I call the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten.
Climate Change: Statements
On a point of order, as I understand it, we are here to discuss the transition statement given that, as is set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, there is a requirement for the Government to present a report each year. We are debating it tonight but I was told today, when I asked the Department where that statement was, that we would have it tomorrow. It should be noted that this is not an acceptable way of doing business or an acceptable way of treating the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. In fact, I even question our timing and whether we are within the provisions of that Act. The Minister needs to explain, in his contribution, why we do not have that statement in advance of us debating the statement.
On that, and this is not meant to cause the Minister any personal distress, I share the same concerns Deputy Eamon Ryan has outlined. I want to put on record that we are not happy with this approach and, recognising that we are so far behind in terms of addressing this issue, it seems tardy at best. Hopefully, the Minister can give us some explanation as to why it has happened.
The annual transition statement is supposed to be delivered to the House and we are due to discuss it, although I do not want to pin everything that is wrong on the Minister. When we put through the legislation in the last Dáil, and I was present for that, we put it through in good faith. We put a lot of faith in the fact we would have an annual transition statement and that this would be the mechanism of accountability to the Members of the Dáil. It is disappointing we do not have it here tonight.
The points are noted. Perhaps the Minister might address those issues.
I wish to share time with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Andrew Doyle.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 requires that an annual transition statement be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is the second such statement under the 2015 Act. In addition to this oral report, I am arranging for a written statement to be laid before both Houses.
As reported by the Environmental Protection Agency last week, Ireland's emissions increased by 3.5% between 2015 and 2016. This is disappointing and highlights the urgent need to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions and energy demand. Our economy remains the strongest performer in the EU, with GDP increasing by 5.2% in 2016, and we are once again approaching full employment, all of which puts pressure on emissions, especially in terms of transport, energy use and construction. The EPA expects Ireland's emissions to continue to increase until at least the end of the decade, which makes it even more imperative that Ireland take further steps to arrest this trend. As Members know, that projection is required as part of the transition statement and was published just last week.
The Government's framework for taking action to reduce our emissions is the national mitigation plan, which sets out more than 70 individual measures to reduce emissions. Progress on the implementation of these measures is reported in the annual transition statement. The plan also provides the framework for further work on the medium to long-term measures to make the necessary deeper emission reductions in future decades. The mitigation plan is not a static document and must be formally reviewed once every five years.
This week I secured Government approval for a new support scheme for renewable heat to stimulate and support the replacement of fossil fuel heating systems with renewable energy and contribute to meeting Ireland’s 2020 renewable energy and emission reduction targets and support the establishment of both the biomass and bio-gas sector in Ireland.
I am announcing the extension of the free warmer home scheme to families in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance from 1 January next. This scheme offers a broad package of measures free to householders in need of energy efficiency upgrades worth an average of €3,000. For community energy projects, I am putting in place a new funding commitment, with €28 million worth of grants to be awarded in 2018, which will include support for a transition away from fossil fuel use. The intention is to ensure every application which is agreed in partnership with the SEAI will secure funding. A new incentive for people who want to move away from using fossil fuels to heat their home through a significant new grant of €3,500 for heat pumps will come into effect from April of next year.
Waste efficiency is effective climate action. I am committed to making the regulatory changes required in order to provide an organic, or brown, bin service to every single home in Ireland, regardless of where people live. Industry has a responsibility in driving the successful roll-out of brown bins to every community with a population greater than 500 people. That is ongoing at the moment but I am determined to ensure every single home, regardless of location, has that opportunity.
The measures put in place this year to phase out flat fees are not new for about half of kerb-side household customers who are already on an incentivised usage pricing plan which contains a per-lift or weight-related fee. This approach gives the market the flexibility to offer a suite of pricing options to further promote the prevention and segregation of household waste.
We have also put supports in place for electric vehicles, including home charging points and rolling out further infrastructure across the country in regard to charging and a 0% benefit-in-kind rate for battery electric vehicles. It is the intention to enhance some of these supports in the coming years.
As the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I am conscious of the challenges we face in tackling climate change in the transport sector. The extent of this challenge and the scale of transformation required for Ireland to move to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy is becoming increasingly evident, never more so than now for our transport sector. Ireland is not unique in this. Across Europe, transport accounts for nearly 27% of all non-emissions trading system, ETS, emissions. Recent reports from the EPA have indicated a further growth in transport emissions by almost 4% in 2016. The progress we made in reducing transport emissions by 25% between 2007 and 2012 is being eroded by significant transport demand growth, only some of which is being met in the most efficient ways. Therefore, it is imperative that fundamental changes to our transport system be made, including how we travel and the types of fuel and technology that we use.
In 2016, four key measures reduced transport emissions in Ireland. First, our investment in the public and sustainable transport network led to an increase of almost 31 million journeys on subsidised public transport and commercial bus services since 2013. Second, as a result of the implementation of EU vehicle standard regulations limiting tailpipe emissions, new cars entering the fleet are now approximately 25% more energy efficient than they were in 2007. Furthermore, the redesign of the VRT and motor tax regimes in 2008 to be based on CO2 emissions rather than engine size had a positive effect by changing buyer behaviour and encouraging the uptake of low-emission vehicles. Finally, the introduction of a biofuel obligation scheme to incorporate sustainable fuel into our conventional fuel mix has substantially decreased transport emissions. In 2015 alone, this biofuel measure reduced CO2 emissions by 356 kilotonnes.
Our national mitigation plan has firmly established the Government's commitment to work towards our national decarbonisation objective. Transport will play a significant role in the national mitigation effort and has already made positive progress. Twenty-four transport mitigation measures have been set out, with 29 associated actions. As is the nature of the plan across all sectors, these measures do not signify a complete roadmap for our mitigation efforts, but a representation of where we are now and what we can achieve.
Continued investment in public and sustainable transport remains the cornerstone of our mitigation response. We continually seek to improve the quality and capacity of our transport network and encourage modal shift away from private car use. In Dublin alone, more than two thirds of all journeys into the city centre are now made on foot, by bicycle or by public transport, representing an increase of over 10% in the past six years.
I am pleased to present the annual transition statement for the agriculture, forestry and land use sector and, in particular, to outline the efforts that the sector is making to address our climate change obligations.
The long-term vision for the sector is an approach to carbon neutrality that does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production. This is challenging and complex, which has been recognised by the Climate Change Advisory Council. According to recent EPA projections, overall national emissions increased by 3.5% in 2016, with agricultural emissions increasing by 2.7%. In the agriculture sector, there has been a decoupling of emissions from output. For example, in the 2012-16 period, dairy cow numbers increased by 22% and corresponding milk production increased by 27%, yet emissions increased by just 8%.
In terms of the sector's contribution to the national mitigation plan, a number of cross-cutting measures aimed at reducing emissions, coupled with benefits for climate change adaptation, water quality, biodiversity and rural development, have been included in the plan. For example, there are a number of forestry measures, with afforestation being one of the primary opportunities for the sequestration of agricultural emissions and the key agricultural investment priority. Forestry planted under the afforestation programme includes biodiversity enhancement areas and mixed tree species, with specific schemes to support the establishment and management of native woodlands. The role of conifers and broadleaves in contributing to the development of the forestry industry and achieving environmental goals is well understood.
Given the limited time available to me, I will not have an opportunity to discuss each measure, but I assure the House that the agriculture and forestry sector is engaging in a range of measures to ensure that growth continues on the basis of sustainability. We have a thriving agrifood sector, one that is efficient and environmentally conscious. The sector is committed to working with all stakeholders so as to ensure that it continues to play its part in meeting our climate change obligations and challenges.
Since my Department is the lead Department in respect of a number of proposed measures in the national mitigation plan, I welcome the opportunity to update the House on how we are doing in that regard. I had a chance yesterday to discuss this matter in the Seanad.
The measures that my Department has responsibility for predominantly relate to the national planning framework, NPF, and the built environment, as well as the overall area of social housing. These measures include actions Nos. 10 and 65 and measure T11 of the NPF. Under this, we must ensure that climate considerations are fully addressed in the new framework. The publication of the NPF consultation draft towards the end of September represented a unique opportunity to set out an ambitious vision and 20-year strategy for what our country should and can look like in 2040. The NPF covers a broad range of issues relating to planning for Ireland's future over the period to 2040. They include national policy objectives to support climate action and planning, sustainable land management and resource efficiency and renewable energy generation.
Action No. 20 is on wind energy guidelines, which we are committed to finalising. The 2006 wind energy development guidelines, issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, set the national planning policy context for local authority plan-making regarding wind energy and the determination of planning applications and appeals by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála. A Programme for a Partnership Government of May 2016 contained a commitment to conclude the review of the guidelines with a view to offering a better balance between the concerns of local communities and the need to invest in indigenous energy projects. In this regard, a "preferred draft approach" to the review of the guidelines has been developed to address a number of key aspects, including sound or noise, visual amenity setback distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections. This draft approach was announced in June 2017 by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and the previous Minister in my Department, the current Tánaiste.
Built environment measure No. 7, or BE 7, relates to social housing upgrades. Local authorities are undertaking an ambitious programme of insulation retrofitting, with the support of the Department, on the least energy efficient social homes. Funding of €107 million was provided from 2013 to the end of 2016 in order to improve energy efficiency and comfort levels in some 58,000 local authority houses, benefitting those at risk of fuel poverty and making a significant contribution to Ireland's carbon emissions reduction targets and energy reduction targets for 2020.
Measures BE 10.1 to 10.4, inclusive, relate to the introduction of building regulations transposing the requirements of the energy performance of buildings directive in respect of nearly zero energy buildings, NZEBs, and major renovations. The 2010 energy performance of buildings directive requires member states to ensure that, from 31 December 2020, all new buildings meet NZEB standards and major renovations are brought to a cost-optimal standard. In parallel, new buildings owned and occupied by public authorities will be required to achieve this standard two years earlier, that is, by December 2018.
In Ireland, more than 40% of the total energy produced is used in the building sector. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, report Energy in Ireland 1990-2015 shows that there has been an increase in energy demand of 18% in the residential building sector and 29% in the commercial building sector. This is why increasing the energy efficiency and reducing the energy demand of buildings is so vital.
