Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016: Second Stage
I am pleased to be in the Seanad today to take Second Stage of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016.
This was a Private Members' Bill drafted by Deputy Thomas Pringle. I take this opportunity to record the Government's appreciation of this valuable initiative. In particular, I thank Deputy Pringle and his staff for their constructive engagement with officials in the Department of Finance, which led to substantial amendment of the Bill in the Dáil. I believe the Bill before us today is better and more robust for this process.
The purpose of the Bill is, in brief, to restrict the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund from being invested in fossil fuel companies. The direct scope of the Bill is, therefore, relatively limited. However, it is part of a broader movement away from reliance on fossil fuel investment and on fossil fuels themselves.
There is a market-making aspect to the Bill in that restricting fossil fuel investments may help to drive further investment in sustainable and alternative energy. It is vital that we collectively work towards reducing the State's fossil-fuel dependency if we are to play our part in addressing the urgent problems of climate change.
This Bill will amend the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014. This is the Act under which the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, was established, and which sets out its investment mandate. Senators will recall that the funding for the ISIF came originally from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The ISIF is partly invested in Irish banks under the directed portfolio. The investment mandate for the balance of the ISIF is to achieve a commercial return in a manner designed to support economic activity and employment In the State.
The Bill will operate by further developing the investment mandate to include an effective prohibition on certain investments. This will be achieved by inserting a new section 49A into the 2014 Act, the text of which is set out in section 1, paragraph (b), of this Bill.
Section 49A(1) sets out key definitions for the purposes of the section. Notably, a fossil fuel undertaking is defined as an undertaking for which at least 20% of its turnover is derived from exploration for, or extraction or refinement of, fossil fuels, or a holding undertaking or higher holding undertaking of such an undertaking. Where a fossil fuel undertaking is part of a group structure, the group is also a fossil fuel undertaking if the aggregate group turnover in respect of fossil fuel activity exceeds that 20% threshold.
The State's climate change obligations and the national transition objective are defined as having the same meaning that they do in the Climate Change and Low Carbon Development Act 2015.
Section 49A(2) contains the key provision of the Bill. It specifically requires the NTMA, which is the custodian of the ISIF, to endeavour to ensure that the assets of the ISIF are not invested in a fossil fuel undertaking within the meaning of the section. Where the NTMA becomes aware that assets of the ISIF are invested in a fossil fuel investment, it is required to divest the fund of those investments as soon as practicable. This may arise if, for example, the fossil fuel aspect of a business or group increases substantially in value relative to the rest of the business, or where a business or group divests a substantial portion of non-fossil-fuel assets. In that case, the NTMA will be required to divest from the business or group within a reasonably short timeframe.
Section 49A(3) requires the NTMA to endeavour not to invest in indirect investments unless it is satisfied that those investments are unlikely to have more than 15% of their assets invested in fossil-fuel undertakings. Indirect investments include investment vehicles such as pooled funds. Where the NTMA invests in such instruments, it targets low exposure to fossil-fuel undertakings. However, the nature of those investments means that the underlying asset pool and the value of individual assets within the pool is dynamic. If the tolerance threshold is set too low, it may effectively lock the NTMA out of any such indirect investments. Accordingly, a 15% limit has been stipulated.
The 15% limit specified is very much an upper ceiling, not a target; it is set at that level to allow for the fact that short-term factors can cause significant fluctuations in the value of assets. In practice, the target exposure will continue to be very much lower. Provision is also made in this subsection that the Minister may, by order, decrease the maximum percentage exposure permitted. When the NTMA has experience implementing these new rules, the Minister will be able to determine whether it is practical to reduce that 15% maximum.
