Climate Change: Statements.

At the request of the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, I recently met the committee to brief it on final preparations for the 15th conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the fifth meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which will take place in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December. The Copenhagen conference is rightly one of the most widely anticipated peace-time world events. I am pleased to have the opportunity to make this statement in the House.

Ireland fully supports the EU's leadership role in the international climate change process under the UN convention. The position of the EU and Ireland is based on the global scientific consensus on the potential impact of climate change. The advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, reflects that consensus. It emphasises the enormity of the threat we face and the urgency of a comprehensive and effective global response. EU policy on what constitutes a comprehensive and effective global response to climate change is reflected in the substantial body of conclusions that the Council has adopted over a number of years, most recently at its meeting last month. They set out a clear and strong EU mandate for the Copenhagen conference based on the fundamental objective of keeping the increase in average global temperature to within 2° Celsius of pre-industrial levels to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The EU recognises the process established under the UN convention as the appropriate forum through which to develop and implement an effective global response to the threat of climate change. The ultimate objective of the convention is clear — greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere must be stabilised at a safe level. The 2° Celsius goal adopted by the EU responds to this objective.

The scientific advice from the IPCC is also clear on the need for early and effective action. A significant milestone towards achieving that objective is the absolute priority for the conference. Action is not just an option, particularly when we reflect on the plight of people in developing countries who are living on the "climate front line".

At the end of the penultimate round of the international negotiations in advance of COP 15, the EU restated its firm commitment to reaching a comprehensive, fair and legally binding treaty in Copenhagen. To be effective, the treaty must cover all countries and reflect a level of ambition consistent with the objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2° Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels. More specifically, the successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol must respond to the four key elements of the Bali action plan, namely, mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and finance. It must also provide a clear and strong context for action in the form of an over-arching long-term goal, a shared vision that responds to the 2° Celsius objective by aiming to ensure that global emissions peak by 2020 at the latest, reduce by at least 50% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels and continue on a downward trend thereafter. Is Deputy McManus indicating?

I did not want to interrupt, but I was wondering whether we will receive copies of the Minister's speech.

I would hope so. I believe the usher has them.

In the international negotiations, questions have been raised recently about the EU's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, suggesting that the EU is somehow trying to walk away from it. I want to assure the House that nothing could be further from reality. The EU has always been and remains firmly committed to the Kyoto Protocol, its structure and its objectives.

To be clear on the issue, the EU preference for the post-2012 commitment period is a single legally binding instrument under the convention and would enhance implementation and ensure consistency in the application of the post-2012 international climate regime. In other words, a new protocol that builds on the Kyoto Protocol and incorporates its fundamental structure, particularly its provisions on key issues such as legally binding quantified emission reduction commitments for all developed countries, robust reporting, monitoring and compliance requirements, flexible mechanisms and requirements on land use, land use change and forestry. In summary, the EU objective is to broaden the scope and effectiveness of the international response to climate change in the post-2012 period without compromising on the principles or structure of the Kyoto Protocol.

A clear case for broadening the scope and effectiveness of the international climate change regime is the need to address ecosystem emissions. While attention to date has focused on fossil fuel emissions, greenhouse gases from ecosystems, including agriculture, natural forests, plantations and wetlands, are a major contribution to the problem. In addition, the potential for these ecosystems to absorb carbon is an essential element of an integrated response to climate change. The Kyoto Protocol addresses some of these carbon emissions and sinks, but not all of them.

The worst potential consequences of a policy framework that addresses fossil fuels but mostly does not address ecosystem emissions are increased pressure on these natural ecosystems. We have seen an example of how this would work in the destruction of peatland rain forests to facilitate the production of palm oil. We must ensure that the new agreement does not create any such perverse incentives. The scope of the successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol must cover all aspects of ecosystem emissions, including all forests and soil carbon associated with forest management, cropland and grazing land management, wetlands and deforestation. In seeking to influence an ambitious new global agreement, the EU has already provided a clear signal on a mid-term goal. It has adopted a 20% greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2020 compared with 1990 and has committed to step up to a 30% target subject to two conditions, namely, that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities.

However, this level of global action by 2020 might not be enough. Since publication of the intergovernmental panel's fourth assessment report in 2007, scientific studies have suggested quite consistently that the warming process is happening more rapidly than anticipated and that the emission reductions proposed in the 2007 report may be insufficient. A consensus is emerging among leading climate scientists that we may need to not just reduce our emissions, but have net reductions in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. They suggest a target level of 350 parts per million while current concentrations are over 380. The next report from the intergovernmental panel is due in 2014 and a priority in the negotiations is to ensure that a new global agreement includes a review of targets and objectives by the end of 2016.

Turning to climate finance, the new treaty on climate change will not happen unless it includes a comprehensive financial package to assist developing countries in key areas such as capacity building, mitigation, adaptation, technology and protection of their forests. Based on figures developed by the European Commission, the EU has strengthened the focus on finance in the international negotiations by setting out estimates of short-term and long-term needs. The cost of mitigation and adaptation action in developing countries could amount to approximately €100 billion per annum by 2020. The international public support element of that could be between €22 billion and €50 billion per annum.

While that is the longer-term position, beginning in 2013, there is a more immediate need for fast-start international public support for developing countries. The Commission estimates that such support could cost between €5 billion and €7 billion per annum over the three-year period between 2010 and 2013. The EU is committed to paying its fair share at international level. Ireland is committed to paying its fair share of the EU contribution. I wish to make it clear that I see the international climate change agenda and the millennium development goals as parallel priorities. They are not competing priorities — any suggestion to that effect is entirely unacceptable.

