Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the establishment of a body to be known as An Coimisiún Náisiúnta um Thrasdul Cóir or, in the English language, the National Just Transition Commission to oversee the bringing together of workers, communities, employers and government in social dialogue to drive the plans, policies and investments needed for a fair transformation to a low-carbon economy; to require the preparation, by certain prescribed bodies, of just transition plans; to provide for the conferral of other functions on the said body; to amend the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015; and to provide for related matters.

I am honoured to be able to introduce the Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill, which is an important part of the new architecture we need to tackle climate change, the greatest global challenge of our time and a particular challenge for the country. However, we also have an opportunity. We know, from the latest IPCC report, of the urgency of the issue. We know that it requires changing everything, including our entire energy, food production, transport and industrial systems. We need to get that change right, particularly in supporting and maintaining workers' rights. The future of the labour movement in Ireland will be green. Social justice and ecological justice go together and this Bill and the institutions it proposes to set up would help make this green future happen.

I will give some examples of where we might need this legislation before outlining briefly its main provisions. The most obvious current case is the need to ensure workers in Bord na Móna and the general midlands economy will thrive in a new, clean energy, green future. Anyone could tell that keeping peat-fired power production in the belief that we could import biomass at scale from the United States, which Bord na Móna may still be considering, was not sustainable environmentally, for the workers or for the long-term future of the company. However, Bord na Móna still offers us a real opportunity. We must place the company at the centre of the massive transition we need to make. Major jobs need to be done and I am glad Bord na Móna is considering potentially developing 2 GW of renewable power. The bogs would be perfectly suitable for this purpose because grid connections for both wind and solar power could be established in these areas in ways that would bring real wealth to the midlands.

Given the skills of its workforce and management and its tradition of delivering for the State, Bord na Móna could be used to deliver the massive investment in energy efficiency we require. Oil fired central heating systems are used in 1 million homes here. If the IPCC report on climate change is to mean anything, these systems must all change in the next ten years. The public energy efficiency target is not being met in public buildings. We have tried to change behaviour. We now need physical infrastructure that will save the State money and cut emissions.

This country has considerable capability and is good at balancing variable renewable energy supply and demand. Rolling out a charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and heat pumps to every house is a major task. Deeper retrofit on buildings must be done at the same time to make the transition. Bord na Móna should be centre stage in making that happen. A significant budget is available and further funding to make this happen is also available. It will not be done correctly if it is not planned and part of the job of the just transition commission we propose in the Bill would be to bring the various players around the table to set out and plan exactly how we make this happen.

Similarly, the car industry will have to change dramatically in the next ten years. It will have to move towards electric vehicles and car sharing rather than car ownership. Car maintenance will be completely different because breakdowns in the electric vehicle fleet are only a fraction of the number in conventional car fleets. How can we work with the motor industry? It does not make sense to see it as inevitable that the industry remains as it is and does not take part in the transition, nor would it make sense to allow the transition to happen without planning for it. It would be better to set out for the car retailers and lobby groups what changes we see coming, including fewer car sales, less maintenance and less business in car parts. We would, however, have better cars and a better transport system. We want to ensure the industry and workers in it prepared for those changes. We can achieve that by setting up, as proposed in the Bill, a process of mediating how one organises and realises this change.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

I was only warming up.

I look forward to discussing the Bill in much more detail at a later stage.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

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

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

Question put and agreed to.