Section 49A(4) provides a limited exemption from the restriction on direct investment. Direct investment in a fossil fuel undertaking may be permitted only if the NTMA has satisfied itself that the investment concerned is consistent with the achievement of the national transition objective, the implementation of the State's climate change obligations and Government policy as notified to the NTMA by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. This exemption is provided to ensure that investment in a project is not automatically prohibited where its aim is to assist in transition or increase efficiency. Subsection (5) puts in place a specific reporting obligation that the NTMA must report that it is using the subsection (4) exemption when it announces the investment in question. This is a transparency measure to ensure that any such investment will be clearly identified and open to scrutiny.
Finally, going back to paragraph (a) of section 1, this provision amends section 49 of the 2014 Act to require the NTMA to report on measures it takes in accordance with the new section 49A. This will include the reasonable measures it takes to confirm that it complies with the restrictions on investment, the cases in which the investment has been used, if any, and what investments it has divested from.
The Bill is relatively short, but will have a significant effect on how the NTMA invests the ISIF. I understand the NTMA's preparations are already under way and I welcome this.
I will also give the House an indication on timing. The Bill itself does not have a commencement date, which means that it commences on enactment. However, this will not give full force to the Bill's requirements. This is because the new provisions are being inserted in an Act which requires commencement orders.This means that to come into effect, the new amending provisions will have to be commenced separately under the 2014 Act. As the provisions will have immediate effect, meaning that the divestment requirement will apply from the date of commencement, there will be a short delay before commencement. The NTMA’s preparations for full and meaningful implementation of the new provisions are well advanced, but they will need to be completed prior to commencement. Therefore, the Minister intends to give full effect to the provisions of the Bill once the NTMA confirms that its preparations are complete. He expects to be in a position to do so during quarter one of next year.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for introducing this important Bill which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, Senator Horkan, who, unfortunately, is attending a committee meeting.
Fianna Fáil fully supports the Bill which will obligate the National Treasury Management Agency to divest the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, of its assets in fossil fuel companies. Like the Minister of State, I also thank Deputy Pringle, Trócaire and the Department of Finance for the extensive work they have done on this issue. While the initial form of the Bill might have had some unintended consequences, I am happy that in the constructive talks held with various parties, including Fianna Fáil, these issues were ironed out.
The ISIF has a reported €133 million invested in at least 152 fossil fuel companies. This amounts to 12.2% of all stocks owned by the ISIF. We believe selling these stocks would send a clear message that Ireland was determined to rectify its recent failures to live up to its climate change commitments. Furthermore, the Bill will put Ireland at the forefront of a global campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies. Engaging with them to lower their emissions has, unfortunately, been unsuccessful. Research from the University of Oxford shows that divestment would encourage a change in behaviour by undermining a key source of fossil fuel companies’ funding without having a significant impact on the ISIF.
Divesting from fossil fuel companies actually makes practical economic sense. An analysis has shown that had Ireland divested in 2015, the ISIF would have accumulated €22 million more owing to low oil and gas prices. The Minister of State also alluded to this in his contribution. Oil, gas and coal are not the blue chip investments they once were. It is estimated that retaining fossil fuel investments in the past three years may have cost Ireland in excess of €100 million. However, the Bill does nothing to address the fact that Ireland is wildly off target to meet its 2020 emissions targets. Unfortunately, the Government has a lot to answer for in that regard. The Seanad has been instrumental in challenging this failing. The Bill should be passed without delay and the ISIF directed to swiftly divest its fossil fuel holdings.
I welcome the Minister of State. To put the matter in context, we are looking to get our fossil fuel carbon emissions down by 2020 and 2030; it is only correct, therefore, that Government and investment policy interlope with that objective. I welcome the Bill in that regard. We obviously want to move toward significant reductions in emissions across a range of areas. I refer to the Strategic Investment Bank and the NTMA which the Minister of State also referenced. In that context, I welcome the Bill. The key feature is that it will be transparent at all times such that people will be able to see exactly where their taxes are being invested. I commend the Bill to the House.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I also welcome the Bill. Sinn Féin is fully behind the idea of exploring alternatives to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Using them is something we cannot do anymore. As a member of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, we are delving into this issue and meeting stakeholders and providers. We will launch a report with our recommendations early next year and I hope it will dovetail with the provisions of the Bill when they take full effect. Perhaps together they might make an important statement.