These advanced performance requirements are being implemented through Part L of the building regulations. In terms of dwellings, my Department is working on an amendment to Part L and the corresponding technical guidance document. That will be out for consultation in early 2018. Regarding buildings other than dwellings, the statutory instrument amending Part L was signed into law last month. In general, this amended regulation will apply to all building works, material alterations, material changes of use and major renovations that commence after 1 January 2019.
All of the measures that I have outlined are key actions in the built environment's contribution to Ireland's national low-carbon transition and mitigation plan for addressing climate change. I am confident that we are making steady progress in all areas and that the measures outlined will be implemented to achieve the projected emissions reductions.
On a further point of order, we have not heard from the Minister, Deputy Naughten, about how we can debate a transition statement when we do not have it. We do not have the written statement from the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, either. This is making a mockery of the climate Act. It is not a proper reflection on the Dáil that we have allowed this to happen.
I would like to hear the Minister explain why before we make our contributions.
We will see what may transpire.
This was discussed in the Seanad yesterday. The process involves oral and written statements. The written statement will be produced by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. There will be a much more detailed analysis. As I said in the Seanad, there will be other chances to discuss this at a later stage.
There is a requirement for it to be published by Sunday.
Why are we debating it on a Thursday?
The Deputy will need to talk to the Business Committee about that. We had eight hours of debate on this in the Seanad. We had 15 minutes to discuss it here.
I am a member of the Business Committee and we work very hard. We will not accept the blame. Deputy Ryan is also a member of the committee.
We cannot have any more clarifications.
There were eight hours of debate in the Seanad.
We would gladly-----
The Minister of State would come in on Sunday.
We can discuss this all day tomorrow. The Minister, Deputy Ross, is dealing with an urgent Bill.
It is a fact that in politics, Ministers generally jealously guard their space. If there was good news to be delivered, I do not think the Minister would have his team with him.
The law states all four Ministers must come in.
At some stage. They are here to share the blame. That may be helpful.
I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss climate change, one of the foremost issues of our time. The past few months have not brought a lot of good news with regard to Ireland's climate change policies. Only this week the Climate Change Advisory Council issued a stark warning that if Ireland does not introduce major new policies and measures it will miss the 2020 targets. While this is not news to any of us who have been paying close attention to Ireland's overall emissions trends, it is still somewhat shocking. Ireland's leading meteorologists, economists and academics, who the Government has explicitly appointed to monitor our progress on climate change, have categorically warned us that we are failing to meet our commitments. That needs to be a wake-up call.
Fianna Fáil has a strong record on introducing progressive measures to tackle climate change, and is committed to an ambitious environmental programme which includes tackling climate change. We published the Climate Change Response Bill on 23 December 2010, which passed First Stage in the Seanad before the Dáil was dissolved. By contrast, this Government is guilty of what Einstein termed insanity. It keeps doing the same thing over and over again, but expects different results. In the face of repeated warnings from international and Irish experts that Ireland is all but certain to miss every single one of its climate-related targets without stronger policy initiatives, the Government has continued with the same policies. As a result, Ireland is rapidly becoming known in Europe as a climate dinosaur and a nation which refuses to pull its weight when it comes to taking radical climate action. According to the Climate Change Performance Index 2018, Ireland is now the worst country in Europe when it comes to taking action on climate change.
This has to end. From a moral perspective, it should be clear to us that mitigating and preventing climate change is now inextricably linked with the welfare of the global population, particularly those in developing nations where people and their livelihoods are almost entirely exposed to the negative impacts of climate change. Across southern and eastern Africa, approximately 36 million people experienced famine in 2016 as a result of climate-related weather changes. This is likely to increase, a point to which I will return. Suffice to say, the moral imperative for us to act should be clear.
In ignoring climate change, we are also going against our own interest. Many of the measures which will combat climate change will also be of immense benefit to Ireland as a country. Moving to a greener economy will not only cut Ireland's carbon emissions, it will also create jobs, support local economies, purify its air and make us less dependent on foreign dirty energy sources. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the sensible thing to do.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, passed by the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government, marked a serious retreat from the 2010 Bill published by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government. Instead of clear targets it had vague aspirations. When Deputy Varadkar became Taoiseach in May 2017, he promised a new ambition on climate change. He has criticised Donald Trump for his inaction on climate change and for pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. I agree with the Taoiseach's sentiment in this regard, but he conveniently seems to have forgotten that under his Government, Ireland will be the second last EU country to ratify the significant COP21 agreement which was brokered in Paris in December 2015.
We ratified it last year.
He also neglected to mention that while Ireland remains a member of the Paris Agreement, we are not taking action to fulfil the commitments we have made under it. In line with the European effort-sharing directives arising out of the Paris Agreement, Ireland is committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% on 2005 levels by 2030. The proposal also includes flexibilities related to the transfer of emissions trading system, ETS, allowances and inclusion of land use, land use change and forestry credits. The inclusion of these flexibilities in the draft proposals may ultimately reduce Ireland's non-ETS 2030 targets to 20.4%
This is an attainable target and represents a moderate increase on our 2030 targets. However, given that we are on track to reduce our carbon emissions by just 4% to 6% on 2005 levels by 2030, this is unlikely to transpire if we continue with the status quo. While I acknowledge many might welcome a 2°, 4° or even 10° increase in Ireland's average temperature, I cannot overstate how devastating temperature increases will be. We have already induced significant climatic change. Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous heat.
Further increases will have a devastating impact on how we lead our lives. Even if we meet the Paris goals of 2° warming, which is challenging in and of itself, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will experience almost annual heat waves which have the potential to take lives. It is worth noting that the combined populations of these two cities is close to 26 million people, so we can only imagine the potential for destruction and displacement. At 4° warming, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer. The impact on food production is likely to be catastrophic. Many estimates suggest that for most staple cereal crops, such as wheat, rice and other crops that account for almost 90% of the world's dietary intake, there will be a 10% decline in yields for every 1° increase in temperature. In the face of a growing global population, that has frightening implications for global hunger and geopolitics. Some scientists, for example, have linked the Arab Spring of 2010 to a Russian wheat failure caused by an unprecedented summer heatwave.
Many of us in the Chamber are already aware of the potential consequences of our inaction. The real question is, therefore, what we need to do to cut Ireland's emissions. From a European perspective, Ireland has a unique greenhouse gas emissions profile, one which is relatively heavily weighted towards agriculture due to the lack of heavy industry within our overall economy. From a climate perspective, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ireland is among the most carbon-efficient food producers in the world and the sector has made an admirable effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990, agricultural emissions have reduced by 9.7% in Ireland, while other areas such as transport have increased emissions by 120%. The flexibility awarded to us under the land use, land use change, and forestry components of the European effort-sharing reflects this.
There are also opportunities for Ireland to achieve win-win outcomes in meeting our reduction targets. For example, only 11% of our land is forested compared with 33% across the EU, and afforestation has a high potential for helping us to meet our emissions targets. Even the forests planted since 1990 absorb a massive 18% of Irish agricultural annual greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, economic returns from forestry are strongly competitive compared with other land uses and could pay high dividends in terms of regional development and employment.
In contrast to agriculture, however, other sectors have been considerably less ambitious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Home heating now accounts for almost 10% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions and 27% of our overall energy use, placing us as the nation with the third highest emissions per capita in the residential sector. We are still reliant on oil, coal and peat to heat our homes, despite there being much cheaper, more convenient and effective ways to do so. Fuel poverty is estimated to affect anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 households. We have all heard stories of mothers having to choose between heating their homes or feeding their children and pensioners who spend all day in a library to save on heating. There is no need for this. Retrofitting should be directly targeted at these homes.
While we have had some good programmes in the past, they have not been extended to the extent they should have been. They were not ambitious enough and we did not put enough money into them. Sadly, we will pay fines with money that could have been used to improve our housing stock had we planned a little better. While the Minister boasts about the funding that is allocated to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, for the purposes of various energy schemes, the reality is that between 2011 and 2017 there was a 70% decline in the number of homes which were retrofitted. It is still very difficult for individual homeowners to access affordable financing to retrofit deeply their homes and we still have no scheme for the rental sector, which comprises almost 500,000 homes across the country.
We need to wise up and create a new green deal agency that would create low cost financing and expert advice to people seeking to deep retrofit their homes. The time has passed to concentrate exclusively on lagging jackets and attic insulation. In order to meet our 2050 targets, Ms Marion Jammet of the Irish Green Building Council estimates we will have to bring 75% of our homes up to A2 BER ratings.
The other big elephant in the room is transport and I am pleased the Minister with that responsibility is here to listen at least to the contributions. As the economy recovers, Ireland's transport emissions are once again rising. They now represent approximately 20% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, meaning there has been a 13% increase in the past four years. By 2020, transport is likely to account for 30% of Ireland's emissions. As with home heating, the technologies to reduce transport emissions are already there and have a significant amount of co-benefits. In 2008, we committed to 10% of the national fleet being electric by 2020. Clearly, Fine Gael could not handle the pressure of this and the target was subsequently revised down to having 50,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2020. Even this unambitious target now seems farcical. As we approach 2018, there are still only approximately 2,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads.
This is pathetic, and again, while the Government likes to claim it is invested in getting electric vehicles on the road, the policies suggest otherwise. There are still only 70 fast chargers in Ireland and while I appreciate the Minister has indicated there will be more, this means the Government expects road users to spend up to eight hours refuelling their cars on the side of the road or in a filling station. Even where chargers are provided, electric vehicle owners often find they are blocked by a standard petrol or diesel car or, even worse, that the electric vehicle was clamped while they use the charging point.
I raised the matter of benefit-in-kind before with the Minister and he indicated it would run for three years. I went back to my office to check the Finance Act, as passed, and it only provides for a year. The Minister has indicated he is favourably disposed to the longer term but to get people to invest in electric vehicles, particularly the corporate sector and people using them, certainty is required. Certainty would be provided if the law provided the benefit to extend for three years. It is in the Act that the measure is only for a year, albeit open to review. I hope the Minister for Finance does so but, sadly, people I might try to encourage to purchase electric vehicles have said there is no guarantee about benefit-in-kind. If it had been put in the Finance Act, at least we would have some certainty. It is a disappointment and unfortunate that nobody was able to convince the Minister for Finance or his officials of the benefit of that.
