Seanad debates

Thursday, 4 November 2010

11:00 am

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann notes the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled 'Second Report on Climate Change Law' which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 13 October, 2010.''

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank the joint Oireachtas committee for putting down this motion and acknowledge its valuable contribution to the ongoing national debate on climate change.

The committee's second report on climate change law is timely and welcome. I appreciate the considerable amount of work that went into producing the report and the importance of having a cross-party perspective to influence and inform the development of future policy and legislation.

The all-party basis on which the report been drawn up is particularly valuable in encouraging and building public support for strong climate change legislation. The urgency of mobilising an effective global response to climate change demands consensus at all levels, from local level to wider international level. As Members know, myself and Minister Gormley have continually emphasised the importance of cross-party agreement on the climate change agenda.

Primary legislation is a hugely significant step in terms of underpinning our commitment and determination and cross-party consensus on key elements of the legislation will serve to reinforce that signal for stakeholders and observers. In seeking to keep a sharp focus on the climate change in Ireland, we must aim to keep it above political point-scoring and tactics and I am happy to respond to the motion on that basis.

The global economic crisis has shaken the foundations of the world as we have known it. Things we have taken for granted in the past are now being called into question in a fundamental way. In the place of what we now know was over-confidence about our future is a clear realisation that we face a number of unprecedented challenges which will have a major bearing on our well-being, our prosperity and our responsibility to future generations. At the top of the list is climate change where the challenge is heightened by the failure to reach agreement on a new climate treaty at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen last December.

At a recent lecture at Harvard University, Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, issued a clear reminder of the massive human, economic and environmental costs the world faces from climate change. Referring to the deadly floods in central Europe, floods and mudslides in Mexico and China, the record-breaking heat wave in Russia and then the catastrophic monsoon flooding in Pakistan, the Commissioner expressed a view, which I share, that these extreme weather events either reflect climate change at work today or are a foretaste of it.

Jumping out at us from the economic and environmental circumstances in which we find ourselves are some very clear messages. Principal among these is the finite and incredibly fragile nature of our planet's resources. Failure to refocus and reinvent ourselves in response to these messages is simply not an option.

The extent to which the economic crisis is dominating our attention inevitably means that it would be all too easy to overlook or defer other priorities. Climate change is the greatest threat we face and urgent and decisive action is required if we are to avert its worst impacts. We cannot afford to overlook or defer our response to climate change.

What is the way forward? The answer lies in global transition - a significant global step change, setting the world on a new low carbon path that will prove economically and environmentally sustainable in the long-term. That is the real challenge on the international agenda and the context in which we must develop our own response to climate change.

Therefore, in dealing with the economic downturn, we must not fail to look beyond it. If global transition is inevitable, and I believe it is inevitable, we must plan now to ensure that our return to economic growth is environmentally sustainable in terms of carbon intensity, resource efficiency and climate resilience.

That is the outlook of a responsible and successful society and is the approach the majority of Irish people will support. The challenge for this Government and for governments everywhere is to achieve the balance necessary to drive our economies forward, protecting jobs while fostering innovation, all the while moving on a new low carbon trajectory.

The Climate Change Bill, which the Government will bring forward shortly, will provide the foundations for transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient, environmentally sustainable and climate resilient society. This approach is consistent with the direction in which EU policy is expected to develop under the 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and the anticipated EU roadmap for 2050 which the European Commission is expected to bring forward early next year. Equally important is the fact that effective transition is consistent with and complementary to our own pursuit of world leader status for Ireland in the green tech sector.

Since taking office, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, has given substantial time to the preparation of the heads of the Bill. Finalising the outline of the Bill has taken somewhat longer than expected but it is a matter of the utmost importance that we get the structure and proposed provisions right. Our approach must be balanced yet effective; ambitious yet realistic. In finalising the outline of the Bill, we will have regard to the joint committee's report and I look forward to engaging with the committee on the proposed provisions when details of the Bill are published shortly.

The Green Party in Government is determined to ensure the legislation enacted will not just enshrine the policies and principles to reflect the core national objective of playing a real and progressive role in the global fight against climate change but will also act as a driver towards achieving a more sustainable future across all sectors of society in Ireland. In many respects the heads of the Bill we are developing have similar provisions to those contained in the report prepared by the Oireachtas joint committee. Both approaches provide for a climate change strategy, a national adaptation plan and the setting of key emission reduction targets. However, while carbon accounting is a prominent feature of the joint committee's approach, transition underpinned by integration will be the underlying principle of the Bill the Government is developing.