When we speak about moving away from the use of fossil fuels, we also have to speak about alternative renewable energy sources. As their use will help to protect our planet and the environment, we cannot just continue to explain the problems caused by the use of fossil fuels, we also need to provide solutions. Varied alternative sources of energy must be developed. Sinn Féin has put forward proposals specifying what exactly should replace fossil fuels. The microgeneration support scheme Bill would allow people to feed into the national grid, as well as gaining some income from the excess energy generated. The Bill lays out how this would happen and gives details of the scheme.
We have put forward a paper on the use of biogas generated from waste, largely farm and animal waste, which can be combined with catering food waste. The use of biogas as a renewable energy source would work to complement the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy and further help to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions which, as we know, are, unfortunately, rising. We have an international obligation to reduce our emissions by 20% by 2020, but we will only reach a figure of about 6%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. Other countries are way ahead of us and we will be sorely fined.
Sinn Féin has put forward the document, Powering Ireland 2030, in which it outlines a proposed energy mix for electricity generation. Our priority is to ensure energy generation in Ireland will be sustainable and secure and that the supply of energy will be affordable for all. No one in our society should struggle to heat his or her home. Our vision for Ireland can be achieved by redirecting public, semi-State and private investment into developing and deploying new energy mixes. I note that the Minister of State is proposing to set a 15% threshold for the ISIF. That is unfortunate and we could be ambitious enough to go for a figure of 20%. I would like the NTMA and the ISIF to publish what it is they are investing in and what investments are in fossil fuel companies because the more people are aware of the information, the greater the demand will be which will create an impetus for them to try to divest from such companies.
There is a need for increased support for householders, communities, farmers and small businesses through a broader range of grants to reduce emissions and produce the energy we need. We had a session of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee yesterday with small businesses and it was one of the attractions they wanted to create, especially in rural Ireland. They wanted this support to be provided for small businesses to provide a skills mix and employ people. It would bring not just specific expertise but also instil a culture of dedication to the use of renewable resources within small and medium businesses. We have seen a cultural shift in this generation which might perhaps bear fruit in the next. They are very aware and environmentally responsible. They will question everything we do and make sure it is benchmarked and proofed against the pollution of the environment. It is their future and the matter is in their hands. People's habits are changing.They now want something much more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Climate change affects us all and gives us opportunities, which we need to develop.
Bord na Móna is phasing out the cutting of peat and there has been a loss of jobs in Offaly and Laois. The company needs to develop indigenous sources of energy, with locally-grown biomass for electricity production and biogas. This will offer long-term jobs with some certainty. To give credit where credit is due, we welcome the decision by Bord na Móna not to invest in a €60 million biomass plant in the US, which would have developed wood chip to be burned in Irish electricity power plants. With so many jobs recently lost at Bord na Móna plants, the Government and the enterprise agencies need to direct the necessary resources into the areas affected by these job losses and make serious efforts to introduce new jobs to these areas. It is a start and, hopefully, momentum will grow along with demand.
I thank the Leader of the House for facilitating this debate in Government time. It is very welcome and it illustrates the cross-party support and enthusiasm for this legislation.
I welcome the Bill to the Seanad and express my strong support for its provisions and the principle of withdrawing investment in fossil fuel companies as a measure to combat climate change. I congratulate Deputy Pringle on successfully steering the legislation through the Dáil as a Private Members' Bill, which is not always an easy feat for those of us in opposition. I also acknowledge the role played by Trinity College Dublin and its students in influencing and stimulating the divestment debate in Ireland. When I was president of the union I was involved in navigating the discussions that led to the move by the college's board to become the first university in Ireland to divest itself of fossil fuel investments in 2016.
