Thursday, 4 July 2019
Climate Action Plan: Statements
I thank the Senators for tabling this debate. I do not need to tell people in the House that it is probably one of the most important challenges that face humanity. As we reflect on a decade during which the country has achieved extraordinary things, as we reformed our Constitution, changed our outlook and brought an economy from bankruptcy back to full employment, which were fantastic achievements and show the resilience and capacity of people to reinvent themselves, we have to bring the same creativity to bear on this, which is the greatest challenge that faces humanity.
We cannot avoid recognising that in recent years, since the recovery commenced, it is very clear we failed to break the link between economic prosperity and the emissions that are doing untold damage to the globe. It is against this background that we developed the process in place. It was part of the programme for Government to have, in the first instance, the Citizens' Assembly evaluate this challenge. It came back with a very strident demand on the Oireachtas to reform in a range of areas. We followed this up with a model that was used in some of those other very difficult changes that we had ask people to come with us upon, such as changing our Constitution.We followed them up with in-depth hearings held by Members of both Houses at the climate action committee which included Senator Lombard. It laid very important foundations. I will not say entire consensus was reached, but a great deal of common ground was found within thee Houses on the challenges and direction in which we had to travel.
I have produced a climate action plan which sets out in detail the targets on which we aim to deliver in the period to 2030. I have adopted it on the precautionary principle which is in accordance with dealing with environmental challenges of this nature. I have sought to achieve the 30% reduction without recourse to things like assuming the price of oil will be high which would make it much easier to achieve or that we will use certain flexibilities to transfer moneys that would have come to us in the ETS to offset credits because of our failure to reach our targets. It is an ambitious plan which is consistent with our very strong support for the proposal that Europe adopt a net zero target by 2050. We will undertake the work to see what it would imply in detail between 2030 and 2050. In designing this set of proposals we have been conscious that they should be consistent with meeting a net zero target by 2050.
How we frame the debate is important as we move from a position where there is a great deal of common ground within the Oireachtas on what we should do to bring people with us. While the Government has an obligation to lead this change, every sector of Irish society needs to come with us. It is important for us to present it in a way that will bring people with us. A number of features of the plan will help us to do that. First, we have chosen measures that are both sensible and fair. In using the word "sensible" we have evaluated the least-cost proposals to get us to our targets. In what areas can we achieve them without creating the greatest burden on people and which ones would open the most opportunities?
The plan contains specific proposals such as eliminating non-recyclable plastics; establishing microgeneration; setting the 70% renewable target for the power system; having 950,000 electric vehicles which would amount to one third of purchases between now and then; expanding park and ride facilities; reinforcing public transport; having heat pumps in 400,000 homes;·the specific accountability in each sector for carbon budgets of each of our ministerial colleagues who oversee transport, construction and so on; having very strong oversight driven by the Oireachtas which is very much at the heart of the plan; and retrofitting 500,000 homes. We have chosen this approach to do the things that can help us to achieve our targets with the least burden and also to have governance and oversight to deliver on them. We have been at pains to ensure they are seen to be fair in that we are demanding that every section of Irish society contribute. That is why we have very strong sections on the obligations of enterprise, farming and the public service, as well as the changes we need to achieve on the roads, in our homes and the habits we develop. We recognise the importance of supporting the people who are most exposed such as those in the solid fuel sector that will see a very sharp decline or the individuals who are least equipped in this transition such as those on very low incomes.
How we describe what we are trying to achieve is important. Many people, including some colleagues, have asked what the cost and our targets will be. If we start to present it that it is about hitting some global targets set for us by the United Nations and talk about imposing cost on people, we will have undersold why we are doing it. We are doing it for the good of the planet, not because some UN body has happened to set a schedule in which we appear. We are doing it because we are part of humanity, the love affair of which with fossil fuel has done enormous damage which will accelerate unless we redress it. It is about the resilience of people in the future. We need farms, homes and enterprises that are resilient because they have taken action now to protect themselves, instead of waiting and postponing when the cost of making these changes will be far greater and the damage will have been done to the planet we are seeking to protect. This is very much about the responsibility and desire of every generation to protect the heritage it has received and pass on to our children something that is robust and resilient and will support them in the future. Our current pattern will not do that. We are, therefore, asking people to make the change for their children and coming generations. That is at the heart of the plan and it is important to recognise it in that way.
I know that it is controversial to talk about putting a price on carbon, saying it is €20 today and will be €80 in 2030 and so on. The reason we talk about putting a price on carbon is that it is doing enormous damage. The 1 tonne or 10 tonnes of carbon a household issues each year is doing serious damage. If it was seen as a big plume of smoke coming from the roof of a house, we would all recognise the damage, but because it is invisible and silent and its origin is not clear to us, we do not see it as damage. With the price trajectory we are trying to ensure people, in making their decisions on whether they should use solid fuel, oil, gas or a heat pump, will recognise that their decisions will have a profound impact on the damage that will done to the planet. Albeit they are doing it individually or making a small contribution, it is an essential choice and we can convey that message by putting a price on the damage caused. It is the oldest approach that has always been taken: the polluter pays. We need to recognise that there is damage and that the originator of that damage must in some way be responsible for it. That is why we need a price on carbon. We are not putting a price on it to gather money into the Exchequer to fund other things. We will recycle it in a way that is best placed to help people in this transition. It is a signal of the journey we need to take, but the money can be really valuable if it is redeployed to support people on the lowest incomes who have the biggest challenges to meet to fund the retrofit programmes needed on the journey.
Bringing it out into the community is important. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has been doing great work in helping communities. It has a really good programme, Sustainable Energy Communities. There are now almost 300 programmes, but we need to increase that number to 1,500. We need to explain and create opportunities for communities to participate in the transition. That is why when we come to have renewable energy auctions, we will have a pot confined to community generation. We will develop microgeneration. We will try to make it real for people in order that they can see the plan as an opportunity for them to become more self-sufficient in using renewable sources to meet their needs and that if they have a surplus, they can sell it into the grid.
We need to support new technologies that are coming down the road in an appropriate way. We have a €500 million climate action fund in which we will be seeding new technologies.Members will already have seen from this year's allocation that biogas is one of the areas for which we have provided support. This year, we are providing a grant for biomass to replace fossil fuels. We have had a pilot for solar generation in homes. We will move towards having a proper scheme for microgeneration. It is very important, therefore, that we bring people together.
