Seanad debates

Friday, 25 June 2021

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


9:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State. First, it is important to state for the record that Sinn Féin will be supporting this Bill. I want to pay tribute, in particular, to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action for beefing up this Bill, and to my colleague, Senator Boylan, for the leading role she played. It is important to acknowledge that the language has been amended to ensure obligations are clearly stated and the relationship between the various mechanisms is more explicit. Key principles such as just transition, climate justice and the protection and restoration of biodiversity are matters to which the Government and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications are now required to have regard when preparing the plans and frameworks that are required by the Bill.

The transition ahead is about more than just reducing greenhouse gases. It is about transforming our society and economy for a better life for everyone. One of the basic principles of a just transition is to leave no people, communities or sectors behind as we transition away from fossil fuels. We need to rural-proof any climate policies to make sure those communities benefit as much as urban ones.

We will achieve a low-carbon future not by punishing people with taxes, but by investing in positive low-carbon alternatives. This means an ambitious retrofitting scheme to make homes more energy efficient and comfortable. It will reduce energy bills, saving households money and keeping more money in rural economies instead of going to energy companies. However, current grants leave too much burden on homeowners. There must be more generous grants and greater assistance with the upfront costs. We need a legal framework to allow people to sell electricity from solar panels on their roofs.We need to see significantly more Government investment. That investment must be underpinned by a just transition strategy. In County Offaly the local community was rightly outraged when a local man was overlooked in favour of a big company when contracting for bicycle rental at the Lough Boora Bog amenity.

I want to raise the issue of community wealth building which is very relevant to the aims we are discussing. We need to reform our investment strategy so that it works for communities and not against them. Sinn Féin has a plan to do that with community wealth building. This approach would result in the benefits of Government spending being spread more evenly across regions and communities, and address the regional imbalance. Community wealth building has proved successful in other countries. For instance, through the major spend every year on public procurement by the State these moneys could be directed back to communities, keeping jobs and services local, lowering emissions and lowering waste.

This sort of investment will deliver good quality, low-carbon jobs. It will create regional jobs, such as in my county, Limerick. However, unfortunately the Government is drawing all the wealth away from the regions to the capital. There is also great opportunity for the Shannon Estuary and Foynes Port into the future with the growth in offshore wind energy. The enormous potential to develop world-class and innovative facilities aimed at growing the floating offshore renewable energy sector highlights the manufacturing potential in the Shannon Estuary.

We further need investment in: home retrofits and energy efficiency; research; lifelong training opportunities; the caring economy like childcare, out-of-school care and healthcare; the circular economy and recycling; natural capital and parks; and clean physical infrastructure in transport and energy. This sort of investment will not only make the regions in this State more environmentally sustainable but help them to thrive.

Data centres represent the big elephant in the room regarding the Bill. At a time when we are supposed to be reducing emissions, the data centres of tech giants will add at least 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 to our carbon emissions in the coming decade. According to EirGrid, enormous demand for electricity over the next ten years will come from data centres, not electric cars or increases in population. This week we got some very good correspondence from Michael Eversen. I would really like the Minister to respond to this. He stated that current Government plans and policies will allow data centres to take 29% of the energy consumption by 2030. By comparison, the entire domestic energy and street lighting energy consumption of the State is approximately 20%. The plans for these data centres seem to be glaringly wrong. As usual, Fine Gael is thwarting real climate action to support its friends in big business. However, the public will pick up the fines if we miss our EU targets and the public will deal with ever-increasing energy costs.

Under the previous Government Ireland earned the mantle of "climate laggard". Now this Government is doing everything in its power to ensure we keep that title. We need a new strategy that develops renewable energy for the benefit of the population.

I very much support the call for a rail spur to go to Shannon Airport. Regional balance in flights from this country would help to combat emissions. It makes no sense for people in the west of Ireland to need to travel to Dublin for flights. As the Minister knows, 95% flights go through Dublin. We need that rail spur, but we also need urgent action by the Minister to ensure a new reintegrated national airport authority. In his year in power, the Minister has consistently avoided this issue. An all-party Oireachtas committee has now called for a new reintegrated national airport authority and the reintegration of Shannon because the separation of Shannon has been an absolute disaster. The Minister needs to tackle that issue.

He also needs to take urgent action to develop a light rail system for Limerick. Sinn Féin has championed that for a number of years. Unfortunately, it seems that the Government does not intend to act on that call.


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