Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015: Statements
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 requires that an annual transition statement be presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The 2017 statement is the second such statement under the Act. In addition to the oral report, I am arranging for a written statement to be laid before the Houses in advance of the statutory deadline of 10 December. The Act prescribes that the annual transition statement should include an overview of the mitigation and adaptation policy measures adopted by the Government, details on emission inventories and projections, and a report on compliance with Ireland's obligations under EU law and relevant international agreements. I will address these elements during my statement.
As reported by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, on Monday, Ireland's emissions increased by 3.5% between 2015 and 2016. This is disappointing and highlights the urgent need to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions and energy demand. Our economy remains the strongest performer in the EU, with GDP increasing by 5.2% in 2016, and we are once again approaching full employment, all of which puts pressure on emissions, especially in terms of transport, energy use and construction. The EPA expects Ireland's emissions to continue to increase until at least the end of the decade, which makes it even more imperative that Ireland take further steps to arrest this trend.
The Government's framework for taking action to reduce our emissions is the national mitigation plan, which sets out more than 70 individual measures to reduce emissions. Progress on the implementation of these measures is reported in the annual transition statement. The plan also provides the framework for further work on the medium to long-term measures to make the necessary deeper emission reductions in future decades. The mitigation plan is not a static document and must be formally reviewed once every five years.
When it comes to encouraging action on climate change, people cannot be commanded. They must be consulted. As part of the effort to engage with communities, I am leading a national dialogue on climate action, which will help to drive awareness around specific steps that people can take in their daily lives to try to tackle climate change. The dialogue will provide an ongoing opportunity to capture the views and concerns of citizens around the country as we work to achieve the national transition objective. The climate dialogue will build on the work that has already commenced in the Citizens' Assembly and feed into the overall process.
We are in the process of completing the national adaptation framework, which is covered under the annual transition statement. I will shortly submit a final framework to the Government for approval. This will provide a clear strategy to Departments and local government for preparing and implementing adaptation plans and strategies within their own jurisdictions.
One of the main questions facing everyone is how to make a meaningful contribution to this challenge. How can any country, particularly a small one like Ireland, make a practical difference? Small countries do not have the capacity or resources to do everything, but we can do some things well and show an example that others can follow. Small countries face unique challenges, but these also provide opportunities for unique solutions. The Paris Agreement is about every country, great and small, taking action.
Prior to attending COP23 in Bonn, I received approval from the Government to join the NDC Partnership, which allows Ireland and other countries to share our understanding, knowledge, experiences and technologies that we have developed so that member states across the world can benefit and learn from one another about the measures that can be taken.
I am trying to engage with the public in a meaningful way and to connect the global and long-term challenge of climate change with the here and now. One of the main challenges facing us is how to convince people that we need to take steps now that will benefit their children and grandchildren. The difficulty is that people and governments tend to kick the can down the road in that respect.
A practical example of dealing with the challenges here and now in a way that benefits us today as well as the overall climate agenda is the national clean air strategy. That strategy is a fundamental building block for meeting our challenges because it brings the climate issue into every home. Last year, the then Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, said: "Clean energy policies reduce air pollution [...] Human health and the environment both win." This is why I believe that air quality is central to Ireland's energy efficiency programme and overall climate agenda.
In March, Ireland hosted the first clean air dialogue with the European Commission in Dublin to promote actions to improve air quality and contribute to Ireland's implementation of the EU's clean air legislation. Air pollution is not just an environmental or climate problem. It threatens our natural resources, and the one big natural resource that Ireland has is its people, so it threatens their health and well-being. Consider the economic costs of lost work days and health care. Given that air quality is directly associated with an average of four deaths in Ireland every day and one in five children in this country suffers asthma, it must be a priority for the Government.
Our new clean air strategy is already being acted upon. We are doubling the number of air monitoring stations across the country.We are now in a global project with NASA called Global Learnings and Observations to Benefit the Environment, GLOBE,where we are linking up schools in the vicinity of those particular air monitoring stations with other schools across the globe so we can look at how our air quality is today and benchmark that against the improvements that need to take place. One of the significant steps we are going to take is that within the next 12 months we are going to ban the burning of smoky coal in this country. That will have a significant impact in the short term on air quality but in the longer term as well on climate. Ireland has also taken a lead role in implementing the Kigali Protocol. We were one of the first signatories to give a commitment of funding to work with the developing world to implement the Kigali Protocol. Its objective is reducing global warming by 0.5°C. Including the cooling element of Kigali, which is making air conditioning more efficient, can achieve another 0.5°C. I have already approved laying before both Houses a motion for the adoption of the Kigali Protocol which I hope to have adopted within the coming weeks.
We have all seen the challenges that we have regarding climate across this country. We have seen it with Storm Ophelia and the severe flooding that we have had over the last decade. It is not just about dealing with the future and the challenges of emissions but also how do we adapt to the changes that have already happened. We are working with local authorities on that. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, has been doing a lot of work on flood adaptation measures across the country, particularly in the midlands region. I want to commend him for his announcement last week on measures that are going to take place in the Shannon Basin to clean up 18 pinch points within the River Shannon and remove Melick Weir. That is going to have a significant impact on the flooding that we have seen in the Shannon callows in recent years and is going to potentially drop the level of the river between 1 ft and 1.5 ft. We have an awful lot more work to do in terms of adaptation and in addressing the emissions that we are producing on a domestic level and overall as a country.
Transport is one of the challenges. Small countries have unique challenges. We have a particular challenge in Ireland because of the dispersed population. Villages of fewer than 50 people make up 27% of our population. Traditional transport solutions will not work here in Ireland. That is why the national broadband plan is so critically important to reducing overall transport emissions by allowing people to work from their own homes to avoid the need to commute in the first place. By the end of next year, 30% of premises outside our cities will have direct access to pure fibre optic broadband cable. That is going to have a significant impact in transforming the local rural economy but also helping to drive down emissions.
The vast majority of villages across Ireland will have access to pure fibre broadband of up to a 1000 Mbps. I am working with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, to see how we can exploit that in two ways. First, by facilitating hot desking in rural communities so people do not have to travel from their own village to local towns or to cities to work. Second, working with the telecommunications companies to see how we can exploit that fibre to connect people up on the last mile through wireless or mobile services.
It is also about using technology differently. By 2024, everybody in this country will have a smart electricity meter. That is going to drive energy efficiency. It will allow for real-time pricing and encourage people to become far more energy efficient in their electricity use. The action plan for jobs that will be published next year intends to focus on enabling the environment for business and innovators to take increasing investment opportunities that are being presented in the low carbon climate resilient transition.
The roll-out of broadband and the use of smart meters across the country provides for new innovative solutions. We now have two Internet of Things networks across this country and we are already seeing companies like VogueTek in County Meath exploiting that to provide adaptation services here in the city of Dublin where they are now using the Internet of Things to communicate potential gully blockages to Dublin City Council so they can be averted and addressed before heavy rains arrive.
In 2016 we also saw an increase of 4.4% in the use of public transport services. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, will deal with that in more detail and talk about the expansion of the Luas green line, increasing the capacity and the usage of that public transport service in reducing the amount of vehicles coming into the city of Dublin.
However, it is not just about the domestic level. Ireland is very much involved at an international level. We held the International Plant Protection Convention, IPPC, seminar in Dublin earlier this year on agriculture and the land use working group. That report will be completed in 2019. It will be significant from an Irish perspective because agriculture plays such a key part in our overall emissions and in the emissions trajectory that we have to meet. The work that we are doing should be acknowledged. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will outline to the House the work that is being done on the beef data genomics scheme, one of the most innovative climate measures that has been taken in the agricultural sector at a global level. We have now genotyped 1 million beef-producing animals in this country. There is no database of its type anywhere in the world. It allows us to be at the cutting edge of developing new flexible solutions in that area. During the Congress of the Parties, COP23, negotiations in Bonn two weeks ago Ireland contributed and was very much to the fore in breakthroughs in the development of guidance for the agricultural sector but also in the adoption of a gender action plan. It is important that we not just look at the measures that we can take here in Ireland but work with other countries on a global scale to deal with these challenges because we cannot deal with many of them in isolation.
We are doubling the funding that is going to be available next year for the roll out of electric vehicles, not just in terms of continuing the grant support that is there. We are now zero rating benefit-in-kind for electric vehicles for the next three years. We are running a number of initiatives with the public and private sectors to convert from traditional fossil fuel to electric vehicles. We are going to run roadshows around the country to get people to try out an electric vehicle. I had the opportunity recently to test drive the Renault Zoe over ten days. I encourage people, especially at this time of the year, to test drive the vehicles before they purchase a new or replacement vehicle. Next year we are going to extend the grant aid for electricity connection for charging in domestic homes from just new vehicles to second-hand vehicles. That would allow for imports but also provide a floor for the sale of second-hand electric vehicles which is important for people looking to purchase an electric vehicle.We took the decision during the summer to encourage the segregation of waste and encourage people to produce less waste by abolishing the flat-rate charging regime that is being implemented across the country. Approximately 50% of kerb-side collections are already based on some type of usage system. The more one uses such a service, the more one pays. The other 50% will transition to this system over the next 14 months, which will reduce significantly the amount of waste being generated in the first place and also encourage people to segregate .
We have taken the decision to roll out brown bins to every single community with a population greater than 500. Yesterday, we informed the waste industry that it is our intention to roll out brown bins to every single home that wants one. Again, this encourages people to segregate waste so we can use the organic waste for composting and the generation of biogas. I will be bringing a memorandum to the Government next week on the renewable heat incentive scheme, which will support the development of the biogas industry in the country. We will be able to utilise the waste being generated from brown bins while encouraging people not to generate waste in the first instance. As Members know, we had a campaign earlier this year specifically asking people to think about what they were dumping by way of food waste and about how they could reduce the volume. The removal of flat-rate bin charges will encourage people to think far more deeply about the amount of waste they are generating in the first instance.
We have made progress on the forestry side. This will probably be addressed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he comes to the House. The drainage system for forestry very much compounded heavy flooding after very heavy rainfall. The design of the new drainage systems for forestry will address and reduce the amount of flooding.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently completing the public spending code to integrate climate policy into all future decisions on public expenditure that the Government will take. This will very much form part of the overall capital plan that the Government hopes to announce quite soon. The capital plan will integrate climate policy into the overall plan and measures over the next decade.