When considering greenhouse gas inventories, although the waste sector accounts for only 1 million tonnes and looks like it is trivial, we should realise the way in which we manage materials from their birth to the end of their life is crucial to the way we think about climate and climate change. It is very important that people recognise the importance of preventing the generation of waste and moving towards a circular economy whereby one tries to maximise the use and reuse of materials rather than furthering the disposables culture that has been part of life in the past 25 years. It is very important that we rethink this. By doing so, we will rethink our set of habits. I refer to how we use materials and fuels, how we create the fabric of our homes and how we travel. It is important that, although waste might figure on a carbon inventory as very inconsequential, its significance is very great. Some estimates suggest that 60% of all emissions come from materials and how we produce, use and dispose of them. Getting people to think in this different way is a big part.
The Oireachtas has done a great job in creating a foundation on which we as a community can move forward together. Of course there will be differences, arguments in favour of one instrument of policy over another, and scepticism, and we will be learning as we go, but we are using the approach that was adopted in the Action Plan for Jobs. When I launched that plan, people said to me it was ludicrous and there was no way in which 100,000 jobs could be delivered. They said they were expected to believe in the plan when there was no evidence to support it. Now, with 500,000 jobs created in this economy, we reflect and see the benefit of being ambitious and bringing all the community together behind a set of actions. They will not all be perfect but they will start a process that can act as a catalyst in making the change we need.
The position on the climate plan is the very same. Members of the Government and Oireachtas have to start the process but it will be a catalyst to much wider change that we need to achieve. That is why this is going to be a long journey. We will be reflecting continually on, consulting on and amending the plan and introducing new policies where some have failed. It is a journey but, at the end, the challenge will be well worth facing up to. It will mean cleaner air, warmer homes and, more profoundly, it will mean our farms, enterprises and homes will be resilient for the future. We will be putting our children into a position in which they can look to a decarbonised world with confidence because we have started and have not allowed ourselves to take the view that we should delay, wait for new evidence, wait for something else to happen or wait until we can afford it. There are so many reasons for waiting but it is very important to start this journey. We now have a plan that we can oversee through the new arms of the Oireachtas and hold Ministers to account in the years ahead.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for outlining the proposed plan on climate action. Fianna Fáil has a strong record on the introduction of climate change measures. It recognises that the climate crisis is the defining global challenge of our time, and it is committed to ensuring Ireland does its fair share and meets legally binding commitments at EU and UN levels. In May 2019, Fianna Fáil ensured that the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and called for the issue of biodiversity loss to be considered by the Citizens' Assembly. Global warming and associated biodiversity loss are already resulting in a range of adverse economic, environmental, health and social impacts, and the outlook is deteriorating. Every action and every year of delay matters. Future generations should not have to bear the brunt of the impacts. Young people are very conscious of this. Last Monday week, Roscommon County Council declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. That was a decision proposed by Councillor Donal Kilduff and seconded by Councillor Orla Leyden. It was agreed unanimously by the council. It showed leadership at local level that demonstrates councillors are prepared to work together in each area to implement the plans of their authorities and the Government. In fact, before the agreement drawn up by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and two independents on Roscommon County Council, a majority of the councillors had put forward a plan on the environment. That is very positive.
We have diesel locomotives on all the main rail lines. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to electrify them. It is worth examining how exactly we can reduce the amount of diesel and petrol being used. It would be worth investigating the feasibility of electrification of some of the lines, be it the Dublin-Belfast line or another. I am not sure what the procedure would be or the work involved. It would certainly be a step in the right direction as far as I am concerned.
The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, now needs to analyse the climate impacts of Government commitments and verify that we can meet the 2030 target without paying millions for carbon credits. The Climate Change Advisory Council needs to assess independently the adequacy of all proposed measures and ensure that they are in line with our Paris Agreement commitments. Climate action is not simply an all-of-government challenge. It presents a cross-societal opportunity. It is a national issue and should be dealt with not on a party political basis but on a united all-Ireland basis to bring about the changes required.
This plan is merely the start of the process. The litmus test of Government action will be how quickly Fine Gael moves to put necessary legislation and policies in place. What we do in 2019 is far more important than where we say we will be in 2050.
The main weakness of the 2019 climate plan is that it is not costed beyond Project Ireland 2040 commitments. The costs of enabling infrastructure, such as the electric vehicle, EV, charging network, are not outlined. The plan fails to put forward any annual costings for actions or to clarify how much would fall on non-Exchequer sources. This plan outlines emissions reductions of 2% per annum up to 2030, with reductions of 7% envisaged thereafter. This approach goes against the recommendations of climate scientists and economists who have emphasised that delayed efforts only increase the risks of disastrous impacts and serve to drive up the costs of the transition.
Fianna Fáil is concerned that certain actions and timelines from the cross-party Oireachtas report have not been incorporated. By contrast with the position in other EU states, the plan excludes a commitment to introduce into legislation a new long-term net zero target to decarbonise the economy by 2050. Necessary amending legislation on climate action is to be delayed until 2020, as are necessary new measures on how better to support those vulnerable to fuel poverty.The plan principally focuses on those areas which put the responsibility on citizens, such as extremely ambitious targets for electric vehicles and home retrofits. Even with additional grants and incentives, the high upfront costs associated with these measures will make them inaccessible to poorer households.
It is extremely disappointing that the guiding principle of climate justice is limited to multilateral processes. The plan is extremely weak on necessary measures and community supports to achieve a just transition for communities and workers in carbon-intensive industries, particularly in the midlands. It is very important the IDA and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation would ensure those jobs will be replaced in the regions.
I commend the Minister on his efforts. He has taken a very definite approach. By working together, I believe all of us can make a difference, which is the point. I know from talking with my 12 year old granddaughter, Donata Maria, that she is very concerned. Pupils in schools are deeply concerned and they are bringing about change, for example, in regard to plastic cups and so on. That is a step in the right direction. We need to bring into schools the plan the Minister is putting forward and encourage teachers to discuss climate change.
I welcome the Minister. This is a very important debate in regard to the climate action plan and where we are going in this very important space. The Minister is correct that this is a debate of our generation in order to ensure we have a planet to hand on to the next generation, which is a great responsibility on everybody who attends the debate today. I am somewhat disappointed that only four Members out of 60 have come to discuss this issue, given it is one of the biggest issues we have to deal with. To think we only have a handful of Senators present is quite disappointing.
This is about trying to bring people with us, which is the point I wish to focus on today. It is about how we get community involvement and get that bottom-up approach in order that we can ensure that all communities and all sectors can work together to deliver this. We have talked about transition towns, one of which is Kinsale, where fantastic work is done. However, there are only 250 to 260 transition towns and we need to promote the concept in every town in Ireland. If we have that buy-in and input from the bottom up, then we will have real change because schools, community associations and society itself will come together and work to deliver what we have to deliver, which is a real change in our society and how we deal with such matters.
