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.