Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about the Bill. We have been talking about this for approximately 25 years and finally we have an opportunity to address this important issue and to put in place some specific targets to tackle climate change, which is scientifically certain and irrevocable. Whereas I welcome the concept and publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, it is seriously defective as it stands. There are no clear targets for carbon emissions or clear definitions in the Bill. How does the Minister, for example, expect the national expert advisory council to develop and publish annual reports when it does not have clear indications of what we are striving towards each year? As a number of Deputies mentioned last night, there is no real provision for the concept of climate justice and addressing the impact of the developed world's effect on the poorer countries of the planet because of carbon emissions. There is a number of lacunae in the Bill which the Minister should address on Committee and Report Stages, as he clearly feels he is beginning consultation with respect to the main sectors of the economy. The exercise could equally be seen as an effort at kicking the can down the road for another two years and for subsequent Dáileanna.

The Minister yesterday indicated that the Bill will pursue a "low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050". That sounds great and we have 35 years to get to that aspirational state, but how will it be done? This Bill does not have a roadmap to achieve it, so we need clearly defined carbon emission targets in order to realise an environmentally sustainable economy and the targets we have already committed to achieving at EU and international levels. The Minister has made much of those European and international targets but Ireland has a special role to play, given the levels of carbon emissions per capita are the second-highest in the developed world after the United States. It seems that in some ways the Government is merely paying lip-service to our EU and international commitments and is more concerned about being perceived to be acting on climate change rather than placing an emphasis on the importance of properly addressing this problem for our island, our future generations, our economy and our planet. The Government has been in power for four years with no climate change action plan in place and now we are on course to exceed our EU 2020 target of reducing emissions by 20% compared with 2005 emissions.

Section 4 of the Bill, addressing the national low carbon transition and mitigation plan, looks impressive in its intention to have the first plan in place not later than 24 months after the passing of the Act. Section 5, relating to the national climate change adaptation framework, is also planned to be place within 24 months, with sectoral adaptation plans having Ministers reporting under section 6. The outline is impressive on paper but it seems the heavy lifting is being left to the next and subsequent Dáileanna.

I listened to the Minister's speech carefully yesterday, when he repeatedly referred to "cost-effective" measures and the "need to achieve the objectives of a national mitigation plan at the least cost to the national economy", as well as the importance of not imposing "an unreasonable burden on the Exchequer". The Minister might also agree that fines we are potentially facing for missing our promised targets could also be seen as an unreasonable burden on the future economy. For example, approximately €90 million is the estimated cost of purchasing compliance with the non-emission trading system targets and another fine for missing our 2020 renewable energy sources target could cost the Government between €140 million and €160 million. We have already spent at least €17 million buying carbon credits. There are costs from every side. I hope this and the next Government in evaluating costs will consider the potential for cost-effective mitigation measures in investment for public transport, for example, or more sustainable agriculture. Transport, agriculture and energy represent over 70% of our carbon emissions.

We have known for a generation at least the theory behind why we need climate change legislation. We have been talking about this problem for decades but are starting to feel the real effects of global warming. Research papers produced by the Irish climate analysis and research unit at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and Met Eireann's study on the future of Ireland's climate and the effects of climate change on our island highlight the significant challenges facing us. We have the prospect of warmer and drier summers on the island, with increases of 3° Celsius to 4° Celsius towards the end of the century; in one way, that sounds very nice, as we enjoyed last summer's wonderful weather without very much rain. Nevertheless, the Government needs to lead by example. We need to highlight the negative impacts of climate change and the negative effects of drier summers for our agriculture, for example, there may be increased droughts, increasing pressure on grasslands and increasing demand for water. As citizens, we are already extremely worried about the disorganised farce that is the Government's handling of water supplies and the failure of successive Governments to invest in local and regional water supplies.

Our winters will be wetter as world temperatures increase and weather systems become more erratic and volatile. In my own constituency of Dublin Bay North, this has already been an ongoing issue that Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council cannot seem to mitigate at current precipitation levels. We have had serious flooding problems. Part of Dublin Bay North is a polder and any significant increase in world sea levels could place greater stress on river and sea management systems and defences in our constituency. Sea levels are currently rising on average about 3.5 cm per decade around the country, and across the world we are more likely to experience intense cyclones and changes in the temperature in our sea will affect our marine ecosystems.

