Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 January 2019

10:30 am

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The concept of the carbon tax is not to pay for failure. The issue with carbon tax is that in our daily lives we are all generating carbon for whose consequences we do not take account. The purpose of a carbon tax is not to take money but to make people recognise that there is a cost for the community, for the global environment, of some of our behaviours. The Taoiseach has been clear that he sees that money being given back in its entirety.

Let us consider the people who have commented. The ESRI and the Climate Change Advisory Council have done work on this. They all point out that if we do not have a trajectory for a carbon price, people will lock themselves into carbon-intensive ways of life. It is a mistake to portray this as some sort of put-on by Government, trying to cover up for its failures. Of course, this is one of the risks with people not buying into the change that we all recognise if we portray things in those terms. People can portray them however they like, but parties thinking about carbon tax need to think that through because everyone tells us it is part of a pathway.

I agree we need to think through the legislative environment. Senator Humphreys and others were critical of the parade of Ministers and so on. Ministers themselves found it a bit perplexing. The Senators need to think about how they conduct this business. Carbon targets have not yet been set. Therefore, there is not a carbon target for agriculture, transport, housing, buildings, the public sector or the private sector. Accountability requires that we agree targets across Government. We are not yet in a position to do so. We need to get to the stage where there is a target. The difficulty is in deciding how to hold the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation accountable for the target for industry. To what extent can the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport deliver the target for transport? He has certain tools in his armoury relating to public transport, cycle lanes, etc. These are all important tools, but he does not have the full set. There is an issue with the concept of setting targets and how we might decide what carrots and sticks will be used to have them delivered. We will need to keep returning to that.

It is not as simple as the Dáil or Seanad saying that transport should reduce its carbon emissions by 5% next year and coming back next year to find out if it has happened. Someone needs to develop the policy tools that will shift carbon usage from that level to a reduced level in whatever way it is. While I recognise legislation can be a very important prompt, it needs to be underpinned by credible, reasonable and deliverable policy instruments. A bit of give and take is required here.

Senator Higgins talked about front-loading. I am trying to front-load action. Action on single-use plastics, plans in the public sector and green procurement within the public sector have all started this year. That is the public sector seeking to lead by example. The climate action fund has had its first issue and the €77 million has leveraged €300 million in investment in the wider economy. We are doing things like the electric vehicle network and the natural gas injection network. These are the sort of things that can seed wider change. The State does not have the resources to fund this and so it is about designing policy tools that work. This will be done partly through regulation and not all of it will be done through Government spending. There is a complex mix of tax and spending, regulatory and information issues, building cluster issues, mandates for our authorities and so on.

We have a spending target of, I think, €175 million. We are increasing our investment in climate action in less developed countries. I announced an increase to one of those funds when I was in Katowice. I met those involved in many of the funds that are driving some of this change and they are doing good work. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is committed to expanding that work. It recognises that this is a key part of its overseas development aid programme.

Obviously the green bonds are exclusively for the public sector. Therefore these are not for profit-making institutions. I understand they will cover retrofit programmes and so on. There is not a confined menu at this stage. It is true that there is a bigger appetite for green bonds in the market. It is possible to effectively get cheaper money because of the interest in committing to it. Part of the trick here is for us to find fundable financial vehicles to attract that money. It is necessary to find ways to de-risk some of the investment in some way with State involvement and by designing smart funding mechanisms through which we can access cheaper money for these areas. This is in its infancy. Fortunately, Dublin is a centre where some of the thinking about how this can be done is occurring. As an aside, hopefully we will see some pilots in Ireland to show that we can cut into this. For example, in the area of buildings, Senators will know there is quick payback on certain things, but others have very long payback. If personal finance is made available at 10% interest, it will never happen. We need to find ways of accessing funding and design packages to make that happen.

On green procurement, my officials are sitting down with officials from the Office of Government Procurement to have in place green procurement guidance by the end of March. That will deal with the purchase of vehicles. I know Senators Reilly and Grace O'Sullivan were annoyed about diesel buses still being purchased. We need to get that into the thinking and get the procurement in place.

We also need to deal with what the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said. The price of carbon will be €100 per tonne in 2030 and €265 in 2050. All projects need to be re-evaluated in the context of those lifetime costs. If we get that socialised in the public service, we will see a shift in the sorts of decisions that are made. However, we need that to get locked into public decision making. A number of Senators raised that point.

We have a €500 million climate action fund. Senator Humphreys proposed that all revenue from the carbon tax should go into that fund. There are other points of view on this, including among many of the strongest advocates for environmental reform, with whom we had a consultation last week. Many of them recognise the merit in what the Taoiseach is proposing rather than the model the Senator is suggesting. I can see the reasoning. I would love to have the money and be able to do some of these things. There is a question of getting something in which people believe.

I share the Senator's view that we need to manage the Bord na Móna change. I met not only the public representatives, but also representatives from Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the Minister for Business, Employment and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, our agencies and Bord na Móna, to discuss this transition in the midlands to see if we can develop a path.To be fair, Bord na Móna has a lot of good ideas but we also have the regional development fund. We have regional enterprise strategies. We need to integrate those actions to get something credible. I do not believe in setting up a new task force. We have many systems and we just need to get them to focus on this. We will meet again in June, having met in December, to monitor progress. It is an important element.

I have already commented on the carbon budget. I agree with the concept but it has to be realistic. The person who can action the change has to be the one responsible, not someone at such an arm's length that it is not meaningful.

Senator Reilly raised the issue of plastic. We use more plastic than the rest of Europe. We are good at recycling it but we use more of it. We need to look at what is going wrong. The same is true of food waste. We have a lot of food waste which we need to drive down. The Senator put his finger on an issue. There seems to be a chilling around solar investment as a result of planning. We need to bottom it out. Either new guidelines are needed or the state of play needs to be made clear. I accept the point made about the night rate. We should look at it. A night rate is best for the system because it means it encourages people to use their appliances at times when we have plenty of power and low usage.

The point about paying the motor tax before one gets the grant sounds sensible to me but maybe I missed-----


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.