The national planning framework is being completed. It is very much about getting people back into main streets across the country and utilising existing infrastructure. In Georgian Limerick, for example, there is a population of approximately 1,000 although the wider catchment population of the city of Limerick is approximately 90,000. We are trying to rejuvenate our cities, towns and villages where the infrastructure is already in place, thus reducing the need for people to travel and commute. We have taken a decision this year that all new cars and vans sold in Ireland from 2030 will have zero emissions or be zero-emission capable.
We are examining the impact of wetlands on both mitigation and adaptation. We are working with Bord na Móna to consider how we can reflood many of the cutaway bogs across the country. Work is under way on many of these initiatives. Admittedly, it is a challenge and we have a long way to go. Every single person can make a contribution and the Government must provide the leadership in this regard. It is important that we bring people with us. That is why the dialogue is so fundamental in creating the awareness, engagement and motivation to act and build on the work that has already been started by the Citizens' Assembly. We must build on the work we have done through the Green Flag programme in schools across the country. Some 98% of schools are now involved. The Green Schools National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme is being rolled out across the country. We have also launched the climate change ambassadors programme so we will have individuals and communities across the country talking but the real and practical impact of climate change in those communities and about how individuals and communities can take steps to improve their quality of life, improve air quality and meet our long-term goals on climate. I look forward to the input of Members.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, to the House and thank him for a very comprehensive statement on climate action and low-carbon development.
Fianna Fáil recognises that climate change is one of the most, if not the most, pressing moral and practical challenges of our generation. We need to look no further than the recent floods in Inishowen, the widespread drought in southern and eastern Africa and the devastating and extreme weather events in the United States and the Caribbean to see that the time to act is now. The devastating Storm Ophelia is yet another example of a type of extreme weather event that is said to become more likely as ocean and land temperatures increase.
While there is ongoing uncertainty over whether climate change will increase the frequency of hurricanes, Ireland is likely to see an increased number of intense storms. As ocean temperatures warm, storms will move farther east, thus extending the areas that tropical storms and hurricanes affect. Storms are also growing in intensity and destructive potential.
While we welcome the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, we have a number of issues regarding how it was drafted and implemented. In the first instance, it took far too long for the Government to publish its mitigation plan. Although it was eventually published in July of this year, it lacked vision and ambition. It fundamentally failed to grasp the gravity of climate change and respond to it. It is reprehensible that the Government has lagged behind in introducing innovation schemes to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction and climate justice targets. As it stands, Ireland is almost certain to fail to meet its targets for 2020. Recent figures show that our greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.5% in the past year, which means that we are facing fines of at least €455 million. This is a considerable sum.
Although the latest emissions figures are encouraging for some sectors, they show that much more needs to be done. While progress has been made in some areas, especially in electricity production and agriculture, to meet 2020 emissions targets, almost none has been made in other areas since 2011, notably home heating and transport. When he was elected Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar claimed that the Government would be taking on new climate change ambitions in the wake of budget 2018. That is not accurate at this stage although I acknowledge the Minister is doing his best. He is finding it hard to achieve results, however.
Overall, our transport, energy and home heating sectors account for almost half of our emissions, yet the Government has done almost nothing to move these sectors towards a greener future. The Government has dragged its heels on the renewable energy support scheme and the renewable heat incentive, which has more or less frozen development in the renewable energy sector. Despite paying lip service to the concept of renewable transport, the Government has effectively given up on meeting its targets by 2020.
Fianna Fáil is fully committed to making Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. We have detailed policies in this regard. Fianna Fáil and, I am sure, the Minister have received submissions from Trócaire on climate action and low-carbon development. There is information in the document that is deeply concerning for Trócaire, an international organisation. In 2016, the worst El Niño event compounded the damage being done by climate change to lives and livelihoods in the poorest countries. The UN estimated that 50.2 million people were affected by drought in eastern and southern Africa alone. As a result of continued poor rains in 2017, the food and security situation is such that some 20 million in eastern Africa are currently in need of food aid. In 2015, Malawi experienced its worst flooding in decades and a third of the country was declared a disaster zone. Some 63,000 ha were submerged and 250,000 people were displaced from their homes. Ireland is not responsible for that and it is regrettable that the United States of America has decided to pull out of the Paris accord. It was a major climate change initiative but if China and the United States of America do not co-operate in this regard and do not reduce emissions, then Africa will be directly affected. We can do all we can but given our size it is extremely difficult. I hope the Minister will respond to Trócaire and hold discussions with it as it is very genuine about the situation and can be helpful to the Minister as he forges policies in this area. Trócaire has produced a document, Stop Climate Chaos, which is very detailed and which I assume the Minister has received.
Friends of the Earth have also been in touch and its director, Oisín Coghlan, has sent a detailed document relating to the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier this month the EU independent advisory body on climate change, the European Environment Agency, produced its annual overview of emissions reductions and Ireland is the third highest producer of emissions per person in the European Union, and one of seven EU member states which are set to miss their EU2020 emission reduction targets under the EU effort sharing decisions. Ireland is the only one of the group whose emissions are predicted to continue to rise, which is a damning indictment. I do not know what the situation regarding Moneypoint is and we want Moneypoint to be there but will biomass replace Colombian coal? It is understood that it could bring about a major reduction in that regard and I know it is being considered. The impact would be major because of the emissions of Colombian coal.
I was talking with my wife, Mary, who is an organic farmer and works with Conor on an organic farm in Castlecoote. She suggested there should be a requirement to support the growing of more trees on the land of some 120,000 agricultural holdings under the GLAS scheme, the rural environmental protection scheme or any other new scheme. This would have a marvellous impact. I am not talking about planting a forest on good-quality agricultural land as we must maintain our agricultural land for cattle and sheep production, but there are areas on every farm, perhaps of one acre or less, where one could plant broadleaf trees. If there were ten for every holding there could be 1.2 million and this would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
I know the Minister is doing his utmost in the areas of electric cars and he said he has experienced driving them. However, if he is driving to Leinster House would he get here without having to charge it somewhere along the way? There are now more places where one can charge a car and in Roscommon town there are certainly more. I understand the Minister's difficulties and he has a major portfolio in this area, on top of the other portfolios he has. His heart is in this task and, being a former Minister, I know that it is not easy to achieve these things. Many agencies work under the Minister and he has to motivate them as he cannot do all the work himself. He also has to guide them and I think he is doing that very well.
I welcome the Minister to the House for this very important item. It is the item of a generation and, while we looked at it a few years ago, we are now tasked with moving this agenda forward as it is one of the key issues for us. Unless this generation deals with climate change the next generations will, unfortunately, suffer. It is a major task for this Minister, this Government and for the nation itself. Unfortunately, we have a major challenge in managing an economy that is growing while keeping carbon emissions at a certain level. We have had changes in the agricultural sector and in manufacturing as well as an increase in population density, which have had a knock-on effect on us.
A report of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine a few weeks ago on the grain industry shows the change there has been in the sector. There were 2,500 hectares in tillage up to three years ago but it could be as low as 1,500 this year and there is a huge impact on carbon emissions from the transition from tillage to beef and, especially, to dairy. These are challenges that need to be taken on board by the Government as a whole and I have spoken to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine about them. We have to be proactive and find solutions. The Minister rightly mentioned genomics in the beef industry, which is a very important scheme that shows the potential of putting science into the industry. We have to promote science and the interaction among all agencies.
Electric cars will be one of the big things in the next few years and we have to work on the move away from diesel. It has to be done through monetary proposals and by encouraging people and educating them as to the benefits of electric cars. We have to change our view of what is an appropriate method of transportation.
A bugbear of mine is how we run our economy. We are running an e-economy and I noted this evening that the Minister had no speech to be handed out to Members of the House. We need to change how Government does these things and we have to ask if we need a written speech for every single person. Does this House require it? We all have iPads so does the Government now need to go paperless? It would be a very positive step and would show the ambition we need to have. It is a small thing but it would show the next generation what we need to do. We learn not so much from our elders but from the generation below us. My daughters are aged six and seven and can use an iPad a lot better than I can. They move in that circle and do not understand why I need a written speech or why I write things down. We need to look at the younger generation in this regard.
I propose that we move on electric cars but also that the Government should go paperless as soon as it possibly can. The Houses of the Oireachtas should also go paperless and we should move away from looking for the Minister's speech at the start of a debate as this is not the signal the Oireachtas should be giving. This is a key issue for society and one we have to grapple with or history will not show us in a good light.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim buíochas leis as a bheith linn inniu do na ráitis thar a bheith tábhachtach agus suntasach seo ar chúrsaí timpeallachta agus aeráide.Having spent some time in here this afternoon, the Minister and his officials will appreciate we are demanding climate action, in the first instance, on the climate in this Chamber. We could do with some action on the climate in the Seanad Chamber because we are all feeling it. Returning to the much more serious matters at hand, the Minister correctly made an understandable reference to the renewable heat incentive. Given the experience not too far up the road, it is worth learning the lessons from that initiative, as well as the potential pitfalls and exploitation that may come about in that scheme. Accordingly, the Minister has plenty of time to plan in advance and, I hope, take from the lessons learned in the North.
We all know the targets we must reach for our climate change obligations for 2020, particularly with respect to the emissions reduction of 20% and the 16% rate for renewables. We know they will not be reached. It is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, that emissions will only be 4% to 6% below 2005 levels. The figures from the EPA, released on Monday this week, demonstrate that greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.5% last year. This is the second year in a row that Irish greenhouse gas emissions have increased and we will be one of only a few states to miss the targets. The climate change performance index, published two weeks ago by leading non-governmental organisations, NGOs, dealing with the matter has placed us last in Europe in terms of climate action measures. In this regard, unfortunately, we are the laggards of Europe. The consequence of not meeting our 2020 obligations will of course be substantial fines of hundreds of millions of euro. These could be moneys better spent on hospitals, housing and education. Instead they are moneys leaving the State, which will be a damming indictment on the inaction of successive Governments.