I accept that the Bill, while purely aspirational as it stands, is at least a starting point. The Minister deserves some credit in this respect. It has impressive intentions to "pursue, and achieve, the transition to a low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by the end of the year 2050". I welcome the proposal for the establishment of the national expert advisory council on climate change but I cannot understand why the Minister would reject the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht in its report on the heads of the Bill, when it called for all the members of the advisory council to be independent. The chairperson, Deputy McCarthy, did some very good work in that respect. The Minister should reconsider the issue, as the comparison has been made with the fiscal council. We are getting used to its work in how we manage budgets. I also welcome the planned five-year national low carbon transition and mitigation plans under section 4 but it will probably be 2023 before we see the first report.

There are three major amendments needed to improve this bill and make it a useful piece of legislation rather than just a start to the discussion. Those amendments were highlighted yesterday by many Deputies, including Deputy Murphy, so I will not go over their importance again. I ask the Minister to consider them seriously when they come before us on Committee and Report Stages.

The Minister should include a definition of low carbon emissions, which was defined by the Minister's predecessor, ensure the independence of the advisory council and highlight under climate justice our responsibility to poorer countries whose geographical positions leave them at the mercy of dangerous weather systems producing typhoons and repeated serious flooding.

Agriculture, energy and transport account for just over 70% of our domestic sector emissions, and these sectors will present the biggest challenges to reducing our carbon emissions. The joint committee heard from all relevant sectors, and its recommendations to the Minister were in no way radical but were seen to be collaborative, realistic and achievable. The Minister only adopted three of the recommendations in the report, however, none of which relates to managing the 31.9% of overall emissions from the agriculture sector. The recommendation to support rain-fed, grass-based agriculture instead of a more intensive, less sustainable form of agriculture was ignored. Indeed, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, appears to be following a traditional and less sustainable agricultural output agenda.

I mentioned earlier our responsibilities to the developing countries which have been suffering from the effects of climate change, to the causes of which they contributed little or nothing. Ireland is currently second only to the USA in carbon emissions per capita, with 12.58 tonnes per person per annum in the Republic. We are emitting carbon at levels way above the per capita levels of the UK and our other European partners. Ireland's contribution to carbon emissions worldwide totals more than that of the poorest 400 million human beings on the planet.

The Philippines is a group of 7,000 islands, as we heard two days ago in the course of a good report given by an expert from the Philippines at a meeting organised by Deputy Catherine Murphy. It is one of the countries that is most vulnerable to the increasing incidence and growing intensity of typhoons. The worst so far struck in 2013 and left 10,000 people dead and 2 million without homes. If we do not act on climate change now, there may be worse to come. Due to migration over the past decade, with thousands of Filipino nurses and care workers coming to live and work in Ireland, many Irish people are now much more familiar with the grave concerns of the Filipino nation about climate change. We in the developed world are contributing to the onset of the erratic weather which countries such as the Philippines must endure due to our unsustainable carbon economy.

In retrospect, we have been paying lip service to climate change for too long. For much of the 1990s, I was a member of the rainbow alliance which ran Dublin City Council and which included the Green Party. I was very active in supporting climate change mitigation initiatives, especially in the promotion of cycling. Indeed, when I led the Labour Party in the city council, we initiated the first citywide cycling network. We also strongly supported public transport initiatives, such as the Luas and metro north, and renewable energy for the city. Sadly, however, when the six Green Party Deputies propped up Bertie Ahern's Government after 2007 and each one of them was appointed a Minister, very little was achieved on climate change. Even any version of the Bill before us failed to appear.

One of the better initiatives introduced by the former Minister, former Deputy John Gormley, however, was the carbon budget, which included some clearly defined objectives and targets. In his speech announcing the first carbon budget, which I believe was in 2008, Mr. Gormley said that it was putting "the challenge of tackling climate change at the heart of Government policy", but beyond the aspirational carbon budget and a few small mitigation measures relating to motor tax and so forth, the Green Party in government failed to achieve any serious progress. No important legislation was introduced. Another environmental matter that the Green Party constantly spoke about was the problem of noise, but four years of that Government elapsed and another four years under this Government have passed and we still do not have a noise Bill.

