It would be right of me to begin by acknowledging the work undertaken by Deputy Catherine Murphy in developing and introducing this Bill. I recognise some provisions from the 2010 Bill, which was initiated by the previous Government, but I also see new ideas proposed for inclusion. The Deputy has a deep and genuine interest in climate matters and her ideas are a welcome input to the ongoing debate on the development of climate policy and legislation initiated on foot of the national climate policy review, which I issued in November 2011. The Ceann Comhairle also has an interest in this matter arising from his work as Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, which proposed legislation some years ago. I assure Deputy Murphy that I am not pandering to any sector. My actions to date are evidence of this. Any effort to funnel the debate in that way will not succeed.
In the 15 months since I initiated the policy review, we have made significant progress, including a period of structured public consultation that attracted an encouraging response. That said, no one is in any doubt about the extent of the challenge that lies ahead. However, I am committed to finalising an effective national policy position on a transition to a low carbon future, including appropriate institutional arrangements and the introduction of climate legislation.
Against this background, I regret having to oppose the Second Reading of the Deputy's Bill. If I may, I will explain why I am doing so, particularly given our common ground on many aspects of the climate change agenda. I hope that we will be able to build on that common ground in the future.
The task of finalising a national policy position that will inspire and underpin an effective transition to a competitive but sustainable low carbon future is a matter of the utmost importance on environmental and economic grounds. It is also a priority for the Government, both in terms of ensuring that we complete the process as quickly as possible and, even more critically, that we get the national policy position right from an environmental and economic perspective. I welcome all ideas and inputs that contribute to stimulating constructive debate, but I have been clear from the outset that form must follow function. In planning primary legislation on climate change, whether the proposed provisions relate to mitigation, adaptation or both, we must have clarity on the policy position at the core of the national agenda.
That clarity is essential in determining the structure and individual provisions of the legislation needed to support the climate policy position we ultimately adopt.
In addition to providing clarity on national policy for all stakeholders, including the Members of this House and the general public, I believe the people of Ireland are entitled to know, and indeed must be made aware of, the challenges and opportunities which transition to a low-carbon future present. Progressive transition to a competitive and environmentally sustainable low-carbon future will not happen of its own accord. It will have to be built on foundations that are firmly based on a transparent and inclusive dialogue that encourages and facilitates the emergence of a broad consensus across all stakeholders.
Following a very positive meeting with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht in November 2011, and in response to a specific request from the committee at that meeting, I issued a two-year programme outlining how I planned to bring forward national climate policy and legislation in January 2012. We are now just over half way through that programme and the next critical stage is structured input by the joint committee to the policy and legislation development process. In this regard, I am left with no option other than to conclude that this Bill is slightly premature and to support it would only serve to circumvent and undermine the role I have assigned to the joint committee in the policy and legislation process.
Over the last year or so, I have made it clear that I see a central role for the joint committee in that policy development programme. In this regard, I attach particular priority to the critical issue of coming to a clear national understanding of how we will meet our binding EU and wider-international mitigation commitments, as well as pursuing our national objectives in a low-carbon global economy. My view on the central role of the committee stands and I look forward to receiving the report which it will submit around the middle of this year. That report will be one of the key documents that will inform decisions by Government in finalising national climate policy and legislation in the second half of the year.
The immediate next step in the policy development programme will be the release of the final policy analysis report from the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, secretariat. Arrangements are at an advanced stage and I will be releasing the report, together with the outline heads of a low carbon development Bill, very shortly. In fact, I expect to bring these matters to the Government next week. The report by the NESC secretariat is an impressive and inspiring piece of analytical work on the longer-term national agenda to 2050. It merits careful and full consideration by the joint committee and all stakeholders before any final conclusions are drawn on a national policy position and the primary legislation needed to support it. I am determined that the policy and legislation development process will, in addition to being transparent and inclusive, be as informed as possible and be taken forward together in a mutually supportive way.
In working through the programme for the development of national climate policy and legislation, it is absolutely essential not to overlook the fact that Ireland already has a greenhouse gas mitigation target for 2020, which is binding under EU law. It is a challenging target under which we must reduce our emissions on an annual basis so that, by 2020, our emissions in those sectors of the economy outside the emissions trading system, namely in agriculture, transport, energy and the built environment, must be 20% below their level in 2005. Compliance with that target is not a matter of choice or discretion. It is a binding requirement under EU law and any ambition we set at a national level must, and will, respect compliance with this fundamental mitigation commitment.