Charging infrastructure aside, we are not doing enough to incentivise people to purchase electric vehicles. When one looks to Norway, a leader when it comes to electric vehicles, we see a range of soft incentives, such as free parking, permission to use bus lanes and reduced motor tolls for electric vehicle users. I have proposed the elimination of those altogether for such vehicles and I know the Minister has made some proposals in recent days on this. None of these is currently in place in Ireland when we must really front-load this activity. We must make it a no-brainer for people in order to get to that critical level of 50,000 vehicles. We need to show initiative. I was in Amsterdam at a conference over the weekend and taxis there using the airport or certain parts of central districts must be electric vehicles. Such initiatives could force the commercial side to move on this.
On a public transport level, there is a similar level of apathy within the Government. Currently, where public transport infrastructure exists, it runs on fossil fuels, making us an outlier among our European peers. This is not for want of trying within the public transport system. Last year, when Dublin Bus made an application to trial hybrid buses, it was rejected by the National Transport Authority. I do not know if the Minister was aware of that. On a broader level, we continue to underinvest in public transport infrastructure. Per capita, Ireland spends only a third of what cities such as London or Manchester do on public transport. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult and inconvenient to commute between our regions and within our cities, something that is harming our overall economy and its competitiveness. Both IBEC and Dublin Chamber of Commerce are just two of the bodies that have highlighted the negative impacts this is having on Ireland as a foreign direct investment destination.
All this is to highlight not only the dangers that Ireland is unleashing as a result of our failure to deal with climate change but also to emphasise the opportunities we are missing. We are not only throwing away the chance to build a brighter future for our grandchildren but we are harming our own economic growth, jeopardising the livelihoods of our own agricultural communities, ruining our own quality of life by sitting in and between congested cities and inducing lung issues by burning dirty fossil fuels.
I urge the Ministers and the rest of this Government to heed what I and other contributors tonight will say, as well as the advice of countless non-governmental organisations and people who are very well qualified in this area. We must finally get real about climate change.
I wish to share time with Deputy Tóibín.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is a major disappointment to be here discussing the progress on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. In the Thirty-first Dáil, I was a member of an environment committee that passed legislation in good faith. On behalf of Sinn Féin, we highlighted the shortcomings in that legislation but put our faith in it on the basis that the Government might do better. We felt it was better to have legislation in place as it was not replacing anything else. We felt it was at least a good start but the approach to date has been an abject failure. Report after report has shone a glaring light on this.
The figures are stark. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, reports a 7% rise in greenhouse gas emissions over two years rather than a reduction, with a 2.7% increase in emissions from agriculture, a 3.7% increase from transport and a 6.1% increase in emissions from the energy industry. Earlier in the year, the EPA reported we will miss our targets for 2020; there was meant to be a 20% reduction but it will be somewhere between 4% and 6%. It will be worse, according to the most recent report. It is an horrendous record, further emphasised with the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index that indicates us as the worst European country. It is a bad record to have. Our emissions were decreasing at one point, not because of any action being taken by central or local government or specific measures but rather because the economy collapsed.
This week the Climate Change Advisory Council has slammed the Government's response to this, the lack of action and weakness in the National Mitigation Plan, which is totally inadequate. We must see change. I say that in good faith as I am passionate about this subject. Not reaching our target speaks volumes about the lack of action, vision and any long-term planning by successive Governments - not just this one - with regard to climate change. Emissions keep going up rather than down and we lack any specific measures to change the direction from going towards the carbon cliff I warned of four, five or six years ago. We are approaching that head-on.
We need binding specific sectoral targets for emissions and we have nothing to fear from those. We also urgently need a wide portfolio of renewable energy sources, including biogas, biomass, offshore wind, solar and support for emerging technologies, such as wave and tidal power. I say to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that we are not tapping into huge areas that could generate jobs and wealth in rural areas. We should be able to do that to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With these sources of energy we can protect our environment, increase security of supply and create very important employment in rural areas. Ireland will instead spend billions of euro importing fossil fuels.
We are seeing the effects of climate change with erratic weather patterns, demonstrated with the likes of Storm Ophelia, which is the worst I have seen in my lifetime. At the time we saw widespread damage in my constituency in Laois and parts of the roofs of houses were blown away in the estate in which I live. We saw that replicated right across the country. In the past couple of weeks we saw flooding in Mountmellick and the oldest people in the town had not seen such flash flooding before. It brought extensive damage to more than 100 homes. Portarlington was also flooded.
The Government's solution is the National Mitigation Plan, which is not fit for purpose. I am not trying to have a go but I am saying it to the Minister. It is failing in an abject fashion and it should be revised immediately if we are to take climate change seriously. Wide-ranging change to Government policy is required and without action we will face large fines for not meeting our targets.
We are facing environmental implications beyond the control of future generations. It is up to this generation to act now to address those implications.
Diversifying our renewable energy sources will bring not only environmental benefits but also security of supply and predictable prices, factors which are vital in developing indigenous industries and attracting foreign direct investment. We must not only approach this issue from an environmental perspective but also with the objective of developing rural areas, creating jobs and improving farm incomes. In the midlands, the ending of peat cutting by 2030 will leave us with three power plants that could be converted to handle locally grown biomass. We need to emulate the vision shown by Government in the 1920s and 1930s which saw the establishment of Bord na Móna, Coillte and the ESB. Governments in the past did some great things in terms of invigorating those sectors, rolling out rural electrification and so on. There is no sense of that type of vision from this Government.
We are currently importing biomass to mix with peat to use in the Edenderry plant. Bord na Móna plans to invest €60 million in a biomass plant in North America, from which it will be imported into Ireland. I understand Indonesia was a source of biomass for this country at one point. That is not the right approach. The product is so lovely and clean that one could put it on the kitchen table, but it has clocked up huge carbon miles to get here. In addition, we are losing out economically because we are not creating the product here. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, takes on board that key point. Why is there no proper scheme to allow farmers on marginal land in the midlands and elsewhere to grow willow for biomass? There are huge tracts of land on which there is very little production but which would be ideal for this purpose. Only four farmers signed up to a scheme that was introduced in 2015. Bord na Móna, the farming organisations and individual farmers have raised this issue with me. We cannot simply collapse the jobs in the midlands when we stop peat extraction. Alternative employment must be put in place and here is the opportunity to do it. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, who has responsibility for Bord na Móna, must take action in this regard. As sole shareholder in that body on behalf of taxpayers, he must prevent the proposal to have a plant on the far side of the world shipping biomass here. We are capable of producing it here - after all, we have done more complicated things in harder times - and doing so will protect rural jobs and reduce our emissions.
We have failed to harness the potential to generate biogas from farm waste. We have a large agricultural sector relative to our size, but we need to diversify and make it more sustainable. A European Commission report has identified Ireland as having one of the best resources in Europe for biomass precisely because of our large farm sector. Germany has 8,000 biogas plants and the British have 600, even though they are hardly world leaders in this technology. Meanwhile, we have a pilot scheme coming into operation next April to inject gas into the grid. Taking advantage of our potential in this area will provide a long-term revenue stream for farmers and the potential to create sustainable jobs in rural areas. A study by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland this year cited the potential for the creation of up to 3,000 jobs in the biogas sector in Ireland. Slurry can be mixed with food and other waste to generate gas, but there is a problem in that regard. The State is currently seeking an extension of our derogation on the spreading of pig slurry. Other countries, however, are generating fertiliser and gas out of the same slurry.
In his announcement this week regarding the renewable heat incentive scheme, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine referred to the ongoing examination of biomethane. What does that mean? We do not need to examine anything in that regard because we know it is working elsewhere. We must displace fossil fuels where we do not need to use them. The issue of climate justice is not something in the distant future but for the here and now. Parts of the Philippines are already being washed over. We in the West are creating a far larger carbon footprint than are people in developing countries. We have a responsibility to address the damage we are doing.
There is a much greater role for local authorities in our efforts to address climate change. We need special policy committees, SPCs, in each local authority which would produce action plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions within their area and deal with things like cycleways, walking routes, upgrading homes and managing renewable energy schemes. I acknowledge the good work already being done in this area, but we must do more. Transport contributes more than 20% of our emissions, but we are not even off the blocks in addressing it. There are fewer than 2,000 hybrid vehicles on the road, for instance, and the ESB has been told by the regulator that it can no longer support the infrastructure associated with those vehicles. We must invest more in public transport, reduce car usage and increase the number of cycle lanes.
Blame for the lack of action on climate change does not lie solely with this Government but also with previous Administrations and, in fact, with everybody in society. We all have a responsibility to act. Planning in this regard must extend well beyond the term of this Government or any of our political carers. We need urgent action to produce a coherent plan for diverse forms of renewable energy and power, particularly sources which complement intermittent renewables. Now is the time for action in the form of specific and targeted measures. There is support for that right across the House and growing support in communities. We need to get on with it.
I was pleased with several of the appointments to Cabinet with a remit in this area because I considered them people of real ability. However, the inaction on climate change is the greatest disappointment to me in terms of the activity of this Government. Climate change is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the most serious issue facing our planet. Hundreds of thousands of people are losing their lives on an annual basis because of it. The political instability it is creating across the mid-east and north of Africa is leading to the fall of regimes and to millions of people coming to Europe's shores as refugees. The response by the Government has been disastrous. That we are at the bottom of the European class in terms of the results we are showing is an embarrassment to everybody in this Chamber.
The frustrating thing about it for me is that many of the mitigating activities that have been proposed would actually create jobs and fix balance of payment problems on a radical basis. This year, I launched a report on farming in Ireland and some of the figures contained therein are shocking. There are only 44,000 farmers in the State who are economically viable, for example, and the average wage for a cattle farmer is €12,500. Imagine if there were some way of giving money to farmers and meeting our energy needs as a country? What might be achieved if those needs intersected in some fashion? It drives me mad that we are not availing of the opportunities that are there with regard to biodigestors, micro-generation of solar and wind power and so on. All that is needed is a feed-in tariff to allow farmers to connect that electricity into the grid. How long does it take to create such a tariff? All the countries around us have had them in operation for ages. In the Six Counties, the roofs of buildings are festooned with solar panels that are sucking energy from the sun, providing energy for households and feeding excess energy into the grid. Yet we have no date for the introduction of a feed-in tariff. Why is Bord na Móna importing millions of euro worth of biomass from Africa? Why has the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine not created a supply chain mechanism to allow it to be produced in Ireland? It is incredible that money is being placed in pockets outside this country while our farmers are on their knees begging for funding. How can Britain under the Tories create more electricity via solar from March to September than it produces via all of its nuclear energy and all of its coal-fired stations? In this country, meanwhile, there is not one solar farm connected to the grid, never mind households or farmers being able to access the grid. It is incomprehensible.