I want to make it clear that I am not dismissing the importance of targets. They are important indicators of our progress; we cannot lose sight of the big picture - the long-term vision of where we want to be. It is a significant and necessary change in our approach to climate change policy. Transition is so fundamental that we need a clear and strong focus on the ultimate objective - a future that is economically and environmentally sustainable - if we are to map out a progressive and successful journey. Transition is not a political option or a politically motivated philosophy; it is a pragmatic and positive approach to ensuring the safety of our planet and the well-being of its peoples.

It is important also that we match the legislation with real efforts in other complementary legislation and regulation. I am proud that during the past three and a half years the Government has taken significant strides in the direction towards achieving a low carbon economy. We brought in a radical step-change in the national building regulations, which provided for a 40% reduction in energy use in the building sector in all new build developments. That took place within six months of the Green Party forming part of this Government. We are set to bring about another 60% improvement in energy performance based on levels in 2005 by the end of this year and we look forward to the end of 2013 by which time the regulations introduced will have provided for zero carbon housing. That is another radical step. It is a dramatic step-change from the kind of construction that took place during the Celtic tiger years.

I know from my experience as an architect and a town planner that we can build zero carbon housing today and many firms and individuals are doing it. I do not see any reason we cannot enshrine that in law. That is a practical example of what can be done.

Yesterday I, together with the Railway Procurement Agency and representatives of the Luas contractors, launched a carbon calculator. It will enable people taking light rail journeys to check the low carbon nature of them. The carbon cost of a journey by light rail is approximately one fifth of what it would be to travel by car. Things like that make a difference. I appreciate that the Luas is a Dublin phenomenon but we have to ensure that the public transport network nationwide is integrated and that all players can contribute to making available low carbon transport regardless of where one lives in the State.

The legislative proposal under development should go beyond ensuring compliance with our EU and wider international commitments. In providing a legislative underpinning for proactive transition, it will present the Irish people as an informed and progressive society pursuing a smart economy in the truest sense of the term - an economy that is highly productive, competitive, resource efficient and environmentally sustainable. It is my firm intention that our proposed Bill will be both innovative and inspirational, and I look forward to a frank and honest public debate involving all stakeholders when further details of the Bill's provisions are announced in due course.

I spoke about the construction sector and planning. We have brought in significant new planning legislation that will concentrate future development in the right places but significant progress has also been made in the energy supply sector. Ireland has reached a target of 15% for renewal energy this year, which is the second highest in Europe. That is a remarkable achievement and it has been reached in a few short years, yet our targets are much higher. We want to achieve a target of 40% for renewable energy by 2020. That can be done. Firms in this sector exist and Irish companies are developing the switch gear, turbines and the necessary work to reinforce the grid nationally to make this a reality. However, it cannot happen in isolation. We need to have strong interconnnectors to export Irish renewable electricity to the world but that structure is also in place with the work under way on the East-West interconnector. We are moving ahead in the energy sector, which is as important as the headline legislation.

On the wider international level the immediate priority for the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to pursue a programme of work that will ensure real and substantive progress at the 16th Conference of the Parties, which will get under way next month in Mexico.

I would like to see a high level of ambition for the Cancun conference, a level much closer to the level of ambition that the EU set for the Copenhagen conference. However, I recognise the need for compromise in order to recover from the disappointment of the Copenhagen conference and to take a substantial step forward.

EU willingness to accept a stepwise approach and EU openness to considering a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol reflect a genuine effort to understand and accommodate the positions of other parties. I was privileged to represent Ireland at the EU environment committee in Luxembourg a few weeks ago and I was heartened by the discussion at it; 27 member states agreed that we need a second Kyoto Protocol period as a fall-back if we do not get that global agreement in place by the end of the year, which seems unlikely. It is important that all parties make a genuine effort to understand and accommodate the EU position, particularly on the need for environmental ambition and integrity, consistent with achieving the ultimate objective of the framework convention on climate change.

I am determined that Ireland, within the EU, will continue to play its full part in the international climate change process and provide tangible leadership in preparing to meet the increased level of mitigation that a new global agreement will require. Progress on our own transition agenda will be key to our preparedness to contribute to the global mitigation effort and to the leadership for which the EU is acknowledged in the international process under the framework convention. The European Union can hold its head high. It had led internationally in efforts to tackle climate change.