Is that the Government's position, or is it the Minister's position only?

There are people who believe that in view of the economic downturn, action on climate change should be deferred or given a lower priority in the shorter term. Such views are misguided and damaging. The Council is perfectly clear on this point within the EU. I welcome and fully support the Council's decision to underline the opportunity and the need to build on the synergies between action on climate change and economic recovery. I agree with its view on the need to seek a long-term financial and economic architecture that will integrate our approach to climate change with our goal of transition to a sustainable economy. Such an economy is the only one that is compatible with the avoidance of dangerous climate change and the addressing of the inevitable impacts of existing concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

It has been widely reported in the media that a changed outlook for the Copenhagen conference has become evident. It is clear that a new and fully fledged treaty is most unlikely to be achieved in Copenhagen. Despite the clear commitment of all parties at the 13th conference in Bali in 2007 to finalise a new treaty in 2009, we have run out of time to complete that task in Copenhagen. At best, it is possible that a politically binding agreement, rather than a legally binding treaty, will be reached. That is disappointing. It ignores the fact that we are quickly approaching the point at which the impact of climate change will become significantly more challenging and more costly to address.

In response to this setback for the international process, the European Commission has said that the minimum outcome in Copenhagen must be a framework agreement on the essential building blocks of a new treaty and a deadline for completing it. The agreement must include ambitious emission reduction commitments by developed countries, adequate action to curb emissions growth by developing countries and a financial deal to assist developing countries in mitigating their emissions and adapting to climate change. My immediate reaction, in addition to disappointment, is that the framework agreement will have to be convincing in relation to the commitment of all parties and the timeframe for finalising the treaty will have to be short. I welcome the announcement of pledges by a number of key players in the international negotiations, including Brazil, the US, Indonesia and China. While this momentum in the process is encouraging, the pledges are inadequate. President Barroso said on Sunday, in response to the sum of the pledges that have been made so far, that we are not yet where we should be if we want Copenhagen to succeed. As I said at a meeting of the Oireachtas joint committee, I do not know what the outcome of the Copenhagen summit will be and I doubt that anyone knows. I am happy to repeat in this House the assurance I gave the joint committee with certainty — the commitment and determination of the EU to achieving a new legally binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol is undiminished. While the process may take a little longer than we would like, the objective is unchanged.

I will speak briefly about national policy before I conclude. I acknowledge and welcome the joint committee's recent report on climate change law. The report represents a valuable input into the development of the forthcoming climate change Bill, the heads of which are being developed in my Department. I welcome and take encouragement from the clear all-party support that exists for primary legislation on climate change. It is an important prerequisite to the gaining of broader public acceptance and support for the legislation, when it is published in 2010. The committee is to be congratulated on that breakthrough. The legislation will provide a statutory framework for a core national priority, it will be ambitious in the application of legal obligations and responsibilities across all sectors and it will give legal clarity and certainty to the key underpinning principles that will guide and drive the cross-sectoral effort on transition towards a low-carbon future. My Department has recently completed an initial consultative process with other key Departments and State agencies. The next stage in the process will be the publication of a framework document in the coming days. I stress that this stage of the process will not interfere with the development of the heads of the Bill, which I hope to complete in the first quarter of 2010.

The transition to a low-carbon world economy will happen quickly. We have two options — to move with it, or to be left behind. There is no alternative to this transition. We know it can be done. It is technically feasible, economically affordable and eminently sensible. It will present challenges and opportunities. If we are to get our policy right, we must minimise the challenges and maximise the opportunities for people and for the environment.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak during this debate. It is unfortunate that it is taking place at this late stage in the evening, as it is unlikely to get any coverage. We are likely to be talking to each other, rather than spreading an important message about climate change. I would like to make a relatively brief comment about Copenhagen, before raising some signature issues that I believe the Minister and the Taoiseach, in particular, and the Government, in general, need to highlight as Ireland's key priorities. I suggest that we have some credibility with respect to such issues. I will also make some more general points about this country's domestic performance, the national targets we should be setting and the practical measures we can adopt in areas like transport, energy and agriculture.

It is recognised that a comprehensive and legally binding new treaty is unlikely to emerge from next week's summit in Copenhagen. While world leaders have been careful to reduce expectations over recent weeks, for good reason, it is disappointing nevertheless. There have been some positive developments over the last ten days or so. The US President, Mr. Obama, and the Chinese Premier have both made pledges and are planning to visit Copenhagen. The Minister is right to say that pledges are not enough. We know to our cost in this country that political pledges often do not mean much when circumstances change and other political priorities take over. A new legally binding deal that is similar in structure to the Kyoto Agreement is required. Such a deal should require developing countries to make a commitment to limit emissions increases. In the case of Ireland and other developed countries, significant reductions in emissions are needed. The Copenhagen target must be to finish with a very strong legal commitment on a process, a roadmap and a timescale for when the new legally binding treaty will be put in place. People are already suggesting that it might be possible to achieve that at next year's summit in Mexico.

I would like to repeat a point that I have made to the Minister on a number of occasions at meetings of the joint committee. I had some experience of this when I was in the European Parliament. When going to conferences such as this and getting involved in negotiations, as has been the case in Council meetings within the European Union, there is a tendency among small countries to become, essentially, observers or commentators when big deals are being put together. It is very important that Ireland should decide what are the key signature or niche issues we wish to push as our agenda. That should have happened before now, at Council meetings such as the one that occurred on 23 November and with regard to going to Copenhagen.