Cycling is very good for alleviating congestion in cities, taking CO2 out of the system, cleaning diesel fumes out of the air and improving the general fitness of those who engage in it.
Cycling is operating on the clippings of tin in this country. The number of people dying in cycle accidents is increasing every year because this Government is not creating a safe way for people to cycle.
I had the opportunity to visit the office for control of the grid in Brussels where I was shown trends in grid capacity in Belgium. The grid capacity is falling. I thought that must be because energy use is falling but I was told that microgeneration means less capacity will be needed in the grid in the future. We are nowhere near to having microgeneration of energy in this country. Why not? How long does it take? The only glaciers that are immune from global warming are the Departments of Communications, Climate Change and Environment and Transport, Tourism and Sport.
I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice. The Government and the Opposition need to acknowledge that Ireland's engagement with the climate change agenda has been mediocre at best. We like to look down on the Americans in respect of this issue. We do not have a major problem here with a lobby of climate change deniers, such as there is in America. Our problem is different. If the American people did appreciate the reality of climate change, there is no doubt they would demand that something be done about it. In Ireland, we see the problem, accept it as fact, but do nothing, or, if not nothing, then not enough. Given the science of climate change and the global temperature tipping point, not doing enough is as bad as doing nothing.
On the one hand, we accept that the world is warming and that human activity is the dominant cause. The urgent need to address climate change is largely accepted in political debate and among the general public. On the other hand, however, our record in achieving ambitious targets, within tight timeframes, remains poor. As a result, we are most unlikely to meet our legally-binding greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2020 and we will become open to sanction for breach of EU rules.
The Citizens' Assembly report is proof positive that, unlike their counterparts in the USA, members of the general public here are way ahead of politicians and the Civil Service in their thinking. Some 98% of the members of the Citizens' Assembly recommended that climate change should be at the centre of policy-making. A total of 100% of them recommended that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change and 80% said that they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon-intensive activities. In three years' time, however, this State will be a law-breaker. The only question will be the extent of our liability. The fines may be of the order of at least €450 million, a shocking amount of money to hand over for our failure to plan for what has been coming down the road for so long. We will by then be faced with a new round of reduction targets for 2030 and beyond and will already be considerably in arrears and desperately trying to catch up.
Under the EU climate and energy package, the target set for Ireland is that our greenhouse gas emissions should, by 2020, be 20% below their 2005 values. The fact is that we let the recession do the heavy lifting for us. Emissions peaked in 2001, with reductions in eight of the past ten years. The reductions were entirely due to reduced economic activity rather than the impact of any Government policy for permanent remedial measures. Just as we lowered our emissions during the economic crisis, now that the economy is picking up again, they are once again increasing in line with economic and employment growth. This is while domestic construction is still in the doldrums. Imagine what the figures will be like when this Government finally gets around to building some houses.
Our emissions are increasing rather than decreasing. Every reasonable projection for 2020 shows that we will miss our reduction targets by a country mile. Today, Ireland emits more greenhouse gases than the 400 million poorest people on earth. Of the top ten per capita greenhouse gas emission polluters in the OECD, Ireland ranks ninth. The EPA figures for 2016 show a 3.5% increase. Broken down, this shows that agriculture emissions increased by 2.7%, transport emissions by 3.7% and energy industry emissions by 6.1%. There were significant increases across all of the main sectors and an overall trend of rising emissions. National emissions have now increased by 7% in just two years, indicating that we have not managed to decouple emissions from economic growth. Even taking account of all policies and measures in the pipeline, we will not meet our 2020 targets. In other words, full implementation of all Government policies and measures, including targets for energy efficiency in our homes and businesses and increasing renewable fuel use in transport and heating, will not be enough. It gets worse. The policies and measures currently in place will not see us comply with EU law and meet our current targets. New obligations for Ireland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even more during the years 2021 to 2030 are under negotiation.
The Government back-pedals. It argues that our 2020 target, unanimously approved here, was "unscientific” all along and was never achievable. It argues that we should not be told to curb our efficient agricultural practices and see them moved to less efficient parts of the world. This argument ignores the inconvenient fact that the projected growth in beef and dairy exports is posited on a change in Asian feeding habits that would, of itself, lead to increased carbon emissions regardless of from where the food comes.
It is clear that, during successive Administrations, the much-vaunted whole-of-Government approach was simply non-existent. There was no joined-up thinking and no overall Government vision and commitment. The only sector that was close to achieving its target is electricity, for which the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment is responsible. However, that has gone into reverse, perversely, because one aspect of Government policy permits the ESB to burn more coal at Moneypoint, now that coal is cheaper, even though this completely contradicts another aspect of that policy.
It appears that the State is also facing serious domestic legal challenges, grounded on a newly declared constitutional right to a sound environment. While the EPA's annual report serves for the rest of us as a wake-up call, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and his colleagues give every impression that they have slept through the alarm again.
Ireland signed up to unattainable goals. We are praising ourselves this evening because emissions dropped between 2007 and 2012. They did so because we exported 245,000 youngsters from our country in one of the worst recessions we have seen. Thank God the economy is picking up. There are 2.1 million people working now for the first time ever. When people do not have public transport they drive to work and then there will be more emissions.
I travelled to Banbridge in County Down to see anaerobic digesters for making biogas. Not one person from any Department bothered to look at them. They are not in the plan. Farmers could produce grass to make gas. Slurry could be used in an anaerobic digester. It could be pelleted and we could make use of it for water quality and for the environment. These are things that we talk about but we are not going to do them. Ireland cannot stop progress in agriculture so let us do it more efficiently. This year, we will reach only 60% of our target number of trees planted. The trees all seem to be coming to the west of Ireland. We deserve to make a living there as well and do not want to see trees around every house. The whole country should share the brunt of this. Government should make sure that is done. Nobody has a problem with taking their fair share. When a farmer plants trees, the Government takes the carbon credit relating to those trees. It is not left to the owner of the private property.
I believe in transport.
For transport, electric cars can be used in cities if one is accruing a small mileage but we must remember the road we have travelled before this. From 2007 to 2009, we were told to buy diesel cars. The tax on diesel cars came down to €180 or €190 if one had a car from 2009 onwards because such a car was more efficient. They may have been more efficient but Volkswagen and other companies fooled everyone with regard to emissions and now those people who have just about finished paying for those cars are being told to scrap them and to go electric. Money does not circulate if one is living in a rural part of the country where one gets €12,000 to €18,000 per year. One cannot just ditch a car, throw it on the side of the road and decide to buy something new. It needs to be incentivised by Government. We are talking about it and the Minister, Deputy Ross, is involved. I spoke to Barry Kenny of Irish Rail, to Bus Éireann and to Dublin Bus. We can use gas buses but at the end of the day, in the last budget, we did not even have €1 billion because Europe has us tied in fiscal rules. If we are to change Dublin Bus, which would help the environment, from diesel to gas, it will cost a lot of money. Let us be honest and not live in fantasy. If we are to change the way our trains work, it will cost €2 billion to €3 billion over the next ten years. Do we have that money? Let us not live in a world of talking about something if we do not have the money to do it.
There was an announcement yesterday that Bord na Móna is going to America to deal with Donald Trump. He is clapping his hands. His own guys are going to be working out there. They will be cutting timber, hauling it to a factory that Irish taxpayers will subsidise, a lorryman will pick it up with a 40 ft wagon, haul it to a port and it will go on a ship, then land in Ireland, where it will burn at 40% efficiency. At the same time we are doing that, we will tell Bord na Móna workers that they are sound lads and not to worry, since peat production at Bord na Móna will be phased out by 2030. What jobs will they get? Be honest with people that if that biomass is coming to a port whether in Foynes, Drogheda or Dublin, there will not be a Bord na Móna worker picking it up because it put the hackers that it had and its own drivers out onto the bog. It let go of the part-time workers. It hired in subbies to haul its stuff. The 1,600 workers deserve an answer. Where will they be in this plan?
I have heard people around the country talk about willow. We tried miscanthus and they went bust with it. Today, I spoke with a contractor who said he can produce willow for the price Bord na Móna is getting today. Contrary to what I have heard all evening, willow only grows on good land to the tonnage one needs, not marginal land and certainly not mountain land. In this country, we have designated mountains where one cannot sow a tree but it may be helpful to do so. The trees may not be as good. They may be twisted a bit but they may reduce some carbon. We need to wake up from the dream of where we are and the myth that we are going wrong with them.
After we bring in all this stuff from America and are burning palm kernels from South Africa, I heard a Minister come out discussing agri-land or such today to say we are going to get rid of Johnny down the country who, 100 yards from his land, is cutting the five or ten hoppers of turf for his fireplace. We should learn from history about trying to take on the ordinary domestic turf cutter, not a commercial one but someone who does it for his or her own fire. I look at what we will do in America which with a big ship we will bring to Ireland, while we are going to tell people in the country who are living on €12,000 to €15,000 in income that they cannot cut turf, including many pensioners. We tell them we will give them a grant. I rang the Department of Rural and Community Development this evening to see what this grant was and if we had the details. The person in charge of it in the Department had been moved and there were no details about it. We are making announcements when there is no substance behind it. The Government should get one thing clear in its head that the 60 or 70 year old in the country or the person in socio-economically deprived areas will not listen to the codswallop coming out. We live in reality, not in fantasy. There might have been a battle over the last few years but with some of the stuff that has come out today, those people have bigger battles coming.
