Thursday, 24 January 2019
Climate Action: Statements
Hopefully, I will not keep the House too long. The first thing to do is to provide some context for my statement. I was fortunate enough to have the chance shortly after I was appointed to attend the UN conference in Katowice in Poland. No one who went there could be other than impressed by the urgency of the need to address the climate disruption agenda. David Attenborough summarised matters very aptly when he referred to the threat to our civilisation and to many of the features of the natural world which we have come to take for granted. Meeting Ministers from places like the Pacific Islands also brought matters home for me. They talk about climate refugees and people being displaced by the climate impacts on their countries. They ask how other states will treat people who have been dislodged by such events given that climate refugees are currently not recognised under international conventions. It also made an impression to hear someone like the director of the World Bank, a person one might not necessarily imagine to be a firebrand in standing up for climate action, say she was deeply concerned about the future for her grandchildren if the globe did not awaken to the challenges that are here.It was very impressive. In addition, there was a clear message that the window of opportunity to act on this is closing fast. The UN report underlines that the trajectory we are on, even if we fulfil many of the objectives that have been set, still puts us on a very dangerous path. There is a need not only to fulfil our commitments but also to increase them.
This country, by any standard, has been privileged to have had the opportunity for very considerable economic and social development. It will be hard for us to tell countries in Africa or other parts of the world which have not had an opportunity for development that they must not take the easy route of a carbon development path but the more challenging one of a carbon neutral development path if we are not taking our responsibility seriously. The challenge for us is absolutely vital. I have a mandate from the Taoiseach and the Cabinet to deliver a plan that gets us back on track to deliver our 2030 targets and looks to a future in which we are leaders, not followers. It is very important that we seize that challenge. It will require almost a conversion in the way we view things. Tradition, the way things have always been done and habit are big obstacles to achieving the type of conversion we must achieve in our lifestyles as individuals, enterprises, farms, communities and public servants. This is truly a conversion of the way we think about carbon and its impact on our lifestyle.
Many people are concerned about the impact this might have and the burdens it might impose on them. There is no way of pretending that it will not impose burdens of change on people but the other way to consider it is that if we fail, the burdens that will be visited on future generations will be enormous. There will not only be burdens visited on people in far off lands for whom we should be properly concerned but there is also the future for ourselves. People speak about agriculture and about being particularly nervous about the path they might have to travel. However, if one projects oneself forward to 2050, when we know that even the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is talking about carbon being valued at €265 per tonne, the type of farming that will be competitive and have bright prospects for its future and for giving people a good livelihood will be dramatically different in that world. If we do not start on a pathway to achieve the expectations of an agriculture that will be competitive in 2040 and 2050 we will have failed those who are entering farming today. The same could be true of any other industry or activity. I understand that people will agree to and like the fluffy bits such as recycling their plastics, but this is about much more than a small add-on to our existing lifestyle. It is a substantial switch in the way we travel, heat our homes and use resources. There must be a very significant change.
If this is to be achieved it will require great leadership. I am very much aware that we are talking at a time when faith in traditional sources of authority, be they political or otherwise, has waned. The authority of leaders generally is under pressure. Equally, social media can spread views that deny even the most obvious evidence and they will get traction and purchase with people. Creating a milieu where the type of conversion required can occur will be difficult in a more sceptical environment. That is the reason I am convinced that we in the public sector must lead by example. We cannot be preaching something and not walking the walk. It is important to demonstrate that the public service is changing, that things are being done differently and that we are acting in a different fashion. I was glad that one of the first things the Government did on 3 January last was to make the decision to ban the use of single-use plastics in Departments and to spread that to public bodies in the first quarter. We will require plans to be developed this year for resource usage, be it energy, waste or water, in all public bodies. We will put in place green procurement with clear principles enunciated by the Office of Government Procurement as to how the public service should prevent locking itself into high carbon ways of behaving. I am conscious that 15 or 18 of us sitting around a table in Merrion Street will not create the change. Every person, starting with the public service, must adopt the change.
The mandate I have is to produce a whole-of-Government plan that will take on the national mitigation plan. That plan, admittedly, was not a detailed roadmap but a set of signposts for the direction of travel. We must now create a detailed roadmap. Furthermore, we must have the policy tools that will deliver progress on that road and verifiably show that we are reducing in the respective sectors. We must have a target for the direction of travel for the sector, monitor it, verifiably examine the impact of policies we are adopting on that direction of travel and take corrective action if we are not achieving it. This requires structural change, and that will be difficult. It is a big structural change. In the residential area, for example, to achieve the type of retrofitting that is necessary, bearing in mind that half our houses are at the low levels of building energy rating, will probably require €40 billion to €50 billion of investment in our housing stock over the coming years. It is way beyond the capacity of the Government to fund that so this is about people deciding themselves that they want a low carbon approach and to be energy efficient and that they are willing to make the changes and investments. Obviously, we can help in terms of information and, in some cases, with subsidies or smart finance measures, but it is still a road that we will have to bring people along and that will require them making big changes in their lives and prioritising this over other things. The same is true for each of the different sectors, ranging from enterprise to transport. Significant changes will have to be made in people's lives.
We are not starting from a great position. That is acknowledged. Looking back over the last number of years, it is clear that in the early years of the target period, which started in 2013, we appeared to be doing well. We were below our 2005 emissions but the reason for that was the scale of the economic crash. Some 20% of private sector employment had been wiped out. As recovery has taken hold, it has become very clear that we have not broken the link between carbon and economic prosperity.We see in all the critical areas of recovery - agriculture, transport, industry - significant growth in the volume of carbon emissions. We must find the restructuring proposals that can arrest this growth.
The challenge, therefore, is substantial, and I acknowledge that much work has been done to start this movement. We are at a time, if we show leadership in this area, where many things could help us, in particular, the national development plan, NDP, with its investment of €116 billion. It sets a new vision of what development should be like in this country. It contains not only conscious decarbonisation investments such as in smart transport and the energy sector itself, which accounts for approximately €30 billion of the investment, but also the concept of smart cities. Furthermore, for the first time ever we are setting up a Land Development Agency run by the State to assemble the land to drive the master plan in order that we do not just have development as we have always had it: developer-led and sprawling farther and farther outside of our towns. The vision that has been set out in the NDP is very different. Equally, the transition statement we are discussing will show that even with that investment, we will only get a third of the way towards our targets. We, therefore, need to do much more thinking about the kind of policy-shifting that needs to occur for us to achieve the rest.
This is where the hard work starts, and this is the work I am undertaking, going through each sector one by one to see what is possible. We have created a framework for the dialogue we are having with other Ministers, Departments and agencies in order that it has a context. The regulatory area, for example, is one area where there is potential. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, for example, has brought in the regulations for near-zero-energy buildings; any adaption over 25% of the structure must equally go for a high energy rating; from 2020, employers with more than 20 car-parking spaces will have to have an electric vehicle, EV, charging network; and so on. There is scope in the regulatory environment going across the sectors. Equally, there is what is called in economics language "market failure", which simply refers to the fact that by generating carbon we create a lot of damage that we do not pay for. The issue of carbon pricing or pricing tools, trying to address the market failure, offers potential. The Oireachtas committee and the Government are working on this, looking at how it can be structured and so on. One can go through the sectors. Many known technologies can be adopted; the question is how we adopt them. There is much potential for renewable energy, and we are not doing badly in this regard. A total of 30% of our electricity is renewable but we need to double that. It is a question of how we achieve that and the pathway involved.