While the bottom-up approach is very important, the all-of-Government approach is also very important. The Minister rightly mentioned the jobs plan of some years ago, when vast numbers were brought into employment. That came from an all-of-Government approach and that approach is very important in regard to this plan also. It brings responsibility on all Departments to work together to deliver the ambition of this plan.
Those are the two issues we need to ensure we get right. If we can get all of Government working to deliver this and can get the communities involved at the bottom of the tree, we will, hopefully, see a major change in society. There will be major change, whether in farming and the farming community, in energy or in how we drive our cars and what kind of cars we drive. There will be significant change if we are to reach our 2030 and 2050 targets. However, I believe there is buy-in. Society has moved with us and it is really on this page. Four or five years ago, one could argue the point, but there is no arguing now. People want change and they actually demand change. They want the Oireachtas and the Government to ensure that change happens. We are in a different space. Society has bought in and the Government is definitely buying in with this climate action plan. We now need to make sure that we can get both the bottom-up approach and the whole-of-Government approach to work together to make sure we can deliver this plan.
It will be an evolving plan and an evolving process. The Minister is correct that not everything is going to work. New technologies and new issues will come on board, and this is something we have to be open to. Just because something fails does not mean the plan fails; it means that we need to analyse it and move on to something else. We have to realise this will be part of this plan. Just because one issue fails does not mean the entire plan fails. This is about ensuring we evolve, change and build on the plan to ensure we deliver what we have to deliver for society.
Before we proceed, we have in the Visitors Gallery, Julia Donnelly, an intern from New York serving in the Houses of the Oireachtas. As it is the Fourth of July, it is only right and proper that we should wish her and her colleague, Amber, and the other interns from the United States a happy Fourth of July.
I welcome the Minister. I acknowledge the recognition by the Government that we are in a climate emergency. It gives me no pleasure to remind people that this declaration has been made as Ireland trails behind our European partners. Ireland's emissions have been rising steadily while other countries have been reducing theirs. We are now playing catch-up and it is vital that we choose solutions that are evidence-based and based on science, as we no longer have the luxury of time to experiment with ideas. Unfortunately, this is where I think the all-of-Government climate action plan runs aground.
I say this while acknowledging the work that has been done by this House over the past year. In July of last year, the special Joint Committee on Climate Action was established and I was honoured to be a member of it. We considered the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly. It is fair to say that none of us at the time appreciated the scope and breadth of the problem, nor the scale of the challenge ahead. The committee spent months scoping and quantifying the problems in agriculture, transport, housing and energy production, so much so that we had little time to adequately investigate solutions - proven solutions which were clearly evidence-based and verifiable.
There is an absence of this in the climate action plan, which can be described as a melting pot of ideas, based on an approach of, "Let us try this and see what happens". It is high on aspirations but we need to be much more specific. It uses words like "investigate", "review", "examine" and "consider". In my time here, I have learned that such words are not robust enough. Second, it defers the bulk of our obligations until after 2030, which is 11 years away. Third, it places a cost burden on the citizen while incentivising the market to sell the solutions. I am not here just to be oppositional. However, I want to be prudent and I want to go with the evidence that is available and that underpins what is positive and what is proven to work.
Regrettably, it did not include an all-Ireland strategy despite the fact carbon dioxide and methane emitted in Strabane will not stop at the Border and will cross to Lifford. While many of the individual actions in themselves appear laudable, there is no coherent, integrated strategy which we can say with any certainty will yield results. The plans refers to banning the sale of combustion engine cars by 2030, stopping the burning of coal and peat, the increase of carbon tax by 500%, the deep retrofit of 500,000 houses, the shut-down of Moneypoint and the planting of more forestry. These measure sound and are very laudable. However, without any assessment of the availability, affordability or viability of alternatives, it simply seems to be a wish list of aspirational ideas.
Let us look, for example, at the electric vehicle alternative to conventional cars. When setting targets of almost 1 million EVs on the road by 2030, what consideration has the Government given to the affordability of this purchase? In rural areas, many householders are two-car households so how viable is this target? Indeed, given the housing pressures which have resulted in many adult children living back with their parents, many rural households have three or four vehicles.The plan aims to incentivise single-car dependency across rural Ireland but it makes no provision whatsoever for a modal shift to public transport. With six out of ten children travelling to school by car and only one out of ten children travelling to school by bus, the action plan makes no provision to shift tens of thousands of car journeys per day to public transport. Let us assume for a moment that somehow or other, a two-car household managed to magic up the €80,000 required for two EVs, and let us also assume that we get 1 million EVs on the road by 2030. There is still no evidence that this will reduce emissions.
The Minister should look at Norway. Norway has a similar population to Ireland and a similar level of emissions per capita. It also has the second highest plug-in EV ownership in the world, at 300,000 units. It has more land under forestry and it has a higher carbon tax than we do. Despite all of this, Norway has failed to reduce its emissions at all since 2011. On the other hand, neighbouring Sweden has almost twice the population of Ireland and has only 80,000 EVs, yet Sweden has exactly half of the emissions of either Norway or Ireland. My point is that there is no concrete evidence that a transition to EVs would have any notable impact on our emissions over the next decade.
There are other environmental and ethical concerns about EVs, which have not been adequately cross-examined. Over the next ten years, the powering of EVs will still be heavily reliant on coal, peat and gas. We will still be using these fossil fuels to produce electricity. Studies show that an EV powered by coal-burning electricity will not begin to return an environmental benefit until five years into its use. There are also metrics which bring in the question of the environmental benefits, if any, of scrapping perfectly functional, low-emission combustion cars in favour of new EVs. Just as we are complicit in the burning of blood coal at Moneypoint from the Cerrejón mine in Colombia, we will now become complicit in the escalation of human rights abuses in cobalt mining for EV batteries in Congo.
It is fair to say there is no quantifiable or verifiable evidence that EV targets will have any meaningful impact on emission reduction, even if somehow or other, almost half of our current 2.6 million car owners could magically afford the outlay. We cannot honestly predict whether a rolled-out charge network for EVs will not end up being a stranded asset by 2030, just like the electronic voting machines. The aspirational target that 45,000 households per year, which after spending €40,000 on an EV, will then borrow anything from €30,000 to €75,000 to do a deep retrofit on their homes-----
I will. Has the Minister identified who these homeowners are? Of the 1.7 million private dwellings in the State, 500,000 are under mortgage and 30,000 are in distress and in danger of being sold to the vulture funds. It is questionable whether these mortgage holders would be included in the retrofits that are due to happen in the next ten years because they are simply not affordable for them. The only thing we know for certain is that we will fail spectacularly to meet our 2020 emission targets.
