Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Companies (Emission Reporting) Bill 2021: Second Stage

 

10:30 am

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I too welcome the Bill and commend the Senators in the Civil Engagement Group, Senators Ruane and Higgins, on their work on it. Many of us who campaign on climate issues have seen that the focus on individual actions is far too strong on encouraging the use of keep cups and other tiny efforts. The hypocrisy of that approach is made clear by the ongoing data centre debacle. We have a Government encouraging ordinary people to use less electricity while it offers massive tax incentives to tech companies to ramp up consumption through data centres.We also know that the focus on carbon footprints of calculating the carbon cost of every purchase is playing right into the hands of the fossil fuel industry, which has spread the idea because it has deflected attention away from their activities. We are aware from the carbon inequality report that not every individual's emissions is the same. The top 10% of earners generate the same emissions as the bottom 50% of earners. Even the focus on high-emission lifestyles pales in comparison to the emissions by companies. The Carbon Majors report pinpointed how just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions since 1988.

This is where this Bill comes in to compel companies to report their emissions and plan how they are going to reduce them. It places the burden of the climate crisis closer to where it should be, which is on the companies responsible.

The transparency and accountability measures in the Bill go a long way to tackling the avalanche of green washing and spin from companies that are doing very little for the climate but which are trying to convince us otherwise. I raised the issue previously in this Chamber of greenwashing in the electricity sector, where energy companies market their energy as 100% renewable when in reality is it is generated from fossil fuels. This sort of greenwashing is difficult to tackle because it has the sanction of the EU and the energy regulator, and it is backed up with complex reporting obligations. I raised this with the Minister, I raised it with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and I have raised it with the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland. Despite the fact that these institutions are supposed to protect citizens from greenwashing, it continues unabated. The problem with climate action is too often we are guilt-tripping people into trying to do their little bit when the system around them is designed to mislead them or force them in the direction of carbon intensive activity.

I believe there is a lesson there with regard to implementation of this legislation because even with the best will in the world, companies can ensure that it is watered down as much as possible when it comes to implementing it. We must stay vigilant about this if the Bill progresses. I read in the Business Postthat the Minister of State does not plan to oppose the Bill in principle but that he will not advance it because EU legislation is forthcoming. Again, we have heard from others that the EU legislation is for much bigger companies. If the EU legislation is weaker than this Bill, which is too often the case, the EU's ambition will be a ceiling but a floor. There are reports that the EU proposals will apply to much larger companies, but I believe there is no reason Ireland cannot do this on a national level and lead as a country, rather than always having to rely on the EU to do everything for us when it comes to the environment.

Another example of corporate greenwashing is Amazon, which claims to be going 100% renewable. Again, it is based on the same wishy-washy offsets that allows for greenwashing in the energy sector. If someone googles the Amazon web service, they actually say that they are doing their bit for climate action by helping fossil fuel companies extract oil and gas faster and to transport it across the world faster, thereby reducing their emissions. That is the kind of twisted logic of some of the corporations we are trying to deal with. I take this opportunity to express solidarity with the Make Amazon Pay campaign where workers and activists are rising up with strikes and protests against the activities of Amazon.

On voluntary reporting, some companies do make voluntary efforts to report their emissions, but again it goes back to the lack of transparency and the obligation to complete a full assessment of scope 1 to scope 3 emissions. It is very difficult to hold the companies to account. This Bill would go some way to addressing that. I will quote Ali Sheridan, who recently highlighted the damaging impact of voluntary climate reporting. Ms Sheridan refers to it as the "black hole theory" of corporate sustainability and states:

The company continues to contribute to climate change, pressure grows for the company to respond, the company releases strategy focused on offsets and future technologies, the company then receives high ratings based on these stated intentions and receives more investment, investment then flows to business-as-usual operations, small actions are championed to give the perception of progress, and alternative sustainable models of transformation are actually inhibited. The company delays climate action and continues to contribute to climate change.

And on and on it goes.

The provisions in this Bill will be welcome in the ongoing battle against this sort of greenwashing by standardising how the emissions are reported so that we can compare them, and by revealing what reductions are being delivered year-on-year instead of just relying on vague promises based on offsets. The Bill will bring some welcome transparency and accountability to emissions reductions by companies. I am very happy to support the Bill, and my Sinn Féin colleagues also support it.

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