The work now is, therefore, to divine the pathway in each of the key sectors that can deliver to the maximum potential within that sector, while also bearing in mind that we want to take a pathway that minimises the burden on people and maximises opportunity. We must design the interventions carefully. There is no point in having a solely ideological designed intervention, for example, the keep-it-in-the-ground idea. Before the Corrib gas field ever came on stream, we were 95% dependent on imported gas and oil, and gas will remain a part of our transition right up to 2050 and beyond. Denying ourselves the opportunity to ensure security of supply and to have some of these needs that we anticipate over the next 50 years generated from within the country and instead relying on sources in Russia or the Middle East is not consistent with trying to manage people in their daily lives. Whether we like it, 91% of our transport infrastructure is dependent on fossil fuels and 71% of our residences depend on fossil fuels. We must divine a transition that is as effective as possible in getting to that destination and not assume that one solution that sounds good on paper will deliver the results. We must think through the initiatives and ensure they are consistent with helping people to buy into this process and change their lifestyles and to do so in a way that minimises the burden on them but also creates the opportunities in the economic sectors we want to develop. The truth is that if one becomes a leader rather than a follower in this sphere, one creates new sectors of activity that are healthier, better for the environment, more sensitive in resource use, more sustainable in the long term and more competitive in the international environment. There is, then, a lot of positive opportunity in this as well as the fear that people naturally have of the sorts of lifestyle changes that this will demand.
I very much welcome the work of the all-party Oireachtas committee and the Citizens' Assembly before it. I recognise that we in the Oireachtas must step up and find roadways and pathways to policy tools to underpin our ambition. It is not about setting ambitions. We had an ambition to reduce our carbon footprint by 20% by 2020, but where are we on that? We will be 95% off target. Therefore, in stating an ambition or setting out something in the Oireachtas, unless we build the underpinning - the policy tools, the social engagement, the support of communities and the pathways to deliver - we will not achieve those targets. This is a complex issue. Many people talk nowadays about behavioural economics, and that is a very true term because if we cannot get communities and clusters in the different sectors to say they are up for this, to see the opportunity and to say they are going to make it happen, we will fail. This is a challenging area, but the rewards for getting it right are significant in terms of our responsibilities globally, nationally and to the next generation.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I am disappointed that he is not accompanied by officials. It has been the practice to be accompanied by officials, and indeed I exercised it myself when I was Minister of State with responsibility for trade and in other Ministries. Officials came with me to ensure continuity of work. The Minister has come here with a comprehensive speech about climate change and so on, but it is up to senior officials who should accompany him to list out the proposals made by Senators and see what practicalities will arise from those suggestions. I will make a few such points to him.
On 16 October the Minister took over a broad Department. I believe it is too large. There should be a Minister with sole responsibility for climate action. It is so important that he should not have any other responsibility. Regarding the communications element of his portfolio, he is up to his neck in the broadband issue, which is making no progress whatsoever. What is happening is absolutely disgraceful. He has taken no action in this regard since he assumed office in October, and there have been no developments or decisions regarding broadband coming to rural Ireland. We do not have it where I live in Castlecoote, where there is a poor service. Broadband is the one area which would allow for expansion of development in rural Ireland and it is not available. The Minister might give broadband priority, he might give the environment priority, but if he gives one priority, he cannot give climate action, which is the starkest challenge we face today, priority. It is even bigger than Brexit. It is the challenge to the future of this country and the future of the world. Brexit will come and go and solutions will be found, but climate action and the challenge we face in that regard are enormous.
I will first give the Minister the official line and then I will give him my own views. Fianna Fáil is committed to tackling climate change and ensuring that Ireland meets its obligations.We fully accept the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report finds that to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius would require "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. This action needs to be taken within 12 years.
I have my own observations about this situation. I suggest that the Minister provide fast-charging electric vehicle, EV, points in all towns and roll them out to filling stations. They are not there at the moment. They should be in every filling station, if the Minister is serious about reducing carbon emissions and promoting electric cars. The charge will not come free because petrol and diesel are not free.
I am delighted the Minister has been joined by an official. When I got up to speak the official was not present. I have very good eyesight.
The provision of EV units at people's homes was a positive step but if motorists are to give serious consideration to electric vehicles they need assurances that they will find fast-charging EV points on their journey. There can be no black spots. For example, in Roscommon town, our county town, we have a number of EV charging points but they take on average seven or eight hours to fully charge a vehicle. There is not one fast-charging EV unit in Roscommon town so what encouragement is there to buy such a car?
The Minister should remove subsidisation of onshore wind energy and subsidise offshore. I welcome, in particular, the announcement by the Department and the semi-State company, the ESB, on developing an offshore wind farm to power 280,000 homes and provide 100 jobs. That will be provided with a Belgian wind farm called Parkwind. It will provide a wind farm approximately 25 km off the coast of County Louth, with 55 turbines which will produce 330MW of electricity while reducing carbon emissions by up to 600,000 tonnes a year. That is a very positive development. The ESB is providing this project. It is an excellent project and I wish it well. I also wish the project off the Arklow Bank well. It is being developed by SSE and will be capable of generating 520MW with between 80 and 100 turbines. This is a very positive development because we are surrounded by water and are in a position to provide good quality turbines in that area which would provide a lot of electricity.
My third recommendation is that the Government should upgrade the energy efficiency of housing in Ireland by providing high quality deep retrofit grants to individual homeowners. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, is offering a deep retrofit grant for old homes with a poor energy rating. Homeowners who availed of the grant in the past are not allowed to engage in other upgrading which is a shame. We should also upgrade all council housing stock. This can be provided by the Government. Where the warmer homes scheme assisted a low income household a number of years ago, it should be allowed to return to upgrade the house to A rating. At present a return visit of works is not permitted. I ask the Minister's officials to consider that and discuss it with other Departments.
When the Minister was Minister for Education and Skills did he ever think it might be worthwhile putting solar panels on every school in Ireland or is he a convert on the road to Damascus in respect of the climate because he was given this portfolio and decided he has to do this now? Will he consider what the effect would be of putting solar panels on every school in Ireland? During the summer months that energy could be redirected to the grid. That is another positive step.
Water harvesting for farmers is vital. I ask the officials to contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to intensify their work in this regard to provide a quality system. I understand there is a grant system in place but there should be more on-farm encouragement of a standard system and a scheme to provide this service.
We have an organic farm and we have organic cattle at the moment. They do not require water from the mains with fluoridation and all the other chemicals which are in the water. Their teeth are fine and their bones are fine. Whatever benefit there is from fluoridation, clear water from the sky is perfect water. It is coming from the Atlantic ocean. Surely we could ensure that we would have a system in place, by getting Teagasc and everybody else involved and making them more proactive. There is not enough action on the ground. There is plenty of talk. The Minister comes in here and makes a speech then he is gone and not much happens in the next few months. I am putting forward a few practical suggestions to the Minister and his officials. That is one practical approach, that is, to have a system designed that a farmer could implement and sub-contractors would be available to price, to provide a grant to them and to get that work done as quickly as possible. There has to be a quality water supply coming from roofs – I know it cannot come from asbestos roofs – that is realistic but the water required for livestock does not need to be treated to the level it does for people who wish to consume it. I have serious reservations about fluoridation of water. It would never come in now if it was not there already. Some countries have eliminated it and some countries which are providing the service would never bring it in now. There are side effects to everything. We might have very good teeth but something else might go wrong after tampering with the water.
Those are the kinds of steps which might be worthwhile. They are simple and straightforward. The Minister is looking at each sector in the State and each Department has to do work in this particular regard. I am not enamoured of covering good quality land with solar panels. It is acceptable to cover land that is not usable for other purposes, such as cut away bogs in some areas. To use quality land for solar farms may not be the best way out because it is not the most productive. To provide them on the roofs of buildings, schools and factories is more realistic than covering good land.