In that way, Ireland would develop a reputation for an expertise in some key areas in which we have credibility and on which we can deliver by leading by example. Targets are an example. We had an opportunity to build our credibility with regard to delivering on promises. At present our reputation is in tatters regarding the commitments we made under Kyoto. To be fair to the present Minister, Deputy Gormley, he was not there when those commitments were made and he is a relative newcomer to his current portfolio. However, even in his time the targets we set ourselves have been missed pathetically. There is a series of reasons for that on which I do not wish to waste time. We must concentrate now on building some credibility so that we can credibly say we will meet the new commitments we make.

What might help that effort significantly would be to put in place what the Minister talked about and Deputy McManus put together as a framework document, namely, legally binding legislation on a national level for our climate change aspirations. I shall mention a number of items that should be included. We need to set targets for the medium term, 2020, and the longer term, 2050. Those targets must be separate from but connected with our international obligations. We need sectoral targets within different areas. That is happening at present in a totally unco-ordinated way across Government with regard to emissions targets in different sectors, for example, transport, energy and environment. There is no clear unambiguous target-setting going on in the different sectors at present but this should be happening. It should happen by means of legislation and if the different Departments do not meet those targets there should be consequences. The Minister will find support on this side of the House. In big catch-all parties like mine, Fianna Fáil and, to a certain extent, the Labour Party, it is sometimes difficult to get agreement in areas such as agriculture, transport and so on but we will work with the Minister on this if he takes brave and responsible decisions.

Regarding the Bill, it is also very important to set up an independent commission. Deputy McManus is very strong on this and I am sure she will talk about it presently. It is important that there should be somebody separate from Government who would monitor the Minister's performance. It should not be an Opposition party person nor should this be seen as playing politics. It should be somebody who would help and have top expertise available to him or her to advise Government on what is appropriate and achievable concerning what will help an economy to grow but at the same time will reduce emissions. That same body that would be independent of Government should be able to expose freely failures in meeting targets, performance benchmarks, and so on. If necessary, Ministers need to be humbled and changed if they are not performing. Many cynics talk about the impact of a potential new climate change Bill in Ireland and ask who will fine the Government if it does not perform. We can structure this in a way that requires a political response, with significant consequences if those responses are not delivered upon.

I have not yet fully decided on one matter but the Minister's Department must think about it, namely, whether to include the emissions trading sector in the new climate change Bill or whether the Minister should decide the Government no longer has responsibility for the traded sector because now it is a European project. He may decide that because of emissions trading, the trading in carbon credits and the value of carbon that problem will sort itself out. I am not convinced that is the case. There is a growing case for including the traded sector within the targets to be made legally binding.

It would be very helpful if the Minister were to look for genuine cross-party support towards the construction of the Bill at the early drafting stage. He might be surprised by the constructive response he would get from Opposition parties if he were to do that. That does not happen very often but on an issue like climate change, when we are setting targets for the next 40 or 50 years, parties would be willing to work in a constructive way.

To return to Copenhagen, one of the areas in which we have credibility is development aid. Whether in the European Parliament, the Commission or in development aid issues generally, Ireland has credibility. We should focus on this single issue perhaps more than on any other. It concerns the separation of the funding requirement from millennium goals and aid budgets which countries are putting together, collectively in the case of the European Union, and finance that is being set aside specifically for mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and so on. The Minister will see some sleight of hand here.

I know the Minister is genuine about this issue but I would prefer if he were to say, "I am speaking on behalf of Government when I say," rather than "I think we need to have two separate revenue streams here". As Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with responsibility for climate change, Deputy Gormley must speak on behalf of the Government, and perhaps he does, but he should say that more so that he is on the record. He might drag the Cabinet in that direction too so that what is said becomes an absolute commitment, to which in two or three years' time, even if Ireland is still in the depths of recession, we will still be required to find an answer.

It would be very easy to make the popular case that we need to merge adaptation measures in parts of the continent of Africa, especially in the case of development aid budgets because it is all about helping poor people, and so on. We must nail down that issue. I accept that the Minister is personally committed to it but that is not enough because he may not be here in six or eight months or in two years' time. I want a Government commitment in writing to that so that there will be a commitment by the Taoiseach and Cabinet rather than by Deputy Gormley, as a Minister and an individual.

The Minister might correct me if I am wrong but I found it disappointing he did not raise this issue on 23 November in the Council meeting, having said he would do so at a committee meeting in response to my questions. I asked him specifically to try to get commitments on this issue because there has been a problem in getting commitments from certain European countries on this area, specifically on committing finance. That is understandable because many economies are struggling at present. Ireland needs to carve out niche issues so that people know what to expect when we come into the room. They will know this is something on which we do not compromise and on which we want to push others. That is how we will get things done. If we try to be a jack of all trades, whether in the Council or at Copenhagen, we will not get anything specific done.

I do not have much time left but I shall mention some practical measures that I would like the Minister's Department to consider. I have a lot to say with regard to the budget so I shall try to distil it. I mention forestry because the Minister also mentioned it. In the climate change strategy to which the Minister signed up to we aspired to planting 15,000 hectares of trees per year. In the Renewed Programme for Government, for which the Green Party is largely responsible, there is a commitment to planting 10,000 hectares per year. In reality, we will be lucky to plant 5,000 hectares this year. Forestry premiums are being reduced. I spoke to industry representatives from both the private sector and Coillte and they are extremely concerned about the industry's capacity, on the basis of the current supports, to increase the planting level. This must change and the Minister must achieve this as a member of the Government.

