That Dáil Éireann notes the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled "Second Report on Climate Change Law", copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 13th October, 2010.
I will begin with a quote from Kofi Annan who stated:
Climate change is a silent human crisis. Yet it is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time. Already today it causes suffering to hundreds of millions of people, most of whom are not even aware that they are victims of climate change.
These words remind us of the challenge that faces our global community. The challenge to which I refer has been masked by the economic crisis, but climate change is a real and pressing danger. It is caused by the developed world but it impacts most on the poorest of the poor.
There is a compelling need to enact climate change legislation in Ireland. Science informs us that global warming must be capped at 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophe. Recently, EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard issued a stark warning when she referred to the floods and mudslides affecting parts of the world, the extraordinary heatwave in Russia and the monsoon floods in Pakistan and Ladakh and stated that these extreme weather events either reflect climate change happening or are a foretaste of it.
While our focus has naturally been on the economic crisis, we cannot afford to ignore the reality of climate change. The recent Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report shows a significant reduction in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions due to the recession. However, as the EPA's director, Dr. Mary Kelly, states:
We need to use this opportunity to embed fundamental emission reductions in the economy in order to meet the very stringent EU 2020 limits and to move permanently to a low carbon economy. We should not rely on a recession to meet our targets for the future.
The only way to respond to Dr. Kelly's call is by enacting a climate change law.
I thank the Government for providing time to debate this issue but talk is not enough. It is clear that there is all-party agreement in favour of the Bill that is included in the joint committee's report. It is worth noting that, despite repeated promises from the Government, it is the only legislation to be published in this area. Time is running out, for both the Government and the planet. I urge the Government to take the next logical step by adopting the Bill. I make this call not only because the Bill has all-party support but also because it provides a robust, statutory basis for the Government, the Parliament and society in general to tackle climate change.
I want to thank the Chairman, Deputy McGinley, and the members of the joint committee for their support and for their agreement in respect of the Bill to which I refer. I also wish to thank Mr. Ger O'Donovan and Ms Claire Power who drafted this excellent and complex item of legislation. I extend particular thanks to the organisations and individuals who critiqued our proposals along the way.
We have heard a great deal with regard to the need for cross-party consensus in respect of the budget. The Bill we have brought forward is proof that parties can work together on issues of global significance. If the Government has the courage to adopt it, this would reflect a national determination to set Ireland on a new course in respect of climate change.
Many promises have been made by both parties in government but we are still waiting for action. In May 2008, the Taoiseach made clear his commitment to leading change in respect to how we interact with our environment. He stated that we should no longer see the environment as something that limits our development. In April of the same year, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, informed a Green Party convention:
You all know that when we made that momentous decision to enter Government our primary motivation was a desire to tackle the defining issue of our age — climate change.
On 7 October last, Senator Dan Boyle promised that a Bill would be cleared for publication within a fortnight. However, we are still waiting.
The Government is in its death throes and there is still no sign of a climate change law. I do not underestimate the difficulties involved with drafting legislation in this area. It is already clear that there are blockages within and between Departments. The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Finance and the Taoiseach are all being cited as creating obstructions. The Cabinet sub-committee on climate change did not meet in the past 12 months. The only meeting that was scheduled had to be cancelled as a result of what were termed "unresolved issues". The Bill I am presenting on behalf of the joint committee is specifically designed to overcome turf wars and the silo mentality of Government Departments and ensure real co-operation between the latter. It is vital that the Government delivers real co-operation as well as leadership otherwise its efforts will fail.
The joint committee's report sets out a fully drafted Bill that builds on the previous report on climate change law. The explanatory memorandum published by the joint committee in 2009 described the architecture needed to meet the challenge, namely, new institutional arrangements, more transparency, greater accountability and policy formulation. The joint committee proposes that responsibility for ensuring our targets should rest with the Taoiseach. This is a crucial distinction from other climate change legislation and is an important step forward. As leader of Government, the Taoiseach has responsibility across all Departments and can literally hire or fire Ministers. One of the great frustrations the joint committee has encountered is the lack of an integrated approach across the relevant Departments. I refer here to the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and local Government, Transport, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
We have already seen, in the context of resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland, that an all-party approach is crucial, with the Taoiseach being accountable to the Dáil on a weekly basis. That principle is embedded in the Bill that has been drafted by the joint committee. The other provisions in the Bill are the setting of targets; the establishment of a climate change office in the Department of the Taoiseach, with staff drawn from the EPA and Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI; the setting up of an independent commission of experts on climate change; the establishment of a multi-annual carbon budget and a carbon dividend fund; the preparation of a national climate change strategy; and the introduction of an adaptation strategy. The details relating to these provisions are contained in the joint committee's first report and the Bill is informed by a comparative assessment of legislation in other countries such as the US and Britain.