I want to conclude by saying it is quite evident that €430 million per year is collected in carbon tax and it will now be increased to €600 million per year, yet we will be fined €600 million per annum so if we do the maths, it is like we are raising taxes to prepare ourselves to be fined for our emissions.
I will not waste time arguing. First, I want to say that we are lucky to have a Minister like this who is a highly civilised and cultivated man. One of the interesting things about his presentation was that he spoke without reference to his notes and the entire speech was conducted clearly. I would like to move a motion that if this does not happen automatically, the printed text of the Minister's speech, as issued to us, should also be included in the record of the House because it is important to have that detail. I hope that can be done.
It is interesting that there has been a small attendance, as has been mentioned. For the first half an hour it was not even quorate. We did not even have a quorum and the quorum has been reduced from 12 Members to six. The Government has declared a climate-----
-----emergency. We used the word "Emergency" for the Second World War in this country. If we really thought there was a war on, and there is, this House would be full, as it should be.
On the tram on my way in today, I saw an advertisement for a gangster movie that said "The world's not going to save itself." That is true. We cannot await the planet coming to its own rescue. We are all in this together and I would like to say to Senator Reilly that we discussed the Mercosur agreement yesterday and we were talking about Bolsonaro and the rainforests and so on. Senator Reilly asked how we would like it if people started talking about our bogs and how we can say the rainforests in Brazil are our rainforests. I want to say here and now that they are. We are all in this together. This is a planetary problem. The rainforests do not belong to Brazil. They were there long before the Spanish or the Portuguese conquered Brazil. They are part of our inheritance and the bogs in Ireland are part of the world's inheritance as well because we are not alone and we have responsibility for the other life forms on this planet.
As an aside, I would also like to say that we are only gradually becoming aware of this problem. We did not think of it before. I remember the hot summers in the 1950s and we thought it was glorious. We had no idea of the damage that was being done even at that stage. Some 25 years ago, I was on the transport committee and I remember raising the question of exhaust emissions from jet aeroplanes. That has multiplied. The Government is granting licences for fossil fuel exploration and that is a controversial area. In every area where there are concerns we are not really living up to our responsibilities. We are deliberately magnifying and investing in an enormous increase in air transport.
I would like to look at the scale of the problem. Of the assessed species living exclusively in Europe and Central Asia, 28% are threatened. Among all the assessed groups of species living in the region, mussels and liverworts are particularly threatened. Some 50% of mussels and liverworts are threatened, 37% of freshwater fish are threatened, 45% of freshwater snails are threatened, 33% of vascular plants are threatened and 23% of amphibians are threatened. Three quarters of the land-based environment and about 68% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. That is an extraordinary situation. A recent and very dramatic report, which was compiled by an enormous variety of scientists, found that about 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. This is more than ever before in human history. The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%. More than 40% of amphibian species, 33% of reaffirming corals and more than a third of all marine animals are threatened. These are staggering situations.
Underneath it is something I have been trying to draw attention to, without any success, for all my political career, namely, the enormous expansion of the human population of the planet. The global population, which is now three times what it was when I was born in 1944, is set to expand from today's figure of 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion in 2050 and 11 billion by 2100.I do not see how the planet can sustain this. It is underneath all of the difficulties, including climate change, and is something that cannot be ignored.
The response of the fossil fuel industry is very interesting. I have just read a report about how the industry responds to announcements about climate change. Following the announcement that 2015 was the hottest year on record, CNN aired 23.5 minutes of advertisements by Vote for Energy, a project of the American Petroleum Institute, compared with approximately five minutes of coverage of climate change or the temperature records. It is a five to one balance in favour of coverage sponsored by the oil industry. In the week after the hottest year announcement, CNN aired less than one minute of climate-related coverage and 13.5 minutes of oil industry advertisements. Following the announcement that February 2016 was the most unusually hot month ever, CNN aired four minutes of climate-related coverage and ten minutes of fossil fuel advertisements. Coverage is hugely disproportionate. The fossil fuel industry is trying to win the argument with the public and that is where we must be active.
Certain things are happening. Government policy is frequently interrupted by considerations of, for example, the property rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. In this regard, I have always said that no Government has ever taken into account the question of the public good. I urge the Minister to take on board that we need to consider the public good as a primary motivating factor in legislation. This is starting to happen in America, which has, for example, what is known as atmospheric trust litigation. This is an approach that considers the atmosphere to be held in trust by government for the public. It is not something to be dealt with by the government alone.Interestingly, a very significant case has been won in the American courts. A Pennsylvanian Supreme Court decision relied on the public trust doctrine to hold that a law promoting fracking violated a state constitutional right to a healthy environment. That is one example.
While I have praised the Minister, Deputy Bruton, I wish to put on record the response of the Taoiseach who made the following statement in January 2018 in the European Parliament:
As far as I am concerned, we are a laggard. I am not proud of Ireland's performance of climate change.
That is an astonishing admission for the leader of the Government to make. We have had the announcement, which is very welcome, that-----
I did not receive any notice of that. With the indulgence of the Chair, I will make a couple of quick points. The Citizens' Assembly gave a resounding call, which was echoed by the Oireachtas joint committee, which issued a landmark report with 41 detailed recommendations. The Dáil voted to declare a climate emergency and to accept and endorse the recommendations of the committee. We are waiting to see if this will be fully implemented in law, which is the responsibility of the Minister.
We have to ask three specific questions. First, does the plan acknowledge the scale of the challenge and have we confronted the reality of what is facing us? Second, does the plan commit to putting the Oireachtas joint committee's recommendations on governance into law by the end of the year? This is the only practical way to address the issue. Finally, does the plan commit to implementing the recommendations of the joint committee in full and on time to cut emissions in every sector? I thank the Acting Chairman for her indulgence. I also thank Senator O'Reilly. I did not mean to delay his contribution.
I genuinely compliment the Minister. It was most interesting that he was motivated to speak without reference to his notes. He made a passionate speech. I believe that he is committed and I hope that he gets support from his Government colleagues and the rest of Parliament.
It will be a pity if this issue is reduced to party politics and accusations that Fianna Fáil did this, Fine Gael did not do that and so on. That is nonsense when we are confronting an emergency.
I welcome my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton. If the Action Plan for Jobs, which he initiated, launched, supervised and managed, is a yardstick or indicator as to what will happen in this instance, we can be extraordinarily optimistic.