Consider the commitments made by the United Kingdom in recent weeks to afforestation between now and 2050. We have more planting space per head of population than in the United Kingdom and plenty of suitable land. We need to put a financial structure in place in the budget to ensure the aspiration to plant 10,000 hectares per year will be realised. I would like to see more hectares planted but the planting of 10,000 hectares next year would represent a good day's work.

I will finish by discussing my hobbyhorse, namely, transport. I cannot understand why the Government is not setting aggressive, proactive targets for emissions, particularly with regard to public transport. Technology provides solutions and other countries are embracing it. If the Government gave Dublin Bus a two-year timeframe in which to realise a particular target for all its fleet, it would demonstrate the way in which to meet our objectives.

The case is the same for electric transport. We are settling for half measures at present. We are talking about setting up small pilot projects in small areas in different cities. Consequently, we will never achieve the economies of scale that will make electric vehicles viable in Ireland. We must be much more ambitious, particularly in the transport sector. The transport sector, although regarded by many as the biggest problem area, has the most potential for a dramatic shift from carbon-based fuels to much more sustainable sources of power.

In recent days, thousands of people across the country have been devastated by unprecedented floods. Their houses, farms, livestock and even their lives have been put at risk. These floods are a deadly warning to us as to what to expect regularly as the world warms up. We must comfort and compensate those affected and protect vulnerable areas country-wide. However, must we wait for someone to lose his or her life in Ireland before we act decisively and effectively to confront the reality of climate change? Lives are already being lost in Africa and Asia. Surely those lives have equal value to ours.

At the summit in Copenhagen, the global community will, I hope, mark out a way forward for us all. In that process, Ireland is a small country but it is a comparatively big polluter. Following the agreement of the Kyoto Protocol, we did not live up to our responsibilities. We have an opportunity and duty now to make up for our fecklessness. In the absence of urgent global action, up to 250 million people across Africa could face severe water shortages by 2020. For them, it is a matter of life or death.

To reach the targets already set at EU level is the shared objective of all of us in this House. It is important to acknowledge that progress has been made and that Members of the House such as the Minister, Deputy Gormley, were pioneers in leading the way, but it is also important to state the message is now shared by us all. The reality is that we cannot make the cut if we, as legislators, continue with our old ways. The road to hell, as we know from Kyoto, is paved with good aspirations, of which we certainly had our fill. The way forward is not easy but it is clear. We need a new dispensation and new legislation. We need a new kind of governance to tackle climate change and we need it speedily.

The best statement of intent that Ireland could make would be for our Taoiseach to go to the Copenhagen talks having published the heads of a climate change Bill with all-party support. It would be a clear statement not only by Members of this House but also by those outside it. Last January, the Labour Party became the first party to publish a climate change Bill. That Bill provides a statutory framework and the certainty needed for Government, business and other stakeholders to encourage low-carbon economic growth and ensure any future Government, regardless of its political make-up, will meet its obligations. Later in the year, I was asked by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy, of which I am a member, to act as rapporteur on a report on the case for a climate change law. This report was published last month and I am grateful it received all-party support.

The report examined proposals for legislation to set statutory limits and targets for emissions and carbon budgets. We considered current and proposed legislation from around the globe with the aim of developing world-class legislation. The UK legislation, which has already been enacted, was a useful model. Having considered other legislation, we published an outline for a climate change Bill. The approach we adopted was comprehensive, inclusive and ambitious. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister to adopt the same kind of approach. It is important that they be ambitious for Copenhagen to deliver a legally binding agreement and to press the case as hard as they can.

I appreciate the Minister is dampening unrealistic expectations but the talks will not be over until they are over. We need to be pressing our case as hard as possible and we need to listen to major statements such as that of President Obama, who stated countries must reach a strong operational agreement that will confront the threat of climate change while serving as a stepping-stone to a legally binding treaty. If there is such an agreement, it will represent a good week's work.

The report on the climate change legislation can be acted upon in Ireland without having regard to other countries. The way forward, as set out in the report, is based on the leadership of the Taoiseach to manage the project of tackling climate change. One of the factors that frustrated the committee greatly was the fragmentation among Departments and a silo mentality that blocks an effective overall strategic response. All Departments, particularly those responsible for the environment, transport and agriculture, must engage but such engagement can only happen if there is a robust statutory framework led by a Head of Government who has the power to hire and fire Ministers.

I welcome the indications from the Taoiseach that he is to travel to Copenhagen and I wish him and the Minister well. The Taoiseach has the authority, both at Copenhagen and at home, to transform the way we in Ireland can work together to respond to the challenge.

I urge the Taoiseach and the Minister to send the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security to the Attorney General's office. The work is done, the analysis has been carried out, and all-party agreement has been achieved. The heads of the Bill could be published next week. My fear is that if there is no sense of urgency before the summit in Copenhagen, the likelihood will be that the process will become bogged down between Departments. I can imagine very easily how this can happen. We certainly had a very lengthy process regarding the freedom of information legislation because it involved various Departments, thus creating its own difficulties. We succeeded in the end but, by contrast with this legislation, time was not of the essence.

Vague promises about achieving objectives early next year and restricting consultation totally to the inner circle do not engender confidence. The case of the Minister and Taoiseach would be strengthened if they went to Copenhagen with the heads of a Bill published. We may be a small country with limited negotiation powers, but we can underline the seriousness of our intent. The architecture is set out in the report, including new institutional arrangements, more transparency, greater accountability and policy formation.

The purpose is to create a framework for Ireland to achieve the long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Taoiseach will have overall responsibility to Parliament for meeting targets and for carbon budgets. It proposes the setting up of an office of climate change and renewable energy under the auspices of the Department of the Taoiseach. This office will be staffed primarily by personnel from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sustainable Energy Ireland and will be responsible for implementation and policy formulation.