One point that has continually arisen in the debate on climate change is the need for business to have certainty in respect of the targets that are set. This matter certainly informed the debate on climate change legislation in Britain. It is also clearly part of the debate in this country, a fact which I welcome.
I welcome the statement by the Irish Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change promoting climate change law. Investment in low carbon technologies means new jobs and commercial development. The Bill provides business opportunities arising from that certainty. In its submission to the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, it set out clearly the business perspective on the need for legislation. It called for: "The Government to introduce a climate change law establishing a 2050 emissions target, carbon budgeting and a climate change commission, the Department of the Taoiseach to take overall responsibility for climate change policy."
That is precisely what the Bill recommended in the report sets out to achieve. This is further evidence of the importance of this Bill being adopted by the Government. The group states further:
Ireland can become a leading destination for green investment, innovation and enterprise. We can replicate Ireland's past success in attracting investment and establishing global hubs in key sectors such as financial services, IT and pharma-chemical industries. There are a range of opportunities for Ireland in this new era, from renewable energy to smart information and communication technologies to developing a sustainable agrifood industry.
This is the business case to put Ireland on a new low carbon path. We can create jobs and reduce emissions at the same time but we need a good statutory framework within which to make that transformation and that is what the Bill provides. We need smart Government which is fit for purpose and has eliminated the red tape and lack of joined-up thinking that characterises so much of what we currently do in regard to climate change.
This is not just about us. Rather, it is about how we, as a global community, face the great challenge of our age. In the same way that we rose to the task of creating a fair and peaceful agreement in Northern Ireland we need a united effort led from the top, driven from below and underpinned by legislation at home and internationally. The Kenyan Nobel prize-winner Wangari Maathai said, "Climate change is life or death. It is the new global battlefield. It is being presented as if it is the problem of the developed world but it is the developed world that has precipitated global warming."
I hope the Government will adopt a positive approach to the Bill. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has urged cross-party support and consensus building of late. Here is his opportunity. The publication of a climate change Bill is included in the programme for Government. We have an all-party agreed, fully drafted Bill and it is now up to the Government to ensure the good work done by the Oireachtas committee does not go to waste. The clock is ticking for Ireland and the rest of the world.
I welcome the presence of the Minister of State in this debate. He contributed to the joint committee before he became a Minister of State and was very positive in his approach to this Bill. With no disrespect to him, I regret that a Cabinet Minister is not in the House because I understand that heads of a Bill will, it is to be hoped, be presented to the Cabinet next Tuesday. It is essential that the issue is taken seriously by the Cabinet, which is where decisions are made. We have had many promises and have made a big effort in the all-party committee which is the only body in this House that is currently functioning and focusing on climate change, a fact which I find extraordinary.
A proposal came from the Green Party, for which I commend it, that there would be an all-party Oireachtas committee. It has worked extremely well, first under the leadership of Deputy Barrett and now under Deputy McGinley, but there is nothing else. The sub-committee barely met last year and has not met at all this year. I appreciate that other issues are very pressing — nobody under-estimates that — but climate change will not go away. If we bumble on hoping that things will work out or depend on the recession to keep our carbon emissions deflated that will not meet the challenge.
This is an issue on which, it is to be hoped, there will be some global consensus but the fact that it is so difficult to create global consensus means there is a greater onus on us as one country to get our act together, provide the statutory framework and work together. I am committed to working with the Government on this if it shows that it has really got the message, in terms of how we do this, and how we get over the problems of interdepartmental rivalries, fragmentation and bureaucracy, which is the continual complaint of people in the business sector, the NGO sector or at community level who are meeting the challenge in their own way and find Government is not able, equipped and fit for purpose. That is what this Bill sets out to do and that is why I urge the Government to take it on and debate it on Second Stage.