Sinn Féin has stated many times in the past we are approaching a carbon cliff in terms of emissions. We need direct specific measures. Sinn Féin previously demanded binding sectoral targets to reduce emissions but this State has concentrated almost exclusively on onshore wind for renewable energy. Sinn Féin is calling for the urgent diversification of our renewable resources. The State needs to get real on climate change and I appreciate that the Minister understands this. We need specific actions and not vague plans. As Senator Lombard and others have correctly argued, given the gravity of this issue, we need that action now. We must diversify our renewable energy. A diversification of renewable energy sources is the only realistic way we can combat climate change. Biogas, biomass, offshore wind, solar and micro-generation, which have been virtually completely neglected, must all be developed. All of these energy sources would feed into an all-island electricity grid. Renewable energy sources such as biomass and biogas both help our environment and maintain the island's security of supply and they create jobs across rural Ireland. We are years, if not decades, behind on these.
We are also behind in terms of transport renewable targets. There is a minimal amount of electric vehicles on the road and there is now confusion about public charging points. This is a mess and it seems there is no plan to get out of it. The regulator issued a paper on public charging in October stating, "there will be no further funding of the assets through network charges". The regulator now "expects ESBN to arrange the sale of the assets". Who is going to buy them and finance, build and maintain them in future? If we do not have public charging the shameful number of electric vehicles on the road will not increase. This public charging infrastructure is key if there is to be any possible growth in electric vehicles. Again, this needs to be integrated on an all-island basis, being supplied through an all-island grid and ensuring integrating of transport.
A key element to addressing climate change, protecting and using our environment sustainably and to maintaining security of supply, is through the single electricity market and an all-island based approach to our energy needs. The single electricity market has now been in place for a decade, working on a 32-county basis, and is a perfect example of how working together on an all-island basis benefits the economy and the people. We have created, with industry meetings in Belfast and Dublin and input into market design and changes from both sides of the Border, an integrated model of infrastructure that proves the immense potential this island has when working together. Stopping power infrastructure at the Border will not benefit the ordinary energy customer across the island and makes it more difficult for both the Six Counties and the Twenty-six Counties to develop diverse forms of renewable energy.
Our future energy grid will be made of a wider variety of energy types. Variable sources of energy such onshore and offshore wind will form a large part but these must be backed up with biomass and biogas options. To keep the lights on, these need to feed into an all-island grid to best maintain supply. This island can be a world leader when it comes to offshore energy. Wave and tidal power resources have immense potential and again are most feasible on an all-island basis. These natural renewable energy sources we have do not stop at the Border and neither should the infrastructure to harness them.
This island, North or South, produces no oil of its own and a minimal amount of gas with a small lifespan. To combat climate change we need to develop our indigenous renewable energy sources. These are available across the island and it would be nonsensical that we would have two separate energy grids on such a small island. That it is why in a post-Brexit position, the single electricity market must be maintained if we are truly going to combat climate change.
I very much support the Minister's initiative with regard to dialogue, building awareness, engagement and motivation among the peoples of Ireland with regard to climate change. As has been stated here today, it is the issue of our time. A number of people have mentioned that it is a great challenge. The Minister indicated we are a small nation but we can really take leadership in the area and punch above our weight. We must make the decisions for this to happen but I do not see it coming about at present. The Minister spoke about the numbers of targets but sometimes less is more. If we could get the results of some concrete targets, it would be better than having aspirations.
Very recently, the highest wave ever recorded off the coast of Ireland was measured off my home county of Waterford at Tramore. It was this year during Storm Ophelia and reached a height of 17.81 m or 58.4 ft, almost the height of a six-storey building. It was definitely far too high for anybody to surf on and had the potential to do much damage. If this is the sign of what is to come, we must step up to the mark. As we saw recently in Mountmellick in County Laois, rivers that have not flooded in living memory have broken their banks, with families left homeless, livestock wiped out and farmland ruined. At one point 25,000 people were without electricity. Whole streets and roads were drowned in water, thereby damaging the small local businesses so important to community life.
Met Éireann's head of research told the Citizens' Assembly these extreme rain events will increase by 30% by mid-century but our carbon emissions in Ireland are still increasing. These extreme weather events affect the poorest in Ireland. They also pale in comparison with the extreme weather events Ireland’s high carbon emissions wreak on other countries. For example, I refer to the disappearance of islands in the Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls, refugees fleeing drought and war in Syria and wildfires across Australia. Climate change is intrinsically linked with the question of who caused the damage and who pays for it. All of us, and not just those of us in Ireland, have a responsibility but we must play our part.
Climate justice operates on the basis of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", which operates within countries as well as between them. According to Dr. Mary Robinson, it is “a human-centred approach to climate change, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its [resolution] equitably and fairly”. There is no mention of climate justice in the 2012 or 2017 national mitigation plans or the draft national adaptation framework. This is in conflict with section 3(2)(c) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which places a legal obligation on the Minister to have regard to "climate justice" in developing a national mitigation plan and national adaptation framework.Significant submissions were made on this topic from Trócaire, Faith in Action, Christian Aid and others. I ask the Minister to outline the regard which his Department gave to these submissions when drafting the national mitigation plan and national adaptation framework.
In relation to climate justice, I welcome the national mitigation plan’s new focus on ensuring a just transition after the Green Party submitted a motion on the issue of Bord na Móna workers on the 27 May 2017. We look forward to the publication of a report on the spatial or geographical economic and employment implications of the transition and welcome the appointment of Adrian Kane from the ICTU energy and natural resources committee to the national diaIogue on climate action. However, as welcome as these initiatives are, there are no hard actions for a just transition specified in the national mitigation plan, or draft national adaptation framework. Indeed the draft national adaptation framework acknowledges submissions made on just transition but specifies no adaptation measures to put this into effect.
The Climate Advisory Committee acknowledges that a massive economic transformation is needed to tackle climate change. Aimless, revisable plans without any specifications of targets or hard action are unfair on workers in carbon heavy industries. It leaves them in limbo, stressed about an uncertain future. Over 450,000 jobs have been lost in the oil and gas industry worldwide since February 2014, 170,000 in the North Sea alone. In May, Bord na Mona announced that 70 staff would lose their jobs due to the closure of a briquette plant in Littleton, County Tipperary. On 27 May 2017, the Green Party motion on just transition called on the Department to “take a decisive lead to create employment in electricity generation, energy storage, community energy, transport infrastructure, energy efficiency and sustainable heating for homes and businesses, and rehabilitation of our bogs and national habitats”. In 2019, the €l20 million subsidy for peat will end. Will the Minister tell us what exact, specific plans he has to implement a just transition for Bord na Móna workers that for generations have worked hard to provide the Irish State with energy sovereignty?
These ordinary workers, such as those losing jobs in Littleton, are in no way to blame for inaction by Bord na Móna and Government in moving towards a cleaner energy system. Bord na Móna, a company already making €85 million in profits over the past three years, currently receives a subsidy of €120 million for burning peat. That €120 million could ensure the safety, security, pensions and retraining for every peat worker and reliant industry in the midlands. It could also rehabilitate our bogs and make them powerful resources for carbon mitigation, helping us to avoid imminent fines of €600 million a year from 2020.
In the USA, solar energy alone employs more people than oil, coal and gas combined and by 2050, a global economy based on renewabIes and energy efficiency would create 24 million more permanent, full-time jobs, according to research from Stanford University. The economist David Connolly has also outlined how climate action, if taken now, could create 100,000 new jobs in the energy sector alone. The new EU renewable energy directive gives us an opportunity to address the feeling communities have of being locked out of progress, having things happen to them rather than benefit themselves.
I will conclude on a matter that annoys me, which I have raised previously, namely offshore oil and gas. Will the Minister address his plans to ban offshore oil and gas drilling off the Irish coast, considering the damage it does to marine life, our fishing industry, and its contribution to climate change? Will the Minister assure me that no new licences will be given for oil and gas exploration off the Irish coast? It is one seriously good measure that could be taken to ensure that we do not continue to damage our climate and the clean air and health of the people of Ireland.
I thank the Acting Chairman, and ask him to let me know when I have a minute remaining although I do not intend to delay the Minister.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I was not here to hear his speech but I have read it. There are many good things in it and he touches on many areas of serious concern to many people in Ireland. As someone who moved to the countryside some 15 years ago to the brave new world of broadband which would enable us to transact our business, I soon found out that was very much not the case. We have made some progress but there is an awful long way to go. Even in places in north county Dublin, in Fingal, where I live, there are times when the broadband speed can make one pull what is left of one's hair out. There is much work to be done on that and I know the Minister is committed to addressing the issue.
I am struck by how, in our economic history, we have bemoaned our lack of natural resources in contrast to many industrialised nations. Now things have come full circle. We have the best economic resources available to us in our environment, between our seas, wind and the amount of solar energy available to us. The Minister has touched on many of these, and ocean energy is an exciting prospect for further investment, it is something that is largely left to the large multinationals and universities, where solar energy is something we can all avail of. There is also wind energy although with that there are added costs, with wind turbines having many moving parts and requiring maintenance whereas photovoltaics are a far simpler way to achieve energy here. There are many farmers who have land that is marginal, that may be good enough for grazing sheep but is certainly not good enough for tillage, who would very much like to get involved in this area. There is a significant problem with this because there are no Government guidelines for local authorities regarding applications for solar farms. I know of one farm in Fingal, in north county Dublin, that was refused by the local authority on the grounds that there were no national guidelines. I realise that the Minister here is not the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, but he sits at Cabinet and his remit is energy and I hope he will bring to bear his influence on this matter. I have raised it previously and will do so again when the relevant Minister comes before us on our energy requirements.
We talk about many of these things over which we do not have control, although Government. This is an area where there is huge potential and which people are keen to avail of but they are obstructed by a lack of guidelines and official action. That must be addressed. From an environmental perspective, this is a wonderful opportunity. People can still raise sheep underneath these solar panels and it is the cleanest of clean energy. It is a matter for the Minister, Deputy Ross, who will be before the House later. If one looks at the Oireachtas Library and Research Service's synopsis on the subject, when it lists the options to help Ireland reach its national EU greenhouse gas emission target, its first point is to increase the levels of renewable energy. This provides a mechanism. Even if people did not want to put them on their land, farmers have considerable roof space across hay barns and other sheds which could be exploited and we should encourage them to do so. We certainly do not want a situation such as that which exists in other jurisdictions where it has become all but impossible for people to do this, because of regulations. I will not name them but they are EU member states. I want to impress on the Minister the need for regulations in the area. There are many people who would be keen to become involved in solar farms or solar energy who, far from being encouraged, are meeting obstruction.