I also pay tribute to the student activists involved in Fossil Free TCD and the incredible grassroots campaign, with Trócaire, that spearheaded the movement's impressive advocacy for something that was not a mainstream political issue when they started. Through their work, and the place that Trinity College occupies in Irish public debate, however, it became a mainstream issue. The issue has gone from one campaign by a handful of students a few years ago to one which is the subject of an Act of the Oireachtas and I recognise the role of Trinity College students in making rapid progress happen in this area. As a Senator who is not usually parochial, I am sure fellow Senators will forgive me for giving so many congratulations to Trinity College.
As a public policy measure, divestment is important because it allows for a carbon bubble, which is when divestment in stocks and shares in fossil fuel companies reduces the value of these companies to the point that these companies will be unable to open more oil, natural gas or coal fields, making the fossil fuels themselves stranded assets, unable to be used or burned which, therefore, reduces CO2 emissions. The value of fossil fuel companies is estimated in the market to include the value of the massive, untapped fossil fuel reserves that have yet to be fully opened up and extracted. Through divestment, we can make sure these reserves stay as they are and do not support the often reckless behaviour of fossil fuel companies in terms of exploration.
This Bill will represent an important part of the Irish efforts to contribute to the global climate justice movement, especially at a time when we are completely failing to hit our emissions targets and when even our Taoiseach describes Ireland as a laggard in European terms. As a small, island nation off the coast of Europe with a temperate climate supported by marine trends, Ireland is, unfortunately, vulnerable to extreme changes in weather. These extremes always disproportionately impact on disadvantaged and poorer communities, heaping additional pressure on us to make sure Ireland is pulling its weight. This Bill is an important part of that but only a small one and I hope that, following the passage of this Bill, the Minister will use its climate justice principles to inform all his work in the Department of Finance.
Climate justice is the ultimate cross-departmental issue and, as the holder of the purse strings, the Minister is in a unique position to orchestrate efforts across the State to reduce emissions and make the move to a just transition. I thank the Minister for his time and I hope this Bill will return for Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister and the visitors in the Gallery. I wish to give the sincerest welcome to this Bill and I congratulate Deputy Pringle and his assistant, Jodie Neary, who did so much to bring this Bill through. It was an example of an Independent politician taking a global perspective, rather than a local perspective. I commend all parties, including the Government, on their support for and recognition of the value of this Bill.
I am positive about some of the language I hear from the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and I am happy that he has spoken of the need to address climate change with a revolution in how we live, looking towards circular economics and bioeconomics, with different economics and different assessments of costs. That is the kind of leadership we need.
Divestment does not mean a loss of income but massive savings for the planet and the environment, as well as in the practical costs of climate change. Having a model of investment based on short-term metrics, such as quarterly reports, has blinded us to the long-term costs but we are freeing ourselves from that perspective with this measure. At a European level, the 2020 targets were meant to incorporate a vision for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth but Europe has not yet fulfilled that vision. As we set out our plan for a post-2020 world, this is an opportunity for Ireland to give leadership on the kinds of investment we collectively make.
I commend civil society activists and the young people who have driven much of this campaign. My colleague has spoken about the students in Trinity College and I was very proud to work with staff and students in NUI Galway last year, who succeeded in getting the university to divest from fossil fuels. I particularly wish to commend Colm Duffy on his work in this area. I was proud to launch NUI Galway's sustainability strategy following that.
As we saw in our Citizens' Assembly, society is ahead of politics in this area, with 97% of the assembly recommending that climate change be at the centre of policy making while 100% believe the State needs to take a leadership role to address climate change through mitigation measures. Many say they would be willing to pay higher taxes for this goal but an opportunity was missed in this regard in the Finance Bill.