It is good that we have clear objectives of meeting our 2030 target and reaching zero emissions by 2050. We should not see this issue in purely punitive terms. This can create great and very interesting healthy lifestyle changes and can also create new employment opportunities and a new quality of life. It is not necessarily negative and should not be seen in those terms.
Given that time is short, I will race through a few specific issues and proposals. Charging points for electric vehicles are a major issue. On "Morning Ireland" this morning, we heard that the lack of charging points is an issue in County Sligo. It is also an issue in my county and everywhere else. We need more charging points.
Speaking of charging points and electric cars, which obviously form part of what we want to do, I proposed some time ago that a grant or an incentive be provided for first-time drivers who decide to buy an electric car. If an electric car is their first car, they will continue to buy electric vehicles, develop a sense of ownership of the climate change agenda and adopt a lifestyle to match in which they will take pride. We should incentivise first-time drivers to buy electric cars more than other drivers, as we do in the case of first-time buyers of houses. I appeal to the Minister to consider that proposal.
The Minister's plan to retrofit 500,000 homes has great merit. The idea of doing this in clusters based on an agreed price with contractors is a very good one. I suggest that this idea be expedited. Easy payment methods and supports should be provided for poorer people. The proposal has merit in that it will result in energy savings, reduced heating bills, less fuel poverty and so on. It is a wonderful idea which could have a great outcome.
I have the privilege of being a member of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Minister will recall from his meetings with the committee that I often raise the issue of microgeneration and allowing people to sell electricity into the grid. The Minister should run very quickly with that idea.
He should also examine the model used by the creameries and co-operatives at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century and provide for community microgeneration where people in a village might own a microgenerator, just as they owned the creamery of old. They would receive a reward from that. This would get the whole climate change agenda into the public consciousness.
I am told by people who know much more about this issue than I do that Ireland's new gold could be offshore wind. We have the right tidal conditions to be a pioneer in developing offshore wind energy and become a world supplier. I ask the Minister to comment on that specific issue.
We must avoid fuel poverty. While all of this is wonderful and laudable, if we introduce a carbon tax, people in receipt of the State pension or social welfare payments must be insulated from fuel poverty or a diminution in their living standards. We should devote the money saved by not having to pay fines or purchase carbon credits to the poor and those who are not in a position to buy fuel.
The Minister made an interesting point on eliminating single-use plastics. That is a lifestyle change which should be introduced.
We should encourage the health insurance sector to support people who adopt a healthy lifestyle by cycling, walking and so on.Insurance policies should provide credits for such activities. People should be given better life insurance policies if they have evidence of undergoing health checks or of walking or cycling to work. While that could present administrative difficulties, creative ways of doing it could be found. This approach has been implemented in Singapore to great effect. If it can be done there, why not here? I appeal to the Minister to have his officials look at the example of Singapore in this regard.
I will make one final point and in that regard I thank the Acting Chairman for her indulgence. I live in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. A small parcel of land that is not arable should be planted on every farm and farmers should be incentivised to do so. When I was a child there was a kind of ribbon or shelter belt on every farm and there were trees around the house. That should still be the case. There are parts of every farm that are less arable and farmers should be encouraged to plant these. I would like to hear the Minister's response to that proposal.
A wise person whom I know is fond of saying that we should live simply so that others may simply live. This sums up the view many of us aspire to have in respect of environmental matters. We have a duty to act responsibly towards the environment out of respect both for the world around us and the well-being and survival of our fellow human beings now and into the future. We should show solidarity across time and space in all our thinking in this area. Even if there was no evidence of a changing climate or that climate change was caused by man or if there was no international movement on the issue, we should still be trying to change some of our more negative habits in our own interests and in the interests of the world around us.
We have made significant progress and changed attitudes in many ways. While there has been a sea change, a huge amount remains to be done. I understand it is still the case that a large proportion of what goes into our green bins is not recycled and ends up being incinerated. That is indefensible if true. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Likewise, the outrageous prevalence of single-use plastics in packaging, which has been mentioned by others, is indefensible. We should be thankful that there has been a big change in people's attitudes. I am confident that in the years to come we will look back on our use of plastic in the same way as we now look back on the nonsensical use of plastic bags in supermarkets in the past.
We can also do more to reduce the carbon footprint of our imports by shopping locally, or at least within Europe, to the greatest extent possible. With that in mind, it seems very difficult for the European Union to defend aspects of the Mercosur trade deal which could see 99,000 tonnes of South American beef transported across the Atlantic every year.
That deal is the first policy proposal in history to unite farmers and environmentalists. It is quite an achievement if one thinks about it that way. Having said all of that, I simply do not buy into some of the more extreme rhetoric surrounding the issue of climate change. For example, during the recent children's climate change protests I was struck by the comments made by many of the children in attendance. Many seemed to think that they, along with the rest of us, will literally be dead due to climate change within the next 20 or 30 years. No reputable scientist anywhere has made doomsday claims such as these and yet the idea appears to have gained some currency among younger people. What kind of society are we fostering if children can have such a profoundly depressing and scientifically inaccurate view of where our world is heading? While Greta Thunberg may be a very admirable young person in many ways, I wonder about the Greta Thunberg phenomenon.
I also wonder about the general phenomenon of people who govern us, while being adults in years, lacking maturity. This may be partly due to many of them having no experience of a world outside politics. There is a deference to children which does not really allow them to grow. By all means, children should provoke us to thought but a failure of adult responsibility is evident in much of our public discussion, although the issues the children are prompting us to think about are important. That is an aside.
There is also a small but vocal movement which advocates that humanity should start to voluntarily scale back our presence on the planet. It suggests we should almost feel guilty for our own existence and that people should have fewer children. Any debate on climate change in the media will usually have at least one reference to the supposedly exponential rate at which the population is increasing around the world. I heard what Senator Norris had to say and I think that too was a load of Bolsonaro in some respects. This movement ignores the fact that the populations of most European countries are now falling, particularly those in eastern Europe. Birth rates in all parts of the developing world have plummeted in recent decades. I recently read a book by Darrell Bricker, the current global CEO of the polling company Ipsos, and John Ibbitson, one of the most respected journalists in Canada, in which they suggest the global population will peak in 2050 and fall consistently thereafter. The facts of this issue rarely get any proper focus. They are certainly not ad idemwith Senator Norris's comments.
