Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 January 2019

10:30 am

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour) | Oireachtas source

It was not Senator Leyden. It was a Government Senator and it is on the record now.

The Minister mentioned the dangers in the Pacific Islands, the climate change that is taking place there and the rising sea levels. He could also put Miami, Shanghai and Bangladesh into that group because they will all be lost through a very small rise in sea levels. If the Minister reads The Guardianor The Irish Timesthis week, he will find information about how quickly the ice sheet in Greenland is being lost and the fourfold increase since 2013 of the loss of ice coverage across glaciers. That will cause rises in sea levels that will not just affect the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh or Miami but Cork, Waterford and Dublin as well. If we have a whole-of-Government study and we look at the catchment flood risk assessment and management study, we will discover that this very premises is in danger of flooding from rising sea levels and by no means have we taken this into consideration. The Minister has to think globally and act locally because there will be local destruction in our State.

I wish to mention three initiatives we can commence immediately if we have real commitment in respect of this matter. The State needs to lead on climate action and support the people to make the necessary changes. Public agencies and local authorities own land and buildings and they could be leading in microgeneration from solar and wind energy. As Senator Leyden stated, the rooftops can and should be used for this purpose. We can lead in this area so let us use our schools and office blocks to show that leadership. We must do so very quickly. The Minister could have a look within his own Department at how his employees travel to work and examine how he can encourage them out of their cars and onto public transport. That would be a practical step that would show some leadership.

We need a climate action fund. When we talk about carbon tax, we are accused of being taxation junkies as if we want to heave more taxation onto citizens. In fact, it is quite the opposite. If we use a climate action fund and put 100% of any carbon tax into it, we could then start to invest in deep retrofitting of homes across the State. This would give rise to a real, practical impact in the context of energy expenditure. We also have to consider that we have a dispersed population and that most people depend on oil to heat their homes during the winter. We need to look at practical ways in which we can help people who live and work in rural areas to reduce their carbon footprint. I suggest that we use the carrot before the stick.We should try to encourage people away from using carbon-based fuels and show leadership in supporting them. Last year, we saw that Bord na Móna was greatly reducing its output of peat and we saw the redundancies for so many people in the midlands. I think we will be judged by how we treat the midlands with regard to this. We do not want to destroy communities but to make sure that there are sustainable communities. The Government has to lead in making sure that there is climate change justice around the country and that we make sure that those communities get the support that they will need so badly. We have to make sure we invest in those areas so that generations of people dependent on Bord na Móna for work have a sustainable future.

With regard to scientific evidence and the maximum limit of Ireland in meeting our international binding targets, I want to see carbon budgets spread across all Departments. The idea in the 2015 legislation that each Minister would be responsible for his or her own budget, showing the reduction in each area and bringing forward that report to each House has failed, and there was a conscious decision to make sure it failed. We saw it in practice in the Seanad and in the Dáil before Christmas because it was dealt with in a dismissive way as if it was not important to this House or the Dáil. It is important to everybody at home who worries about their children and grandchildren and the sort of climate and environment we are leaving them. They demand that the Government of the day should be answerable to them. If it is not answerable to this House and the Dáil, the people will make sure that the Government is answerable through protest on the street. I am a keen, lifelong supporter of democracy but what we saw in this House before Christmas was the undermining of democracy where the Government was not prepared to be answerable to the people through it. I was disappointed by the actions of all the Minister's colleagues in government and the manner in which this was dealt with. Each Department and Minister will have to be allowed a target on reduced emissions and if they do not achieve it, they will have to be answerable.


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