I could go on much longer. Each one of us has a stake in this. That is why the Seanad should return to this issue taking a more constructive approach and having a longer debate, with a question and answer session with the Minister and his officials. We had several Ministers here some time ago. It was a very quick debate. It did not work that well. I thank the Minister for coming in. I know his heart in this from his statements. He has taken action very fast. I accept all that. I wish him well in that regard and encourage him to continue his work and co-ordinate Departments, which may not be as enthusiastic as he is.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. As everyone in this House knows, there is no silver bullet for this. We talk about wind energy, electrification of vehicles, biomass, solar photovoltaics, PV, and retrofitting of insulation. It is quite an endless list. The important point to recognise is the significance of the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It is a key component. It is key to ensure that any policy adopted is acted on and that we measure and evaluate it. It is key that any policy we recognise is not delivering can be amended and made fit for purpose. There is a risk in this area and in Government policy that we look for quick wins, things that will garner support and be regarded favourably in the court of public opinion. That is a dangerous situation. We need a full understanding of the long-term impact on all areas of business and society.I have worked a lifetime in the agrifood industry and I have great concerns for it, not because I question the value or integrity of the industry but the way it is both presented and presents itself. We need to look at best practice in agriculture and all other sectors, and we look to other member states to see what they have done, what has worked and what has not worked.
However, we must acknowledge that Ireland is not the same as other parts of the world. I refer to the current debate on the impact on the carbon footprint of our agriculture sector, especially in terms of the production of red meat. The reality is that when we consider some of those discussions, Ireland is uniquely positioned. It has a temperate climate with a plentiful supply of water in north-western Europe. To compare beef production on the island of Ireland with beef production in California or New South Wales is unfair. The reality is that per litre of water it is not the same limitation as other regions in the world. We need to be cognisant of that. I have concerns that some of the calculations are slightly questionable when we try to globalise and take averages from across the world. That is unfair. Ireland is uniquely positioned to produce good quality, sustainable food.
If we look at the reality, the Minister referenced leadership and authority, social media and public opinion. That is a very important point because there is a requirement and a necessity to show strong leadership but, as I have mentioned, that is not always popular.
The Minister referenced a whole-of-Government plan that will take on the national mitigation plan, and he specifically mentioned the policy tools to do that. Those policy tools will be the foundations for driving behavioural change across society. I am a big supporter of evidence-based policy because we must be able to underpin our policy with science and fact. When we are questioned, challenged or criticised for not delivering on policy, at least we can refer to the information we had at the time and the information upon which the decisions were based.
I have a genuine concern for cross-departmental engagement, which the Minister referenced also. We need to avoid at all costs a silo mentality where each Department does an element of navel gazing and looks at the problems within that Department and not how they can be addressed by working with other Departments and deliver a greater good when they work together.
It is imperative also that we have a managed strategic approach in this area. We have a legacy of ad hocinitiatives in isolation without looking at the complete picture. This must be about taking a holistic approach. It must be cross-sectoral and, importantly, it must examine the long-term impact, benefits and disadvantages because climate change and the environment is a long-term issue. Climate change and the environment must now be embedded in all Departments as the starting point and not be an additional component at the end of the discussion.
Climate change and the environment are complex but also simple. It is about all society doing better and doing their best. It is not that complicated. Every individual in this House and in the Dáil will have their own opinions on the best strategy for environment and climate change but it is about collective responsibility. Even though political representatives are lobbied heavily by different components of society, organisations and individuals, this must be about collective responsibility and how we drive initiatives faster.
Ireland should not continually beat itself up about the past. We have to learn from the past and make sure we do not repeat the mistakes we made in the past, but we must learn from our mistakes. We must remember there are benefits in this because it is the second mouse to the trap that gets the cheese, so Ireland can benefit from some of this also.
As recently as this morning, the World Economic Forum put out some information. The Minister referenced Sir David Attenborough. His message this morning was quite simple. It was to say "No" to waste. We must not waste plastic, food or power but, ultimately for us all, especially those of us in north-western Europe, we must live within our means.
I welcome the Minister and the officials to the House. This is a very important debate which falls into the approach we have taken on this issue, in particular in recent months.
I must reference the Joint Committee on Climate Action which has been working diligently for the past two and a half months. The next three weeks will be very important for that committee. Several Members of this House are members of the committee and we know the body of work that is ahead of us. A considerable amount of evidence has been brought before us by many stakeholders, which has informed us on many aspects, including having a whole-of-Government approach to this issue and how the other sectors in the economy, whether they be agriculture or transport, will be affected by it. The report that will be brought forward will be important not alone for Government but for society itself.
A previous speaker mentioned the idea of having a committee set up particularly for climate action. That is the case in other parliaments throughout the world. It is something we must consider because having a whole-of-Government approach, with the Government accountable for ensuring it is meeting the guidelines on a particular platform, is very important. That is something that needs to be teased out in a debate because if that legislation comes forward, a Minister will be assigned to that committee who will then have to report on the updates from across Government regarding targets. It will be a positive step forward to ensure we can bring about a change in attitude, which is probably an issue on which we need to work. A change of attitude is needed not alone at Government level but also in terms of the general public. The public's attitude needs to change regarding carbon, waste and how they live their lives. That will take time for people to buy into. Some people have bought into it; others have not.
There is fear among communities, in particular the agriculture community, about what this could bring about. The education element is something on which we have to work. The rural community in terms of transport, carbon tax, particularly on diesel and petrol, is an issue that needs to be thought through also. It is also about educating people on how we can deliver a more sustainable model of transport for them, whether that is by way of a public transport method, hybrid or electric cars. It is about communicating that to ensure people's fears can be offset, perhaps by taking a carrot and stick approach in terms of offering grants to upgrade their cars or move to more efficient modes of transport.
That is one of the initiatives in the recent fund where €10 million was made available for electric car charging points. That was a proactive step because it put out the message that we would invest in that infrastructure. There was a deficit in that regard, which I saw myself during the summer. As a result of that we will now have that investment, which will give people confidence to change. We have seen a major change in the number of electric cars coming onto the market. One of the figures I read during the Christmas period was that there was a 248% increase in the number of electric cars in Ireland last year. That is a very significant change. I agree it came from a low base but it shows that people are changing their mode of transport and changing the way they want to live their lives. The challenge for us will be to ensure we can bring everyone on this journey with us. Communication will be key to that. We need to have that communication network set up to ensure that people are informed and can come with us on this journey.
From an agriculture point of view, in many ways this challenge could be seen as something that could make the agriculture industry more sustainable in the future. There are many options and challenges in that regard that could be very proactive in terms of the industry's survival. Again, it is about communication and bringing that sector of the community with us. They are genuinely concerned about where this will lead them. I refer to smart power generation, whether it is solar panels on farm units, wind turbines or anaerobic digesters, which is something the agriculture community has a real option to buy into.That would give them a great opportunity to ensure they can be a part of the solution, profit from it and sustain the rural environment, which is important for all of us. This is a challenge of a lifetime and one of the key issues in society. I am confident that what will happen in the Oireachtas in the next few weeks will give us a blueprint to go forward and deliver this. Nobody will stand by us if we do not deliver this change. It is up to all of us to try to communicate the positive aspects of this change and what it can mean for this generation and future generations.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome the opportunity to address the Minister directly on the critical issue of climate change, which adversely affects each and every citizen in this State. Unfortunately, the record of the Government with regard to our obligations to meet the minimum threshold of progress on addressing climate change, in particular in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is one of failure in leadership. In 2005, we set a target for the reduction of emissions by 20%, yet the Environmental Protection Agency regularly records increases in emissions or minimal decreases of 1% or 2%. As of January 2019, there is every indication that without an immediate and monumental intervention, we will fail to meet our 2020 emission targets.
