Thursday, 24 January 2019
Climate Action: Statements
I welcome the Minister and the officials to the House. This is a very important debate which falls into the approach we have taken on this issue, in particular in recent months.
I must reference the Joint Committee on Climate Action which has been working diligently for the past two and a half months. The next three weeks will be very important for that committee. Several Members of this House are members of the committee and we know the body of work that is ahead of us. A considerable amount of evidence has been brought before us by many stakeholders, which has informed us on many aspects, including having a whole-of-Government approach to this issue and how the other sectors in the economy, whether they be agriculture or transport, will be affected by it. The report that will be brought forward will be important not alone for Government but for society itself.
A previous speaker mentioned the idea of having a committee set up particularly for climate action. That is the case in other parliaments throughout the world. It is something we must consider because having a whole-of-Government approach, with the Government accountable for ensuring it is meeting the guidelines on a particular platform, is very important. That is something that needs to be teased out in a debate because if that legislation comes forward, a Minister will be assigned to that committee who will then have to report on the updates from across Government regarding targets. It will be a positive step forward to ensure we can bring about a change in attitude, which is probably an issue on which we need to work. A change of attitude is needed not alone at Government level but also in terms of the general public. The public's attitude needs to change regarding carbon, waste and how they live their lives. That will take time for people to buy into. Some people have bought into it; others have not.
There is fear among communities, in particular the agriculture community, about what this could bring about. The education element is something on which we have to work. The rural community in terms of transport, carbon tax, particularly on diesel and petrol, is an issue that needs to be thought through also. It is also about educating people on how we can deliver a more sustainable model of transport for them, whether that is by way of a public transport method, hybrid or electric cars. It is about communicating that to ensure people's fears can be offset, perhaps by taking a carrot and stick approach in terms of offering grants to upgrade their cars or move to more efficient modes of transport.
That is one of the initiatives in the recent fund where €10 million was made available for electric car charging points. That was a proactive step because it put out the message that we would invest in that infrastructure. There was a deficit in that regard, which I saw myself during the summer. As a result of that we will now have that investment, which will give people confidence to change. We have seen a major change in the number of electric cars coming onto the market. One of the figures I read during the Christmas period was that there was a 248% increase in the number of electric cars in Ireland last year. That is a very significant change. I agree it came from a low base but it shows that people are changing their mode of transport and changing the way they want to live their lives. The challenge for us will be to ensure we can bring everyone on this journey with us. Communication will be key to that. We need to have that communication network set up to ensure that people are informed and can come with us on this journey.
From an agriculture point of view, in many ways this challenge could be seen as something that could make the agriculture industry more sustainable in the future. There are many options and challenges in that regard that could be very proactive in terms of the industry's survival. Again, it is about communication and bringing that sector of the community with us. They are genuinely concerned about where this will lead them. I refer to smart power generation, whether it is solar panels on farm units, wind turbines or anaerobic digesters, which is something the agriculture community has a real option to buy into.That would give them a great opportunity to ensure they can be a part of the solution, profit from it and sustain the rural environment, which is important for all of us. This is a challenge of a lifetime and one of the key issues in society. I am confident that what will happen in the Oireachtas in the next few weeks will give us a blueprint to go forward and deliver this. Nobody will stand by us if we do not deliver this change. It is up to all of us to try to communicate the positive aspects of this change and what it can mean for this generation and future generations.