I also believe that we can do more to advance the concept of electric cars and give people confidence in them.The big issue that is holding people back from buying the cars is probably the range that some of them have, although that has been overcome, and the lack of power points around our cities. We need to address that issue.
I commend the Minister on his commitment to the post office service. I welcome the €30 million that has been approved by Government for that service. We need to look at other ways, besides those mentioned by the Minister, of sustaining our local post offices. The service has to be financially viable.
I thought I had a minute left. I would like to make a plea that post offices be given the right to provide motor taxation services to local people. Many of our older citizens like to deal face to face with people, and there is potential for that work to be carried out by the post offices. There is also a lot of potential in terms of managing the savings of our older people. Nobody in this House wants to see a situation arise where older people feel they have to keep large sums of cash in their house because they cannot get to a bank and they do not understand ATMs and computers. As the pillar banks recede from the more remote parts of Ireland, and even from some of the not so remote parts, the nearest branches are often 20 or 30 miles away and have less and less customer interface action.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the representatives from Stop Climate Chaos and Trócaire in the Public Gallery and thank them for their briefing materials, which have been very helpful.
I am very glad of the opportunity to have this debate. Of course, it is a requirement under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. Former Senator Sean Barrett was responsible for ensuring that we would have the opportunity to debate these annual statements, not just in the Dáil but also in the Seanad. I very much welcome the opportunity to do this today. However, it must be said that Ireland is performing very badly currently, and that this is not a happy second annual statement to be making to us. I have the utmost respect for the Minister, and I would ask that he bring the message back to his Cabinet colleagues that the key problem, as I see it, is a lack of joined-up thinking and a lack of an overall Government vision for tackling climate change and for ensuring that Ireland will in fact meet its targets.
Other colleagues have referred to the very disappointing figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, showing serious increases in Ireland's carbon emissions. There were marked increases in 2016 of 3.5%. That was broken down by the EPA to show that agriculture emissions increased by 2.7%, transport emissions by 3.7% and energy industry emissions by 6.1%. It was pointed out that there were significant increases observed across all of the main sectors and an overall trend of increasing emissions. National emissions have now increased by 7% in just two years, indicating, according to the EPA, that we have not managed to decouple emissions from economic growth. The Minister referred to economic growth as a driver here, but clearly we need to ensure that economic growth does not come at the expense of failing to meet targets. I know that the Minister is committed to that. It seems that we are getting a series of disjointed actions by individual Ministers, whereas the whole intention or purpose behind these statements was to ensure that there was a coherent overall strategy at Government level to manage how we meet our targets on climate change.
We have been criticised by our own national body, the EPA, but also at international level by the European Environment Agency, which points out that Ireland is the third highest producer of emissions per person in the EU and one of just seven member states which are set to miss the EU 2020 emission reduction targets. Other bodies at international level, such as the Climate Change Performance Index, have ranked Ireland as the worst performing country in Europe for action on climate change. As others have pointed out, we also face significant fines if we fail to meet targets.
What can we do about this? There is some room for optimism. Clearly, we have significant opportunities to bring about transformational change. I believe that the political and public will is there for that, as was evidenced in the really excellent Citizens' Assembly report, which the Minister himself referred to. Looking at the recommendations from that report, there are some really positive and welcome recommendations. Some 98% of the members of the Citizens' Assembly recommended that climate change should be at the centre of policymaking in Ireland. This brings us back to the idea of having a joined-up national approach to tackling climate change. A total of 100% of members recommended that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change. Indeed, 80%, a sizeable majority, said that they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon-intensive activities, which is a sign that there is public will to put our money where our mouths are.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, will be coming into the House after the Minister present, Deputy Naughten, but as the Minister has mentioned it already, I will say that there were very strong recommendations on improving cycling infrastructure. As a very committed daily cyclist I would urge action on that. There was also a strong recommendation to support the transition to electric vehicles. Senator Reilly, among others, has spoken about that. I have met the Electricity Association of Ireland, the ESB and other stakeholders on this, and there is a real concern that we are not doing enough to encourage consumers to make the transition to electric vehicles. Senator Reilly referred to some of the challenges involved in that in terms of charging and range.
The Labour Party set out in its policy document, Growing the Green Economy, and in its submission to the Citizens' Assembly a series of actions that could be taken. It proposed the setting up of a green infrastructure fund, worth €1 billion, to retrofit 225,000 homes over the next five years. I thought that Senator Reilly made some very strong points on retrofitting and on the importance of encouraging householders to take action on this. We need to ensure that there are strong incentives in place for the fitting of solar panels and so on. That seems to be an eminently sensible approach, and the Labour Party has recommended it also. It also called for a new forum for community energy engagement and to promote and diversify Ireland's renewable energy portfolio.
While in Government, the Labour Party was a strong driver behind the State's first climate change legislation, the 2015 Act, which is the reason we are all here. When I was first elected to the Seanad in 2007, I brought forward a Private Member's Bill, with Friends of the Earth, which was the first climate change Bill which sought to set binding targets. The Labour Party, when in Government, produced a new national strategy to combat energy poverty and began a €20 million pilot programme to improve domestic energy efficiency.
The Government needs to take a strong leadership role on climate action. We have advantages because many State-owned companies, such as the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte, are operating in the energy sector and can be dynamic agents of change. We have pointed out that this is an area where State intervention and activism are crucial. The market alone, unaided, cannot deliver the transformation to the low-carbon, and ultimately zero-carbon, economy we need to achieve. There is immense public support for that. Any survey we see shows immense public support for recycling initiatives and for ideas such as retrofitting.
I want to refer to the issue of climate justice, which Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to. That is also an important part of any debate on this. This is not just a national issue. Trócaire has produced very useful briefings on this issue. It is the poorest and least developed countries, those which have done the least to cause the enormous amount of climate change we have seen, which are being hit the hardest. Mary Robinson, speaking recently at the COP23 UN climate change conference in Bonn, spoke about the need to engage stakeholders to ensure the right to participation and decision-making by those from the least developed countries is respected and fulfilled as we make the transition to zero carbon.
I will end on an optimistic note. Mary Robinson did strike a very optimistic note in reflecting on that recent conference. She spoke about how she has become more optimistic about the global response to climate change. She urged the implementation of a Marshall Plan-type intervention, which I thought was a very attractive idea, to ensure that everyone has access to renewable energy. This is also a critical way of tackling global poverty. To return to the point made by the EPA, we should never consider that economic progress inevitably means increased emissions. Unfortunately, that has been our recent experience and it is why we are performing particularly badly currently. We need to decouple emissions from economic growth, see the enormous economic benefit in growing sustainable energy and move increasingly towards a zero-carbon economy.
I thank the Minister. I want to speak mainly about climate change.Recently our entire country shut down because of a hurricane called Ophelia. Why did it shut down? It was because we were not clear about how it would arrive. Thank God for Joanna Donnelly, meteorologist in RTÉ, who became over 20 hours the face of Storm Ophelia. She issued warnings to people around the country and urged them to batten down the hatches and take it seriously. We lost three lives, however. We did not understand the importance of this weather event until it had passed. We are surely fools if we ignore signs such as this one. Scientists have stated that such storms, flooding, hazardous weather and extreme weather events, which were called once in a lifetime events, are becoming more frequent. Why? It is because of climate change.
In the global age of Trump and climate change sceptics, we in Ireland are doing a terrific job of ignoring climate change. We see it as something only the rich fossil fuel companies have to worry about, but the pensioner in County Donegal who is still feeling the after-effects of the tail-end of Hurricane Gert and has to stock up at the front door with sandbags before she can sleep is worried about climate change, and we should join her.
In America, there is a new campaign called "We Are Still In". More than 2,500 leaders from America's city halls, state houses, boardrooms and college campuses have signed "We are still in" declarations since its initial release on 5 June 2017. This network represents more than 127 million people from 50 states, red and blue, and is demonstrating America's commitment to tackling climate change, ensuring a clean energy future and upholding the Paris Agreement. We also need to be in.
I firmly believe that, as climate is changing, it is almost hard to tell the winters from the summer. We are nearly getting to a stage where there is confusion. One does not know any more. We used to have a winter wardrobe and a summer wardrobe but now it has got to a stage where we cannot tell the difference anymore. We are on this planet. It is our only home. We owe the future to our children and we cannot give them a half used one. I firmly believe that information is crucial. We need an awareness campaign. There is definitely massive climate change and I know the Minister and those in his Department will work on it. We need to make people aware of this.
Before I finish, I will refer to Senator O'Reilly's contribution on post offices in rural areas. The funding is welcome but we need to ensure that extra services are provided by our post offices. Post offices, particularly those in rural areas, are the life and soul of this country. I hope the Minister will consider my concerns.
I welcome this annual statement. When it comes to climate change, the fallout and the cost if we do not act, we can never have enough conversations to get to the reality of the consequences and the measures we need to take. We have to be bold in that regard. However, we also have to come from a point that is reality so that we can bring people with us. I have heard of them on television but I have never met anyone who does not think something should be done. Most of our citizens think something should be done but the issue is who does what. However, that is about decisions and where we, as policy makers, have to try to strike the right balance.
There are two areas I want to focus on in the short time available to me. First, there will obviously be a cost. We are talking about changing our lifestyles and technology. If the internal combustion engine was never invented and we did not rely on it for so many score years, we would already be on the road to diversification. Transport is a major issue. We need to make progress on electricity production and heat. However, it must be acknowledged that progress is being made. The consultation period for the renewable electricity support scheme has concluded and now we are considering what forms of renewables will be supported and given a tariff so that they can be brought to bear on the equation and make up part of the renewable portfolio for generation of electricity.
I know the Minister is examining all options but I think the time has come to consider offshore wind. I agree with colleagues who have spoken about solar panels and biomass. We can do a lot more in the area of microgeneration, whether it is wind, solar or otherwise. We need to encourage and empower more citizens to make decisions on electricity generation. It could make wind turbines a lot more palatable for people if they thought they could have one themselves and there were benefits in it for them. There is a perception now that wind farms are big industry but there is a reason Government is supporting wind farms and so on.