To properly tackle the climate issue and our environmental problems we need to retain a sense of perspective. That is all I am saying. Overblown rhetoric does not help in the long run. We need to exercise caution about accepting any one measure or set of measures as dogma that must be adhered to. One of the extraordinary features of the debate on the environment over the last ten years has been that the path behind us is strewn with policies and measures which have had consensus support but have since been abandoned because they proved to be unrealistic or counterproductive. I do not mean to single out the Green Party because on some issues, although only on some, it can act as our conscience or provoke us to necessary reflection. I do, however, recall its past enthusiasm for bioethanol as an alternative to petroleum fuels. The international green movement and governments have since abandoned this fuel because it diverts production away from food for human populations. Diesel cars were once encouraged as an alternative and, accordingly, taxed at a lower rate but this stance has since been abandoned. As the Minister knows, this State once gave generous grants for wood pellet boilers. This has also been abandoned and many such boilers have been ripped out of homes. I believe the company which carried out most of this work has gone bankrupt. The list of past mistakes goes on. My point is that we should be very slow to adopt any one measure or set of measures as an orthodoxy which must be followed unquestioningly because we risk making the same mistakes again.
Many of the 183 action points in the climate action plan are laudable but I worry that some of the proposals are unrealistic and risk becoming the broken promises and abandoned plans of the years to come. For this reason, it does the Government no credit to advance them. The proposal to have 1 million electric cars on our roads by 2030 seems very unrealistic. There were fewer than 1,400 electric cars sold in 2018 and I do not see how that number will increase to more than 50,000 in the coming years, which is what would be required to meet this target. This policy brings with it environmental concerns of its own. More electric cars means higher demand for the lithium, cobalt and copper needed for their components. We have heard about this already today. These metals are mostly mined in Africa, often in very harsh conditions. Tesla is already warning of a shortage of these materials. As with bioethanol in the past, are we running the risk of adopting a policy which could lead to unintended consequences in poorer and developing countries?
Is it really possible to cut our carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050 in light of the national development plan which foresees growth in agriculture and transport? These targets seem to be impossible to meet. The action plan also seeks to retrofit 500,000 homes to a B2 building energy regulation, BER, standard. This will involve massive expense which will be unaffordable for ordinary households. Similar previous schemes for retrofitting insulation had relatively low take-up for that reason. Would it not make more sense to demand minimum standards for new builds rather than expecting costly retrofitting of existing dwellings? This has the hallmarks of an unrealistic Green Party policy of a decade ago, which may end up being abandoned.
This is an extremely important agenda but we do not gain in the long term by making claims and setting targets out of a sense of panic which deep down we do not intend to meet or believe we can meet. That is the challenge I pose in what I have to say today. While I commend the Government on its intentions, as policymakers, great and small, we all have a duty to be truthful and realistic about what can be done. My fear is that many aspects of this plan seem intended to give the appearance of radical action which our political system has no capability of delivering in the long term. Rather than pretending that we can make radical changes to our way of life, we should instead work to achieve the best we can to alleviate the impact of climate change on those who will be worst affected. Many people are much more comfortable with the idea that we will have to make great sacrifices to live in solidarity with the people who will be most affected by changes it is not possible to avoid. That is where many people are and it is where our focus should be. That is another way in which we could live simply so that others may simply live.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for his speech and the accompanying written text.I want to pick up on a few comments colleagues have made. Electric vehicles will become more affordable, not less affordable; that is the nature of all technology. The Government is doing the right thing in supporting people who buy them. As time goes by, the smaller city cars will become ever cheaper.
I try not to be political but I find it very difficult not to comment on Sinn Féin's approach. It is the same old approach of describing the problem, giving out about the problem and protesting, but offering no solution. There is a well-thought-out solution on offer from the Minister and the Government on climate action.
Nobody interrupted the Senator.
The Minister has made it very clear that this process is flexible and can deliver, and from that delivery we can learn and from that learning we can refine and modify as time goes by; nothing stays stationary, as we know.
Members referred to electric car technology and batteries. A lot of research is being done on graphene, which will allow batteries to have a much longer charge without the need for cobalt and allow less lithium to be used.
I support what Senator Joe O'Reilly said. The idea of community generation of electricity is great. The small wind turbines are far too expensive; the larger turbines are more efficient. The whole community would gain from taking ownership of that and it could be successful.
I particularly welcome the Minister's move on giving microgenerators access to the network so that they can sell their electricity. This will be hugely important, not so much because of the volume of electricity it might generate but in sending a strong message that we are serious about this.
We hear about all the problems that relate to climate change and the challenges that it poses, but the Minister has outlined significant opportunities in agriculture and farming, such as anaerobic digesters. Solar farms have been trialled in Germany, with panels on 3 m stilts, and they got 90% productivity from the land on top of what they get from the sun. I have mentioned several times encouraging farmers to have solar panels on their sheds and the need to review the limit that currently exists for solar panels on domestic dwellings. Why is it such a small number? What is wrong with having more? The limit relates to solar panels for water rather than for electricity.
There is very good news coming out of Fingal, which was asked to take the lead for the four authorities in Dublin on piloting charging points for cars on electricity poles. It is now seeking expressions of interest to roll that out across Dublin city, including Fingal. That could be a game changer and would make it far easier for people to make the jump to hybrid or fully electric cars.
The issue of single use plastic is particularly important and I welcome the Minister's commitment on that. There is also the issue of Styrofoam, which is difficult to dispose of. Nobody wants to handle it and it is not recycled. We have to address that.
Others have raised the point that green bins are for hard plastic only and not wrapping. That has to change to make it easier for people to follow and to recycle.
Senator Norris talked about "our" forests in Brazil. I stand over what I said: the Brazilians own their forests just as we own our bogs.
We, of course, have a shared interest in them because of their impact on the environment and we should listen to each other, but to suggest otherwise is not just disingenuous but plain wrong.
Earlier, a Senator talked about educating young people on this. Younger people have taken this on board in a major way and there is great potential for an educational facility in Skerries. With its ancient mills from a couple of centuries ago, there is an opportunity to show the development through the centuries of windmills to the modern turbines we have now. It is not just a tourist attraction but an educational facility for children.
The Minister's well-thought-out plans for retrofitting are welcome. Nobody is being forced to do it; we are encouraging people. For those who are considering it, they are future-proofing their homes against what will be uncertain fossil fuel markets. I thank him for the plan and for the opportunity to debate it.
I welcome the Minister. I rile against the idea of a policy of what we can do. I firmly believe that this is a policy of what we must do. On climate change, it has reached the stage that the policies that we must implement have to take effect next week, not next month, next year or in the distant future.
I welcome the sensible approach of 180 actions and several sub-actions. It follows on from the successful Action Plan for Jobs. There has to be flexibility within the action plan because not every one of those 180 actions will work. However, we can learn from what does not work and move on and improve until we get it right. The mood in Ireland is that politicians and scientists cannot make mistakes. We all make mistakes; it is about how we learn from those mistakes and improve.