I am also proud of the work that has been achieved in Ireland. My party produced the first climate change Bill put before the Oireachtas five years ago. We followed it up with a Civic Forum on Climate Change a year or two later. Since then we have seen good work conducted by Senator Bacik in publishing legislation. We have also seen some significant developments from the all-part Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. A framework for a Bill and the heads of the Bill have been prepared there. All that contributes to the efforts in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensuring we have legislation that is robust, inclusive and that points the way forward in helping Ireland in its transition to being a low carbon economy.

The majority of the new jobs being created are in the low carbon sector. Real jobs are being created in the low carbon economy, whether in power energy, water services or in the new media industry and they are a huge boon to Ireland's economy at a very difficult time. I have no doubt that the future is a low carbon one and that the legislation the Government is preparing will make a significant contribution to setting Ireland on that path.

I thank the Members of the Seanad for allowing me to speak and I look forward to the discussion.

12:00 pm

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, and hope we will have a fruitful discussion on this important area.

Climate change is proving to be one of the most defining issues of the 21st century. The Stern report, which was instrumental in bringing about the United Kingdom's climate change legislation, strongly advised that the cost of inaction in terms of addressing climate change would be far greater than the cost of taking action now.

Since the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased at a very significant rate and the effect of human activity since 1750 has been one of global warming. Over the past 100 years the average global temperature has increased by 0.74o Celsius and 11 of the past 12 years rank among the warmest since 1850.

We have seen the effects of global warming in Ireland. Since 1980 the average temperature here has increased by 0.42° Celsius per decade. The number of days of frost has also significantly decreased, with the greatest decreases recorded at Clones and Shannon weather stations. We are also more than aware that rainfall levels have increased at an extraordinary rate. We need only think back to the devastation caused by heavy rainfall in the west and south last year when homes and livelihoods were washed away by torrential flooding. The human cost of global warming is clear and the prospect of such severe weather events becoming a recurring reality appears ever more likely.

The impact of global warming on Ireland is long-ranging. Agriculture will be affected as livestock feed changes from grass to maize, the humble potato becomes virtually unviable and the need for irrigation increases in the east of the country. In terms of water supply an increase in winter flooding will place significant pressure on water supply infrastructure during dry summers. A tragic point to note is the possible extinction of many native and iconic species of bird, such as the curlew and long-eared owl, both of which are synonymous with our heritage and culture. It is imperative that these species are protected.

The climate change law will be paramount in helping Ireland to position itself as a low carbon society and will facilitate it in meeting its European Union and international commitments. Section 4 of the Climate Change Bill 2010 produced by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security states: "It is the duty of the Taoiseach to ensure that the State's net carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline." It is imperative that we achieve the target set out in the section, particularly given that Ireland depends on fossil fuels to meet more than 90% of its energy needs. Such dependence has many disadvantages, especially in terms of security of supply with finite fossil fuel resources diminishing daily and the geopolitical concerns surrounding the countries that supply us with oil. These factors are fast becoming a reality and need to be given due consideration when we discuss the future of Ireland's energy needs.

Ireland's emission reduction targets need to be tougher. Adoption of the Climate Change Bill would ensure the Oireachtas agrees tougher targets. These are set out in section 5(2) which states: "The Taoiseach may, having had regard to scientific evidence, technological developments and national energy policy, establish more stringent targets than the targets established by the European Union."

Ireland is more than well positioned to reduce its carbon emissions and become a pioneer in renewable energy. New scientific developments that further the case for climate change are emerging daily. It is the responsibility of national leaders to pay attention to these developments and recommendations. Making the Taoiseach ultimately accountable for meeting climate change targets would have two distinct advantages. First, given that the Taoiseach's authority extends across Departments, this would encourage cross-party involvement which has numerous benefits. Second, the engagement of the Oireachtas in the project means there is a certain level of accountability at parliamentary level.

The Irish corporate leaders group on climate change argues that climate change legislation needs to be enacted before the end of the year to ensure certainty for business. According to the group, the Government's recent announcement that emissions will be reduced by 3% per annum between now and 2020 is too vague to provide any decent level of certainty. In its view, the Bill should include legally binding, five year targets and set out clearly how a balance will be struck between cutting emissions in the household and purchasing overseas credits.