Recently I attended a conference by Wind Aware Ireland in Buswell's Hotel which was covered by the press. I believe this group is genuine in what it is saying. However, I would like the Minister to set out the situation in black and white here today because everything about wind was condemned. The group was saying that we are spending a lot of money on tariffs which are going to big companies but are not leading to satisfactory carbon emissions. Percentages were given comparing the amount we have invested in wind with other forms of electricity production. In fairness to the logic, there has to be backup and I understand there needs to be a mix. I think people misunderstand the arguments for wind. No one says that wind blows all the time. I have seen so many journalists write, "Eureka! They are fooling us. Wind is some big solution." We have to have a suite of solutions because one size does not fit all. I would like the Minister to speak to these people. I believe they are genuine. They are a voluntary group that has come together. I have my views and I have been to so many talks on these things. I would like to speak to the fears of people about the wisdom regarding the way we are spending taxpayers' money to support wind, the desirability of doing so and plans for the future.
The other issue is that of agriculture. I admire the concept of the Citizens' Assembly. I was involved in the Constitutional Convention and understand the power of getting contributions from citizens. However, agriculture and agrifood got a very hard doing in the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. It did not seem to take any cognisance of the fact that agriculture emissions have gone down 6% since 1990 although production has gone up 40%. Agriculture is key to our economy. It is in all our plans, including Food Wise 2025. Many people do not know what it takes to get on an agricultural scheme, whether it is considering ecosystems or environmental steps that have to be taken. A farmer has to consider environmental impacts and take measures and concrete steps before getting a red cent from Government or the European Union. They are a misunderstood cohort. Our agriculture in terms of beef production and dairy-----
I am just concluding. We are to the fore of the top countries in Europe in terms of having the most carbon efficient way of producing beef and dairy, but that is not praised. I have one question for the Minister. Is he satisfied that none of the experts in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who present to us on the agriculture committee and tell us the challenges and the good news were invited to the Citizens' Assembly? The net point in agriculture is that we have to slap farmers with the carbon tax. Farm families for the most part cannot take such a simplified attitude or measure.
I thank the Minister for his presentation today. Like my colleagues, I support the initiative for dialogue on climate change. I know we are here today to hear him report to the Oireachtas on the mitigation policy measures adopted to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases so that we can transition to a low carbon, climate resilient, environmentally sustainable economy as well as compare our progress to our EU and international targets. I have huge respect for the Minister but I am concerned that today's report fails to give us a reliable assessment on how we are doing. It stands over a vague national mitigation plan issued this summer and fails to compare our performance reliably against our own targets and those of other countries. However, we have reliable resources that show just how badly we are doing. The Minister will be aware of the international assessment published earlier this month. Unfortunately, it shows that Ireland has the worst climate performance record in the EU.The climate change performance index, CCPI, ranks Ireland 46th of 57 countries. My colleague, Senator Bacik, mentioned the latest data from the EPA. According to it, our emissions increased by a shocking 3.5% last year, a steep rise that was matched in 2015 and is likely to be matched again in 2017. We are going in the wrong direction. Our agreed effort sharing target for 2020 was to reduce emissions by 20% from 2005 levels. The latest projection has us reducing by only 5%. The current increases suggest that the figure will be even worse.
I am concerned that there is complacency in what the Government is doing. I am also concerned that the Minister might be trying to get as many loopholes into our 2030 targets as possible. Doing so could destroy our international credibility. Instead of taking action to reduce emissions, I am worried that the Government is seeking to take advantage of this by claiming that our failure to meet the 2020 targets is evidence of the targets being too strong.
It is not that the target for our transport sector is too strong, but that we have adopted transport policies that are forcing people to drive. This is the concern. We continue to invest heavily in roads and starve public transport of resources. The Citizens' Assembly called for a 2:1 investment ratio in public transport but all signs show that, while the Government is continuing to encourage public transport, walking and cycling, it is making investments that will make us even more car dependent. As a result, our transport emissions are increasing at the same rate that they were during the bubble.
It is not that the target for our agriculture sector is too strong, but that the Government is implementing a processor-led agriculture policy based on expansion of the most carbon intensive sectors without regard for the environmental impact or economic risks that come with rapid intensification. As a result, our agricultural emissions are increasing again.
We have slowed down the expansion of our renewable energy infrastructural and the retrofitting of our housing stock to make it warmer, healthier and easier to heat. We tax every electricity consumer in order to pay a subsidy so that Bord na Móna and the ESB can continue destroying our bogs, thereby losing biodiversity, worsening flooding, polluting our rivers and increasing our energy sector's emissions further. Worse still, we are rapidly expanding horticultural peat mining, destroying more of our bogs in order to export peat to Britain and other countries, including those where peat mining is not possible because their bogs are protected.
All of this means more greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA reports that our emissions and carbon footprint per capitaare increasing.
I will move quickly with this Minister. The song "Simply the Best" ran through my mind throughout the contributions because we are actually simply the worst in terms of the environment. Our emissions have gone out of control.
I will discuss a couple of points. I support the idea of developing solar energy, onshore and offshore wind, biomass and microgeneration. All of these are necessary, but we also need to consider what we are doing with Moneypoint. That station must close. We must build the infrastructure to allow for that closure and put in place a plan to protect and retrain its workers in order to ensure that they have a future in the workplace. Since 1998, this country has been told that Moneypoint should close. That is long overdue. The station is one of the biggest polluters in the country and we will not hit our targets as long as it remains open.
Senator Black touched on the issue of peat burning stations. When I raised it with the Minister previously, he told me that we could not create a rust belt in the middle of Ireland. No, we cannot, but we do have to plan quickly for the closure of the peat burning stations. We also must ensure that there is work for the stations' current employees.
We cannot keep making excuses for why our two largest polluters are operating without a clear plan for closure. That lies at the Minister's door. He has been in office for two years. We need to see action. It has been too long and there has been too much talking. Saying this is not popular. I am sure that I will get hundreds of emails when I return to my office because I am taking a stand on two areas, but we need leadership. We are getting none from the Minister or any other Minister. Instead, there has been a growth in emissions. It is unacceptable.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is clear that Ireland faces a considerable challenge to transition to a low carbon and climate resilient economy by 2050. The transport sector has a critical role to play in achieving this national objective. We must develop approaches that reduce emissions and enable the sector to adapt to the impacts of climate change without impeding social progress or economic recovery. All the while, Ireland's transport sector must be able to cater for our growing national travel demand in a dynamic and responsive manner.
Our transport sector is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, increasing by over 130% between 1990 and 2015. Ireland is not unique in this. Transport in Europe now accounts for nearly 27% of all non-emissions trading system, ETS, emissions. It has been estimated that, without intervention, transport emissions will rise by 11% between 2020 and 2035. Consequently, we must change how we travel and do business and the types of fuel and technology that we employ if we are to contribute successfully towards our decarbonisation target.
The national mitigation plan has firmly established and streamlined the Government's commitment to work towards our national decarbonisation objective. Transport will play a significant role in the national mitigation effort and has already made positive progress. Some 24 transport mitigation measures are identified in the plan. They are wide-ranging and include: sustained investment in public and sustainable transport to improve the quality and capacity of the transport network, as well as encouraging a shift away from private car use; securing an early transition to zero and low-emission vehicles through the incentivisation of alternative fuels and technologies; and a series of complementary policy and taxation measures requiring a cross-governmental and interdepartmental approach. In 2016 there were four key measures that reduced transport emissions in Ireland. The first of these was our sustained investment in the public and sustainable transport network, which led to an increase of almost 31 million journeys on subsidised public transport and commercial bus services since 2013. Second, as a result of the implementation of EU vehicle standard regulations limiting tail pipe emissions, new cars entering the fleet are now approximately 25% more energy-efficient than they were in 2007. Furthermore, the redesign of the vehicle registration tax, VRT, and motor tax regimes in 2008, which was based on carbon dioxide emissions rather than engine size, had a very positive effect on changing buyer behaviour and encouraging the take-up of low-emission vehicles. Older and more polluting models now represent just 4% of all vehicle purchases. Finally, the introduction of a biofuel obligation scheme, to incorporate sustainable fuel into our conventional fuel mix, has substantially decreased transport emissions. In 2015 alone, this biofuel measure reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 356 km.
Encouraging the use of public transport is central to our national efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts. However, we are still highly dependent on the private car. Some 74% of our journeys are taken by car, equating to over half of our transport emissions. We need to provide a realistic and sustainable alternative to reduce this dominance. With this objective in mind, I remain strongly committed to meeting increasing travel demand through more public transport capacity, and support for cycling and walking. In Dublin alone, over 69% of all journeys into the city centre are now made on foot or by bicycle, representing an increase of over 10% in the last six years. In budget 2018, I secured over €100 million in multi-annual cycling and walking programmes, as well as a 275% increase in capital investment in public transport infrastructure over the next four years, amounting to a spend of over €2.7 billion.
It is also vital that we meet our growing transport demand with green public transport alternatives. Our national mitigation plan commits us to utilising the newly established green public transport fund to support low emission vehicles in the bus and taxi sector. In that regard, I was pleased to announce that I have secured additional funding in budget 2018 to assist this objective, starting with support for taxi operators to make the switch to electric vehicles from early 2018. The National Transport Authority, NTA, anticipate purchasing low-emitting buses next year as part of the Bus Connects programme. By 2023, some 500 buses should be converted to low-emission vehicles.
The use of alternative fuels and technologies is key to reducing emissions within the transport sector, and offers one of the most cost-effective and feasible pathways to meeting our carbon mitigation and pollution objectives. This is particularly important outside urban areas, where dependence on private cars is strongest, and where public transport systems and active travel offer less potential for effectively addressing travel needs.