Provision is also made for a climate change commission, an independent and essential body made up of the best expertise we have, to advise on and monitor the project. If we think we can do all this in-house we are fooling ourselves. We have to draw on resources from outside this House, whether from the business sector, academia or wherever, if we are going to work in a united way to meet the targets. Whatever targets are set or legally binding agreement is reached in Copenhagen, if we do not have our act together in terms of how we do our business, we will not deliver on them nor will we succeed. Our job as politicians is to make sure our laws are meeting the required need. In this instance climate change has to be a priority. It is within our capability and area of responsibility.

We must also recognise that the most vulnerable, here and abroad, are often those who need our protection. The cost of mitigation measures must not fall disproportionately upon the poor. The issue of fuel poverty must be addressed through the way in which we approach a reduction in carbon emissions. Deputy Coveney mentioned his favourite projects. My favourite project is very simple, that is, a national retrofit programme to put construction workers back to work and ensure that every house in Ireland is meeting the highest possible standards. We all know that technologies are not fully advanced in terms of insulation but if we can improve the energy efficiency of our building stock it is something which should be done immediately. A retrofit programme is not dependent on science or future developments. We can do it from within our own resources with people who are already skilled in construction.

The issue of overseas aid and provision for funding for climate change mitigation and the protection of such funding to which the Minister referred is something with which we all agree. Such a policy is correct but we do not know if that is the way it will be. The Minister tells us what he thinks, which I am glad to hear, but it is not of much help. We need to know what the Government will do in terms of protecting a separate stream of funding. If this debate does nothing else but clarifies that issue, it will be a good step forward.

Speaking on the topic of climate justice last week, the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson stated that climate change was an issue of justice. It is fundamentally a human rights issue. Listening to the speech and discussion, I was particularly struck by a Ugandan woman farmer who described how the seasons are no longer in place to guide farming and agricultural practice. It is now a case of flood followed by a drought several times a year. It is up-ending traditional agriculture. Climate change is significantly affecting women in the developing world, a point which is largely overlooked.

In this debate we need to acknowledge that climate change is a business opportunity. It is not all about trying to meet targets, it is also about seeing opportunities for us to work our way out of a major recession. We can have a positive impact in terms of overall employment if we make the correct decisions. If we get our act together Ireland could become a leader in clean technologies.

The Labour Party published a document, the energy revolution, recently and estimates some 80,000 jobs could be created in the area of clean technology. Irish corporate leaders came out, which was very welcome, and made the point that they saw opportunities but needed certainly in order to make the long-term investments which have to be made if we are to change the way we generate electricity, and create and invest in new technologies. For long-term investment in the low carbon sector there must be certainty. Climate change law provides that certainty. Corporate leaders have argued for the Bill the joint Oireachtas committee has published.

The emissions trading scheme was mentioned. It is outside the framework for our future arrangements, but there is no reason why there cannot be an oversight role in terms of the structure to which we referred in the report.

It is important that we do not rely on the economic downturn to ensure we meet our targets. We have to invest in and legislate on this area to ensure that green technology opportunities are availed of so we can cut our emissions and come out of this recession as a low carbon economy and not one which has avoided dealing with the issues and challenges ahead. In this regard I wish to argue the case for the heads of a Bill on climate change to be published before the Copenhagen meeting. It is the correct time to publish such a Bill. We will have to come together on this issue. We cannot do it through the old adversarial model, where the Government proposes and the Opposition opposes. That is not good enough.

The inspiration for the work I have done came directly from my experience and that of others in solving the crisis in Northern Ireland. In the dark days when there was violence and bloodshed there the situation looked hopeless, but political determination delivered a solution because there was cross-party support and the Taoiseach took charge of the project and was working with the leader of another country in order to ensure the goals were realised. That is the kind of approach we need again and every one of us must play our part.

The context in which this debate is taking place, and indeed in many other assemblies around the world at the current time, is the Copenhagen summit which begins next week. Climate change and, more basically, adverse weather conditions are of course issues of immediate concern in this country in the light of the impact of the recent floods and concerns that we are indeed witnessing different and unusual patterns of rainfall which reflect global changes.

Most, if not all, of the weather we have witnessed in the past three weeks has never been experienced in living memory. The unpredictability of our seasonal cycle is also a new phenomenon. That is why it is so vital that the Copenhagen summit reaches a legally binding deal which is strong enough to tackle the challenge of climate change while being just and fair to developing countries. There are different interests at stake.

For the developed countries, which by and large no longer depend to such a great extent on manufacturing industry, many of the targets set revolve around reducing emissions from heavy machinery. For many developing countries, including some which have experienced significant industrial growth over recent decades, this is regarded as presenting a threat to their future development. Striking a balance between the two which has the best interests of the world's population as a whole at its centre will not be easy. There is also an onus on the developed western countries to set and implement binding effective targets for emission reductions, to develop new cleaner technologies so that the developing countries are not left to carry the main burden for the negative impact which earlier western and northern hemisphere industrialisation and use of carbon fuels has already had.

The problem of climate change must be also approached in a positive manner so that moving away from older manufacturing systems based on the heavy use of carbon fuels is not seen as an inhibitor to economic growth but as an opportunity to boost the use of newer and cleaner technologies that do not present the same threat to the environment and which are more sustainable both in terms of the environment and future economic growth. The key to this will be the greater utilisation of renewable energy sources which will not only have radical implications for the industrial economy but also for agriculture, with the potential for greatly increased production of energy crops and for entirely new economic sectors based on the production of energy from the wind and sea. There is great potential but it needs to be driven forward politically.

