Perhaps at this stage the Minister and I can come to some arrangement as to how we want this Bill to proceed. I presume the other Opposition spokespersons will attend shortly.
I was disappointed with the response of the Minister for Finance before Private Members' Business that the Book of Estimates subhead for carbon credits meets what I was seeking in terms of the amendment before us. I am afraid it does not. My amendment is quite explicit and refers to the Kyoto Protocol. I found the Minister's argument somewhat circular. He was trying to say that the mention of carbon credits was sufficient with regard to meeting the amendment while going on in his later contribution to say the Government is doing more than providing carbon credits in meeting this country's obligations on greenhouse gases and the Kyoto Protocol. If that is the case, the subhead entry in the Book of Estimates should be much more wide-ranging.
The Minister has not responded to much that I said when moving the amendment, namely that the mechanisms he has chosen have been wrong and that he is seriously underestimating the likely cost to Ireland. He is working on the basis that Ireland can and will reduce greenhouse gas emission percentages though the most recent figures have shown that, sadly, those figures are again going upwards in areas where the Government has least control. The Government is bereft of mechanisms to show how that might be brought in a different direction.
When, in the course of his reply, the Minister brings in such items as his proposed excise duty reduction on biofuels and the grants in respect of renewable energy, he is arguing against himself. This area requires a strategy approach far more wide-ranging than the Government has adopted to date. Even the small and belated measures he has cited are fraught with difficulty in themselves. The Minister is aware that the original biofuel measure brought in by his predecessor took a full 18 months of negotiation with the European Commission even to have it introduced on a small scale, and it does not seem to have been taken up at all. The Minister's own proposal is only a minor pushing out of that particular boat and we might still find ourselves in difficulty because there does not seem to have been any work in advance on whether this proposal is acceptable to the European Commission.
The Green Party believes the Minister should go further. If we are genuinely talking of making biofuels competitive we need to remove the excise duty cap once and for all. The gap between the cost of energy produced by biofuels and conventional fossil fuel products is narrowing and a proper fiscal incentive might tip the balance in terms of consumer confidence. Even in terms of the types of vehicles the Minister is promoting, many of them are expensive. While they might have environmental benefits in terms of their fuel use, some of them are large-scale and might cause environmental damage in other respects.
The Government must take responsibility for the fact that the tax reliefs introduced across the board have had environmental consequences, particularly with regard to the construction industry. One third of all housing in this country has been built since 1995, most of it built without proper energy efficiency standards. The lack of such standards has contributed to a growth in our greenhouse gas levels, and by that I mean the levels emitted by the actual households. That does not even begin to count the costs of the construction of these units, which have been a major contributor.
This country has the greatest level of car usage in the world. We spend more time in our cars than people in any other country. If the Government is encouraging people, through tax reliefs, to live long distances from their work, thus needing to travel by private transport, and if the Government is encouraging through tax reliefs the building of housing which is not energy efficient and is using non-sustainable materials, it is ultimately unfair for the Government to put in place taxation measures which are spreading the burden across all groups in our society whether or not they as individuals have contributed to the problem. The Minister and Government need to do a lot better.