Promoting energy efficiency has distinct benefits. While the environmental benefits of energy efficiency are frequently and correctly spoken about, energy efficiency also presents opportunities and benefits for society as a whole. Part 5 of the Bill deals with incentives and grant support to schemes that would provide financial assistance to individuals and assist Ireland meet its carbon emission targets.

I spoke on the Order of Business about an important issue on which immediate action should be taken. I refer to the need to introduce a programme of nationwide insulation schemes, particularly for low income households. Such a programme has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and cut the cost of living for householders. In light of these twin benefits, the merits of introducing such a scheme are a no-brainer, particularly when one considers the high cost of home heating bills for many individuals, particularly low income households. In the current economic climate we must embrace these types of incentives and examine various means of reducing the cost of home heating and energy related bills. The scheme I propose would deliver a tax return to the Exchequer, the State would benefit from cheaper tender costs in the procurement process and the construction industry would benefit. It is essential, therefore, that a national scheme is introduced in the short term.

Part 4 of the proposed legislation would establish a new body known as the office of climate change and renewable energy which would perform all the functions outlined in the Bill. This is a most welcome development as it would result in the establishment of a separate body able to advise on national policy and climate change and support negotiations at European and international level. In so doing, it would give to the various elements of the proposed Bill the support they deserve. I am heartened, therefore, to learn from the Minister of State that the joint committee's Bill will essentially be adopted by the Government. It would be bizarre if that were not the case given the all-party support given to the legislation in the joint committee.

Section 14(2) states the office of climate change and renewable energy "shall co-ordinate and support in particular initiatives which promote the accelerated deployment of electric vehicles, energy efficiency, renewable resources including wind, tidal, solar, ocean, biomass and biofuel energy." Gaeltacht Energy in County Cavan is an excellent wind energy company which is in the national finals of the enterprise awards. It has informed me that it has the potential to create several hundred permanent jobs and up to 2,000 temporary construction jobs. To do so, it must secure access to the grid. This requires a review of the current gateway system, under which projects that are ready for the grid are being held up by projects for which planning permission has not yet been secured. This company has many good projects around the country that are worthy of consideration and is only one of many companies involved in wind energy. Ireland also needs to focus on biofuels, an area on which the House recently introduced legislation.

I welcome the Climate Change Bill 2010, as I would welcome any legislation which not only benefits the environment but provides for significant gains for citizens.

We must embrace a national insulation scheme and take a radical, proactive approach to securing access to the grid for wind energy projects. We must also strengthen our efforts in the area of tidal energy.

I am sceptical of the Government's commitment to the railways. For a long time, I have supported efforts to establish a rail link from Dublin to Navan and, subsequently, from Navan to Kingscourt along an existing rail line. My colleague on the Government side, Deputy Martin Brady, who has family connections to the region, also supports this objective.

All these proactive steps must be taken to do something to give expression to the principles, philosophy and terms of the Bill and of the second report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. Real action is needed from now on and that is my commendation to the Minister of State.

Photo of Niall Ó BrolcháinNiall Ó Brolcháin (Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister of State. While I have not prepared a lengthy speech, this subject is dear to my heart and if Members will pardon the pun, I will speak off the cuff on it. I wish to raise a few matters relating to climate change because it has become a subject about which it is perceived that ordinary people cannot do much. Climate change is perceived to be something that does not affect people at a local level, that has different phraseologies attached to it and that almost has a language of its own in which people talk about Copenhagen summits, the Kyoto Protocol and so on. However, I believe that climate change must be brought down to a local level because while there are major question marks over climate change as to what exactly is causing what and what affects what, there is no question but that considerable climate change is happening in Ireland. Meteorologists clearly can demonstrate that there have been great changes in our climate and, consequently, it is not a debate as to whether climate change is happening but on what is its cause.

I often hear reference to the time of Galileo, when many people considered the Earth to be flat. I wonder whether we are in a similar time at present, given that certain people are trying to deny that climate change exists when one can see how the seasons are changing or the manner in which flowers and plants are coming out earlier or later than had been the case heretofore. It is clear the climate is changing and the real question is what is causing it. There appears to be an enormous body of evidence demonstrating that while in many cases climate change is caused by natural phenomena, it is sometimes tipped over the edge by human activity. There are many aspects to human activity and in Ireland, methane emissions from cattle are a major factor. Obviously carbon emissions are produced each time someone drives a car. Carbon emissions arise from many different sources and there are many different types of greenhouse gases. Although this area is quite complex in some ways, it is also quite simple in others, as the question is how does it affect one personally or one's children or the man on the street.