It is evident from the national mitigation plan that the Government acknowledges the scale of the problem and the challenges in pollution reduction. However, it fails to meet its obligations to define clear targets and provide for adequate solutions. The Government has failed to set deadlines for the cessation of peat and coal fired generation of electricity and to provide a clear emission pathway to 2050. It has failed to provide for community based solar initiatives, the reduction of agricultural production emission, sustainable transport solutions, near zero rated building regulations and a feed-in tariff to allow domestic microgenerators of electricity to contribute to the national grid. Given the extent of this failure and neglect to provide for climate action changes, it is not surprising that a fair, just and equitable transition to a regenerative economy for those most vulnerable to the punitive impacts of change has not been established. While such transitions must prioritise the Irish people, these decisions must not be taken to the exclusion of the moral obligations of all those in the supply chain. For example, it is not planned to decommission the Moneypoint generation plant until 2025. The plant is currently out of service owing to turbine maintenance works. Any proposals to restart generation from this plant must also consider the ethics of discontinuing sourcing coal from Colombia, where serious allegations of human rights abuses of minors and the indigenous population have come to light. The people of Ireland are no longer willing to sit in our cosy homes watching "The Late Late Show" on the backs of human rights abuses of coal workers in other countries. Added to that is the cost to the environment of importing this fuel and other fossil fuels, on which our dependence stands at 91%. We are stuck as little else is being offered as an alternative. The definition of a just transition is to take account not just of our local and national interest but also the impact of climate change across the planet.
The Government has committed to levying a carbon tax on citizens to pay for the failure to meet our responsibilities. To the credit of citizens, ordinary people have shouldered the burden of initiating and implementing behavioural changes that are taking place in our society. It is also to their credit that civil society organisations and campaigns have undertaken consciousness raising in the absence of leadership and public policy to support these efforts.
I could spend the day detailing the extent of the Government's failures but I am more concerned with prevailing on the Minister and the Government the urgency of making progress from aspirational soundings and gestures and putting in place clear accountable policy plans for the implementation of transformative climate action measures that will ensure secure, sovereign and sustainable production and supply of energy, food, water, transportation, housing and employment.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I have in the past few months deliberated on the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and heard testimony from dozens of non-governmental and civil society organisations. There is no doubt that there is a wealth of collective expertise available to this Government to implement transformative change. There is also an eagerness to change across most sectors of society. The most significant barriers to progress have been inaction in creating legislative and political conditions for change to finance progression and compel certain vested interest sectors to move from supplying overconsumption exports markets to sustainable regenerative production. It is clear from the evidence presented to the committee that the Government needs to take immediate priority action to enable diverse sources of renewable energy, including biogas, biomass, offshore wind, solar power and microgeneration. All these sources must feed into an all-Ireland electricity grid. It will not only help our environment, improve public health and maintain the island's security of supply but will also create jobs across rural Ireland. We are years, if not decades behind.
We are also behind in terms of transport renewable targets. We have a minimal number of electric vehicles on the roads and confusion about charging points, on which there is no agreed plan. Public charging infrastructure and electric vehicle affordability are critical to growth. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities issued a paper on public charging in October 2018 in which it stated there would be no further funding of charging assets through network charges. The regulator now expects the ESB to arrange the sale of these assets. Who will buy these assets and who will finance, build and maintain the network in the future? Without public charging, the number of electric vehicles on the road will not increase. Charging needs to be integrated on an all-Ireland basis and must be supplied through an all-Ireland grid to ensure integration of transport.
Brexit presents an unquantifiable threat to the single electricity market and every effort must be made if we are to truly combat climate change. Stopping power infrastructure at the Border will not benefit the ordinary energy customer across the island and it makes it more difficult for the Six Counties and the Twenty-six Counties to develop diverse forms of renewable energy. This island, North and South, does not produce oil and produces only a minimal amount of gas, with a short lifespan. To combat climate change we need to develop indigenous renewable energy sources and we are well-placed geographically to do so.
We need to consider lifestyle changes. If one looks to the diets of our parents or grandparents, meat was not an essential ingredient of every meal. We need to revert to those values. In a presentation to the joint committee, hill farmers argued that we need to rethink how we feed the world. That is important. Trade is also important. European car manufacturers export cars worth €64 billion per annum to the United States. US car exports to Europe are worth less. Transporting cars across the Atlantic creates emissions. Perhaps we should get used to not having Chrysler cars in Europe or Jaguar cars, which few can afford, in the US. This does not make sense.
I want to be positive because positivity will allow us to carry people, society, communities and the next generation with us. The Democratic Programme read out on Monday when we commemorated an Chéad Dáil states that private property, which includes every form of industry and business, must be subjugated to the needs of the needs of the people. In this case, it must be subjugated to the needs of the planet.We need to rethink how we get our food to us. At the moment we are all trying to source our produce locally. Will we locally source our EVs, our fridges and everything that goes with maintaining our homes? We have to make a journey to get there and we need to be daring to take it.
On the positive side, protecting the ozone layer was our first foray into trying to raise awareness of the environment and the damage that human habitation is doing to our planet. That was more than 20 years ago. It was a positive news story. The ozone layer was in dire trouble. It was disappearing fast. With the bold step of banning chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, in Europe, and to some extent in greedy America, we have successfully reversed the depletion of the ozone layer. It is now in a much healthier state and is regrowing.
We will get there, because our generation will not live with or dealing with the consequences. It will be our children and their children.
I thank the Minister for returning to the House. We have been talking about generations, and the Minister mentioned future generations. This generation, the children living now, is seeing the impacts of climate change. In many parts of the world, lives and livelihoods are at risk or are being devastated by it. This generation is on the streets protesting. I have never seen so many children at protests as at the protests concerning climate change and extinction. I see the passion young people are bringing to it. That is because the public is far ahead of the Government on this issue and in their understanding of it. We saw that in the Citizens' Assembly.
I support the idea of a permanent committee on climate action. It is important to remember that the mandate of the current Joint Committee on Climate Action was furnished by the Citizens' Assembly to examine how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change, as well making as a number of key recommendations. We are currently far from implementing those recommendations and far away from a leadership role. Some nine years ago the target that Ireland was given was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020. Ireland has consistently lagged behind in reaching those goals, and is now on target to have reduced its emissions by just 1% by 2020. The fines we may face from Europe are estimated at up to €600 million a year. I know the Government a has different view and there are different opinions on what those fines may be. A Minister has estimated them to be approximately €30 million. These are significant costs, and the cost is far greater than those short-term financial fines.
This year is crucially important. It is deeply disappointing that the conversation is still focused on having clear actions in place by the end of this year . The ambition for 2019 needs to be greater. It was deeply disappointing when Ministers came to the House to speak to us before Christmas. I welcome the Minister's return, but I expect, as I am sure others do, that all of those Ministers will return for a proper debate in respect each of their portfolios. We did not hear about plans for reduction. In light of the fines we will pay next year, it would surely be better to front-load investment this year, before our first year of reckoning in 2020, to ensure that those fines are reduced. That money could be invested in concrete action.
I noticed a pattern among the Ministers who came in. Many of them focused heavily on adaptation rather than mitigation. Regardless of mitigation, the reduction in emissions must be the priority. I am deeply concerned that in some areas the idea seemed to be to plough ahead with business as usual until we find a way to make certain other kinds of business profitable, and to put a few measures in place to deal with bad weather if it comes. When we talk about transition, we must be clear. Are we going to talk about a transition that will protect Ireland in a devastated world, or are we talking about a radical transition in how our society and economy function? If we do not have that kind of radical transition, we will visit devastation on other countries, as well as on the most vulnerable in our own societies. That is why a reduction of 1% by the end of 2019 is inadequate. I urge the Minister to give us an assurance that radical front-loaded action on mitigation will be taken to increase the emissions reduction by the end of this year.
I acknowledge that the Minister is one of the first within the Government to begin the discussion about the concept of the circular economy and different models of development. I commend him on that. I believe that people are beginning to understand that this is not simply about tweaking but about radically different ways of doing development. Socially and environmentally sustainable ways are needed. We also need to realise that there will be losses. Businesses and industries may not continue into the next era and may need to change.