Genuinely - I sound like Miriam O'Callaghan - I am very disappointed that we are having this debate on a night like this with so few Deputies to participate. I will make a proposal about that towards the end. I say that because I think it is unfortunate, as Deputy Ryan said, that we are having this discussion before the publication of the report and it is unfortunate that it is parked in the graveyard shift or whatever one calls this time on a Thursday night, because it is an important issue. I will repeat what others have said about the state we are in. We are the third highest producer of emissions per person in the European Union and ranked 49 out of 56 countries. It seems to me that our climate policy is to do nothing, to plead for special dispensations from the EU and to reduce any targets for emission reduction that we had aspired to. The Climate Change Advisory Council has already stated that we will not meet our 2020 targets, that the national mitigation plan will not result in decarbonisation and that we face, due to current emissions, fines in the region of €455 million or higher. Professor John Fitzgerald, who chairs the Climate Change Advisory Council says, "The plan has many ideas for action but it contains very few decisions".
We have official policy, various statements, lofty declarations and we have various Bills and legislation that commit us to emission reductions and decarbonisation of the economy. We seem on paper to recognise the seriousness of the issue but then we have Government inaction, effectively doing nothing to reduce emissions and to switch our society from being fossil-fuel dependent to renewables. The much heralded renewable energy support scheme, when one unpicks it, is really about big business and what big business needs. It contains rhetoric about community involvement but specifically excludes microgeneration and small community groups, something that we should all acknowledge needs to happen if we are to have communities buy in to dealing with climate action, to overcome opposition and to make the kind of shifts that are needed away from fossil fuels. The fact that they are excluded tells us what is happening with our climate energy policy - we do not have one. The level of emissions rises or falls depending on the policy and the fluctuations in the market. We are not decarbonising. We are as dependent on fossil fuels as ever and we are as governed by the interests of the fossil fuel corporations as we have ever been. I genuinely think, the more I see of this place and talk to people, that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and probably even the Minister, Deputy Ross, feel they have a commitment to climate change but I know they would acknowledge that the power of the fossil fuel industry is greater than the power they have as Ministers. The lobbying and power of the big fossil fuel corporations and their addiction to profit weighs down on all the policy-making of this Government.
It is not only Ireland that is not responding to the facts of climate change. The whole world is in the same boat.
For all of our conferences such as that in Bonn and all of our conferences of parties, COPs, and for all of the grand affairs at the United Nations, the globe is now emitting a greater volume of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere almost 30 years after Kyoto and decades after the science has been settled and we have known with certainty what will happen if we push the parts per million concentrations in the atmosphere above 350 parts per million. We have known and the scientific community has known the consequences. What have been the results of those three lost decades? We now stand at more than 400 parts per million.
Those decades were lost in the fight against climate change because there was no fight. Instead, for a long time there was a denial industry and the consensus was to use market mechanisms to deal with it: carbon trading, offsets and bizarre schemes that suggested we in the West or in industrialised countries, if we were to continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, could plant some trees in a developing country or have schemes based on inventive or fraudulent accounting as to what could be taken out of the atmosphere and as to what we were pumping into it.
All of these market mechanisms have failed, however. While companies and countries can pretend that they are dealing with it, the facts have stacked up and the levels of carbon dioxide have risen to historic levels. They are higher than they have been in the past 1 million years and the extremes of weather have continued to break all records. In the past 17 years, we have had the warmest 16 years on record. The extent and severity of droughts, heatwaves and storm intensity have all gathered apace. It is in the face of all those who say this is an intractable problem that we want to make a practical suggestion and we have already put a Bill before to the Dáil to address the question of the removal of fossil fuels from our shores.
It is brilliant that we passed a Bill and have banned fracking and the extraction of fossil fuels on land in the Twenty-six Counties. However, there was a refusal to accept an amendment to the Bill which would have also included offshore fracking. Therefore, we are proposing a Bill to the House to include offshore. I will repeat what I said to the Minister, Deputy Naughten, when I told him it was hugely disappointing and almost like a kick in the teeth to discover that, as soon as we went on summer holidays, he announced the issuing of a licence for further exploration in the Porcupine Basin. I understand that there are another 11 licences for exploration of fossil fuels, gases and oils off our coast waiting to be issued.
We were told by scientists in Bonn that the simple measure of Ireland, the pithy little country and all that it is, banning the extraction of further fossil fuels offshore would add greatly to the pressure on other countries and the industry generally around the globe. Two other countries are attempting to do the same. France is one of them. Deputy Eamon Ryan might help me with the other one. It is a small country.
France and Costa Rica are attempting to do the same. If the three of us managed to ban further extraction of fossil fuels, it would make a great contribution. The science tells us that 80% of the already recognised and known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to tackle climate change. To go digging for more would be an absolute catastrophe and would tie us in for another 40 or 50 years to fossil fuel addiction across Europe.
I want to raise one other issue which has been brought to our attention repeatedly by the NGOs who are fighting the good fight to try to get us all to wake up and realise that a race for the future is going on here. Others have spoken about them and they include the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Trócaire. We are now in the process of building two large liquified natural gas terminals in the west and the south to act as conduits for fracked gas from North America, possibly the Alberta tar sands. It could end up being stored here and then piped over to the rest of Europe. This would see the largest remaining reserve of carbon dioxide on the planet being brought to the markets and the economies of western Europe. It is madness. It is absolute insanity. It treats natural gas as some kind of a transitional gas.
Interestingly, I had this conversation with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, recently and he acknowledged that the gas companies try to present themselves as green. They say gas is green and that we should use it because it is lovely. We get the same sense from the advertising and encouragement to use natural gas of the companies that run it in this country. There is nothing green about it. It is a fossil fuel and the use of it and the infrastructure that we are building around the coast will lock us in for another 30, 40 or 50 years to a continued reliance on carbon dioxide, when what we need to be doing is keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
I think it was Deputy Fitzmaurice, although it may have been one of the Sinn Féin Deputies, who spoke about paying farmers not to grow any more beef. That is also completely inaccurate. The biggest beef farmers in this country, the likes of Goodman and Bruton, are the ones that are pushing for the major export deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Middle East. We are growing more cattle now to export live to those countries. These countries never ate beef or dairy and had a much healthier diet than we do, but they are now being encouraged to take this on and we are growing that beef here, adding to our emissions.
Our experience in Bonn was very interesting. I thought I would find it a cynical exercise but I learned hugely from it. I learned that, despite the emergency of thousands of companies which have original and inventive ways of dealing with and promoting renewable energy and of extracting from air, sea, wind and, in particular, solar power, there were many companies that were prepared to work with others and to sell and promote their products to tackle the question of climate chaos. However, the problem is that the elephant in the room was never mentioned. It was not mentioned at our interparliamentary meeting and it was not mentioned when the question was discussed with the people at stands. The elephant in the room is the giant corporations of Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and all of the giant fossil fuel corporations across the globe who wield the power and have the money. They control whole economies and countries and wield the power and, I believe, really influence what happens in this State.
We have a crucial role in fighting climate change by achieving that one small measure of keeping liquified natural gas in the ground. Similar to being the first to promote a vote on gay marriage, we can be the first to promote the banning of further exploration. We could stop those liquified natural gas terminals being built and promoted on our coast. We could revolutionise the unrolling of renewables, making sure that communities and micro-projects were encouraged to buy into the grid and put those projects and communities, and not big business, at the heart of our revolution. The market is the problem and not the solution.
In dealing with climate change, the Minister for Transport Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who I am looking directly at now, in his role as Minister with responsibility for transport, has to recognise that competition in the market for running buses and trains will not deal with the problem. We need public transport to be just that - public - and for it to be run in the public interest and not in the interests of private companies who will compete with each other and tender for routes. Rather than pumping all our resources into building more motorways, we should be increasing the level of our PSO services and have a fully funded, growing and ever better public transport system that will take cars off the road.
I admit that kind of spending would be a lot. However, today we discussed at length the question of PESCO. I will repeat it just for the sake of driving myself mad if not the everyone else. Overnight we can join a defence force in Europe that brings us from spending €900 million on our defence budget to between €3 billion and €4 billion. Overnight we seem to be able to do it. We have no problem signing up to it. It is being shoved down the throats of Deputies in this Dáil that this is the only way to go and we have to have it in. Where do we find that kind of money to spend on weapons of war, destruction and death? Instead could we spend it on something positive for the planet such as renewable energies or bringing public transport up to scratch to take cars off the road. That sort of mechanism will not happen because the market will not allow it. We should listen to the slogan of those who marched in Bonn at the climate change conference: "System Change, Not Climate Change." They also advocated, and I believe it is absolutely true, that capitalism is completely incompatible with climate justice.
To come to my proposal, the Citizens' Assembly, as it did with the eighth amendment, has done an amazing job in its consideration of climate change. Stop Climate Chaos Coalition stated that its 13 recommendations on the State's action on climate change included common sense, practical proposals that address many of the areas raised by the coalition. It continued that, most important, the recommendations indicate that the Irish public is prepared to back immediate and strong action to tackle climate change and that the Government now, given the Citizens' Assembly recommendations, has the political mandate to implement new and effective policies urgently and ensure the weaknesses of the national mitigation plan are overcome.
My proposal is that we do the same with the 13 recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly as we did with its 13 recommendations on the eighth amendment. I propose that we establish a special committee to consider them. It should be an all-party, cross-party Oireachtas committee that would meet in special sessions over a number of months, take each recommendation seriously, call and examine witnesses, ask who else would like to attend and begin to draw up a serious plan that we can implement. Too often, climate change is the last thing we talk about, or it is spoken about on the Thursday night graveyard shift. Alternatively, we are told we cannot talk about the mitigation plan until after the reports are published. I seriously propose that we set up a special Oireachtas committee to consider the outcome of the Citizens' Assembly deliberations on climate chaos.
Ireland made a commitment at the Paris climate change conference in November 2015 to provide at least €175 million in public funding in support of climate action in developing countries between 2016 and 2020. Since then, our State, acting in its function as a tax haven, has robbed multiples of this amount from the developing countries. Even with conservative estimates of the tax treatment of Irish investors in developing countries, Christian Aid says they constitute inflows to Ireland of approximately two to four times the size of the Irish aid budget. Any Minister who boasts about Ireland's movement on climate-justice aid should take time to consider the ongoing robbery.