I hear repeatedly that people in Ireland cannot really do anything about climate change because there are so many people in China and India that anything we might do would be irrelevant and would not matter because we are a mere drop in the ocean. However, it does matter and one should consider what Frank Aiken did regarding nuclear non-proliferation. Ireland is a country that, if it stands up to be counted, can show the way forward to other countries. It can show that things can be done, it can innovate and can be the leader in many areas. Members should consider the recent introduction of a smoking ban and a plastic bag tax. In both cases, Ireland was a leader and many countries have followed suit. Ireland can make a difference. If we can get things right we can show the way to others and this is the reason it is so important because this is a global problem.

People tell me that the Green Party is useless at present because it is propping up the Government, presiding over an appalling economic situation and so on. However, the Green Party has always had a very long-term view on matters. It is a highly relevant party both in Ireland and in pretty much every country in Europe. It has a very important message, which is that the environment is absolutely crucial to our well-being. I was delighted to hear Senator O'Reilly refer to various wildlife, several species of bird and so on because when I was growing up as a young lad, such subjects were never discussed in the Houses of the Oireachtas. When I first raised such matters at city council level, people laughed at me and thought it was quite amusing. I finished my term on the council recently but by that time, people had ceased to laugh and were making the very speeches that I had made at the outset, which I believe constitutes great progress.

However, there are many aspects to climate change and I have in my possession a little cartoon which shows a world summit on climate change taking place. One character turns to another and declares it all to be a big hoax, to which the other character responds by asking whether that meant they were going to make the world a better place for nothing. Many issues relating to climate change pertain to good practice in how we live our lives and have huge benefits in other areas because cutting down on carbon emissions will make the world healthier. For example, it means that people will not suffer from asthma to the same extent. What is wrong with cutting down on pollution? Why not do so as it is such an obvious thing to do?

Members also should consider other relevant matters. For example, there is an issue in respect of energy security and peak oil. It is known that oil is running out and the only question is when. In common with many other Members, I have lived through an oil crisis and it is known that the supply of fossil fuels will run out some day, although it is not known exactly when. Many people advocate the nuclear option but it also has a limited, albeit unknown, lifespan which, depending on the person to whom one speaks, is estimated to be between 30 and 60 years.

However, I wish to note some recent very good news in Ireland. I believe there were three occasions on which more than 50% of Ireland's energy needs were met by renewable energy sources. I acknowledge this does not happen all the time and believe the average figure at present is approximately 15% or 16%. However, this proportion is climbing all the time and by 2020 or probably earlier, on some days - I emphasise some days - I believe that more than 100% of our energy needs could be met from renewable energy sources. Ireland uses approximately 5 GW to 6 GW of electricity at present and I understand that planning for approximately another 15 GW is under way. Consequently, on those days when conditions are absolutely perfect, there will be great oversupply of wind energy. Although this will not be very often it will happen and this is the reason for building interconnectors and linking into the European grid.

Great progress has been made by the Government in recent years and I hope progress will continue as strongly in the future. Moreover, Ireland's carbon emissions are falling and although some people ascribe this to the recession, Government policy is also contributing to this fall. It is absolutely crucial that this proposed climate change Bill be passed. Ireland has huge budgetary problems at present but climate change has not gone away and will not go away. It is a problem that will continue to face us into the future. Many people of my acquaintance who are experts in this regard are extremely fearful of climate change. The difference between losing a bit of money from one's pocket and losing vast tracts of our cities or vast numbers of the planet's population is considerable. Personally, I consider climate change to be a much more serious problem. Some people who speak about climate change even suggest that it poses such a danger that it could wipe out the human race. I do not know whether that is the case and do not believe that anyone does. However, this threat must be taken seriously and cannot simply be put to one side because the country is in a financially difficult position. On the contrary, this is an opportunity to get our house in order and to do things differently. I am heartened by Fine Gael policy, such as the NewEra document. I note Fianna Fáil policy has also moved considerably and I am heartened by that as well. Nevertheless, the Green Party has made an enormous contribution in this area and will continue to so do long into the future. Climate change is more important than the economic crisis that we face at present but it is perceived to be a longer-term issue. However, if one considers what is called the green new deal, the good news is that both issues can be solved together. The United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has stated that the issues of climate change and economic downturn can be solved together. Developing the green economy and doing things in a more sustainable fashion seem to be how many parties see the way forward. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, for the huge amount of work he has put into this for many years. It will be a huge lost opportunity if the climate change Bill is not brought before the House as soon as possible.