It is also important that the current recession is not used as an excuse by some developed industrialised countries to renege on their pledges under the Kyoto Agreement to supply aid to assist the developing countries in their efforts to combat the effects of climate change and to help limit their emissions as their economies grow. This is causing a major political rift between rich and poor states in the United Nations and threatens to derail a global agreement being reached at Copenhagen.

For example, as of May, while rich countries have so far pledged $18 billion in adaptation aid, less than $1 billion has been delivered. According to the UN, $50 billion to $70 billion a year needs to be invested immediately to help the poor countries adapt to extreme floods and droughts. Nearly every week we witness on world news the kinds of effects about which we are talking. While we are dealing with the devastating effects of the flooding here on individuals and the large costs involved in repairing the damage, we can empathise with the even greater scale of the devastation that has been visited on many developing countries in recent times. The communities affected have also found it difficult to recover because of the restricted resources in those countries and sometimes political factors which inhibit the supply of aid and reconstruction funding.

Apart from reaching concrete decisions at Copenhagen on the practical steps that need to be taken to address the environmental issues, there is also the question of what finance will be provided to help developing countries tackle climate change. There is also the question of how that finance will be controlled with many developing countries calling for a new mechanism into which they have more input than they have into programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Otherwise they claim the developed countries will simply use it in the same manner as the IMF in order to impose restrictions and austerity on the developing countries which will undermine their ability to grow.

Apart from whatever is agreed at the Copenhagen summit, which will of course become binding on this State once ratified by the EU, there is also the need to press forward in this country with ambitious targets in, for example, renewable technology, energy efficiency and public transport. That of course requires significant public investment, but it is investment that will bear fruit in terms of future growth and jobs. There is a great opportunity to create badly needed jobs and that opportunity should not be lost. However, in the light of the Government's attitude in this regard, the question is whether the political will and vision exists to take those steps rather than sacrifice such a strategy to the current demand for massive cuts in public spending which while they may be thrifty in the short term will inhibit future growth and place this country at a disadvantage in making the most of the opportunities that arise once the current downturn comes to an end. If the Government does so it will have overwhelming support across the island and it should not miss this opportunity. We need to use that job creation potential to take people off the long dole queues.

What makes this debate even more relevant than it might otherwise have been is the impact of the recent floods, the effects of which are still being felt in parts of the country. All of us sympathise with those whose homes, farms and businesses have been damaged, in some cases beyond repair. Last Wednesday I visited Carlow and saw for myself the effects of the flooding there. The previous weekend I visited Cork and last night I was in Sallins, County Kildare, where I saw the devastation as a result of the recent weeks of rain. That pales into insignificance when one compares it with the devastation in Third World countries which have suffered as a result of total and absolute neglect by the developed world in dealing with the problem of global warming.

It is frightening to think of the damage which a relatively small change in normal weather patterns can have, how quickly infrastructure that has been built over so many years can be destroyed or badly damaged and how services which we have come to think of as almost guaranteed, including domestic water and electricity supply, can be threatened. That perhaps places in context the effects adverse weather has had in less developed countries which are less well able to cope with such events.

The impact of the flooding, therefore, apart from the immediate steps that need to be taken to assist those individuals and communities which have been affected, must also make us more aware of the potential that even worse conditions in the future might have. Would this country be able to cope with a more prolonged period of such weather? Are we taking the correct measures to ensure we will be able to do so? Part of the answer relates to concrete measures that can be taken now but it also relates to what will take place in Copenhagen if, as we are told, the impact of carbon emissions is responsible for changing weather patterns with further radical changes in patterns likely in the future. That is why it is vital that any measures that can reduce the harmful impact of carbon emissions are agreed and implemented. It is also important that those measures be implemented in such a manner as to ensure that overall sustainable economic development is not adversely affected.

Another issue that needs to be addressed regarding the flooding here relates to the building of housing developments in places, which while they may not have experienced flooding in the past ten, 20 or even 40 years, are historically known to be vulnerable to the impact of heavy rain on rivers, lakes and water basins. Reckless planning driven by the greed of unscrupulous developers was supported by a banking system that encouraged it and appeased by certain elements within the political arena here. Some of the developments in question were built even in places that have townland names which suggest that every once in a while they might expect flooding. One was even built on the bed of a drained lake. As someone said on the radio last week, people had never built in certain places for good reasons and yet planning permission was given in recent years for such developments. It would perhaps be worth re-examining some of those planning decisions and certainly it might be worthwhile revoking any which have been granted for similar places. I understand the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has also made that comment recently. Many of us who have been involved in local authorities have seen the anomalies between planning permissions granted in certain areas and the detrimental effect they have had on our landscape. In particular in some areas where the water tables were quite close to the surface, unrestricted planning permissions were granted.

Where people's homes have been destroyed in places where historical evidence might have decided against the granting of permission to build them, it also might be appropriate to ensure those people are compensated, perhaps by being given another dwelling by the developers involved. Developers who lobbied politicians by any method and were able to obtain planning permission are accountable, as are the local authorities who granted permission and, in some instances, An Bord Pleanála.

The necessity of a successful conclusion to the Copenhagen summit cannot be over emphasised. Developed countries need to ensure the real concerns of developing countries are taken into consideration and the necessary finance is available to ensure these countries are not placed in a more vulnerable position.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Cuffe.