Divestment is a great opportunity and this is a moment for leadership. I hope we can set an example around the world and it is important that we remember Ireland operates in a global context. Next month the Conference of the Parties event, COP24, will take place in Poland. I was at the last Conference of the Parties in Pozna which took place at a time when, though we were deeply concerned about the destruction of the environment, Europe was holding onto coal and other fossil fuels and their related industries. We hope that, since Paris, there has been a shift and a willingness to make the difficult decisions and grapple with the difficult issues.
This Government has shown some leadership with the ban on fracking, and it is showing some leadership today with its willingness to divest from fossil fuels but we need joined-up thinking which goes a little further. We need to look at the LNG terminal which is due to be built in Shannon because we cannot facilitate the processes which we recognise as damaging. We need to look at why we are building a terminal in Shannon which could import fracked gas. I urge the Minister to engage on this issue with his colleagues across Government.
I strongly commend this Bill to the House. It is an exciting step forward but we have further to go. I look forward to the subsequent Stages of the debate.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank Deputy Pringle and his assistant, Ms Jodie Neary, for the work they have done on this Bill and guiding it through the Dáil. It is very important legislation and it has had an effect far and wide. Trócaire gave me a briefing note indicating 150 newspaper articles have been published internationally relating to this, reaching over 200 million people. The change being initiated by this legislation in Ireland is having a far bigger effect internationally, as we can see the interest generated across the globe. A video hailing this has been viewed 12 million times. There is an important element relating to leadership in this legislation and I also praise the student union in Trinity College Dublin, which raised public awareness of this initiative.
The previous Senator mentioned the public and it is far ahead of us with this. People are demanding that we change and saying we need to take climate change seriously. That is why there was such major disappointment when the carbon tax was not addressed in the recent budget. The income from a carbon tax could have retrofitted many homes to bring a more beneficial impact on the environment and energy use. That sum could have made an enormous difference to our carbon footprint. We are laggards in that respect. The expert advisory group on climate change set up by the previous Government as part of our climate change legislation has repeatedly told the Government it is not reaching its targets or advancing policies that would allow us to reach our targets for 2020 and 2030. Unfortunately, we are failing and I take no glee in saying that.
While Ireland may feel the impact of climate change in harder winters, warmer summers and a shortage of drinking water, people in the Third World are losing their lives. There is starvation and drought, which are extremely serious impacts. It is why we must demonstrate leadership, above all else. We must accept responsibility for the acts we carry out. We are increasing our carbon footprint because of our transport policy and that has not been addressed seriously. That neglect is having a major impact in Africa and Asia through climate change. We must take personal responsibility for this and that includes Members of both Houses because there has been a serious lack of action in the Oireachtas.
This legislation is groundbreaking and visionary. We must make consider the detailed legislative changes we need to make regarding how we build and retrofit homes, how we use our transport infrastructure and the lack of investment in public transport compared with the amount spent on roads. All of these have an impact on climate change and affect Third World countries. They are suffering because of the lack of action in First World countries like Ireland. Legislation like this amounts to real leadership. Deputy Pringle guided this Private Members' legislation through the Dáil and one can see the global impact it will have.
I commend Bord na Móna on its decision to accelerate the reduction in turf cutting, particularly in counties Laois and Offaly. However, this decision also has an impact on the sustainability of rural communities. The challenge we have as a nation is how to treat those communities. We must ensure they are sustainable, while also moving away quickly from the burning of turf. The idea that power plants will continue to burn wood and turf until 2030 must be examined. The idea of keeping Moneypoint power station open is ridiculous and we must move quickly to close it. The target we have set is not acceptable because Moneypoint is poisoning our climate. As a nation, we must take responsibility for what is happening because of Moneypoint. We must put the infrastructure and the finances in place to ensure the plant can close very quickly.