To ready Ireland for the transition away from conventional fuels, and to enable seamless adaptation to this developing and expanding market, I published Ireland's national policy framework on alternative fuels infrastructure for transport earlier this year. A cornerstone of this is our ambition that by 2030 all new cars and vans sold in Ireland will be zero-emissions capable. Furthermore, to accelerate our transition to alternatively-fuelled vehicles, my Department continues to work closely with that of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, as co-chairs of the low emission vehicle task force. The task force has presented early findings and recommendations to the Government, which resulted in a number of additional electric vehicle, EV, incentives being introduced from 2018. These included toll reductions for EVs, 0% benefit-in-kind, BIK, treatment for battery electric vehicles, and additional funding to maintain and improve our EV recharging network. Further incentives for the early adoption of low-emission vehicle, LEV, technology fuelled by gas and hydrogen will continue to be considered by this task force throughout 2018.
As well as the measures in place to reduce transport emissions in line with our EU and international obligations, we also face the challenge of building climate resilience within the transport sector. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to completely stop from today, global climate change would continue for many decades as a result of past emissions. The rise in extreme weather events that Ireland has experienced this year, such as the severe flooding in Donegal last August and, more recently, Storm Ophelia, indicate that Ireland's climate is indeed changing and will continue to change in the years to come. This poses two challenges; the task of ensuring continued services and maintaining infrastructure, for roads, rail, aviation, ports and buses under sometimes very difficult weather conditions; and the need to protect new assets by ensuring that today's design specifications will adequately address tomorrow's infrastructure needs. I am therefore delighted to announce that today I have published my Department's first climate change adaptation plan, entitled Developing Resilience to Climate Change in the Irish Transport Sector. The plan outlines climate research and analysis on the likely impacts of climate change, including more frequent storm events, rising sea levels and increased incidents of flooding. The plan also highlights the positive ongoing work in climate change adaptation within the transport sector and other sectors, for example, the development of the strategy for adapting to climate change for national roads and light rail by our colleagues in Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII.
Of course, this plan is not a complete roadmap towards climate resilience, but rather the first step on Ireland's journey towards safeguarding the transport sector from the environmental, economic and social impacts of climate change. My Department will continue to support our front-line actors, the transport agencies and local authorities, to identify potential vulnerabilities within their operations and to consider how these can be addressed. Given the expected increase in transport demand and the investment we will be making to add capacity, it is of particular importance that the need for adaptation and mitigation is mainstreamed into future policy, not least in the development of the national planning framework, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the transport sector. Of course, my Department will participate fully with the national dialogue on climate change, addressing both mitigation and adaptation challenges.
It is clear that adapting to climate change will be an ongoing process. A statutory national adaptation framework is being developed under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, and will be submitted to Government by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, for approval before the end of 2017. Following approval of the framework by Government, work in my Department will be focused on the preparation of a statutory adaptation plan for the transport sector, in order to put in place a suite of measures to limit the potential damage of climate change. Equally, the mitigation measures that I have outlined will develop and progress in the years to come, particularly as new technologies come into play. For instance, hydrogen power may yet play a significant role in helping achieve our 2050 objective. The national mitigation plan will be continually updated as research, policy and innovations generate additional cost-effective options.
Through continued close co-operation between my Department and other key Departments, principally the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the transport sector is developing a strong approach to ensuring greenhouse gas emission mitigation, as well as measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change. With the right approach, I am confident that the transport sector can and will remain a key player in supporting the Irish economy and society in the future.
Transport is now responsible for about 20% of Ireland's greenhouse gases. Recent figures show that transport emissions increased by 3.79% in 2016, bringing the total rise over the last four years to 13%. This is particularly shocking given that the technologies needed to decarbonise our transport sector already exist. The Government has failed to meet our targets for getting more electric vehicles onto our roads. We have only 2,000 electric vehicles on the road, and sales continue to represent 0.5% of our new sales. There must be investment in our public transport system as it does not give commuters a choice.Traffic congestion is bringing our cities to a standstill and having a negative impact on people's mental and physical health. Strong public transport requires long-term thinking and planning. Fianna Fáil supports the establishment of a national infrastructure commission, which will plan over a 25-year period to help build a stronger, greener public transport infrastructure. There is no evidence of this type of planning from the current Government, which is not delivering on key infrastructure projects such as the DART. This department needs to take lead on a greener transport sector. When Dublin Bus requested funding to trial electric buses in May of last year, it was refused.
Ireland needs to take a lng-term view on infrastructure projects and that is what the country needs over the next century. This is particularly important in light of the serious challenges of climate change and the need to upgrade infrastructure to cope with growing demand. This requires long-term planning and investment. A new national infrastructure commission tasked with planning ahead over a 25-year period beyond the limited five-year cycle of the current capital plan would secure our long-term requirements. We would set up an independent national infrastructure commission by reforming Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and drawing from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the National Transport Authority, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and local authorities to set out a new framework for the development of transport in Ireland over the coming years.
The commission will be tasked with overseeing long-term plans for a series of targets including achieving 4% GDP infrastructure investment, decarbonising Ireland, creating a strong transport network that balances regional development, which is crucial, making Ireland an IT nation with telecommunications and a secured, balanced energy mix.
Ireland's target under the EU renewable energy supply directive is to ensure that 10% of its transport energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. This target allows the inclusion of transport energy supplied from liquid biofuels. Fianna Fáil has proposed a number of simple measures to switch to electric cars, including by making ESB fast-charge charging points free to access for all users, extending grants for electric vehicle, EV, purchases to 2020 and removing motor tax on all electric cars for five years. In general, there is a very low awareness among the public about the benefits of electric cars, especially the fuel economy. We need to undertake an information campaign to inform customers of EV benefits. Lack of awareness is crucial in this regard as people simply are not aware of the benefits of electric vehicles. We have discussed climate change today. We can all see massive climate change. We must put in place good road infrastructure and must make sure the proper amount of funding is going into this, as it all comes down to funding.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for addressing this important issue. Whatever about the figures and not meeting targets, the public at large is very much aware that doing nothing is not an option at this stage. We were all disappointed in recent days to see the headlines reporting a 3.5% increase in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. This is the second year in a row that this has happened. We are one of a small number of European countries where that is the situation. There is a lot to be done to meet our commitments. During the recession, progress was made but unfortunately that was because people were not at work and not on the roads as much. What we must do is to decouple reducing emissions from economic growth. We need economic growth but need to do it in a way that does not drive up our emissions, which seems to be happening since the recovery came about.
The key, as the Minister noted, is public transport. Progress has been made, particularly in urban areas. In rural and regional areas, as the Minister is aware, public transport is not as available nor used as much so there is not as much progress that can be made. In 2005, the Luas had 22 million passengers and in 2016 it had 34 million passengers. There are 90,000 journeys daily. Progress in joining up the Luas lines will increase that number. There must be a big saving there and that needs to be continued. Dublin Bus has been in partnership with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland since 2012 when it signed up to become a member of the public sector energy partnership programme using biofuels to reduce emissions. If my recollection is correct, I heard during the bus dispute last year that a number of buses have been adapted but biofuel was not being used in them. I not sure of that but the Minister might clarify that point. As for the motor industry, from meeting the different car companies, as well as the industry's umbrella body, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, I am aware there is a great consciousness and drive to reduce average emissions and to get to zero emissions in the future. That needs to be continued. While it has been pointed out that there are only 2,000 electric cars, which is true, that figure must change and I believe the public is at a tipping point in this regard. Even five years ago, people would not contemplate thinking about an electric car. Some incentives have been proposed, including the €5,000 grant, as well as some tax measures in the budget in respect of company cars being used in taxi lanes. That is important but needs to be built on because as the years go on, we will be pushing an open door.
In regard to electric charging points as mentioned by Senator Murnane O'Connor, my impression is that they are still free charging. Is that correct? While it was due to change, it has not yet. In general, I agree that incentives are needed and small things make a difference, such as reduced or free tolling. Listening to people at seminars from Norway and countries where a high percentage of electric cars is being used, they allow them to use the taxi lanes and to use the ferries free within their country. Obviously they have a lot of ferries and we do not have that many. Everything needs to be explored. The big key is technology. It has been mentioned here already today that for those of us who live in rural areas and who undertake long journeys by car, technology is going to be the key to this, whereby one will be able to get a charge and travel for 300 km or 400 km. That is not far away either. In the transport area, apart from public transport, electric cars will be key. We have not met our targets and will not meet the 2020 targets. However, electric cars are the key to meeting our emissions targets in the near future. No matter who is in government, we need to work on this in a cross-party way. Doing nothing or doing little is not an option at this stageThe frequency of various natural events has demonstrated to us all the effect of climate change. When nature takes over it is very damaging, no matter how much technology one has. I hope we do not have any more President Trump-type leaders in countries saying that addressing climate change is not important. Everybody realises it is and that we must speed up the implementation of measures to account for climate change. No matter how much we change emissions levels this year, we will only see the effects down the line. Therefore, we need urgent action on this.
The colleague of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, was here this afternoon. I had a little eureka moment listening to both Ministers because the word "challenge" has been used the whole time today. Climate change is the greatest opportunity this country will ever have. Another word used today was "decouple", in the sense of decoupling the economy from the effects of climate change. We do not have to decouple the economy from the effects at all. In fact, if there is leadership and if the right decisions are made in this country to embrace and avail of opportunities for positive job creation and growth based on renewable energy and renewable energy development, including in the area of transport, we and future generations will be on the right path. Ireland has opportunities. It is a super country for wind and our marine potential is considerable. It is all about jobs.
Transport emissions rose by 3.7% last year and 4.1% the previous year. This leaves me cold. Transport emissions are on their way to overtaking emissions in agriculture, which represents the biggest sector for emissions at present. In 2009, the Government adopted the national transport policy Smarter Travel, which included targets to be met by 2020 such as the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport from the 2005 figure; 500,000 more people taking alternative means to commute to work in order that the total share of car commuting would drop from 65% to 45%; an increase to 55% of total commuter journeys to work undertaken by walking, cycling or public transport; and that the total number of kilometres travelled by car would not increase significantly from the 2009 levels. None of these targets has been met.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which is the reason for the reports Members are receiving here today, obliges all public bodies, including the Ministry responsible for transport, to work towards a low-carbon society. The greater Dublin area transport strategy adopted by the Minister of State's predecessor and covering the area of the current Minister, planned for an increase in emissions in the greater Dublin area up to 2035. Incredibly, rather than increasing funding and improving the public transport system, the National Transport Authority has stated that underinvestment in Irish Rail is so bad that most railway lines are threatened with closure. The Minister should not touch the railway between Waterford and Dublin because I use it frequently.