This is one of the last opportunities the House will have to discuss this issue before the Irish Government takes its place among the nations at Copenhagen. The events of the past ten days have been a painful reminder of the impact climate change will have on our country and, while some people might debate whether climate change or poor planning is at fault, the fact is that we are faced with major climate change. Nobody can deny that we will experience such events on a more regular basis, with homes and businesses threatened, rivers bursting their banks and perhaps even lives endangered. The climate change expert Professor John Sweeney recently said that rainfall levels previously seen once every 30 years will become, by the mid-21st century, a one-in-ten-year event. In this context I welcome the launch by my colleagues, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, of the statutory planning guidelines, The Planning System and Flood Risk Management. There can be no denying the magnitude of the challenge facing the world in the coming weeks at Copenhagen. Let us hope we have success in the years ahead in combating climate change.

The world needs, collectively, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% to 90% by 2050. We need to be flexible with these targets in the event that the precipice of a temperature increase of more than 2°C is reached. We need a global deal that encompasses the five pillars of mitigation, adaptation, technology, financing and capacity building, and recognises the disproportionate effects of climate change on the developing world and the challenges, such as poverty and lack of economic development, faced by such countries.

The issue of economic development leads me to a central point in the debate on climate change. We are facing a challenge not just to prevent the weather from becoming a monster but also to change our economic order. In a world approaching peak oil and in which the current means of production are potentially fatal to the planet, we need an economic order that addresses the problems not only of capitalism but also of what is called resourcism. We need sustainability. This goes to the heart of energy policy, planning, transport, economic development and the distribution of wealth. Economic growth, consumption and expansion for the sake of it cannot endure much longer. I hope a deal is reached in Copenhagen. If not, we will need to think hard about where we are going with our globally accepted and binding targets. There is no alternative; we must hope there is a deal. I hope Europe leads the way in providing the financing, adaptation and technology policies required to provide climate change justice with any deal.

People often ask me how they can help to mitigate climate change. We can all do our share. We can buy food with fewer food miles, change the way we farm to reduce emissions, and change the way we do business by conducting it in a more sustainable way and using renewable energy. We can change the way we travel and live our lives. This is the power of one. If people take one message from this discussion, it should be that we are not hopeless in the face of climate change. We have a Government that is willing to tackle it; we have Copenhagen to look forward to; and, individually, we can do our small piece. Climate change is the greatest moral imperative and challenge of our times.

Deputy Cuffe has nearly six minutes.

I am delighted to hear it.

With the week that is in it, this is a good time to concentrate our minds on the challenge of climate change. There are two issues on which we must focus, namely, where flooding occurred and why, and the need for proper planning on this island. We must look long and hard at the planning decisions that were made in the past and consider whether they were the right ones.

We must be careful about jumping to the conclusion that the floods of the past ten days can be directly attributed to climate change. After all, we must not confuse weather with climate. Nonetheless, it is likely that climate change will bring more extreme weather events, a good example of which is increasing rainfall and consequent flooding. That is the lesson I heard when I went to see an excellent presentation by Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele in the Mansion House last week. Professor van Ypersele, who is the vice-chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, used raw science to show us what is going on and what needs to be done. It is a call for action, not just at a global or national level but within all our lives.

We must ask ourselves the hard question: are we doing enough in terms of how we consume and how we spew out carbon? It is easy to say one would love to do more but cannot because one's lifestyle does not allow it. People who say they need to fly to Majorca for a holiday or travel long distances for other reasons must ask themselves some long and hard questions. Within all our lives there is a considerable amount we can do, whether it be choosing public transport, considering emissions carefully when purchasing new vehicles, or changing our diets. Many people laugh at the suggestion that we should eat less meat; a British junior Minister said that eating one less sausage a day would go a long way in this regard. This is true. Those who eat less meat in their diets are responsible for far fewer carbon emissions by cattle or other animals. This is a good thing and part of what needs to be done.

There is quite a debate at present about whether the United States or China could contribute more to tackling climate change. In the United States, the can-do attitude, when it comes to the fore, is fantastic at achieving a complete change in direction quickly, which I applaud. The innovation and roll-out of new technologies such as wind energy generation across the US, particularly once the grid is working at a national level, will achieve a lot.

We tend to concentrate on the fact that China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and that a new coal-fired power station is opened every week, but much of what it is doing is in fact phasing out old coal stations, and the efficiency being achieved in the new stations is far ahead of the equivalent stations in the US. This should be pointed out. Although China has what we might call a rather centralised planning system, it is also good at changing direction when required. This will be done and China will come on board. The principles of both contraction and convergence are required. In other words, all countries, particularly in the West, must reduce their emissions and we must all converge towards a common allocation of carbon per capita. In the developed world we have much further to go in this regard, and we must provide the technology to developing countries to tackle climate change.

Much of what can be done is in the area of construction. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, within a few months of taking office, had racked up by 40% the requirements in the building regulations, but we must go further, to 60%. That will mean not just 100 millimetres or 150 millimetres of insulation in the attic. It will mean air-tight houses and a completely different way of building to the way many buildings were slapped up in the boom years.

It is not just about what we build, but where we build it. A map from An Post's address creation system illustrates where new addresses were created in the past five years. Each little dot on the map — one can see only the blur — represents a new address. I do not see much evidence of avoiding flood plains in this image. I do not see much evidence of locating new homes in the right places so that one can commute less and be within walking distance of the school, the pub and the church. That is a call to arms. We need to provide proper planning. Deputy Hogan accused my colleague, the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, of bringing in social engineering at its worst. The Deputy also stated that he was sure the Minister means well, but it reminded him of soviet dictators. In reality, we need proper planning to tackle climate change. The measures the Minister is bringing in will help to deal not only with flooding, but also with tackling climate change. I look forward to some kind of a deal, if not in Copenhagen then in Mexico. The foundation stones need to be set in place before the end of this year.