With good legislation like this we should give deserved thanks to the Deputies who guided it through. There are clear messages that we must do more. The climate change legislation put in place by the previous Government clearly set out a programme for that. It also set out an independent advisory group that would tell Departments when they were not reaching targets. The group, in all of its reports, has said loudly and clearly that we are failing to reach our targets. That is not acceptable to Irish people. In many ways we may make excuses and say that people do not understand how this will affect economic growth and jobs, for example, but the public is saying loudly and clearly that we must take those decisions. There will be unintended consequences and it will be difficult but the public, particularly after the recent budget, has said it wants to see change. People want to see the carrot and stick used in equal measure. We must change how we are treating our climate but we are failing to take on our responsibilities to the Third World because of our inaction.
I commend this important Bill but we must do more. I commend Deputy Pringle on his work, as well as the students from Trinity College Dublin who raised this as an issue in the first instance. I also commend Trócaire on running with the topic. I am not doing enough and this House is not doing enough. The Government is not doing enough. We are failing the minimum standards and we must do better.
I wish to share time with Senator Black. I echo the words of Senator Humphreys that we must do more. I thank the Minister because Government time is being used to introduce this Bill. It is really important and it demonstrates action on the part of the Government. I thank Deputy Pringle for introducing the Bill and Trócaire and the students from Trinity College and around Ireland who have campaigned to recognise the impact of burning fossil fuels, which creates global warming and leads to climate change. The sooner we get on with this Bill and other legislation to help reduce our impact on climate as a nation, so we can become leaders in the area, the better.
This Bill is an important step. A recent United Nations report indicates we have a short 12 years to turn around this issue. Otherwise, we will see a catastrophic butterfly effect from climate change. We know three fifths of known fossil fuel resources can never be safely burned and if we do not take heed of the warnings, average global temperatures will exceed pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5° Celsius. All coal, gas and oil resources must stay in the ground, unburned, untouched and unused. We must turn to the types of energy that will not cause a global catastrophe. This Bill is a small step in that direction, dealing with divestment. It is very positive and I welcome it. I want to be part of a progressive Ireland and if we continue to be laggards in the area of climate change, we will be at nothing. Let us move the Bill through fast and bring every other Bill that we can on the issue into this Chamber and the Dáil so we can make Ireland a leader in dealing with climate change.
I know we are very tight on time so I will try to be as brief as possible. I put on record my firm support for this legislation.I congratulate Deputy Pringle on initiating the Bill. I welcome our guests in the Visitors Gallery and I especially thank Ms Selina Donnelly of Trócaire who has worked tirelessly and passionately on this issue. She is an amazing woman. I hope the Bill will continue to have cross-party support as it progresses through the Houses to enable it to become law urgently.
Dealing with issues urgently is not something parliaments do well. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we need to act quickly and radically. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report caused alarm around the world, as it should. Scientists are doing their job in presenting the evidence that we are destroying our natural environment and citizens are doing their job in demanding action, in particular the fossil fuel divestment movement, which was initiated and driven by networks of student activists throughout the world, including in Trinity College. I note Senators Ruane and Higgins were front and centre in this regard during their time in Trinity College.
It is time for politicians in Ireland and round the world to do their jobs. Let this Bill be a watershed moment. Let it mark the point at which the Oireachtas recognised the urgency of the situation and committed to radical changes in how we live. Let this be the start of a series of Government Bills based on a just transition to a green economy and serious investment in renewable energy sources. We have a moral duty to our children, grandchildren and future generations to move back from the brink and to safeguard our planet. The Taoiseach famously stated that we are a laggard on this issue but we do not have to be. Let us listen to the climate advisory committee and make the radical changes needed to hit our targets under the Paris Agreement. Climate change is the biggest issue facing the world. It threatens our very existence and also worsens global inequality in that its impact is felt most by poorer communities who have done the least to cause it and are least equipped to tackle it. Let Ireland be a leader on climate change by taking this first step in divestment, but going much further as a matter of urgency.
I, too, welcome the Bill. I also welcome Deputy Pringle to the House and I commend him on being proactive.