Shockingly, some Fine Gael representatives have seen what is happening as a question of pitting buses against trains. I certainly hope the Government does not believe that is the choice we face. The choice that faces us does not involve different elements of public transport competing against one other but is about prioritising public transport, cycling and walking. It is truly shocking that the railways, which should be key to our future transport, are under threat.
The Minister recently indicated that transport expenditure in the revised capital plan would remain biased in favour of roads rather than public transport, and that spending on walking and cycling infrastructure would be a mere €110 million over four years. It will be impossible to meet our Paris Agreement commitments without immediate reductions in transport emissions. The target of merely holding to the 2005 emissions level is not enough, and we are not even doing that.
Immediate investment in walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure is essential and the following funding commitments are required to comply with smarter travel goals: at least 20% of transport funding must be allocated to walking and cycling infrastructure, as recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme, and at least 50% of transport funding must be allocated to public transport. Has the Minister the authority to bring the transport elements of the capital plan into compliance with climate policy and will he do so? This means that at least 50% of funding must be allocated for public transport and at least 20% for walking and cycling infrastructure.
The aviation sector is responsible for approximately 5% of global warning. Far from contracting, as all major emission sources must, it is one of the fastest growing. Aviation is the most carbon-intensive means of travel. The European Union has included aviation in the emissions trading scheme, and the International Civil Aviation Organization is working to create an international framework for controlling emissions. Dublin Airport's expansion plans are based on predictions of demand that ignore climate change. The only potential future in which its proposals for a third runway is justified is one in which no measures are taken to limit aviation emissions. If the countries of the world and the European Union, including Ireland, live up to their commitments, the third runway will be a white elephant. Is the Minister planning to oversee an investment that is in direct conflict with our policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
This is an area of grave concern to me. We have so many opportunities. The Cabinet should change its course because I do not believe the actions it is taking are sufficient to meet our climate commitments. There are opportunities but the Government will need to engage with all stakeholders. It will have to do it at speed, look to the opportunities and stop talking about the challenges.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, is welcome back to the Seanad. I hope he will visit much more often in future.
I will continue on the subject of aviation emissions by posing a question on investment and expansion in the aviation area. We discussed improved connectivity, involving the connection of Dublin to an increasing number of American, European and Asian cities. Is achieving this on the basis of a hub really servicing the Irish market or is Dublin servicing Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and London as an alternative hub airport? Have we done a cost–benefit analysis in regard to emissions and their cost if they are to be attributed to Ireland? I do not believe any real thought has been put into that. We heard the announcement last week on connecting Dublin to Seattle. Where is the demand in this regard? Is this to service Dublin and the Irish economy or is it to service the European economy? Has a cost–benefit analysis being done in respect of charges and fines?
With regard to Dublin Bus, the Minister mentioned that additional buses with EU6 engines have been purchased. These are obviously engines with much lower emissions. The more polluting engines are to be phased out. Paris and London, however, are way ahead of us with electric buses. Paris is substantially on its way to having an electric bus fleet. We have not even started to trial electric buses. In fact, Dublin Bus failed to get funding for those trials. We are so far behind. I acknowledge the Minister is pulled in every direction. Next week, he could be asked in here to allow for a bypass around a town, and he might be asked what motorway needs to be built to connect to a given city. Climate change, however, has to be the number one priority for the Department because there are growing emissions in the transport sector.
The Minister has talked about sustained investment in public transport and improving quality and capacity.There has been very little improvement in quality and capacity on our rail routes. In fact, the travel times to Cork and Portlaoise, with the reduction in speed on the main lines, have been increasing which is only encouraging more people to use their cars. If the Minister is serious about that, he will need to roll out the necessary funding.
The next aspiration referred to by the Minister is to secure an early transition to low emission vehicles. Where is the Minister's plan for charging points for electric vehicles? If there are not enough charging points, people will not purchase electric cars in large numbers. If the Minister wants to go for a walk some afternoon, he should go down to Mount Street where there are two electric vehicle charging points beside the Pepper Canister. One will often see cars double parked there, waiting to be recharged. Any motorist with a petrol engine vehicle who drives by an electrical charging point and sees cars double parked waiting to be charged will not be encouraged to transition to an electric car. Mount Street is only a short distance away and it might be good for the Minister's mind and his general health to go for that walk.
Dublin has seen a considerable increase in the number of people cycling or walking in the city, with approximately 17% of all journeys being done by cyclists or pedestrians. We need pedestrians to be prioritised in our major urban centres. The footpaths across our capital city, in Cork, Galway and Limerick are in a terrible state. Considerable numbers of people have tripped and fallen and the situation is particularly bad for people with mobility problems. In terms of any investment plan, there must be some level of prioritisation for pedestrians. We must invest in improving our footpaths. While it was unfortunate in one sense, in many ways it is good that we did not win the right to host the Rugby World Cup. If one walks on the footpath from Haddington Road to the Aviva stadium one will see cracks and lifts of up to six inches. Anyone with a mobility problem travelling to the Aviva in the dark is quite likely to fall over. Indeed, many pedestrians going about their daily lives, whether going to mass or bringing young children to school, face challenges on the footpaths, such is their poor condition. It is no wonder that a lot of parents prefer to take their children to school by car.
The dublinbikes scheme has been a game-changer and similar schemes have been rolled out in other cities. These bike schemes have encouraged more people to get onto bikes and to cycle in our cities and I ask the Minister to seriously consider a subvention for them. They are an integral part of our public transport system, as is evident from the numbers using dublinbikes. The next phase of the scheme should involve connecting our urban villages. We should be connecting, for example, Sandymount to Ranelagh, Ranelagh to Donnybrook and Donnybrook to Terenure and Rathmines. That would cut out trips into the city centre and reduce the number of car journeys. It would encourage people not to use their cars. This would require quite a small investment but it has the potential to make a huge difference to the number of car journeys made.
The Minister made reference to the redesign of VRT and the motor tax regime in 2008 by the then Fianna Fáil led Government, which encouraged a huge shift to diesel engines. Those diesel engines are causing deaths. Over 70% of cars purchased last year had diesel engines but the scientific evidence shows that diesel particles in the air in our cities leads to serious illnesses including Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and brain defects in young children. The science is very clear but we still have not tried to deal with that issue. We are now also seeing a lot of diesel engine vehicles being imported from England. In that context, I ask the Minister to examine the impact of diesel engine vehicles in cities and towns. The former Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, former Deputy Mary Harney, will always be remembered for banning smoky coal in Dublin. There was uproar at the time but we have seen the health benefits of that decision. I urge the Minister to be progressive in the context of diesel engines. I am not suggesting an immediate ban but rather a series of steps to reduce the number of diesel engine vehicles in our cities.
Finally, I make a plea to the Minister to invest in public transport. In particular, I urge him to invest in the electrification of our train routes and the Dublin Bus fleet. His priority should not be to build roads but to build a sustainable public transport network. If that is his legacy at the end of his tenure, he will be held in high regard in future years.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I am interested in the delivery of public transport to rural areas, particularly train services into the west. The NTA published a report last year suggesting that train services to the west of Ireland could be shut down because of the lack of money at Iarnród Éireann. I do not know if this is just scare tactics or is something that is really being contemplated. What is the Minister's vision for investment in rail for the west? Would it include further investment in the western rail corridor, which has great potential? In terms of services out of places like Ballina and Westport, the biggest impediment to increased passenger numbers is the length of time it takes for the trains to get to Dublin. Sometimes it can be quicker to travel by road, although the roads in the west are another issue of concern.
A lot of our economic policy is demand led. Where there is a critical mass of people, money is invested. I do not think that is going to be a solution in terms of our ambition to improve public transport. We must up-front a lot of investment to get to the desired position, namely a satisfactory rail service which will be attractive to potential passengers. In that way, we will reduce our carbon emissions. I would like to hear about the Minister's plans in this regard. I would also like to hear his response to the suggestion that all rail services to the west, except those serving Limerick, should be shut down. I believe that is unjustified. I further believe it should not be arising regularly as a suggestion. It is a purely economic view, emanating from Dublin and it has no sympathy with our ambitions to reduce our carbon emissions and to rebuild rural Ireland.
The services of Bus Éireann are also heavily relied upon in rural Ireland. In that context, we need buses and good roads. If one draws a line from Galway to Louth, there are no major interurban routes north of that line. There was no investment, even during the Celtic tiger period, in major interurban routes in that part of the country. Connectivity is sadly lacking in that regard. The Government is currently drawing up a new ten-year capital investment plan and is working on a new planning framework. These areas have not benefitted from the roads investment that we have seen in other parts of the country. They are being left behind in terms of investment, jobs and growth. They are also losing their population, mainly because they are not attractive but are considered peripheral by potential investors. These areas need to be looked after and I would ask the Minister to prioritise them when it comes to spending money on roads, particularly on national primary and secondary routes, to make up for the lack of investment during the Celtic tiger years.There are facts and figures to back up what I say, namely, that this is a disadvantaged region. Bus Éireann needs proper roads to travel. We have a bridge on a national primary road, the N26, at Swinford - Cloongullane Bridge, which dates from the previous century. A car and HGV cannot cross it at the same time. An application has been before An Bord Pleanála for a new bridge for some time. An oral hearing has taken place and I hope we get a positive outcome. However, funds will be required. I would like to hear the Minister's plans in that regard.
I wish to raise the way the motor taxation system operates currently. Senator Humphreys has talked about getting diesel cars off the road. If we succeed in doing that it would be a reverse-throttle policy on the part of the Government when one considers all the incentives there have been to invest in diesel cars, including cheaper motor tax for people after 2008.
The people carrying the can for that are those with older vehicles from 2008 or prior to that. Many people who have older vehicles probably do not travel very much and sometimes they pay more tax on their vehicles than the car is worth. There is an inherent unfairness in that somebody can buy a top of the range BMW or Mercedes and he or she will pay less tax than somebody who has a runaround car that does not get much use but is essential. If one lives in a rural area a car is not an optional extra. It is a necessity. People not only have to drive children to school but have to drive to the nearest town to get broadband. I would like to hear the Minister's views and ask him to respond to some of my questions on the west, rural areas and transport issues.