Many Members referred to the policy of having 950,000 electric cars on our roads. We need to examine that. Should everybody have a car? Do we need cars or are they outdated, especially in urban areas? Should we look more at car-sharing mechanisms? Our major cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway all suffer from massive traffic jams and problems for commuters. If diesel and petrol cars are replaced with electric cars, we will still have the same problems and congestion on our roads. We need a level of joined-up thinking on whether we should race into replacing petrol and diesel cars with electric cars. It is not a long-term, sustainable policy. We have to re-examine our modes of transport.
I asked whether everybody needs a car, especially in urban areas, and that leads on to the issue of how we plan our cities and towns and how we increase density and plan green areas in and around them. There will always be a need for private transport in rural areas; it is just the nature of it that people will need a personal vehicle of some description. However, does that personal vehicle need to be able to travel between Galway and Dublin? Can we share cars for long-distance journeys and use small electric cars in the areas where we live?
The transition to the future could be quite exciting, with new means of transport and fuels. However, it has to be a just transition. Many people will be frightened by this transition and many people will lose their jobs and have to change their way of life. In a just transition, we would plan for that; people would see the support available and the alternative careers. That has to be worked at and the trust and confidence of the public has to be won, otherwise there will be major resistance.
The other element, which will be difficult for me and every other politician in the country, is that we will have to stand up to powerful interest groups both in our own country and externally. We cannot tackle climate change alone. We have to develop international agreements to assist other people transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and that will be difficult. That is where international trade agreements will come in. Some people will lose in those international trade agreements and some will gain, but as a benchmark, such agreements have to be tied to the Paris accord and to standards on the use of antibiotics in animals.We are running out of a range of antibiotics to deal with human health, never mind animal health. It will be a difficult period. I will also have to change my thinking. I will have to look at the powerful interest groups who coming knocking on my door and most times I will probably have to say this is no longer in the interest of the climate, this country or the planet.
I wish the Minister well. I give him a guarantee that I will not be politically opportunistic and will engage in a constructive way. It is far too important for us to pander to individual interest groups.
The objective of EU countries, including Ireland, to net zero carbon by 2050 is noble and necessary. In that context I very much welcome the Government's climate action plan. It is a very important and serious document. I have heard the Minister at conferences and elsewhere and he is the first to say that this will not be easy because we are talking about a complete overhaul of our lifestyles and how we are used to living with our modern conveniences and things we take for granted, all of which is at a cost. It is important that we continue to discuss what is a just transition and where the cost will be borne. Many times, people put their money where their mouth is. We must protect vulnerable people who cannot afford it.
In this context, I am concerned about the EU Mercosur trade deal announced last Friday. I am concerned that it will undermine what we are trying to do at a macro level and what we are trying to become leaders on and implement. I am concerned that our beef farmers are not being treated fairly under this deal. It is clear that the beef coming from South America is cheaper. Our farmers are under such pressure now, often having to sell cattle at a lower than cost price and there are fears of worse to come after Brexit.
Our beef farmers have been highly regulated for years, pursuant to the Common Agricultural Policy, and our domestic implementation of the CAP allows us to stand over the claim that our beef is of the best quality and traceability on the world stage. We are also high up in the international league tables for carbon efficiency, at fifth place, and are constantly striving to improve our ranking. It has to be acknowledged that the will and desire to improve is there. This is all at a cost, and makes our beef more expensive than South American countries, for instance, which do not adhere to these standards. It is difficult to secure data on the carbon footprint of South American beef. The data available show the rate of deforestation is linked to an increase in agriculture. It has been shown that beef purchased in Europe and south-east Asia from South American countries comes from areas where the tropical rainforests have been felled.
Last Monday we saw the surge in the price of shares of Brazilian meat packers since the announcement of the trade deal. That gives an idea of what is intended for the beef industry there and that it is set for expansion on foot of the deal. We only have to look at the track record of President Bolsonaro, a climate change denier, to see that issues such as climate breakdown and rights for citizens, including workers, are low on his list of priorities. Often developing countries in South America are concerned with more immediate issues and find it difficult to achieve forward planning and change systems to accommodate carbon emissions reductions. There is a compelling argument that climate and environment effects as well as the economic impact of the EU Mercosur deal need to be scrutinised, and I am calling for that today. Otherwise we will be operating in a parallel universe when it comes to trade deals where we must climate-proof our policies and actions in everything else. The EU claims to be leading the way in the latter and the growth of the circular economy in transnational and domestic affairs of the global village. We owe it to Irish and EU beef farmers to ensure that this is done. We are all interconnected. That is the whole basis of debate. Such a review would have to be done at a European level and would set a precedent for climate-proofing other trade agreements. It would be complex.
I have a question for the Minister which the Minister of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, could not answer yesterday when I asked her. When I speak of doing a climate and environmental impact assessment on the deal, I do not mean only agriculture but also transport. What type of vehicles will the Germans sell into South America? Is it specified that they will be electric vehicles? There is no evidence to suggest that the Paris climate agreement commitment tagged on to the EU Mercosur trade deal can or will be observed. There are no monitoring systems to provide empirical data on climate destruction or climate action in South America other than the sure felling of raining forests.
If we do not have some satisfactory evidence that climate commitments under the deal are deliverable, then we are wasting our time tying citizens of our country and the EU to the expense of implementing climate action policies.
I thank all the Senators for participation in the debate. I will respond to their points as best I can. Senator Leyden suggested electrifying rail lines. We will examine all technologies, but the point I tried to make at the outset is that we have looked at technologies based on what we know of them and how they will evolve over the next ten years and picked those that are most cost effective and the least burden on people to implement first. It is not that technologies that are not immediately identified in the plan will not be considered but that they do not stack up as the cheapest and most effective thing to do at this stage.
Senator Leyden also asked about the cost detail. We set out a €30 billion national development plan in climate action and sustainable transport. It includes €3 billion for retrofitting homes, €13 billion for creating infrastructure for renewable energy on the grid, and so on. There is considerable cost, but as Senator Mulherin was honest in saying, we must recognise that the public will have to share some of this cost. The State or the taxpayer cannot fund all the change. That is what makes this so challenging. We can create mechanisms such as carbon pricing and refunding so there are incentives to make changes, but ultimately we either do regulation, which means the individual pays everything, or we have various market interventions where there is a balance, or we invest in new technologies and develop alternatives. Those are the policy options. The climate advisory group has told us bluntly that if, as Sinn Féin seems to suggest, we do not have carbon pricing, then we are trying to push water up a hill. It will be far more difficult to deliver our targets if we do not have that mix. This is not an ideological point but we must have a mix of regulation which creates a burden for people, but some regulations will be too burdensome so we must go the incentive route or develop other ways.