Recently, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, stated in reply to a question from Deputy Catherine Connolly that his Department could consider investing in light rail only if there were a business case for it. The idea that there is no business case for investment in light rail in Ireland is a bit mad. Climate change is on the march and the effects are already costing the State millions of euro. As we spend our time looking at the potential for short-term returns on public infrastructure projects, climate change will cost us an increasing amount in financial terms and human lives destroyed. The idea that the State should operate like a private for-profit entity may be a central tenet of neoliberalism, which has facilitated the advance of the climate change disaster to the point it is at today. The planet is not solely a resource to be abused for profit, no matter what the consequences. If the State acted in the public good, it would not let short-term profit-and-loss sheet analysis decide whether to invest in something that will save lives.
The print in the Minister's script is pretty small. Perhaps it is that way so I cannot not read it or perhaps I jneed to get glasses; I am not sure. I do not see the phrase "light rail" in the script. This country needs to start considering light rail. I realise that if one produces a cost-benefit analysis, one concludes it is really too expensive in the short term. That is true but what is meant by the short term? We are talking about the long-term life of the planet and quality of life thereon so if we are to continue to deal in short-term economics, we will not really move to a different perspective on how we should challenge climate change. Things will not change a whole lot. It is seriously damning that we are now considered the worst in Europe at dealing with climate change and in how we dealt with it over the years. If nothing changes and if we just keep going along with short-term thinking, based on what we believe we can afford, things will not be done very much differently.
We are finding money to increase our defence expenditure and we found multiple billions of euro to bail out useless banks but we seem to struggle to borrow money to do what I propose. We can borrow money at a rate of 1%. The Minister says it goes on the books. Can Europe actually help us in dealing with climate change? Can it allow us to borrow money for investment in infrastructure? It would be in the public interest and a great idea all round. Why are we not allowed to borrow money at a rate of less than 1% to invest in infrastructure? If Europe actually cared about how this country will develop, and if it really cared about our dealing with climate change, would it not afford us some financial flexibility with regard to infrastructural investment? That is not so mad.
It is doing so. I refer to the European investment programme.
How much money is in it? The Government is still not building houses. Only three local authority houses will have been built in Wexford this year.
I believed we were talking about climate change measures and environmental matters.
There are over 3,000 on the list.
Deputy Mick Wallace without interruption.
I am not interrupting the Minister of State, he is the one interrupting me. I did not interrupt him when he was talking-----
I am only trying to be helpful.
-----although I might not have agreed with what he was saying.
I am anxious to continue. We have a long distance to go. Deputy Wallace should continue.
The Minister of State would probably like me to move on to the issue of agriculture. I will. The agriculture sector is stuck with the same profit-before-people logic. The lies and spin surrounding the discussion of agriculture's emissions problem are becoming farcical. On 8 November, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine told me I was wrong in my view that emissions from agriculture were on the rise and that, in fact, between 1990 and 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector reduced by 5.5%. According to the EPA, emissions from agriculture in 2016 were 3.5% below their 1990 levels but they increased in four out of the past five years, namely in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. If the Food Wise programme continues, we will see an increase next year and in the two following years. The IFA is going around peddling the lie that there has been a 6% reduction since 1990 but what it and the Minister are omitting is that the EPA's figures are gleaned using the 2006 guidelines from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A project sponsored by the NASA Carbon Monitoring System research initiative has found that global livestock methane emissions for 2011 are 11% higher than the estimates based on guidelines provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2006. The EPA, IFA and the Minister may all have differing versions next year.
Last week, the Taoiseach said that Irish beef production is more carbon efficient than beef production in South America and that we should not displace production to other countries that are less carbon efficient. This argument sidesteps the fact that we have not a chance in hell of achieving climate change mitigation if we do not dramatically cut down on the amount of meat that we eat globally. If we keep consuming meat as we are, we will not solve the climate change problems. That is a fact of life. The Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, may shake his head all he likes. I know only too well that it is madness to even challenge the agriculture sector about anything it does. I am actually as fond of agriculture as any of those opposite but I do believe we need a different approach.
How would the Deputy manage the grass-----
Is the Minister of State going to keep interrupting me?
It is approaching 9 p.m. and we have two other contributors in addition to the Topical Issue debate. Let us be realistic, therefore. The Minister of State might want to contribute but he knows the rules as well as I know them.
I am sorry. The Deputy is talking about me.
The Minister of State may not interrupt. That he is a Minister of State does not give him any privilege.
Fair enough. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle made his point.
I am not being facetious in saying that.
A recent study from the European Parliament examined average agricultural greenhouse gas production in the EU between 2012 and 2014. The data collected reflect how much agricultural output, valued in euro, is generated for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted. The best-performing country in the European Union, Italy, achieved some €1,700 of agricultural output per tonne of emissions. Ireland, the worst-performing country in the EU 28, achieved less than €400 of agricultural output per tonne of carbon emitted. How bad is that? This study was based on the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guidelines that have been shown by NASA to be wrong as they dramatically underestimated the amount of emissions coming from the beef and dairy sectors.
The lies being told to protect this incredibly destructive sector must stop before we can have an honest discussion about climate change. Ireland has done next to nothing to reduce its emissions, the proof being the 3.5% increase last year. While Ministers plea for a special case and complain along with the farming lobby about the Green Party signing us up to unachievable targets, other countries are making the transition. The Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour parties sat on their hands for years. We only produced the legislation in 2015, eight years after we signed up to the greenhouse gas reduction programme. There was nothing in the legislation. It kicked the can down the road for two years and contained no reference to targets. We had no national climate change strategy at all between 2012 and earlier this year when the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Naughten, published a mitigation plan An Taisce dubbed as an unmitigated disaster.
The elephant in the room, along with the cow, is power generation. Scotland has increased its power generation from renewable sources from 20% in 2009 to 43% in 2015. In Ireland, in 2015 a total of 8% of energy was from renewable sources. The small amount of extra energy coming online from renewable sources will all be eaten up by the data centres that will be built here in the next five years. In effect, we are in a bad place and jogging to stand still. That means all the talk of electric cars is not what it is built up to be until we address how we produce electricity. Are we going to switch from petrol and lethal Government-subsidised diesel to cars being powered by oil, gas, peat and coal and a tiny bit of renewables, some of which will be fake renewables?
There has been much fanfare about the diversion of funds towards biomass but the reality is that biomass is dirtier than coal and far more carbon intensive than burning natural gas. I have raised those issues numerous times with the Minister, yet he is going to go along with the climate damaging policy. The European Environment Agency's scientific committee, the European Commission's joint research centre and the European Commission itself, among many others, have all observed the premise that biomass combustion does not result in carbon accumulation in the atmosphere is wrong. Similarly, the IPCC has pointed out that its approach of not accounting for biomass emissions in the energy cycle should not be interpreted as a conclusion about the sustainability or carbon neutrality of bioenergy. When one burns forests, the carbon dioxide is released instantaneously but the bogus argument from the biomass industry is that the CO2 will be captured again by forest growth but that process will take up to 50 years. This cycle is not something we can afford. We need to look at how our energy policy affects carbon dioxide levels now, not over a period of decades. The push towards biomass is industry-led and all over the world we are seeing power plants that were built to burn coal or peat being switched over to burning something else while the industry-concocted lie that it is green is shoved down our throats. In the UK, there have even been corruption scandals with the MP who chaired the all-party parliamentary group on biomass accepting tens of thousands of pounds in bribes and leisure trips to Miami from the biomass industry. In Ireland, the industry has secured millions in public subsidies.
In the realm of transport, we are not doing much better. The Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Naughten, said last week that we are running a number of initiatives with the public and private sectors to convert from traditional fossil fuels to electric vehicles. That is not an accurate statement. The lack of public investment and progress on electricity grid and renewable technologies means that in Ireland electric cars run on fossil fuels. Let us add to that the fact that the electric car industry is dependent on child labour in the cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. The DRC supplies half of the world's cobalt at the moment and the entire process is mired in corruption, scandalous human rights abuses and the ongoing violence and warfare in the region which is not unconnected to the mineral wealth of the country.
We have not begun to deal with the housing crisis in this country yet and it will probably get worse before it gets better. We have a growing population and there has been much talk of late about apartments being too expensive to build. We will have many more problems if we keep covering the country in concrete and keep building houses further away from where people work. If one goes anywhere in Europe, one will see apartments for people to live in cities. We have not done that nearly enough. I accept that the construction of apartments gives rise to many issues and that we must take a different approach but if we refuse to look at the long-term plans for how we supply housing in this country, we will make dealing with climate change even more difficult. There are added climate change costs attached to building homes further away from the centre of cities. People have to spend longer in cars and other forms of transport on their commute. Given that we are unlikely to build light rail soon, it is a serious issue. It is a no-brainer that we must think very differently about apartments. The big problem with apartments in this country is that they were not built for family living but that can be done. If it can be done in Europe, then we can do it. Apartments can be built for families. We just have not done it and unless we start to do it, we will add to our climate change problems.
Deputy Mattie McGrath has graciously agreed to give three minutes of his time to Deputy Durkan. It could be a new coalition.
I thank him very much.
I am pleased to speak in the debate. I am delighted to see triúr Airí anseo. Tá súil agam go bhfanfaidh siad agus go mbeidh siad ag éisteacht.
The issue of climate change is unavoidable. Whether we are discussing agricultural policy, methane emissions or the use of land for forestry, we simply cannot get away from this debate. I am aware that it one of those issues where there is deeply divided opinion not only on the alleged causes of climate change, but also on the proposed solutions.
We know that in 2015 countries adopted the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and its 17 sustainable development goals. In 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force, addressing the need to limit the rise of global temperatures. Of course that was before the United States decided to re-evaluate its commitment to the Paris Agreement. According to the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, which consists of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian Congregation, the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of the Holy Faith, the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, represent a political, economic and social commitment for the world up to 2030. They establish a sustainable development agenda which can be defined as development that meets the needs of those in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to also meet their needs. In order for sustainable development to be achieved, three interconnected elements are required, namely, economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. Those are all noble goals and there is nothing in them that anyone could argue against. The difficulty is how we get there, and how we achieve the goals.