The proposed primary legislation which the Government will bring forward will be unequivocal on compliance with existing, and I should emphasise, future obligations of the State under EU law and any international agreement to which the State becomes a party. Ireland has consistently and constructively supported EU leadership in seeking to mobilise an effective global response to climate change and a key objective in initiating the policy and legislation development process was to ensure that we maintain our place among the progressive member states within the EU and progressive parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Climate protection and economic competitiveness are not mutually exclusive. They must be progressed in parallel and on a basis that is both balanced and complementary. Our core policy principles must reflect a mature balance between our commitments as a responsible society to sustainable development and our ambition as a competitive economy. While the Bill before the House is strong on the challenge, I am concerned that it does not address the opportunity side of transition or, more critically, the essential balance between challenge and opportunity.
The process of national economic renewal in which we are all actively engaged is a real opportunity to identify the crucial areas where a more environmentally sustainable long-term orientation of the economy can and must begin. The Government has affirmed its commitment to doing just that in a number of ways already, particularly through the new sustainable development framework, Our Sustainable Future, which I published last June and in the Delivering our Green Potential policy statement which my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, published late last year, identifying how the green economy can be an engine for jobs and growth.
I firmly believe that any approach to a low-carbon future must address and seek to balance the challenge of greenhouse gas mitigation and opportunity for new growth as the emerging global green economy matures. The response must be approached from both perspectives and the outcome must reflect a credible balance between our commitment to environmentally sustainable development and our ambitions for economic growth and social development.
A specific issue we face in this country, and one which is hugely relevant to the national climate policy development process, is the fact that a gap exists in international and EU policy and legislation in terms of accounting for greenhouse gas emissions and removals related to the use of certain lands, including agricultural land. One would find it hard to find a country anywhere in the world where this specific issue is of more critical importance than in Ireland. It cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Approaches to resolving this gap give rise to potentially profound economic implications for Ireland. We fully support efforts to address and close this international policy gap. Our position on the issue is to ensure that proposed solutions are structured to facilitate and encourage development and growth that is sustainable on both environmental and economic grounds and without wishing to repeat myself, it is a matter of getting the balance right in the international agenda under the UN Convention.
I have received some criticism from certain quarters for raising this issue as something that we need to acknowledge and address. Of course, I could have taken the easy route and just put my head in the sand, ignoring the elephant in the room but as we have learned through many hard lessons in recent times, the easy way is often not the right way. What I have been seeking to articulate is pretty straightforward. It is simply a recognition that our greenhouse gas emissions profile is unique within the EU and, as I have said previously, while we can learn from policy and legislative responses in other countries, it would be unwise to think that what works elsewhere provides an easy or appropriate solution for Ireland. A one-size-fits-all approach to climate policy simply will not work. If it did, we would have no difficulty agreeing global climate treaties. The policies and measures we adopt in Ireland must respond to our national circumstances as reflected in our greenhouse gas profile and the structure of our economy. We are playing our part in the international response to climate change and we will continue to do so, on a fair and open basis in which we embrace change and manage transition sensibly and effectively.
In conclusion, from the outset of the programme on the development of national climate policy and legislation which I announced in January 2012, I have been completely open about the fact that there are no easy answers to the greenhouse gas mitigation challenge we face in the immediate and longer term. My intention is to ensure that the ultimate decisions on the way forward will be taken on the basis of a fair hearing for all stakeholders and will provide a platform for a strong stakeholder and wider-society consensus on the fundamental objective of becoming a low-carbon, climate resilient society with a competitive low-carbon economy over the period to 2050.
All sectors of society must play their part, particularly the key economic sectors. There are no exceptions and there can be no exceptions. In pursuing a progressive national policy position, compliance with current and future targets at EU level is fundamental and I propose to provide explicitly for this in the heads of the Bill which I will bringing to Government next week. In tackling and significantly reducing, over the last 20 months, a long list of EU infringement proceedings which I inherited from my predecessors, I have demonstrated my commitment and determination on compliance with environmental obligations under EU law. I fully intend to apply the same rigour to Ireland's greenhouse gas mitigation obligations.
As I indicated to Deputy Murphy in response to a parliamentary question earlier this week, work on developing the provisions of progressive climate legislation is at an advanced stage and I hope to publish outline heads of a Bill and the NESC policy analysis that has been carried out shortly so that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and stakeholders can get on with the business of analysing those proposals and coming back to Government during the course of the year. I welcome the indication from the joint committee that it is keen to hear from interested parties who wish to contribute to the debate on formulating national climate policy and legislation and I encourage all stakeholders to respond constructively to that offer. While I am not in a position to support Deputy Murphy's Bill before the House today, I want again to acknowledge the fact that she has made proposals available to the House for discussion today and thank her for her continued work, in a genuine way, on the climate agenda. I look forward to engaging with her and the other members of the joint committee in their deliberations over the coming months. I expect that in many of the areas dealt with in her legislation, she will find the Government in agreement and in other areas, we will be able to tease out all of the issues that are necessary to give us a practical Bill that will meet the requirements from an environmental and economic perspective. I believe that at the end of this process we will have a very good consensus on what is necessary to bring Ireland to a climate-resilient, low-carbon future.