I thank all Senators for their contributions, which were interesting and in some cases, challenging, such as Senator Grace O'Sullivan's, while others were very stimulating indeed and in one or two cases were totally irrelevant. That is fair enough. That is par for the course.
Those speakers who are critical of our vision and the fact that we have not met our targets are correct. There is no point whatsoever in pretending that we are up to speed on the environment or on emissions. It is something which I wish to see accelerated fast. I do not think it is a matter on which we can hold our head very high at the high tables of Europe when we constantly have to admit that we have missed those targets. Some of them were spelled out by Senator Grace O'Sullivan. Quite honestly, at the time they were over-ambitious. They were done at a time of great prosperity and pride and we are resetting them now with a certain realism. I accept that the transport sector is behind and that there is a great deal of scope for improvement in the area for which I have responsibility. There is obviously a great deal of scope in agriculture as well. I accept completely the need to meet those emissions targets and the consequences of missing them continually or relegating the environment, emissions and pollution to economic demands is something we simply cannot continue forever.
Ambition is one thing and achieving it is another. I fully understand the ideological commitment to a much cleaner environment, which I share. The practical measures which can be taken are inevitably very laudable but, inevitably, they are incredibly expensive as well. When we hear about those great schemes to which we all aspire the cost of them is sometimes utterly and totally prohibitive unless one is prepared to say exactly where one is going to raise the €3 billion or €4 billion that one is going to need for the metro, DART underground and other such schemes which would be good for transport and also good for the environment. We have got to accept a gradual but responsible approach which does not leave the economy on a downward spiral. That is the great contradiction which we face. Senator O'Mahony referred to the Trumpesque outlook which is something we do not accept for a moment. It is also very difficult to aspire to any immediate achievement.
I was in Copenhagen the other day and I was very struck by something very different, not by the fact that there were bicycles everywhere, and not by the structures which are there which are much more environmentally friendly and the progressive policies which we have heard about today, but by the fact that people think environmentally there, that people are proud of it. I will not mention names but many of the people I met there were Irish and the interesting thing them about them was that they bought into the environmental narrative. They were very keen to convince me quickly of the merits of what was happening there. They had lived there for a certain period. They told me what had happened there and asked me why I did not do this, that and the other. Denmark started on its approach quite a long time ago. It has been an environmentally convinced country and has been practising that approach for 20 or 30 years. What people were trying to say is that such an approach works and they offered a good counter to the argument that it is too expensive. It is something that is long term and we are undoubtedly a long way behind. We have structures, agriculture, a network of roads and all sorts of legacy issues which make it difficult for us but it does not mean that we should not aspire to do that. We have had a bit of a wake-up call because of the very stark fact that we missed our targets so badly and that we hear about it so often. We are at the bottom of so many tables in Europe that perhaps we have to adjust to this rather more quickly than we had expected but that is because of our relative neglect in the past.
I will address some of the specific issues raised by Senators. Senator Murnane O'Connor talked about the number of electric vehicles on the road being too low. We agree with that. We are aggressively thinking of incentives. We have set some very tough targets for ourselves because we have done so abysmally in the past. I cannot remember what the figures are but the current number of electric vehicles is approximately 2,000. Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Kevin Humphreys probably know. I think we aspired to have 270,000 by now, something quite extraordinary, yet it is only 2,000 at this stage which is absolutely lamentable. The incentives, which many speakers addressed, including tolls and ensuring taxis are electric are being examined. If they look as if they make sense we will have to introduce such measures. I know there are real difficulties with making exceptions for vehicles in bus lanes because it is difficult to know where to draw the line as all sorts of other vehicles are seeking such a derogation, for example, disabled people and many others who perhaps have an equally worthy case. We must ensure that we are on the right lines and have made giant leaps by 2020 and 2025. We accept that and we are looking at that. We are committed to implementing those incentives to which Senators aspire.
Reference was made to a strong regional transport network. That has come up in many contributions. Senator Mulherin also mentioned it. There is a bit of a problem, which is a slight diversion back to the emissions argument, in that there is a concentration of transport in Dublin and the money we constantly spend on big projects is all in Dublin but that is where the traffic problems are.That is mainly why we do it but it is necessary to combine the national planning framework and other aspects of the effort to be environmentally friendly.
Senator O'Mahony addressed the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and he put his finger on the kernel of the problem, which is that recovery and emissions tend to come together. That is the problem that we have. The moment there is economic recovery, the problem of keeping emissions down arises. The Senator mentioned rural transport. There is a problem to be addressed with rural transport, which I am addressing. It has been a matter of great concern in this House and the other House, albeit perhaps under another heading. I have had two significant meetings with rural transport interests, one of which took place last Monday. This is important to the preservation of rural society in order that it is not destroyed or damaged by other legislation. However, those interests must recognise that if we increase rural transport, they must make sure that we do not significantly increase emissions at the same time. They accept that as well. I accept the Senator's point about free tolling and taxi lanes. Technology is probably the key to the future.
Senator O'Mahony correctly observed that we are on the cusp of more widespread take-up of electric vehicles, EVs. Costs are falling and I believe there will be and must be a giant step towards electric vehicles. We are setting realistic targets, and I believe that the incentives we provide will ensure that in the mid-2020s we make an enormous change in that regard. By 2030 the targets, which are ambitious, will have to be met, otherwise we will have to pay an enormous price. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is working on a plan to increase availability of charge points, to which the Senator referred. He is due to deliver that fairly soon.
Senator Humphreys is quite right about buses. We do need to make our buses more climate-friendly, and we have set targets on that. I have allocated money to the green public transport fund to facilitate pilot projects to prove that the fuels which were referred to will work in Ireland. The Bus Connects investment, which I launched a few months ago and which is due to develop and put buses on the streets within 18 months, is also committed to upgrading our bus fleet to low-carbon buses. By 2023, we will have converted 500 buses to low-emission vehicles. It is worth recalling that public transport is only responsible for about 4.6% of emissions. However, it is symbolically important that we as a State, and I as a Minister, reduce them, to show an example to everybody else, in order that people cannot point the finger at us and ask if we do not do it, why they should. We are absolutely determined to do that. We have budgeted for that in the new capital plan, and I reiterate that by 2023, there should be 500 buses low-emission buses.
Senator Humphreys also referred to cycling and walking. We have committed a figure in the new capital plan which is pretty dramatic. Imagine if Senator Humphreys was in my shoes, which God forbid he ever will be again. He knows I do not mean that. I would be delighted if he was. Our ambitions in this sphere are directed towards a smart transport policy, a healthy existence and low emissions. We have committed €108 million in the next three years, which is a substantial amount, to cycling and walking. That is a massive increase which either has not been noticed or has deliberately not been acknowledged. The cycling lobby is very strong. It is always making worthy and sensible suggestions and is highly vocal. However, it appears not to have responded terribly enthusiastically to what I regard as a significant new commitment to cycling and walking, not just in Dublin but elsewhere too. That should be acknowledged. It is a commitment we intend to keep and which is a fairly big step forward. It is not just a gesture to the direction in which Denmark and other countries have gone. It is a significant and ambitious figure, which I hope we will be able to increase in the years to come.
The question of petrol versus diesel is a constant problem, partly because of the political difficulties. Let us be honest about it, there is a strong lobby against the conversion. However, we will move gradually towards it, come hell or high water. Furthermore, it is something which will move naturally when we convert to electric vehicles.
The use of taxes on fuel to address climate change was raised. Demand management questions are a complex area. Issues around competitiveness for freight and social cohesion in rural areas must be given due attention. That is absolutely compelling. Car use is relatively inelastic to increases in fuel price in the short term. We must, however, find ways to encourage car buyers to move away from diesel in the future. That is something to which I have asked my Department to give strong consideration. I acknowledge it is difficult, there are perfectly reasonable arguments on either side and there are peculiar difficulties which must be acknowledged.
Senator Mulherin talked about public transport, closing down the train routes to the west, the vision for a rail corridor and about the western railway corridor, WRC. There constantly are scare stories in this regard. I have not identified and nor have I sought any particular route for closure. Indeed, the programme for Government states quite specifically that nothing should be done to impede the western rail corridor. There was a rail review, of which Members will be aware, which addressed the subject of some railways being less unprofitable than others. There are absolutely no plans to privatise them of which I am aware and as a Minister, I probably would be aware of them. Furthermore, any developments of this sort must be made in conjunction with the national spatial strategy. It would be absolutely mad to move on a transport link as fundamental as a railway independently of the national spatial strategy. They will have to be considered together, not in any other way, and that is what I intend to do.I do think it is somewhat unfair to say the west is completely neglected because I opened the Gort-Tuam motorway a few days ago. That was extraordinarily expensive. It involved an enormous sum of public money, over €500 million. That is a recognition of the need to spend money on transport in the west. That sort of balance should be drawn when we are talking about the difficulties of rural Ireland, which I fully acknowledge, but it is not all one way. It is not always the case that rural Ireland pulls the short straw. If there are other areas that are unfairly treated the Senator should please say so. I am very conscious of it. I hear about it every day. I can hardly move without people saying rural Ireland is neglected in a certain sense. I agree there are special circumstances in which rural Ireland deserves special treatment and I think it is getting that special treatment.
I hope I have addressed most of the issues raised. I have a note on aviation emissions but by their nature they must be addressed globally. Ireland is working hard within the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, to establish the mechanisms by which worldwide aviation emissions will be capped at 2020 levels and then progressively reduced.
On the runway at Dublin Airport, whereas I sympathise with much of what Senator Grace O'Sullivan had to say, the Government is totally and utterly committed to it. I have met large groups of people who will be affected by it and we will do absolutely everything we can to assist them in the difficulties in which they find themselves. I am sure no other Minister has received as many delegations as I have from people around the airport. That is within the utter commitment that the economy of the country requires a runway of that sort. It will be subject to the usual environmental impact statements and everything like that but the idea that we could disadvantage ourselves economically in a way that would prohibit or deter people from coming to the country would be impossible for me to contemplate as someone who has to promote the tourism industry. It is always a matter of balance. Nobody is more sympathetic than I to the difficulties of those who might be environmentally disadvantaged by that particular runway but in the greater national interest we have to find a way to introduce it.