I welcome the Government's signing of the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP24, in December. That was important, and I hope the Government will also support the just transition legislation put forward by the Green Party.
There have been other positive moments. This is where we have seen a few glimmers of positivity, though they can be increased. We need to embrace legislation wherever it is coming from because this is an issue which affects us all and requires every resource that we can bring collectively as legislators. There are some very good Bills sponsored by various parties, including the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 and others. They need to be considered and supported whatever their source. It was a positive moment for everyone in Ireland and throughout the Oireachtas when we passed the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018 with Government support. I hope it gave the Government some insight to see how warmly and positively that bold and important step was greeted by the public and internationally.
However, there is also hypocrisy. The Minister referred to the transition and said that things do not happen instantaneously. We cannot take negative steps towards the future at the same time. I refer to the issuance of new drilling or exploration licences and new measures for importing liquified natural gas, LNG, repositories in Shannon, handling gas from other parts of the world which may have been fracked. These are new and negative hostages to fortune. This is not simply about not making the change fast enough; it is about taking steps in the wrong direction. Senator Devine spoken eloquently about green energy and the need for that to be at the centre of what is done. I very much support her concerns on blood coal. We need to examine that on a number of ethical grounds. We should be able to meet our 70% target by 2030 and that investment should be front-loaded.
Globally, the Minister might tell us how Ireland is supporting both adaptation and mitigation in the countries experiencing the worst effects despite having done the least to contribute. What is Ireland's position in the global negotiations on proper support in that area? An area where the European Union, unfortunately, seems to be a laggard is technology transfer. Technology transfer points to one key issue. The solutions we come up with cannot all be located within the market and the area of intellectual property. They cannot be hamstrung by the sensibilities of shareholders and so forth, which is a concern.
I refer to the key issue that I would like the Minister to address. He mentioned market failure but it has many forms. Addressing climate change is primarily a political and social responsibility and accountability must be arranged accordingly. In that regard, I have some questions about green bonds. There has been a lack of information on this issue. Ireland issued €3 billion in green bonds to investors from around the world in the final quarter of 2018. This needs to be discussed. As I understand it, a coupon of 1.35% was attached to them. The Minister may clarify this, but if I am not mistaken, this will generate a return of up to 16% for those investors over the next 12 years. We need a few key pieces of information on that. Where will the €3 billion be invested? Will it be in private or public projects?So far, I have found reference to eligible green projects. What are such projects? Where are the criteria involved? What is the process for deciding how the €3 billion will be invested? I know that it maps onto the national development plan but, again, will the individual projects be required to be profitable or will it be a matter that this gives us money to invest in initiatives that are effective and that the money is returned from general State coffers?
The 12-year period relating to bonds somewhat ironically matches the 12 years remaining to avoid catastrophic climate change. Can we rest assured that the meeting of our emission reduction targets will take top priority? if, for example, there are actions which can be taken and which would more effectively reduce emissions but do not generate profit, will they be prioritised over less effective actions that would give rise to profits? This is extremely important. How does it map onto the fines we are paying? Is it a case that the public will pay the fines but that potential financial benefits will go to investors?
The Minister referred to recovery and recession. Again, will we remain resolute in our commitment to meeting these targets regardless of recovery or recession?
We know that public investment can be the best way to drive innovation. Texts such as The Entrepreneurial Stateshow that public investment in respect of which there is public accountability can be more responsive to innovation, to changes in technology and to changes in understanding and political requirements. We must ensure that we do not tie ourselves into building toll roads again and that we invest in public transport and keep rail and bus networks in public ownership. BusConnects is a positive step and we need bus and rail transport provision to increase. Will that be in the context of public delivery so that we might continue to respond to changing and evolving standards? Will investment in high-quality cycling infrastructure, which provides a direct return of 3:1 or higher on investment, be made? It is not a zero-sum game. If we invest in cycling, greenways, etc., we will not only reap benefits in terms of health, cost and social benefits but also in terms of the environment.
I am coming to my final point.
I want to place on record my thanks to the Friends of the Irish Environment, which has brought a case against the Government on the inconsistency it has shown in the context of its national, EU and global obligations. I thank it for taking that case and for raising awareness regarding our lack of delivery.
I welcome the Minister. I wish him much success in his new Ministry, which deals with a matter that is so important to everybody on this island and the planet. The Minister stated that we want to become leaders rather than being followers. In many ways, I wish that we were even followers at this stage but we are not because we are not achieving anything like what we should be. There was a time when we were leaders, however. We were leaders in offshore wind generation. That is no longer the case. We were leaders in legislation when what became the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 was brought through both Houses. That showed true leadership because we were one of only three European countries to put environment legislation on our Statute Book at that time. We were leaders when we set up the Climate Change Advisory Council. I am glad that we did so because it has been extremely informative regarding the lack of delivery on the part of this Government in respect of our international obligations. Professor John FitzGerald has become a voice for many people in this country when he raises this lack of delivery over and over again.
We were leaders in 2015 when we included in the legislation in question a provision to the effect that Ministers would be answerable to the people regarding the reduction of climate change gasses. Ministers were supposed to make statements to the Houses, engage in debate and be answerable for delivery in this area by their Departments. This was supposed to be done on the basis of a whole-of-Government approach. In that context, prior to Christmas, Ministers queued up to make five-minute contributions in this House before making the 30-second dash back out the door. At the end of that debate, a mere five minutes were allocated for a response. That is neither accountability nor a whole-of-Government approach, it is a failure on the part of the Government to take climate change seriously.
I hope we are witnessing a sense of change but I will only believe that when we see delivery. It is only last year that we debated the protection of hedgerows and Members of this House were prepared to allow the destruction of same. I find it quite difficult to listen to a Senator talking about protecting our environment and our climate this afternoon when he made a remark in the House asking what else could be done with farm machinery in August other than cut the hedges. I question the level of commitment that is there in light of such remarks. As a result, I will believe in delivery when I see it.
The Minister referred to the Pacific Islands in-----
It was not Senator Leyden. It was a Government Senator and it is on the record now.
The Minister mentioned the dangers in the Pacific Islands, the climate change that is taking place there and the rising sea levels. He could also put Miami, Shanghai and Bangladesh into that group because they will all be lost through a very small rise in sea levels. If the Minister reads The Guardianor The Irish Timesthis week, he will find information about how quickly the ice sheet in Greenland is being lost and the fourfold increase since 2013 of the loss of ice coverage across glaciers. That will cause rises in sea levels that will not just affect the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh or Miami but Cork, Waterford and Dublin as well. If we have a whole-of-Government study and we look at the catchment flood risk assessment and management study, we will discover that this very premises is in danger of flooding from rising sea levels and by no means have we taken this into consideration. The Minister has to think globally and act locally because there will be local destruction in our State.
I wish to mention three initiatives we can commence immediately if we have real commitment in respect of this matter. The State needs to lead on climate action and support the people to make the necessary changes. Public agencies and local authorities own land and buildings and they could be leading in microgeneration from solar and wind energy. As Senator Leyden stated, the rooftops can and should be used for this purpose. We can lead in this area so let us use our schools and office blocks to show that leadership. We must do so very quickly. The Minister could have a look within his own Department at how his employees travel to work and examine how he can encourage them out of their cars and onto public transport. That would be a practical step that would show some leadership.