I agree with Senator Lombard that getting communities involved is central.We will fail if this ends up as farmers against industry, urban against rural and if we pit this as the sort of a challenge where we all start pointing fingers at someone else who should move first. It was Brendan Behan who referred to the first item on the agenda as being the split. If that is where this ends up going, then we will fail. I acknowledge the work of Senator Devine and others on the Oireachtas committee. We have sought to be faithful to the work of that committee, particularly in the area of governance. Senator Devine has criticised the plan for not focusing on having more done in the earlier period and not putting tougher demands on the system in the years to 2030. She then cast extraordinary doubt on all of the things to which we are committing and doubting whether we can hit targets for electric vehicles or retrofits, and implementing those sorts of changes.
The Senator cannot have it both ways. She cannot demand that we do more, then find fault with everything and more or less suggest that we should not be undertaking the electric vehicles initiative. They have been chosen because they are the most cost-effective and least costly way of abating our carbon impact. They are cheaper than going for a higher level of renewables on our grid in the early period. I know that Sinn Féin is advocating for more emphasis on the grid and less on vehicles. That approach is more expensive, however. We have tried to pick the things that are most cost-effective. I dispute strongly that we cannot deliver on the target of one third of vehicles being electric. Some 280,000 vehicles are purchased in Ireland each year. Three million vehicles will be purchased over the next 11 years. We are stating that one third of those vehicles should be electric and that is not outrageous.
Some 12% of vehicles purchased now are already electric, if we include hybrids. I admit that we have to move away from the non-plug in hybrids and just go for the others. They are running at the moment at about 3.5% to 4%. That is ramping up rapidly, however. The purchases of pure electric vehicles are three times greater than last year. That includes plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, PHEVs. If we count just EVs, purchases are five times greater than last year. There is no doubt, as Senator Reilly stated, that the price of batteries is coming down. By 2023 or 2024, we are advised, that if all taxes are excluded, it would pay a person on a whole-life basis to shift to an electric vehicle. When we add in the lower taxes on electric vehicles, including the lower vehicle registration tax, as well as the higher prices for fuel for diesel and petrol vehicles, that is a dramatic difference. People will make that change.
It is already becoming clear that that is happening. The advertisements on the radio every day are about electric vehicles. Battery technology will improve, as the Senator said. Many of those complaints regarding the high carbon impact of battery technology draw on battery production in countries where electricity is produced by burning coal. It is not inevitable, however, that battery production is powered by coal-burning generators. It can be done through renewables and that would dramatically bring down the carbon impact of batteries. The key aspect is that we have to move to renewables. Senator Norris has left the House, but he raised the issue of why we do not stop all exploration for fossil fuels. The core reason we do not do that is that we are 85% dependent on the use of fossil fuels. We are getting some very welcome sources of gas from the Corrib Field. If there was another discovery beside that which provided us with more gas, then that would help us to make the transition.
We will still be 69% dependent on fossil fuels in 2030. This is a tough journey. Even if we hit the 70% target for the use of renewables in our power system, we will still need a gas standby. I am not stating that we should not, in time, change our exploration operations. There is a case for looking at exploration in the context of a transition and energy security. That has to be done in a balanced way, however. It is unreasonable to suggest that we should just stop exploration tomorrow without looking at the impact such a change would have. We will have legislation. Senator Mullen referred to living simply so that others can simply live. Again, however, he was viewing everything we have put forward in the plan with a certain scepticism. We have a choice to make. We have to accept an obligation to make changes or accept that doing nothing will see the resultant consequences explode. I have seen figures estimating that €400 trillion is the damage that will be done by doing nothing versus the investment of nearly €45 trillion to undertake changes. It is nearly 10:1 in respect of the costs involved.
The Senator, however, seems to be advocating that we should become very conservative about making the investments now and that we should instead wait and see. If those figures are to be believed - there will of course be some scepticism - we will be waiting for ten times the damage to be done. Let us take the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is not, I suppose, the most radical source of information. It is stating that a tonne of carbon that last year was priced at €8 per tonne will be priced in 2050 at €265 per tonne. Measures taken to abate a tonne of carbon today, at whatever cost, saves us that dramatic escalation of cost. Let us also not forget that carbon impact is cumulative. Each year that we leave that tonne there, it is accumulating in the atmosphere and creating damage.
I acknowledge the support of Senator Humphreys. It is very much on the money. We do have to design new approaches in our cities. That is not, unfortunately, an alternative to electrifying our car fleet. It is complementary and it does need to be done. Career changes will be difficult but let us not forget that we have been through a decade where we saw some 200,000 jobs lost in the construction industry. We have, however, created 500,000 jobs elsewhere. We have been through very radical restructuring of our economy but these changes will be done on a much more managed and time-based system. I am confident, therefore, that we can do it.
The Mercosur issue is not my brief. I will observe, however, that this is the first time that I have seen a trade agreement where the obligations imposed by the Paris Agreement are written. The Mercosur trade agreement will be torn up if those obligations are not honoured. This is the first time that has happened. As Senator Mulherin said, it is right that we should scrutinise that process and how it is executed. Turning to the matter of beef exports, a figure of 99,000 tonnes is high but it was originally proposed to be 300,000 tonnes. That 99,000 tonnes is 1.25% of the European beef market. Protections exist, however. Some 45% of the exports will be frozen and there will be no diminution of European food safety standards. There are, therefore, protections for farmers who fear that this these imports are going to be low quality, hormone and antibiotic-treated meat. The best position to take is to scrutinise and examine this deal and then making our decision.
There is a danger of trying to include everything into a trade agreement. I will take a simple example. We might not like the fact that Poland has coal and predominantly coal-burning technology. A just transition for Poland, however, requires that country to change gradually and meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement. We cannot tell Poland that we are not going to buy its goods because the country has a coal-based system. We have to bring people with us. People started from wherever they were, they made commitments in Paris and now they have to meet their obligations. That is how we get collective agreements. We cannot state that we are worried about some sector and therefore that we will seek out the faults of another country so as to undermine its trade agreements. That is not fair. It would not be fair to the Poles if that approach was taken to Poland and it is not fair with other countries. We have to ensure that each country meets its responsibilities. That is the approach that should be taken. I welcome that the Paris Agreement obligations are at least built into the Mercosur trade deal. That is the first time that has been done in a trade agreement.