Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960 to provide for a prohibition of the issuing of licences for the exploration and extraction of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Coal as an emergency measure to address the levels of atmospheric Co2.

I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to introduce this Bill. The Bill seeks to amend the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act.

I have just returned from the COP23 in Bonn. Despite what I said last week to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, that I would be mortified representing the country there because of our bad record on meeting the Paris Agreement targets - and that was confirmed to me this morning by the report that has been issued - I was slightly mortified but not as mortified as I could have been because what I found in Bonn was an astonishing and quite scary lack of mention of the elephant in the room. In other words, the climate problem we face, that is, the continued use of fossil fuels throughout the world, was not really called out. There are many reasons for this, but I was flabbergasted by the political responses from the majority of delegates and diplomatic representatives there. At the interparliamentary meeting, I think I was the only delegate to use the dirty words "fossil fuels" and "fossil fuel corporations".

Apart from Donald Trump and probably a few Members of this House, there is widespread acceptance of the science surrounding climate change. The earth is now 1° Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average and is on course for an increase of 1.5°. The level of carbon and other greenhouse gases being emitted by industry and land use change means that if we keep on in a business-as-usual scenario, we will be locked into a 3° or 4° temperature rise in the future. This would be an extinction event. We are already seeing the disastrous consequences for large parts of the globe, particularly the developing world, with the rise of CO2 levels to 400 parts per million. Such CO2 levels are unacceptable and constitute a climate emergency. Unfortunately, even if the Paris Agreement commitments were delivered, we would still be on course for a 2° and possibly a 3° temperature rise. Large parts of the globe, millions of people on it and entire ecosystems face destruction. We know already that 80% of the proved reserves of fossil fuels need to remain in the ground if we are to have any hope of limiting temperature rises in line with the Paris Agreement. However, incredibly, here and elsewhere we are still issuing licences for the new exploration of sources of gas and oil, and this must stop. We must leave this in the ground and we must politically name and shame the actual causes of climate change, namely, the addiction of fossil fuel corporations to profits that is driving climate change, not the addiction of ordinary people to fossil fuels.

This Bill will simply mean that while there is a climate emergency, no new licences shall be issued from this country for oil or gas exploration. It is a simple but significant measure, and we would be the third such country to attempt to adopt such a measure, after France and Costa Rica.

In doing so, we could be world leaders in the attempt to deal with climate change. We saw this morning how we played a huge role in being world leaders in dealing with marriage equality, with a great result in Australia and the role played by Irish people there. This country could play a leading role, as was repeated to me many times at the conference in Bonn, in dealing with climate change if we were to implement this simple measure. It is not because we are a significant player in fossil fuel exploration but that cumulatively, with France, Costa Rica and others that may follow, we will put pressure on Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia and so on to take the matter seriously. It is a significant measure and takes as its benchmark the figure of 350 parts per million of CO2 as the maximum that humanity should seek to have in the atmosphere. Anything above that will define the world as being in a climate emergency. It is currently above 400 parts per million. This is the first time we have reached that in a million years of the earth's history. It is unbelievable. This figure does not come from me, but from scientists and campaigners such as James Hansen and Bill McKibben, who are very well-known in the science community.

It represents a small but historic step and we look forward to cross-party support. If we can follow that up with real investment in renewable energy and public transport, we would be on course to improve our current standing as one of the world's worst contributors to dealing with climate change. I believe what was said to us by global scientists in Bonn; it would be significant if a small country like Ireland could provide a positive lead to dealing with climate change by leaving fossil fuel in the ground and not issuing any more licences for exploration of gas or oil along our shores.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.