No significant measures were taken to reduce our carbon emissions. Eight years later, we are set to exceed our EU 2020 targets to reduce emissions by 20% in 2020 relative to 2005 levels in our non-emissions trading scheme sectors. The failure of Mr. Gormley and the Green Party's intentions and insight can be directly related to the fact that no legislation was enacted. In the case of the aspirational Bill before us, there will be little gain unless the Government ensures that specific, defined targets are outlined. While the Bill is welcome, it requires serious amendment. I hope the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, will give thought to that on Committee Stage and will accept some of the amendments and, indeed, follow the recommendations of the environment committee.

The Acting Chairman, Deputy Wall, might recall that the Programme for Government 2011-2016 had a red cover, but at the Labour Party conference one of my colleagues, Councillor O'Callaghan, said that it should have been a blue cover. In the programme there was a commitment to "publish a Climate Change Bill which will provide certainty surrounding government policy and provide a clear pathway for emissions reductions", yet this Bill does not provide any certainty to me or to the people I met who visited this House to give an excellent briefing. They were from the 28 organisations that combined to form Stop Climate Chaos and were in Buswells Hotel last Tuesday. The Bill does not answer our concerns and it does not provide a clear pathway to the sectors that need to start making changes to how they plan and operate.

Science has told us that there is a carbon budget of 245 billion tonnes of carbon left on the planet before we start to enter even more dangerous global warming territory. We are currently burning 11 billion tonnes per year, so we have two decades left, at best, before we start heading towards a four degree increase in warming. As was said by one of the speakers at Deputy Catherine Murphy's very informative briefing earlier this week: "We are the last generation that can effectively fight climate change." I urge the Minister to step up to the plate.

We welcome the publication of the Bill at last; it would be churlish not to. I ask the Minister to heed the recommendations of the committee, on foot of all the hard work that was done by our colleagues under the chairmanship of Deputy McCarthy, and to accept the three key amendments relating to climate justice, having a clear definition of the emissions and having clear targets. They are areas on which we should take action. The Minister might well say, as others have said over the years, that because our economy is so small in overall terms relative to the big European economies and a continental economy such as that of the United States, our efforts are marginal. Many Deputies have made that point. However, an economy that will be performing well, one hopes, and which is also aiming to be a sustainable economy, especially in agriculture, transport and energy, is the type of economy we want our country to have. I ask the Minister to examine the theme that has run through so many speeches yesterday and today and to address those matters.

I wish to be positively encouraging in bringing this Bill forward. I also wish to make it more robust. It is a little limp at present due to the lack of definitions, targets and in respect of climate justice. It ought to be strengthened and made more robust in those three areas. We should not be afraid. Otherwise, the Minister is introducing a limp Bill that does nothing.

Well done to my colleagues, Deputies Broughan, Clare Daly, Wallace, Joan Collins and Catherine Murphy who made excellent and substantive contributions to the debate.

I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the environment committee for the work they have done on it. Although I am a member of the environment committee, I was not a member of it when it compiled its report. I give credit to Deputy Michael McCarthy and the members who worked so diligently on it.

This is the most urgent and important issue facing not just this country but the world. As the previous speaker stated, we face huge climate risks in the world between rising temperature, the danger of flooding, and ocean and atmosphere issues. Worst of all is the danger of not being able to halt the onset of climate change. This is the most important debate we will have in this Chamber during this Dáil. At the same time, the issue is very difficult because it presents us with huge challenges. It is very hard for us to change our ways and we resent having to change them. However, if we do not, our situation will become unlivable for many people. It will often be the most vulnerable people who will be in that situation.

I wish to address some matters in the Bill. I welcome the idea of having a national mitigation plan, but I ask the Minister, if possible, to shorten the timespan for the introduction of the plan.

As we have reached 4.42 p.m., I ask the Deputy to adjourn the debate.

I adjourn the debate.

Debate adjourned.