framework was published in 2018, since when our understanding of the impacts of climate change has changed. The speed at which those impacts are affecting us has changed, as has Government policy. The sectoral adaptation plans produced under the NAF are not necessarily reflective, I hope, of current Government policy. For example, the flood management sectoral plan includes a list of the prioritisation of impacts and the response to climate change. The assessment of potential green infrastructure, which I presume means nature-based solutions, gets an incredibly low rating. It is seen as not important at all. If we have learned anything recently, it is that we cannot rely on concreting and engineering our way out of climate change. We will have to work with nature. I am interested in the Minister's opinion on that.
I agree that nature-based solutions should get the highest priority in our flood management plans because they are the most effective long-term way of holding back water. We need to work with nature. We saw devastating flooding recently in Midleton, Carlingford and Clarinbridge. The river basin catchment management process, which involves assessing water flows from the source of rivers right down to the sea, is the best way of dealing with this. I expect there will be a change in Government policy, with a real focus on that. One of the ways we are dealing with this issue is through the land use review task force that has been established, which has to optimise for storing carbon, restoring biodiversity, preventing flooding and ensuring water quality. Together with the adaptation framework and the river basin catchment management programme, the task force will help to ensure we have an integrated approach.
The Office of Public Works, OPW, has a key role and insight, not just in putting physical barriers in towns but in thinking bigger and upstream in a whole variety of ways. Local authorities also have a critical role. They need to start showing leadership in setting out their plans.
I do not just mean in flood events, but also in allowing counties to think strategically about flooding in an upstream as well as downstream way. As well as the Government, local authorities need to step up to the plate and show leadership in that regard.
My fear is that there is a long process. We are talking about another consultation and a review, which will feed into sectoral plans, and I do not know when that will happen. By the time we get around to embedding nature-based solution thinking into our policies, it will be too late. We will have already installed a new generation of infrastructure that might not do what we need it to do.
I agree with the Minister on local authorities, but the Government is the primary source of governance in the country. If local authorities are not doing what it expects them to do or what they need to do, it is for the Government to ensure that they do.
I am unsure of whether the Minister knows about this, but I recently became aware of local authorities that were using the Part 8 system to build social housing on flood plains. They are putting flood mitigation measures in place, but I am concerned about whether those are sufficient. Since it is going through the Part 8 process, there is no or very limited consultation. I would like the Minister to raise this matter with his counterparts in government.
I am speaking about completing the first draft within weeks, so it will be before the end of the year. That will help to inform people and give a direction from central government, following consultation. It will set the path.
The process takes too long. There are many examples one could pick of it taking a long time to take remedial measures. I could cite Sandymount in my constituency, which happens to be in the newspapers today. It has to do with flood protection from sea inundation rather than overflowing rivers, but a date of 2030 was quoted in the newspapers for when the local authority might be able to come to a final solution.
In many ways, we need to double the speed of everything we are doing in respect of climate matters. The impact of climate change even over the past year has doubled dramatically.
Sometimes, nature-based solutions take time. It takes time to plant a hedgerow, switch to mixed swards and change the forestry model. All of these are solutions we can pursue upstream. It takes time to rewet bogs, although we are doing 15,000 ha this year. We are working on solutions, but we need to speed up.