In terms of the impact any proposed measures would have on our unique economy, the IFA has said that a new approach must be developed, one which puts food security and resource stresses such as water availability at the centre of agriculture's response to climate change. It also says that the agriculture sector must also receive full emission reduction credit for carbon sequestration activity in agricultural soils, forestry and bioenergy when emissions from the sector are being reported. What is deeply concerning to people in rural areas is how often they hear enormous passion and enthusiasm to address the perceived problems associated with climate change but so often that is at the expense of the rural way of life. That is almost always the case now. People in rural areas often feel that are being sacrificed without any consideration in order to achieve outcomes and goals relating to climate change which are contentious to say the least.
In preparing for the debate, I came across some interesting information which I am open to having corrected because one can only believe half what one sees and none of what one hears. It refers to the history of so-called climate tipping points. It is instructive in that it shows how the great sense of panic on the subject is often overstated. For example, as early as 1989 the UN was already trying to sell its tipping point rhetoric to the public.
Then in 2007 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chief declared 2012 as the climate deadline by which we had to act or it would be too late. I am told that, not to be outdone, the former President, Mary Robinson, weighed in this week issuing a more generous 20-year tipping point. After that, NASA got in on the act claiming that the climate tipping point was 2009. Indeed, NASA boss, James Hansen, declared that Obama had only his first term to save the planet. He has come and gone and he had a second term. In 2012 the UN gave Obama and the planet Earth another four-year reprieve. The former US vice president, Al Gore, also created a ten-year climate tipping point in 2006. Yet, it is more than ten years later and 2016 has come and gone but we are still around, thank God.
What are we to make of all this? Is it not even remotely reasonable to raise questions on the matter when it appears that organisations like NASA and the United Nations have got it so completely wrong in terms of so-called climate tipping points? I am not for a moment suggesting that we need to take a cavalier attitude to the issue, but we must listen to the debate. We should not simply demonise those who may have different perspectives on nature and the causes and proposed solutions.
I see the Minister and the two Ministers of State across the floor. I could call them the three amigos or the three stooges – I do not know what I will call them. Anyway, it is good to see them here listening so late in the night.
He should call them the three muchachos.
It is unbecoming of you to use such unparliamentary language, Deputy McGrath.
I withdraw whatever unparliamentary language I used. I did not intend it in that way; I only intended to be jocose. I was not trying to have a go at them either.
Unfortunately, there is a problem with carbon credits in agriculture, as Deputy Fitzmaurice and others have said. This relates to where people are putting in afforestation. They are not allowed keep the credits. Big business has come in and farmers are not allowed get carbon credits on their land.
There are parts near where I live in extreme south Tipperary and west Waterford where we have the hen harrier. We have land that cannot be touched or drained. A farmer cannot cut a rush in it. A friend of mine made me two rattles for a little baby recently from rushes from a bog in west Cork. They were works of art. I only got them last night. I should have brought them in and rattled them here. It would have woken us all up. Anyway, he made them from rushes but we cannot even do that in the land where the hen harrier is. We cannot drain it, graze it or plant it. It is useless. We have to be careful what we are at.
His eminence, Pope Francis, is concerned about climate change. My erstwhile colleague, who is not here tonight, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, is fundamentally opposed to his views. We had an interesting meeting one night in the residence of the former Papal Nuncio. While driving up to the gate, Deputy Healy-Rae said that he did not know what the man wanted from him because he did not agree with his boss. I did not twig for a while what he was going on about, but that is a story for Teachta Danny Healy-Rae. As I said, we must listen. He has issued several encyclicals on the matter as well.
There are 2 million people working in Ireland. We boast everyday about all the people back in work. The quantity and quality of the jobs might be often considered a strain. Anyway, those people have to travel to work. How are we going to take away all the cars? In fairness, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, met a group from my constituency to discuss electrification of buses and electric buses. We must look at all those situations and examine them. We have not got it.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, is introducing a Bill in the House tomorrow. I will be back here especially to challenge the Minister robustly on it. It is affecting rural Ireland. Where is the rural proofing in this legislation? Where is the rural proofing in the legislation before the House tomorrow? It is not there. Rural Ireland is dead and gone. Who is it with in the grave? I cannot think of the poet.
It is O'Leary.
It is with O'Leary in the grave. That is what the Government wants: nothing in rural Ireland, a wasteland. We have announcement after announcement here and there about this, that and the other. The Minister can smile and laugh all he likes. We have the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for greyhounds and horses and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Anyway, we need to have joined-up thinking. We need to allow our people to work. We are not going to get back to the comely maidens dancing at the crossroads. That was a time when they all had to cycle to work on penny farthing bikes. That is what the Government is going to reduce rural Ireland to if it is not careful. We are not going to take all the blame for all the climate change.
I look forward in particular to the contribution of Deputy Ryan afterwards. His mother or grandmother came from Tiobraid Árann - he often tells me that. Deputy Ryan should think about Tipperary and rural Ireland and the rural economy. One in seven of the jobs are in agriculture. We cannot banish all of agriculture.
What about cutting the turf? My goodness, was it ever cut? It was a good pastime, a healthy recreation and part of our heritage and culture. The Government wants to stop the ordinary man going out to cut a little turf to heat and warm himself. The Government wants to pay people to stay at home and do nothing and give them the fuel allowance. Is that what the Government wants? It is totally anti-God, anti-nature, anti-health and anti-everything to be sitting for that long with everything going up the chimney. Since he got bad summers, the farmer will not be able to dry enough turf. Even if he turns it two or three times, it will not burn for him. Anyway, he is entitled to do that. It is part of his heritage and culture, as it was for many generations before him. They should be allowed to continue it.
Is it like Cromwell – to hell or to Connacht? The Government will not even leave them in Connacht now. My good friend beside me is from Connacht. The Government wants to send them all overseas and export them. Bord na Móna has 1,600 jobs, many of which are in my county. We are going to lay them all off. The plan is to go to biomass and ship it in here. In the name of God, the lunatics are running the asylum by bringing up this legislation. They are going to ship it in here and then burn it. However, we know it is difficult to burn anyway.
I do not know where the Government is coming or going from. Thanks to Deputy Fitzmaurice, an email came in to me this evening. It was from the Irish Farmers' Journal. I imagine he will get it up on the screen of his iPad. It is a photograph of a horse and a tractor and plough. The EU is now going to tell us what way to plough the field and what direction we should go. Next thing, they will have us back with the horse and plough. They will have us tied on. We will be pulling the plough. We will not even be allowed the horse in case he breaks wind and causes emissions. We are gone stark raving mad. They want to tell us what way to plough the field and what direction we should plough the field. What kind of fields are there in Donegal? I am unsure whether the Minister, Deputy Ross, can see any fields where he lives. Anyway I know the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is a tillage farmer. I am unsure what is going on over in Galway, but, my God, it is madness to tell anyone what way to plough the field and in what direction.
It is no wonder we have Brexit. We will have more Brexit. We might want an Irish exit, Irexit. It is scandalous. I have the photograph before me. The Deputies should look at it. There is a nice sod turned. It was taken during the ploughing match. It is a little crooked. It was a Ford with a reversible plough. Now, those in the EU in Brussels dictate what direction fields are ploughed. I rest my case. It is madness. The lunatics are not only running the asylums but they are running this place as well. As I said, this legislation and all the announcements are crazy.
It is a pity the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is gone. I salute him for some of the efforts he has made. He is trying some initiatives, but it is all too little too late. We have let the madness into the machinery of State. There is brainwave after brainwave. However, once the EU says something like that, our own geniuses tell us that we cannot plough the fields at all and that we must spray them and leave them as wasteland. We pay people to leave them idle, like with the set-aside scheme. It is madness of the highest degree. There is serious cause for concern.
We must listen and pay our fair share but we must not blame the people of rural Ireland. We need electric buses and electric cars, but until some of these initiatives are rolled out, Paddy, Mary and Tommy must go to work. They want to work. Jimmy and Nelly must go to the bog and cut the turf. They can have the tea in the bog and have a large bath when they come home. They cannot have two baths until tomorrow. The Minister will tell them they are not allowed to have two or they will be arrested and locked up forever. The people of rural Ireland are being terrorised with intimidating legislation. None of it is rural-proofed or rural-assessed. None of it is financial-proofed. None of it is understood. None of it is even meaningful. It is a sad day when we are dishing out all this legislation day after day here. We are simply churning it out and creating so much paper.
What about all the carbon credits for all the paper that is wasted on initiatives? The members of the Cabinet should have a serious think. The Minister may go away to meet the rest of the Cabinet tonight. They might have a Cabinet dinner. The Minister, Deputy Ross, should go and meet them and talk to them. They can carry on being merry and to hell with the people of rural Ireland.
I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for sharing time. I certainly would like to have a far longer opportunity to speak in this debate. I hope another debate can be arranged as soon as possible. I think it is no harm to mention those who may not know that some of the things Deputy Mattie McGrath has said are actually correct. I can help him out on the question of the direction of ploughing. That is done for a particular reason. It is to break up the sequence of the sods turning back and forth in the same spot over the years. That is the reason for it; it is quite simple.
Next thing, we will be ploughing up the hill.
Before the last general election, the Government of the day was well committed to the alternative energy programme. Those of us who were committed to it spent countless meetings defending our positions on platform after platform. We were bushwhacked by the Opposition at the time. There is not much sense in the Opposition coming along now and saying there has been insufficient progress. In fact, they impeded the progress. They shut it down at every opportunity. There are three ways alternative energy can be effectively and efficiently provided in this country. I should mention as well, incidentally, that wood is neutral is so far as carbon is concerned.
It is carbon neutral and only exudes the amount of carbon that it absorbed in the first place, no more or less. One grows a tree to replace a tree and one contributes nothing to the carbons.
Wind energy is the most efficient, effective and reliable way to generate electricity. It is as simple as that and the sooner we recognise that, the better. I tried to point this out to people all over the country for the past four or five years and no one wanted to listen. When will people listen? They will do so when the fines come down the track because fines will be effective. People told me in the past that we would not pay any fines but that is a matter beyond our control.
Solar panels can be installed effectively on marginal land. A grid is needed to allow suppliers of electricity to link into it because wind does not blow in the same place all the time. It may not be blowing in one place but it will be blowing five, ten or 100 miles away. The grid must be sufficient to ensure continuity of supply.
