Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 January 2019

10:30 am

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome the opportunity to address the Minister directly on the critical issue of climate change, which adversely affects each and every citizen in this State. Unfortunately, the record of the Government with regard to our obligations to meet the minimum threshold of progress on addressing climate change, in particular in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is one of failure in leadership. In 2005, we set a target for the reduction of emissions by 20%, yet the Environmental Protection Agency regularly records increases in emissions or minimal decreases of 1% or 2%. As of January 2019, there is every indication that without an immediate and monumental intervention, we will fail to meet our 2020 emission targets.

It is evident from the national mitigation plan that the Government acknowledges the scale of the problem and the challenges in pollution reduction. However, it fails to meet its obligations to define clear targets and provide for adequate solutions. The Government has failed to set deadlines for the cessation of peat and coal fired generation of electricity and to provide a clear emission pathway to 2050. It has failed to provide for community based solar initiatives, the reduction of agricultural production emission, sustainable transport solutions, near zero rated building regulations and a feed-in tariff to allow domestic microgenerators of electricity to contribute to the national grid. Given the extent of this failure and neglect to provide for climate action changes, it is not surprising that a fair, just and equitable transition to a regenerative economy for those most vulnerable to the punitive impacts of change has not been established. While such transitions must prioritise the Irish people, these decisions must not be taken to the exclusion of the moral obligations of all those in the supply chain. For example, it is not planned to decommission the Moneypoint generation plant until 2025. The plant is currently out of service owing to turbine maintenance works. Any proposals to restart generation from this plant must also consider the ethics of discontinuing sourcing coal from Colombia, where serious allegations of human rights abuses of minors and the indigenous population have come to light. The people of Ireland are no longer willing to sit in our cosy homes watching "The Late Late Show" on the backs of human rights abuses of coal workers in other countries. Added to that is the cost to the environment of importing this fuel and other fossil fuels, on which our dependence stands at 91%. We are stuck as little else is being offered as an alternative. The definition of a just transition is to take account not just of our local and national interest but also the impact of climate change across the planet.

The Government has committed to levying a carbon tax on citizens to pay for the failure to meet our responsibilities. To the credit of citizens, ordinary people have shouldered the burden of initiating and implementing behavioural changes that are taking place in our society. It is also to their credit that civil society organisations and campaigns have undertaken consciousness raising in the absence of leadership and public policy to support these efforts.

I could spend the day detailing the extent of the Government's failures but I am more concerned with prevailing on the Minister and the Government the urgency of making progress from aspirational soundings and gestures and putting in place clear accountable policy plans for the implementation of transformative climate action measures that will ensure secure, sovereign and sustainable production and supply of energy, food, water, transportation, housing and employment.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I have in the past few months deliberated on the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and heard testimony from dozens of non-governmental and civil society organisations. There is no doubt that there is a wealth of collective expertise available to this Government to implement transformative change. There is also an eagerness to change across most sectors of society. The most significant barriers to progress have been inaction in creating legislative and political conditions for change to finance progression and compel certain vested interest sectors to move from supplying overconsumption exports markets to sustainable regenerative production. It is clear from the evidence presented to the committee that the Government needs to take immediate priority action to enable diverse sources of renewable energy, including biogas, biomass, offshore wind, solar power and microgeneration. All these sources must feed into an all-Ireland electricity grid. It will not only help our environment, improve public health and maintain the island's security of supply but will also create jobs across rural Ireland. We are years, if not decades behind.

We are also behind in terms of transport renewable targets. We have a minimal number of electric vehicles on the roads and confusion about charging points, on which there is no agreed plan. Public charging infrastructure and electric vehicle affordability are critical to growth. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities issued a paper on public charging in October 2018 in which it stated there would be no further funding of charging assets through network charges. The regulator now expects the ESB to arrange the sale of these assets. Who will buy these assets and who will finance, build and maintain the network in the future? Without public charging, the number of electric vehicles on the road will not increase. Charging needs to be integrated on an all-Ireland basis and must be supplied through an all-Ireland grid to ensure integration of transport.

Brexit presents an unquantifiable threat to the single electricity market and every effort must be made if we are to truly combat climate change. Stopping power infrastructure at the Border will not benefit the ordinary energy customer across the island and it makes it more difficult for the Six Counties and the Twenty-six Counties to develop diverse forms of renewable energy. This island, North and South, does not produce oil and produces only a minimal amount of gas, with a short lifespan. To combat climate change we need to develop indigenous renewable energy sources and we are well-placed geographically to do so.

We need to consider lifestyle changes. If one looks to the diets of our parents or grandparents, meat was not an essential ingredient of every meal. We need to revert to those values. In a presentation to the joint committee, hill farmers argued that we need to rethink how we feed the world. That is important. Trade is also important. European car manufacturers export cars worth €64 billion per annum to the United States. US car exports to Europe are worth less. Transporting cars across the Atlantic creates emissions. Perhaps we should get used to not having Chrysler cars in Europe or Jaguar cars, which few can afford, in the US. This does not make sense.

I want to be positive because positivity will allow us to carry people, society, communities and the next generation with us. The Democratic Programme read out on Monday when we commemorated an Chéad Dáil states that private property, which includes every form of industry and business, must be subjugated to the needs of the needs of the people. In this case, it must be subjugated to the needs of the planet.We need to rethink how we get our food to us. At the moment we are all trying to source our produce locally. Will we locally source our EVs, our fridges and everything that goes with maintaining our homes? We have to make a journey to get there and we need to be daring to take it.

On the positive side, protecting the ozone layer was our first foray into trying to raise awareness of the environment and the damage that human habitation is doing to our planet. That was more than 20 years ago. It was a positive news story. The ozone layer was in dire trouble. It was disappearing fast. With the bold step of banning chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, in Europe, and to some extent in greedy America, we have successfully reversed the depletion of the ozone layer. It is now in a much healthier state and is regrowing.

We will get there, because our generation will not live with or dealing with the consequences. It will be our children and their children.


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