We need a climate action fund. When we talk about carbon tax, we are accused of being taxation junkies as if we want to heave more taxation onto citizens. In fact, it is quite the opposite. If we use a climate action fund and put 100% of any carbon tax into it, we could then start to invest in deep retrofitting of homes across the State. This would give rise to a real, practical impact in the context of energy expenditure. We also have to consider that we have a dispersed population and that most people depend on oil to heat their homes during the winter. We need to look at practical ways in which we can help people who live and work in rural areas to reduce their carbon footprint. I suggest that we use the carrot before the stick.We should try to encourage people away from using carbon-based fuels and show leadership in supporting them. Last year, we saw that Bord na Móna was greatly reducing its output of peat and we saw the redundancies for so many people in the midlands. I think we will be judged by how we treat the midlands with regard to this. We do not want to destroy communities but to make sure that there are sustainable communities. The Government has to lead in making sure that there is climate change justice around the country and that we make sure that those communities get the support that they will need so badly. We have to make sure we invest in those areas so that generations of people dependent on Bord na Móna for work have a sustainable future.
With regard to scientific evidence and the maximum limit of Ireland in meeting our international binding targets, I want to see carbon budgets spread across all Departments. The idea in the 2015 legislation that each Minister would be responsible for his or her own budget, showing the reduction in each area and bringing forward that report to each House has failed, and there was a conscious decision to make sure it failed. We saw it in practice in the Seanad and in the Dáil before Christmas because it was dealt with in a dismissive way as if it was not important to this House or the Dáil. It is important to everybody at home who worries about their children and grandchildren and the sort of climate and environment we are leaving them. They demand that the Government of the day should be answerable to them. If it is not answerable to this House and the Dáil, the people will make sure that the Government is answerable through protest on the street. I am a keen, lifelong supporter of democracy but what we saw in this House before Christmas was the undermining of democracy where the Government was not prepared to be answerable to the people through it. I was disappointed by the actions of all the Minister's colleagues in government and the manner in which this was dealt with. Each Department and Minister will have to be allowed a target on reduced emissions and if they do not achieve it, they will have to be answerable.
I welcome the Minister. I listened attentively to what he had to say on the television in my office and I thank him for his statement. I believe its content and his success rate in previous Ministries, especially jobs, gives us great hope for serious progress in this area. I have repeated a few times that the Minister is right that people want to change but we need to make it easy for them to do the right thing, not make it harder. People are interested in adopting carbon neutral approaches to their daily lives.
The Minister admitted that we are laggards on this and will not meet our targets. I understand that last year, 200 diesel buses were ordered, at a time when Amsterdam was getting rid of its last fossil fuel buses. It has a completely electric fleet. The bus recharges on an electric plate at every stop while passengers are alighting from and getting onto it. We have to make real moves and show leadership in this regard.
The Minister mentioned plastics. This is a really serious problem which we see on television, relating to our oceans. I commend the Government and Minister on banning the use of single-use plastic cups but we have to do much more than that. The plastic bag tax which Fianna Fáil brought in was very successful but we need to tax the production of plastics in a way that does not get passed on to the consumer. We have to stop so much plastic from being produced and tackle the supermarkets head-on about their obsession about covering everything with plastic. Farmers would much prefer not to have to do it. They are producing the goods. What happened to the biodegradable brown paper bag? There are many small things to address. The Netherlands takes the lead here with its supermarkets. There is a supermarket in Amsterdam with no packaging. One brings one's own bag. I have mentioned this before to the Minister and other Ministers. I know it does not relate specifically to the Minister's Department. We need clear regulations for a whole-of-Government approach. People are interested in building solar farms. Several local authorities have refused permission on the basis that there are no national guidelines. Some will argue that there is no need for a national guideline but we need to give very clear instructions to local authorities either to that effect or else we need to produce guidelines.
With regard to farming, the Minister has mentioned biodigesters before. This is a brilliant idea for people who are excellent at grass production and may not see the beef industry as offering the opportunity that it did before. We know that it faces challenges. If one takes out 280 acres of grass and feeds it into a biodigester, that is a hell of a contribution to the environment and one can also make a living from that as a farmer and protect the environment. I reject the idea that farmers are not aware of their environment. They are concerned and know it is in their interest to maintain it. Why is there a limit on the area of a roof on a shed, which I have often spoken about elsewhere, and in regulations from the Department on new houses, that can be covered in photovoltaic or solar panels? The same goes for all the farm sheds in the country. In Germany, there are solar farms where one can farm underneath the solar panel, where there is only a 10% loss in agricultural production but a significant gain for the farmer.
Talking about making the right thing the easy thing to do, I would like to go on the night rate. Many of our machines in our homes have a delay such that one can start it hours later, after one has gone to bed. Yet if one goes for a night rate, one has to pay an extra standing charge. What is that about? Are we not supposed to be encouraging people and is it not in everybody's interest for people to use the night rate and take the demand off the daytime high peak rates? They are penalised for it. Battery development will come in for tractors, and if a farmer's tractor could be powered by photovoltaics and electricity, I am sure there would be a clamour for it.
I will discuss willow, which fixes carbon, heavy metals and other harmful substances in the air quickly. Willow grows rapidly. It can be coppiced and used to fuel biomass burners. We have an expert on wind power in Skerries who I would love the Minister to meet. There is a long history there of producing power from wind.
I could address all the issues relating to education buildings, hospitals, etc., but there are two important matters to mention. Microgeneration is all over Germany. We need to encourage people and make it easy for them to contribute to the grid. As I said at the outset, people want to contribute, so let us make that easy. The Minister spoke earlier about walking the walk instead of talking the talk. I am taking the delivery of an all-electric vehicle, a Hyundai Kona, either tomorrow or early next week. I have spoken to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. There is a ten-day turnaround to get the grant so the car would not be released until that is in order but apparently the car has to be taxed before the provider will get the grant. That seems to be another barrier to people wanting to pursue electric cars. We doubled the numbers last year and the SEAI tells me that we have tripled the sales in January.
Let us lead by example.In the Fingal County Council area there are six charging points for electric cars. In this Oireachtas as I stand here there are none but I am told there will be one next week. I am also told, and I am surprised about this, that I am the first person to ask for one. Does that mean there is not anyone else in these Houses who has an electric car? I would find that surprising.
Many people have hybrids and I thought I saw a Tesla here last week. I believe it was Senator Leyden who said that Brexit is a problem. I would say that this is the challenge that will define our generation, not Brexit. We will survive Brexit but we may not survive ongoing climate change if we do not take action.
I welcome the Minister to what is a challenging yet very exciting Ministry. I have no doubt he will excel as he does in most things. I genuinely wish him well. I will not repeat what previous speakers have said. It would be helpful if the Minister could circulate his speech because it is always helpful to have it. I came in thinking there was one but there is not one.
I know the Minister can wing it, and wing it well, but it would be helpful to reference it.
What Senator Humphreys said was right in that it was a bit of a sham when we had Ministers coming into the House, darting in from the side, saying their piece and then running out. They did not have the courtesy to stay here and listen to the Members. I thought that was quite disrespectful. It is such an important subject. That was a disappointment.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken the time to come back here and that is important. We need to reconsider the way we will manage this annual review or annual account of key objectives in terms of climate change for both Houses. It is important to have a whole-of-Government approach. We hear a great deal about that. We see all the logos and the branding. Everything that goes out in the form of press releases now refers to a Government initiative. It is a whole branding packaging. Someone has made a conscious decision in government to brand itself as a collective in those terms. I do not have a problem with that but I note that it is happening, so why is it not happening here? I ask that the Minister would review long before the end of this year the way in which he will address that in a meaningful way but, more importantly, in terms of accountability to both Houses.
I want to acknowledge two matters. I thought it was important that in early January we had reports in all the national media about the fossil fuel divestment programme. It must be welcome news for Ireland. We are one of the first countries in the world to divest public money from fossil fuels. That follows, ultimately, a landmark vote of the Dáil, and of the Seanad for that matter, on the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2018. That is an important point to acknowledge. Great credit is due to the Independent Deputy, Deputy Pringle, who started this process and introduced the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, which has compelled Ireland's Strategic investment Fund, ISIF, to look at the matter again. It has confirmed it has sold investments in the global fossil fuel industry, which is valued at hundreds of millions of euro across, I am reliably informed, 150 companies worldwide. It is significant that the ISIF can confirm it sold those investments on behalf of Ireland. That is only one step but it is a positive and practical one.