We need, as a matter of urgency, to concentrate on developing eco-friendly generation of electricity. In addition to solar and wind power, another option is hydro-generation. We are limited in what we can do in this area unless we flood valleys and so on.
It is critical to remember that we do not need to be pessimistic. However, we will need to be pessimistic if we continue to engage in obstruction every time we get a chance to provide an alternative. We either have one or the other as otherwise we will have to put up with the consequences.
Climate change is a difficult issue in a range of ways. It is difficult because of the scale of the challenge and also because the scale of the change is so immense that we speak of the issue in terms of a geological timeframe, although we are speeding it up. People joked and laughed at the then President Obama when he said he wanted to stop the seas rising but that is what we have to do and it will not be easy.
We in the environmental movement - I count myself among its members - may need to think about our approach. We have known the science for a long time and maybe we have scared people and made them feel guilty without giving them a sense of empowerment. Rather than telling people what to do, perhaps we should start asking for their help. Perhaps we must admit uncertainty because we do not know all the precise solutions. While the science is absolutely clear regarding the threat and reality of climate change, we are not certain of where the tipping points lie and when we will cross over into runaway destructive climate change.
We know what we have to do, namely, decarbonise the entire economy within the next three decades. We must achieve 100% decarbonisation, not the 80% set out in the Bill. This is what is provided for in the Paris climate agreement to which we signed up and it is what science says we must do.
There are some signs of hope and the task is not impossible. Global emissions have started to stabilise in recent years, China has started to burn less coal and India is turning to solar power. In addition, the Internet and digital technologies are driving efficiencies, leading to energy savings and emissions reductions. The scary thing, however, is that this year, while emissions stabilised, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased. There is a fear that we may be approaching one of the tipping points at which the natural systems are no longer able to store the carbon we have been producing. We must, therefore, take dramatic action and do so quickly.
As I stated, we have known about this issue for a long time. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was written 25 years ago when the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was 359 parts per million. Today, it stands at 407 parts per million and is rising by approximately three parts per million every year. This rise must stop, which requires a large-scale response and immediate change.
Deputy Mattie McGrath referred to Dr. James Hansen who is one of the best scientists on climate. He estimated that if we had started addressing climate change in the early 1990s, we would have had to achieve an annual reduction in global emissions of approximately 2%. If we had started to act in 2005, Dr. Hansen estimates that the required annual reductions in global emissions would have been approximately 3.5%. Now, according to Dr. Hansen, because we have not taken action in the past 25 years, the reduction required is of the order of 6% per annum. This presents an incredible challenge, albeit one I believe we can meet. It is not too late but the longer we delay, the worse the problem will be.
I regret that the Minister, Deputy Ross, has just left the Chamber because I was keen to point out to him that one of the reasons we must act now is that if we do not build the infrastructure needed for the low carbon world that is emerging, we will build the wrong infrastructure. The national planning framework is completely flawed in terms of the importance it attaches to the issue of climate. It does not propose any change in the way we will build for the future but continuing with the construction of inter-urban motorways as if this approach will work in terms of reducing emissions and the congestion that dogs the country. We must act now to provide the appropriate infrastructure because a new industrial revolution is taking place. As I stated, there is hope and change is taking place across the world, as people switch to new, renewable systems and there are, at last, signs that an alternative, low carbon transport system is possible. In all likelihood, it will run on electricity. However, the alternative also includes a return to urban environments in which we reduce the dominance of the car. This would have all sorts of benefits. As a country which missed out on the first industrial revolution, why would we choose to miss out on the new, clean industrial revolution that is taking place? That is the path we are choosing, however.
We must also change the economy by shifting from the unjust corporate controlled system. The transition of which I spoke presents us with an opportunity to do so. We must make the leap to a different and better model, restore ownership, where we can, to the local level. This also means we must continue to work globally because this is a global problem. We have to co-operate with China, the United States, Africa, the rest of Europe and everywhere else in the world because this issue involves every country. It must, however, be based on switching not only to a clean but also a socially just economy. The trade unions know this is necessary. They are correct that there are no jobs on a dead planet. They recognise the reality and want to be part of a just transition in order that we can make a social, as well as environmental switch. The benefit of tackling this problem would not only be in the area of emissions. It would also address the problem of air pollution, which is causing asthma in children and causing heart and lung problems in the wider populations. Almost one third of the solutions to which we can turn in this country involve changes to the natural environment that deliver other environmental benefits in protecting biodiversity, improving the water supply and helping to prevent flooding. Making this switch would deliver a myriad of advantages.
As I stated, we need to make a shift in our urban areas. There is a logjam in the system, which is not working. If we are to build the houses we desperately need, we must do so in an urban environment that is clean, green, social and not dominated by the car. What is wrong with doing that? Why would we not set such an objective or seek to achieve that gain?
Last but not least, the transition of which I speak will be good for rural Ireland. I attended an event last night at which we discussed the development of community. It was a tough discussion because some of those present related difficult stories about what is happening in their communities. The toughest story was told by a young woman from Leitrim who said she did not want to go home and had not been home to visit her parents for a year because there was not enough life at home. There was no excitement, activity, jobs or young people and no broadband or connectivity. We have to address this issue and in addressing our carbon emissions, we will return life to rural Ireland. That is where the employment and new energy supplies will be located. It is also where we can get higher quality food that brings life back to these communities.
This is not just about narrow economics. It is also about a sense that every village and every town can and has to play its role. This belongs to everyone as a challenge because it is so big. Therefore, that village in Leitrim is just as important as downtown Dublin, New York or Shanghai. We all have to play our part in this transition such is the scale of the change that has to be made.
This is a cultural transition. It is, and it is difficult to use this word in this House because one never mixes the two, a "spiritual" transition we need to make. It is, as Pope Francis and the Eastern Patriarch Bartholomew stated, a massive leap or transition to make where we put ecological and social thinking at the heart of everything, including our churches. That is what we need to do. Why are we not doing it?
Some say we were too ambitious when we were in government and that has caused the problem. I am sorry, I beg to differ. My experience in government was a positive one that one could effect change. Emissions, around the time we were involved in government, went down 15%. I accept half of it, or slightly more, was probably to do with the recession, but the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, made an assessment that half of it was due to the fact that at that time there was political commitment in government behind the change. We can do this. My experience is when we get the State together, and get the agencies in behind it, we have European regulations backing us and that is possible. That is happening again now.
Europe is turning to this again as a priority just at the time when the Government is there negotiating. I regret also that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, is not here because his officials are still in Brussels this week. In every file, they state the EU should step back as Ireland does not want to take an ambitious path. That is the reality of what is happening, as we speak, this week.
Some say we cannot do it because China and America are not doing it. China is doing it. They are doing it because they know this is the new industrial revolution and they want to get ahead in that. Europe is starting to wake up to that and Europe will challenge it. Even President Trump in office will not stop America making this transition because in California, in Massachusetts, in Florida, and in all the innovative centres in America they realise this transition is the way forward and they are investing in it. The technological centres of the world, such as California, China and Germany, are all going in that direction. We want to opt out. I have to ask why.
It is not too late for many who might turn to that view, because the more emissions we have, the higher the temperature and the worse it will be. The more we can restrict this, the less damage that will be done. It is never too late.
The opportunity is there. We need to start with oil and gas. The Taoiseach stated the other day that we will always need oil and gas. Eighty per cent of the known reserves in the world will have to remain in the ground if we are to avoid going over those tipping points into dangerous runaway climate change. The latest analysis we got in Bonn was that even the existing production line from oil, gas and coal will not be able to be used. We do not need any more oil and gas and we should be turning to renewables.
This Government has set a target for 2030 of 40% of energy through renewables. It is clear, even while the technology is uncertain and it is always difficult, that it has changed now. The certainty has come in recent years. The cost of renewables has come down. We could achieve 75% by 2030. There are all sorts of industrial benefits that would come from that, not only in the energy sector. It is mainly offshore wind and solar power, and it has to be solar on the roof first so that it is owned by the people and there is that social transition as well. Where is that in our statement?
We need to make our homes warm and protect them. The Tipperary Institute did really good work around super homes, where we set an ambition for ten years' time to convert all those 1 million homes which currently have oil-fired central heating and poor insulation by installing exterior insulation, solar panels on the roof, electric heat pumps, electric vehicle, EV, connections and so on. It is not impossible. The technology exists. Many Irish companies are good at it. Why is that not being set as a statement of ambition tonight?
I say yes to electric vehicles for rural Ireland. The easiest place to put electric vehicles will be at the one-off houses in the country. It is difficult in parts of Dublin because there are terraced houses and apartments. That is not the case in rural Ireland and that is the first place we should be putting them in. The range problem will not be an issue because as the volume of cars increases, the number of charging stations increases and the batteries improve. This is doable, it is clean and it provides a balance against the renewable power supply. This is the industrial revolution. We have to be good at it. We can be good at. EirGrid, our transmission company, is bloody good at it.
It is cheaper.
It is not cheaper.
It is cheaper. The cost of onshore wind, the cost of solar and even the cost of offshore wind has come right down.
The cars are becoming cheaper too. The fuel costs are one fifth of an oil-fired car, and the maintenance costs are a fraction too because there are fewer moving parts. That is the reality of what has happened. We need to wake up to it.
We need to invest in public transport and do what the Citizens' Assembly said. The Citizens' Assembly's work was superb in terms of saying the Government needs to show leadership. An official from the Department there asked what can the citizens do for us on this and they came right back and stated it was rather that they need to know what the Government can do for the citizens on this and it can start by switching the transport budget towards public transport and by investing in cycling to create these urban spaces that really work.
We also need a land use plan for this country. We need a big vision. We need to listen to what the Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, stated on Monday-----
I said it.
-----and the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. The Minister of State knows Europe is changing on this. He knows the future payments in CAP will go for those who protect biodiversity, who store carbon and who help us protect water supplies.
Let us go for it. Let us not see this as a rural-urban divide because it is not so. The only way this will work for us as a country, if we are to make this leap, is if we do it collectively. When we do that, when we act in concert, when we act in a co-ordinated way, we are a really capable country. At present, we are in the doghouse on this issue because there is no political will. There is an utter lack of leadership in government and that needs to change.