Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit the issuing, renewal, reinstatement, or extension of any licence or other exploitation rights for the exploration, extraction, production or prospecting of all forms of petroleum onshore or offshore and to provide for related matters.

This legislation does what is says in the Title of the Bill and aims to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Anyone with an interest in climate change and any Member who advocates that we live up to what we signed under the Paris climate declaration will know that this is exactly what we have to do. The science is increasingly clear. Climate scientists are making the obvious case that if we are to avoid the world tipping into a dangerous process of runaway climate change, we have to keep global temperature rises below 2o. The Paris Agreement went further and said 1.5o. We have already seen an increase of over 1o in average global temperatures. We can burn no more than 600 gigatonnes of the remaining fossil fuels.

We know that there are more than 2,500 gigatonnes in the known reserves even before we look for anything new. We must keep four fifths of fossil fuels underground. I have just returned from the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Bonn earlier this week. The most recent analysis states that production at those existing wells and mines will not be capable of being exhausted if we are to meet climate targets.

The House has done a good job in preventing onshore fracking for oil and gas. However, we need to go further with legislation, such as in Deputy Pringle's Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016, to stop investment in other companies across the world that are investing in fossil fuels. We need to go further at home also. We would not be alone in doing so. The French Government has indicated its intention to introduce similar legislation whereby it will not continue with any oil or gas exploration licences in the same Atlantic margin in which we are exploring. Not only would we be following the lead of France and Costa Rica, we would be in the top five or six countries in the world in taking this matter seriously.

We need to send out such a message because this country is in the doghouse regarding the climate change issue. In Bonn yesterday, when I spoke to those involved in dealing with this issue, they referred to Ireland with regret in the context of why we cannot show any leadership. They asked why is it that Ireland, with some of the best renewable resources in the world, is holding back so much and not being part of the transition needed. This change is eminently doable. The Bill is concise and would be easy to implement. It states that no new licences will be issued. It will not affect any corporate interests. I do not believe there should be an expectation that we should hand over to the private sector a sea area ten times the size of our land area for use as a speculative asset. These are our seas to look after and this is our part of the planet. It is not a small chunk for which we have responsibility.

By banning fracking and all offshore oil and gas exploration, not only would we be doing what we need to do to avoid dangerous climate change, we would also be protecting our local marine environment. Protecting biodiversity is connected to addressing climate change. The most recent research and analysis shows that the seismic activity which accompanies exploration and drilling has significant environmental effects. If we want to protect our fisheries and other marine animal life, we need to stop that seismic activity because it interferes with the zooplankton life cycle. We need to protect our environment, not continue to destroy it. The Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill 2017 would help that happen.

The Bill will introduce the important definition of climate justice. People say that Ireland is small and does not count. However, we do count. Everyone counts. Our country's emissions are equal to those of 400 million of the poorest people on the earth. Our country has a responsibility for the area of the Atlantic in which it is located in the context of protecting marine life and stopping the ecocide that is occurring across our world. We also have a responsibility to protect the poorest people in the world who are the first to suffer from the effects of climate change. At the recent climate change conference in Bonn, Trócaire brought together the environmental NGOs and the poorest people from different countries that are experiencing drought and flooding as a result of climate change. Rather than bending our knee to ExxonMobil, Shell, Statoil and other companies, including Irish ones, we have responsibility to help to stabilise the climate of this planet, to look after the natural world and to support the Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill 2017.

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.