I also acknowledge that the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, moved to implement Ireland's fossil fuel divestment strategy. He has clearly set out that strategy. It is important we acknowledge that because, after all, we signed up to and agree with the Paris Agreement in terms of action on global warning and how we would progress it. I note from the Government's website that it has now established a climate change unit. That posting was put up at the end of December 2018 with respect to the introduction and implementation of a green budgeting policy and strategy for Ireland. There is clearly a lot of meat on that. The Minister at some other stage might arrange for a briefing on that because it is important. It is a practical step.
The Government has established this green budgeting for Ireland strategy and initiative and there is the matter of how that is going to be measured and how the key objectives that are set down in that strategy will be implemented. We can have all the plans in the world but we have to monitor those on a regular basis and report back. That may be relevant to the Oireachtas joint committees in terms of the environment. Given our remit and given the Minister's responsibility to come to both Houses of the Oireachtas once a year and report on the objectives of climate change, it would be good if we could hear something on this and if he would agree to arrange for a briefing on the climate change unit, the establishment of which is positive and welcome. That would be important. I wish the Minister well. I do not want to repeat what all the main leaders of the groups have dealt with comprehensively.
The Minister is welcome to the House. He started his contribution by referring to his attendance at and participation in the conference in Katowice and the impact climate change will have on the islands in the Pacific, the low-lying atolls, many of which I visited in 1985. In 1986 I was down in Antarctica and we were already hearing about climate change and the melting of the glaciers, which we are seeing now year on year. That is more catastrophe as a result of greenhouse gas emissions rising.
I spent new year in Nijmegen in the east of Holland. Following on from what Senator Reilly said about the Netherlands and Amsterdam, in Nijmegen they are working hard on climate mitigation and taking climate action. As in Amsterdam, all the public transport is electrified. When I returned from Nijmegen I felt like I was walking back into the Dark Ages. It felt like "Mad Max" territory with the steaming, puffing, pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. I felt I was taking a step backwards.
The Minister said it is a challenge, and I agree it is one, but we need to get on with it because there are major opportunities. It is the public who are leading the way. We are seeing activists on the streets, students, children and citizens coming out and begging for the Government to take action. As many Senators said today, there are many actions that can be taken. For instance, we see the roll-out of photovoltaic solar energy technologies. The farmers want it and are asking for it. They are begging to diversify. This is one way where they can be supported to have renewable energy technologies and not only to contribute positively to the issue of climate but to get a dividend in return. Therefore, many actions can be taken.
I ask the Minister to ensure that we do not abandon our 2020 EU climate and energy targets and that we use this year, 2019, to take action. He spoke about needing policy tools and structural change but, in addition to that, we can start rolling out technologies and enabling that. We are seeing small changes but we can do more. I hope the Minister will support doing more in this regard.
Only last week, the Minister was giving out more licences for exploration and exploitation of greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels. He said that 91% of transport in Ireland depends on fossil fuels and I believe 71% of households depend on fossil fuels.I recognise that we have a large step to take but we do not see action, such as farmers being supported with renewable technologies, industries being supported, public buildings with a photovoltaic system or that type of roll-out. Rather, we see a contradiction where licences are being issued to enable companies to continue to exploit and extract fossil fuels when we know fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Whatever licences are already in place are fair enough, although I hate saying that, but we must stop issuing further licences to explore or exploit.
In addition, how about subsidies and tax breaks for companies that harness renewable, clean energies? Let us get on with that and give them all the supports in order that we use a positive opportunity to support industries and the creation of jobs in the renewable clean energy sector.
On public buildings, the Minister came forward with his initiative for single-use plastic, and public offices will no longer procure single-use plastic. That was a good initiative but in the coming weeks, it would be great if he announced that public buildings such as schools, councils and so on, including Leinster House, will install renewable energy technology. As one of the other Senators also recommended, I would like to see the establishment of a climate fund to support renewable energy projects and carbon budgets in order that we can see what each Department is doing before the end of the year.
Last but not least, we must recognise that we are talking about climate change and ecosystem breakdown. There has been a 50% loss of species on the planet in the past 40 years. I listened to the Minister's speech although I have not read the transcript. He is still talking the talk but we are not seeing action. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, and I would like the continuation of the committee in the future because climate change is the most pressing issue, not only in Dublin, Ireland or Europe but globally. We must keep the pressure on. The Green Party and I will gladly work with the Minister and we will give him every support we can in this area, but we want to see the Government doing a bit of the work.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of the electric vehicle network. There are currently 668 charge points and 77 fast charge points. As I recently announced, through the climate action fund the ESB will invest in approximately 30 fast charge points. There will be multiple locations, mainly on motorways, and it will also upgrade a number of them. Hundreds more, therefore, will come on stream. On the need for their availability in local towns and so on, I am examining the local authorities' potential role in that area. From 2020, every employer that has the use of more than 20 parking spaces will have the obligation to provide electric vehicle chargers. We need to expand the network and, in the context of the plan, I will examine whether our various initiatives are adequate to achieve the level of density required. I am reminded of a phrase that is often used to describe a type of anxiety.
It does not matter.
The idea of schools is good. There is an issue with low occupancy, which the Senator acknowledged by saying schools would need the capacity to sell solar power back to the grid. It is similar to the issue of the role of microgeneration that arose time and again. A microgeneration pilot is in place and there has been considerable uptake, but we need to develop a permanent, clear pathway to microgeneration, which is not in place. To be fair, many renewables are on the grid. Although 30% of electricity is generated by renewables, my ambition is to double that, and the most efficient way is by using large producers. If we want to rapidly transfer our grid to renewables, it should not be a case of one or the other, that is, it is not about microgeneration displacing major generation but rather we must use both.
The grid must also be fortified to enable it to take on board that level of renewables. There is a peak limit of 65% on renewables and at present we cannot go beyond that. In order to double the level of renewables on the grid, we need to push the limit to 85% or 90%, which will require the grid to be fortified. When renewables go down, there will also need to be sources that can be powered up quickly, and it must be done cost effectively. It is not, therefore, just a question of piling in the renewables; we must ensure we can use them. Much work is ongoing with EirGrid in this regard.
I fully agree with Senator Marshall that it requires working across silos, which we have not always been good at. It will depend on the oversight model. From my experience, if we did not have the Taoiseach's engaged interest, which I do, it would not work. No Minister with a Ministry of jobs or climate action can deliver changes across the Government without the support of the Taoiseach of the day. The process will hinge on quarterly reports, a demand that actions be delivered on time and accountability to the Taoiseach. That model worked well on An Action Plan for Jobs and I will replicate it with whatever changes are necessary.
I also agree that we need a clear mandate for public bodies; it should not be an also-ran or a second thought. Again, it will be a matter of seeking agreement and we will need support to achieve it, both in the Oireachtas and the Executive.
I fully recognise the work that the Joint Committee on Climate Action is doing, as raised by Senator Lombard. We must design those nudges, carrots and sticks to help people engage with the sort of change that is needed. I also recognise that there is a danger that people in agricultural and rural areas will see it as anti-rural, and we must ensure we bring those people with us and convince them that if they do not develop a decarbonised approach to their sectors and way of life, they will handicap the capacity of Irish agriculture to be competitive in the years ahead. It is not a case of us telling them to do something for the good of Merrion Street but rather is part of a pathway for our community. It will be a challenge and it will require microgeneration, aerobic digesters and other changes that people can buy into. When people motivate themselves to become engaged, there needs to be a pathway to allow them get stuck in. We need to design those measures even though we cannot fund them all, which is a balance that Senators must recognise. I cannot go to the Minister for Finance with a bill for all of this. Senators have said they want action now, and I agree there should be action now, but it is not a matter of finding a large bill in order that the Government can fund all the changes we need people to make. It cannot work that way. We must use nudges, carrots and sticks, engagement, clusters and all the other methods.Interestingly where SEAI has driven clusters, it has had far greater leverage with carbon reduction per euro spent than with an individual grant to an enterprise. Getting that sense of meithil behind this is really important.
