Monday, 1 February 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the Seanad today. I raise a crucial matter relating to Ireland's efforts to combat climate change, particularly the absolute necessity to ensure significant and tangible reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases for the protection of our natural environment, the health and well-being of our citizens and the prevention of catastrophic climate and biodiversity collapse.
As the Minister of State is aware, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report last week analysing Irish greenhouse gas emissions for 2020. Somewhat unbelievably, the report indicates that even with the dramatic decline in economic activity and travel arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, Ireland still only reduced its carbon emissions by less than 6%, falling short of the flagship commitment in the programme for Government to achieve a 7% reduction every year. In this context, it is clear that radical action is needed across all Departments and sectors of our economy to make the fundamental shift in both policy and mindset needed to decarbonise the economy, especially as economic activity picks up again after Covid-19. I raise, therefore, one specific part of the suite of measures needed to revolutionise Ireland’s climate response today, the introduction of legislation requiring private companies operating in Ireland to make mandatory public disclosures on the greenhouse gas emissions arising from their activities in the State. Such a measure is built on the principles of transparency and accountability, the idea being that if companies are required to publish their emissions every year, public scrutiny, pressure and environmental considerations will cause them to adopt policies that will reduce their emissions.
Commercial, industrial and public services accounted for almost 15% of Irish emissions in 2020. In 2017, the Carbon Majors report found that just 100 companies had been responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. Corporations make significant contributions to global emissions and must be held to account. Climate justice is not possible if State responses only focus on targeting individual consumption through carbon taxes, impacting on low income communities with low carbon footprints the most and without also tackling the big polluters on the other end of the scale, which create the most carbon emissions.
Legal requirements in this area have been adopted elsewhere, notably in the UK. I am currently drafting legislation in a similar vein that would require companies to make annual disclosures of their greenhouse gas emissions to the Minister, crucially including emissions not just from directly owned sources but indirect emissions arising from business activities and their supply chains, known as scope 3 emissions. The requirements would be phased in for large companies first, similar to the requirements under the Government's proposed gender pay legislation. There would also be a system of graduated fines for companies acting in bad faith in respect of inadequate emission reductions. I would also like to see these same requirements made of public bodies in the spirit of fairness and also to allow Departments and State bodies to demonstrate real climate leadership. However, ideally I would like to see these proposals come from the Government, which is why I have tabled this matter. Will the Minister commit to introducing such legislation, particularly that which includes so-called scope 3 emissions?
Ireland has so many large multinational companies headquartered here that by introducing strong requirements, we could feasibly create a global shift in corporate environmental accountability. Considering Ireland’s reputation internationally as a global climate laggard, this would be an incredible legacy for the Department. Many of our larger companies are already participating in such a scheme voluntarily through the extremely worthwhile work of Business in the Community Ireland and its low carbon pledge for businesses. What I am proposing is that we simply make such a scheme statutory. I thank the Minister of State and look forward to his response.