The joint committee has done fantastic work. I have attended a number of meetings and know that members from all parties have made positive contributions. This House has had several debates on the need for consensus; the Green Party has pushed the idea that consensus is vital in this area. That is, largely, what we have.

I commend schemes such as the green flag school scheme which brings the issue to the lowest level and asks schoolchildren what they can do to alleviate matters and live a better life. The scheme is administered by An Taisce. In Galway city, for example, every school has a green flag. This brings a magnificent benefit to the education of young people. Whatever else is cut in a forthcoming budget, this scheme should not be cut; it needs to be protected, as such a small amount of money brings a great benefit.

I welcome the report and support the motion.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State. It is always a joy to hear him speak, whether from a script or even more so when he speaks off the cuff. As he is present, I take the opportunity to comment on something Senator Joe O'Reilly touched upon. He referred to the curlew which is under huge threat. Although it is very rare, it is, amazingly, on the list of birds that may be shot from this month. One is allowed to shoot the curlew. This is not allowed in Northern Ireland where shooting the curlew is out of the question. A former Member of this House, Eamon de Buitléar, says this makes absolutely no sense. I am taking the opportunity to touch on the matter because I know it is close to the Minister of State's heart. There has been great success achieved in protecting the grey partridge in County Offaly. Ten years ago there were fewer than 20 alive. Because they are being protected, that number has now risen to 900 as a result of the success of the BirdWatch Ireland scheme.

I also wish to touch on something to which Senator Ó Brolcháin referred. He said human activity might not bring the world to destruction but one need only go to Chile to see this is a possibility. I had the opportunity to travel there some years ago. I did not get a chance to visit Easter Island, but I have read about it. Anyone who does not think the world might be damaged, or brought to an end, by human activity need only read the story of Easter Island. I advise Senators to look it up on the Internet. It is fascinating and a reminder of what could happen.

I picked up the report with great interest and have gone through it. It seems like a worthwhile contribution to the debate on climate change, even though there is a similar Government version. However, it could be argued that this report is more detailed than the Government plan and there are a few points I would like to raise.

When it comes to taxes to reduce C02 emissions, for instance, we must bear in mind that the economic downturn has reduced energy consumption significantly, a matter on which the Minister of State has touched. They hit a worldwide peak in 2007. Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 8% last year, a massive amount, and the first time a fall has been reported in 20 years. Owing to the effects of the economic downturn, all sectors of industry and commerce recorded a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions for the first time in two decades. Therefore, should we rush into producing more climate change legislation? Does the public simply associate the fall in emissions with a fall in economic growth? There is that danger, on which we have touched today.

The report sets a target for energy efficiency, but there is a lack of detail in it on how emissions would be cut. The target of an 80% emissions reduction by 2050 is very ambitious, but is it realistic? I would be inclined to agree with Richard Toll of the ESRI. He has written that the 20% emissions reduction target by 2020 contained in the report cannot possibly be met without draconian measures such as a prolonged depression or a ban on cows. Senator Ó Brolcháin has also touched on this aspect. A target of 30% would, of course, be even more difficult.

The green movement sometimes brings forward figures that are out of touch with reality. For instance, Mr. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, one of the largest car makers in the world, and one of the keenest supporters of electric cars, appears to believe one in ten new cars in 2020 will be all-electric. The goal for Ireland goes far beyond this. We are saying one in ten cars - new and old - in 2020 should be all-electric. As a business person, I would inclined to listen to the view of an expert like Mr. Ghosn on such matters before the multitude of Government reports produced every year.

A professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Mr. Roger Pielke, has a new book entitled, The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming. It is worth looking at. I have not read all of it, but I have glanced through it. In it he argues that we cannot decarbonise the globe without sacrificing economic growth until breakthrough technologies are available and that the speed of their development will be proportionate to the spend on research and development. However, he does have a solution in which he favours spending much more money on innovation to produce renewable energy technologies that would be cheaper than fossil fuel technologies. The money would come from a modest carbon tax which, given current low levels of energy innovation, should still be enough to make a difference. The direct aim of this strategy would not be to produce a less bad climate but reaching the more measurable goal of bringing energy supplies to those in the developing world currently starved of them. Mr. Pielke accepts that this would mean higher carbon dioxide concentrations worldwide and all that would entail and advocates reallocating climate efforts towards dealing with these impacts. It is an interesting and much broader concept than the narrow concept of climate change we have in Ireland. Look at the fact that China pumps out the same volume of emissions in one day than we do in one year.