Senator Devine said there is no deadline for decommissioning Moneypoint. There is a deadline of 2020-25.
The concept of the carbon tax is not to pay for failure. The issue with carbon tax is that in our daily lives we are all generating carbon for whose consequences we do not take account. The purpose of a carbon tax is not to take money but to make people recognise that there is a cost for the community, for the global environment, of some of our behaviours. The Taoiseach has been clear that he sees that money being given back in its entirety.
Let us consider the people who have commented. The ESRI and the Climate Change Advisory Council have done work on this. They all point out that if we do not have a trajectory for a carbon price, people will lock themselves into carbon-intensive ways of life. It is a mistake to portray this as some sort of put-on by Government, trying to cover up for its failures. Of course, this is one of the risks with people not buying into the change that we all recognise if we portray things in those terms. People can portray them however they like, but parties thinking about carbon tax need to think that through because everyone tells us it is part of a pathway.
I agree we need to think through the legislative environment. Senator Humphreys and others were critical of the parade of Ministers and so on. Ministers themselves found it a bit perplexing. The Senators need to think about how they conduct this business. Carbon targets have not yet been set. Therefore, there is not a carbon target for agriculture, transport, housing, buildings, the public sector or the private sector. Accountability requires that we agree targets across Government. We are not yet in a position to do so. We need to get to the stage where there is a target. The difficulty is in deciding how to hold the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation accountable for the target for industry. To what extent can the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport deliver the target for transport? He has certain tools in his armoury relating to public transport, cycle lanes, etc. These are all important tools, but he does not have the full set. There is an issue with the concept of setting targets and how we might decide what carrots and sticks will be used to have them delivered. We will need to keep returning to that.
It is not as simple as the Dáil or Seanad saying that transport should reduce its carbon emissions by 5% next year and coming back next year to find out if it has happened. Someone needs to develop the policy tools that will shift carbon usage from that level to a reduced level in whatever way it is. While I recognise legislation can be a very important prompt, it needs to be underpinned by credible, reasonable and deliverable policy instruments. A bit of give and take is required here.
Senator Higgins talked about front-loading. I am trying to front-load action. Action on single-use plastics, plans in the public sector and green procurement within the public sector have all started this year. That is the public sector seeking to lead by example. The climate action fund has had its first issue and the €77 million has leveraged €300 million in investment in the wider economy. We are doing things like the electric vehicle network and the natural gas injection network. These are the sort of things that can seed wider change. The State does not have the resources to fund this and so it is about designing policy tools that work. This will be done partly through regulation and not all of it will be done through Government spending. There is a complex mix of tax and spending, regulatory and information issues, building cluster issues, mandates for our authorities and so on.
We have a spending target of, I think, €175 million. We are increasing our investment in climate action in less developed countries. I announced an increase to one of those funds when I was in Katowice. I met those involved in many of the funds that are driving some of this change and they are doing good work. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is committed to expanding that work. It recognises that this is a key part of its overseas development aid programme.
Obviously the green bonds are exclusively for the public sector. Therefore these are not for profit-making institutions. I understand they will cover retrofit programmes and so on. There is not a confined menu at this stage. It is true that there is a bigger appetite for green bonds in the market. It is possible to effectively get cheaper money because of the interest in committing to it. Part of the trick here is for us to find fundable financial vehicles to attract that money. It is necessary to find ways to de-risk some of the investment in some way with State involvement and by designing smart funding mechanisms through which we can access cheaper money for these areas. This is in its infancy. Fortunately, Dublin is a centre where some of the thinking about how this can be done is occurring. As an aside, hopefully we will see some pilots in Ireland to show that we can cut into this. For example, in the area of buildings, Senators will know there is quick payback on certain things, but others have very long payback. If personal finance is made available at 10% interest, it will never happen. We need to find ways of accessing funding and design packages to make that happen.
On green procurement, my officials are sitting down with officials from the Office of Government Procurement to have in place green procurement guidance by the end of March. That will deal with the purchase of vehicles. I know Senators Reilly and Grace O'Sullivan were annoyed about diesel buses still being purchased. We need to get that into the thinking and get the procurement in place.
We also need to deal with what the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said. The price of carbon will be €100 per tonne in 2030 and €265 in 2050. All projects need to be re-evaluated in the context of those lifetime costs. If we get that socialised in the public service, we will see a shift in the sorts of decisions that are made. However, we need that to get locked into public decision making. A number of Senators raised that point.
We have a €500 million climate action fund. Senator Humphreys proposed that all revenue from the carbon tax should go into that fund. There are other points of view on this, including among many of the strongest advocates for environmental reform, with whom we had a consultation last week. Many of them recognise the merit in what the Taoiseach is proposing rather than the model the Senator is suggesting. I can see the reasoning. I would love to have the money and be able to do some of these things. There is a question of getting something in which people believe.
I share the Senator's view that we need to manage the Bord na Móna change. I met not only the public representatives, but also representatives from Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the Minister for Business, Employment and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, our agencies and Bord na Móna, to discuss this transition in the midlands to see if we can develop a path.To be fair, Bord na Móna has a lot of good ideas but we also have the regional development fund. We have regional enterprise strategies. We need to integrate those actions to get something credible. I do not believe in setting up a new task force. We have many systems and we just need to get them to focus on this. We will meet again in June, having met in December, to monitor progress. It is an important element.
I have already commented on the carbon budget. I agree with the concept but it has to be realistic. The person who can action the change has to be the one responsible, not someone at such an arm's length that it is not meaningful.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of plastic. We use more plastic than the rest of Europe. We are good at recycling it but we use more of it. We need to look at what is going wrong. The same is true of food waste. We have a lot of food waste which we need to drive down. The Senator put his finger on an issue. There seems to be a chilling around solar investment as a result of planning. We need to bottom it out. Either new guidelines are needed or the state of play needs to be made clear. I accept the point made about the night rate. We should look at it. A night rate is best for the system because it means it encourages people to use their appliances at times when we have plenty of power and low usage.
The point about paying the motor tax before one gets the grant sounds sensible to me but maybe I missed-----
Okay. Senator Boyhan raised the issue of oversight of the plan. It is crucial. It will not work unless we can be seen to be driving it forward. I very much agree with that. I will seek to implement it.
We will have to agree to differ on the licence. I do not see that banning exploration will suddenly get farmers or the transport industry to change their behaviours. I have to be conscious of energy security. We will go back to 95% dependence on imported gas when Corrib runs out. It is better if we can make the transition we have to make from fossil fuels with some level of security of supply. I do not agree we should take a very hard line in the hope that even though it does not impact in any way our carbon emissions today, it will in some way bring about the transformation. We have to develop the policies that change the route we are on. The phasing out of our reliance on fossil fuels will follow that as we change behaviours.
There are substantial subsidies for renewables at the moment but they are built into the public service obligation. They do not come up as cash subsidies in the Exchequer. Under the various refit schemes, we have 43 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being taken out of the system over the projected 2030 horizon. They are built into the price consumers pay. One of the advantages we have seen is that the price of renewables has come down quite rapidly as we integrate them more into the system. Consumers may be paying in the short term but they are seeing a more robust model emerging in the longer term so it is a good deal for consumers.
I will leave it at that.