I had not intended to speak, but I am anxious to respond to comments made by Senator Higgins in regard to a project on the Shannon Estuary, a project that I know more than a little about because I have been involved in it since its inception. I was mayor of Kerry in 2004 when the project for a liquefied natural gas terminal was mooted. I was also a director of Shannon-Foynes Port Company at the time. This project was objected to by a minority group. The group succeeded in holding up the project interminably with technical objections, resulting in the then main investor, the Hess Corporation, which had already invested upwards of €15 million, pulling out of the project, to the detriment of an area devastated by unemployment, emigration, business closures and so on.
Fortunately, in recent times a new player, New Fortress Energy, has come on the stream. This company intends to run with the project, in respect of which it had the support and backing of the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and I am sure will have the support and backing of the current Minister, Deputy Bruton, but it is again subject to objections, this time from a group that as far as I am aware has no connection with County Kerry. This group is objecting on new grounds. The original objection put forward by Safety Before LNG was on the grounds of safety, with every possible scenario put forward, including that similar terminals in other countries had blown up. On examination, however, the authorities were satisfied that there were no grounds for those objections. The most recent objections are different. I cannot comment any further because they are sub judice. No project in the history of the State has been scrutinised as much as this and passed muster. At the 11th hour, objectors from outside the area are making objections on totally new grounds related to fracking in Texas. I am not an expert on fracking but I do know that without it we would not have petrol or diesel for our cars. That is a wider issue which I do not propose to get into now.
As Senator Higgins raised the issue, which she is entitled to do, I wanted to bring balance to the issue. A whole community is awaiting commencement of this project, for which they have been waiting for 12 years. There are 500 valuable jobs at stake in an area that has been devastated by unemployment, with huge knock-on effects for the economy of Kerry, west Limerick and, possibly, County Clare. As in the case of all issues, there must be balance. I have been an environmentalist all my life, even though it suits smart alecs like The Phoenixto suggest otherwise. I have a proven record in this area at home level. There is balance to be found in every issue. I encourage the Minister of State not to be too influenced by Senator Higgins's remarks. The Senator is entitled to her opinion. I am seeking to balance the argument. I would be letting down the people of Kerry if I failed to do so.
I am sure it is a matter that will be debated more than once after I leave this House. I will try to address some of the issues raised. The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, publishes extensive information on its investments. This Bill will impose further reporting requirements on the investments, which is good. On student activism, it is good that students started this process and we are concluding it with legislation. The media coverage on the Bill has been encouraging. Ireland has been described as a laggard in regard to meeting its targets under the Paris Agreement. We will not achieve what we would like to have achieved by 2020. I reiterate the Taoiseach's statement that the objective is to be ahead of where we should be in 2030.
During my time in the Department of Finance, I have learned a lot about fossil fuel, sustainable green financing and sustainability of the planet. The investor attitude is well ahead of the public. The investors are changing companies because they know and understand that for their companies to be secure into the future, there has to be a future. They are changing attitudes in boardrooms and insisting on change. On this occasion, ISIF represents the State. We are the investors but we are well behind corporate investors internationally.
Ireland introduced its first sovereign sustainable green bond in the previous month. I accompanied the NTMA on the roadshow to Paris and London and I was involved in the pitch to investors for our sovereign green bond. We sold €4 billion worth of bonds, oversubscribed by almost four times at an incredibly low rate. There is an investor appetite for this initiative and everything attached to it because, as I said, without this, there is no future.
I commend Deputy Pringle on the introduction of this initiative and all of those who assisted him in that regard. There has been a lot of engagement on this matter between Deputy Pringle, me, the Department of Finance, ISIF and the NTMA. While it took a bit of toing and froing, most people are satisfied that we have achieved the desired objective. I thank the House for facilitating the Second Stage debate on the Bill. I am hopeful we can conclude all Stages as quickly as possible. I understand Committee and Report Stages are scheduled discussion for next month. I hope to bring this legislation to a conclusion as quickly as possible.