We should also be much more mature and debate the issue of nuclear power which would help us massively to reduce emissions. I know the Green Party would state it could not have anything to do with it. However, the Green Party in Britain has changed its attitude. It has swung right around and states it is now in favour of nuclear power. It seems sensible if we are really committed to tackling climate change to consider this renewable source of energy. Over 50 nuclear plants are under construction, of which more than 20 are in China. It could be argued that it is taking the longer term view, based purely on engineering principles rather than the emotional rhetoric with which nuclear power is burdened.

We are always holding up great examples of people who innovate or create jobs. Look at, perhaps, the most famous innovator of all, Mr. Bill Gates. He has emphasised that governments should focus on developing energy technologies such as nuclear power and next generation batteries. To meet the 2050 deadline for cutting carbon emissions, he is promoting a nuclear power approach called terrapower to develop nuclear reactors that would run primarily on natural or depleted uranium rather than enriched uranium. The reactors could be loaded up with such fuel and sealed for 30 to 60 years. The money we spend on four years' worth of carbon emissions credits is just shy of the €1 billion it would take for Ireland to build a medium-sized nuclear power station. Such investment may not make sense at present, but let us take a more rounded and longer term view.

To help think through the economic impact of a carbon tax or similar measure, the Australian Government is consulting many of the country's top business people on the issue. Why are we not looking at consulting similar persons here? The Government wants to create jobs, but it cannot then make it harder for business people to create them by imposing even more harsh conditions on them, even if it is in the name of the environment. I agree that the long-term aim of protecting the environment is essential. I have mentioned how I was affected by the story of Easter Island, but it is extremely difficult to convince people of the merits of protecting the environment if the Government introduces measures which may cost them a job. I am also concerned that the report recommends even more bureaucracy and the establishment of new institutions. Countries like Germany manage climate change within existing institutions. Given our situation of being lumbered with hundreds of quangos, I am somewhat concerned over the proposed establishment of an office of climate change and renewable energy and a climate change commission. Can the multitude of well-qualified civil servants in the Department not fulfil this task, for example?

Do the report or the Government recommendations really matter as it could be legitimately argued that climate policy will be set not by ourselves but by the European Commission? We are an EU member state so we have to comply with specific emissions targets set by Brussels. Is this legislation merely grandstanding by politicians to make us look good at conferences? Should we stop pretending that Brussels does not set the agenda in this area?

We must not step blindly into fixing climate change by imposing more taxes and conditions on businesses that stifle those very businesses. We have seen a massive reduction in emissions in the past three years and we should remember that economic growth is our priority at present. I accept it is necessary to be a juggler and to keep all the balls in the air. However, this debate gives us an opportunity to take it a little further along the road. What I have heard from the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, and Senators O'Reilly and Ó Brolcháin has been very useful and is a step in this direction. I welcome the opportunity to debate the matter. If we concentrate on it, taking into account the other challenges that face us, we can achieve what we are setting out to do.

Photo of Martin BradyMartin Brady (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of climate change. "Climate change is not for me; it is for somebody else to look after" seems to be the attitude of some. Pollution is a key issue and a widespread problem in this country. It is caused particularly by dumping on land and at sea, and by other activities such as slurry spreading. Dumping at sea is an issue at Dollymount Strand in my area. Any evening one goes to the strand, there will be heaps of empty cartons and bottles washed up - Senator Quinn probably also observe this. This material does not appear by accident and there is no doubt it is dumped from ships. These issues must be tackled.

The dumping of domestic waste along roadways is another issue. Fines should be at least €1,000 for anyone caught dumping because the current fines of approximately €150 are too low.

Senator O'Reilly addressed the issue of pollution. I do quite a lot of fishing in Cavan and Monaghan. As I have just said to Senator Ó Brolcháin, one rarely sees water hens, wild geese or ducks and the heron has disappeared completely. I have reached the conclusion that pollution is one of the main causes of this. It is a very important point. As Senator Quinn said, mankind can destroy the ground it walks on as well as its environment. Debate adjourned.