I wish to share time with Deputy Bannon.

The Copenhagen conference has taken on much more significance now that the White House has announced that President Obama and his Chinese counterpart will attend. More significantly, the White House has announced that President Obama will commit to reducing American greenhouse gas emissions to 17% of 2005 levels by 2020, to 30% by 2030, 42% by 2040 and a staggering 83% by 2050. As previous speakers stated, they are just commitments. As we are aware, in the past US commitments have been empty so we need to make them legal. They are still ambitious targets and I wonder if the Minister could adopt them for our country. I am sure they are realisable.

In looking through papers in preparation for the debate I came across a good document from the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland with which the Minister is probably familiar, A Survey of Climate Change since the IPCC 4 — the survey of climate change since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2007. The evidence presented in this report by Professor Ray Bates of UCD shows that the underlying trends are continuing — an increase in atmospheric CO2, an increase in global average temperatures and a rise in sea level, in addition to the natural cyclical changes and normal climate variation which superimpose short-term and regional variability on these trends. The report concludes that “global climate change is real and continuing at a steady pace”. I suppose that is stating the obvious.

If one looks at our record since 1990, six of the ten warmest years on record in modern times have occurred since 1990. Weather stations across this island have reported a 0.72° centigrade increase in average temperature since 1980, a decrease in the number of frost days, a decrease in the length of the frost season, etc. This country has a major issue.

As someone who has always taken an interest in this area, who taught environmental science for eight years and who looked for scrubbers to be installed at Moneypoint — I am on record in the Seanad for doing so at a time when they could have been installed for approximately €40 million and now it will cost the ESB over €240 million — I do not see progress being made. For example, approximately a quarter of the wind energy is produced in the Kerry region. Even if there is a demand for wind energy, the grid does not have adequate capacity to take that energy from the Stacks Mountains. We are not realising the potential of wind energy generating capacity and that is obvious right across the country.

Our gate system is totally outdated as well. People with planning permission must wait for Gate 4. They are right to have a connection, whereas there are people on Gate 3 who are a long way from connecting into the grid and are ahead of them. The entire system must change. In addition, I am aware of two proposals by ESBI in Kerry to look at wave energy which are likely to be held up for four or five years in trying to get a foreshore licence.

We talk of green energy in this country but really we are not at the races. Much lip-service is being paid in this House to the issue, but if the Minister was out there on the ground he would see that, while progress has been made, we are not capitalising on capacity.

In the area of legislation, although Deputy McManus is not present, I compliment the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. It provides an outline of what the Minister can do. If this were implemented, the Minister could put Ireland ahead of the rest of the world. This is one example of how an Oireachtas committee can be effective and come up with good solutions. This is an area of major possibilities. It is one in which we can lead the world, but we are just not doing so.

GE announced in August or September that it would look at offshore wind generation. It is looking at some place in Europe to design and manufacture turbines. At present, the Dutch make approximately €5 billion out of wind turbines. We make little out of wind technology because we do not manufacture them here. We must look at the broader issue as well. There is a great opportunity to get GE, for example, to set up here to design and manufacture its turbines in Ireland.

No matter on which side of the climate change debate one comes down, whether one considers it is causing global warming or global cooling, the clear message is that action must be taken. Whether climate change is a man-made crisis or part of cyclical climate patterns, the results, as we are seeing in terms of unprecedented flooding in this country, are worrying and could become catastrophic. That is the situation when I visited many townlands in my constituency in close proximity to the Shannon at the weekend where there were farms flooded to a depth of four to six feet and people had to leave their homes and take up residence in local hotels. I hope the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, will be able to give some support to those people as time goes by because the difficulty is unlikely to abate before Christmas.

What each side of the debate expects but is failing to get from the Government is co-operation and input. It is a farce that there is no firm commitment from the Government on when the much needed climate change Bill will be published. While it is simplistic to blame the flooding of the past couple of weeks on climate change, flooding has been a feature of Ireland, particularly in the west and midlands, throughout our history.

As we know to our cost in the Midlands, floods are part of the river process and will be well into the future. Fine Gael is fully committed to tackling the causes and effects of climate change. This commitment has led to the creation of the most far-reaching green policy ever produced in this country. The emphasis is on targets allied with action.

The Fianna Fáil-Green Government — particularly its so-called Green members — have shown that they can talk the talk but, as we know, promises come easily, especially on the doorsteps at election time. The follow-up is conspicuously absent, however.

Is the Deputy on the cooling or heating side of the argument?

The Deputy had his opportunity to speak.

There are two sides to the argument. It would enlighten the debate if the Deputy could declare his own allegiance.

The Greens should at least learn some manners. Their arrogance is beginning to show.

It would bring the argument further if the Deputy would declare his allegiance.

The Greens have let down the people they were elected to represent, big time.

I think he is on the warming side at the moment.

Professor Sweeny, the lead author of a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year, estimates that Ireland's winter rainfall will rise by 10% within 40 years.

He is cooling now.

He characterised the current rainfall as a once in 30 years event. With the effects of climate change, however, this will change to a once in ten years event by the middle of this century. I hope we will all be around to see it. Flooding will occur with a two to three-year frequency by the end of the century.

According to the European Environment Agency, the volume of rainwater is set to increase and the peak period for rainfall in Ireland will be concentrated between December and February. There will be longer periods of intense rain, which will last for days at a time.

We will have ample opportunity tomorrow evening to revisit this issue. I invite the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate.