Thursday, 24 January 2019
Climate Action: Statements
The Minister is welcome to the House. He started his contribution by referring to his attendance at and participation in the conference in Katowice and the impact climate change will have on the islands in the Pacific, the low-lying atolls, many of which I visited in 1985. In 1986 I was down in Antarctica and we were already hearing about climate change and the melting of the glaciers, which we are seeing now year on year. That is more catastrophe as a result of greenhouse gas emissions rising.
I spent new year in Nijmegen in the east of Holland. Following on from what Senator Reilly said about the Netherlands and Amsterdam, in Nijmegen they are working hard on climate mitigation and taking climate action. As in Amsterdam, all the public transport is electrified. When I returned from Nijmegen I felt like I was walking back into the Dark Ages. It felt like "Mad Max" territory with the steaming, puffing, pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. I felt I was taking a step backwards.
The Minister said it is a challenge, and I agree it is one, but we need to get on with it because there are major opportunities. It is the public who are leading the way. We are seeing activists on the streets, students, children and citizens coming out and begging for the Government to take action. As many Senators said today, there are many actions that can be taken. For instance, we see the roll-out of photovoltaic solar energy technologies. The farmers want it and are asking for it. They are begging to diversify. This is one way where they can be supported to have renewable energy technologies and not only to contribute positively to the issue of climate but to get a dividend in return. Therefore, many actions can be taken.
I ask the Minister to ensure that we do not abandon our 2020 EU climate and energy targets and that we use this year, 2019, to take action. He spoke about needing policy tools and structural change but, in addition to that, we can start rolling out technologies and enabling that. We are seeing small changes but we can do more. I hope the Minister will support doing more in this regard.
Only last week, the Minister was giving out more licences for exploration and exploitation of greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels. He said that 91% of transport in Ireland depends on fossil fuels and I believe 71% of households depend on fossil fuels.I recognise that we have a large step to take but we do not see action, such as farmers being supported with renewable technologies, industries being supported, public buildings with a photovoltaic system or that type of roll-out. Rather, we see a contradiction where licences are being issued to enable companies to continue to exploit and extract fossil fuels when we know fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Whatever licences are already in place are fair enough, although I hate saying that, but we must stop issuing further licences to explore or exploit.
In addition, how about subsidies and tax breaks for companies that harness renewable, clean energies? Let us get on with that and give them all the supports in order that we use a positive opportunity to support industries and the creation of jobs in the renewable clean energy sector.
On public buildings, the Minister came forward with his initiative for single-use plastic, and public offices will no longer procure single-use plastic. That was a good initiative but in the coming weeks, it would be great if he announced that public buildings such as schools, councils and so on, including Leinster House, will install renewable energy technology. As one of the other Senators also recommended, I would like to see the establishment of a climate fund to support renewable energy projects and carbon budgets in order that we can see what each Department is doing before the end of the year.
Last but not least, we must recognise that we are talking about climate change and ecosystem breakdown. There has been a 50% loss of species on the planet in the past 40 years. I listened to the Minister's speech although I have not read the transcript. He is still talking the talk but we are not seeing action. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, and I would like the continuation of the committee in the future because climate change is the most pressing issue, not only in Dublin, Ireland or Europe but globally. We must keep the pressure on. The Green Party and I will gladly work with the Minister and we will give him every support we can in this area, but we want to see the Government doing a bit of the work.