I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss what transacted at the UN assembly on climate action. It was a useful meeting. A significant innovation by the UN was to have a whole day devoted to young people presenting both their concerns about and solutions to the climate challenge. It provided a useful environment. As one can imagine, there were significant demands for a big step-up in ambitions from governments which was understandable. There was significant commitment to practical action at both community level and various innovation initiatives.
The lesson for us is that we need to develop a more systematic engagement with young people in the decision-making surrounding the climate action plan. I intend to act on that by bringing in better procedures where young people can be directly involved and give feedback. The action plan we put together is designed to be refreshed each year. It is important we engage communities widely, particularly young people who, rightly, are pointing out our generation as the first one which will pass on the environment in a worse condition than we found it. We have a significant responsibility to respond to this.
The second element was a full day of a climate summit organised by the UN Secretary General. The Taoiseach, on behalf of Ireland, presented our climate action plan. It was the first time to present our approach to deliver a stepped-up ambition from Ireland. There was considerable interest among other countries at the model which we have such as the Citizens Assembly, the all-party Oireachtas committee and foundation these provided for the plan. There was also interest in our efforts to change with carbon budgets, stronger accountability and driving reform from the Taoiseach’s Department. These elements of the plan won considerable interest.
The Taoiseach also announced two new policy elements. The all-party Oireachtas committee proposed and the Government accepted that carbon prices should move systematically to €80 per tonne by the end of the decade. The Taoiseach committed that those funds would be used exclusively for climate actions. He specifically referenced the need to make sure we do not leave some sections of our society behind in the context of fuel poverty, the so-called just transition. He also stated the need to empower families, farms, enterprises and the wider community to take on the changes that need to be made. These are significant commitments.
In other countries, there have been challenges to the idea of carbon pricing. John FitzGerald, the chairman of the climate action advisory committee, has been an economic adviser for many years. It is striking that the evidence he has adduced is that it is impossible to envisage a path to deliver the climate action we need without including carbon pricing as part of that.
It is in that context that there was broad-based support for that within the Oireachtas committee. Reflecting on the views that were expressed at the Oireachtas committee, there will be widespread support for, as the tax specialists would say, hypothecating the revenue from carbon pricing for that purpose.
The second significant announcement the Taoiseach made was on foot of the advice that he and I sought from the Climate Change Advisory Council on the correct policy regarding exploration for oil and gas in the context of a transition to a low-carbon economy. The Climate Change Advisory Council advised that the approach we should take is to cease future exploration for oil but continue to explore for gas. That approach has been endorsed by Government and I am now working on the detailed memorandum to give effect to it. There has been considerable debate in this House about this. I have always taken the view that we need to examine the evidence rather than make a decision without assessing it. The reasons we are continuing to explore for gas, as the council advised, are twofold. First, the use of gas reserves would, unlike the use of coal or oil reserves, not put us out beyond the climate ambition of net zero emissions by 2050. The council also made the strong point that if one wants to have a successful transition to introduce renewable energy onto one's electricity grid, one needs stand-by power and that at the current state of technological development, the only available stand-by power that could allow us advance from the present 30% renewables to 70% by 2030 is to have gas providing much of that stand-by power for when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine. It is important that as we move away from coal and peat, we recognise that to do so successfully in a way that allows us to be safe and secure in the delivery of power to consumers requires us to continue to have access to gas. When Corrib is complete - its resources could be exhausted by the middle of the 2020s - we would be entirely dependent on imported gas and an additional find of gas would be significant and helpful in allowing us to make the transition.
The conference also provided a number of areas in respect of which commitments could be made. There were nine different areas identified by the UN Secretary General. These included, for example, youth and public involvement. That was one area where we, along with the Marshall Islands, developed a specific mandate we asked people to sign up for. Well over 40 people signed up to a mandate that would involve much more open participation by communities, and particularly engagement with younger people, in implementing the climate action plan.
There also were valuable reflections on what can be done within the industrial sector and the renewables sector, and what can be done with climate funds to address the needs of particular countries, many of which, such as the island nations with which Ireland has a particular affinity, were represented. In many ways, those nations are facing not the future implications but rather the immediate and current implications of global warming. Some governments are having to decide which islands they will abandon and how they will move their people in order to keep them safe in the coming decade. It is a real live issue for them.
Many nations, including Ireland, are signing up to much higher ambitions in the context of the UN Paris Agreement. These will be brought forward next year at the next major session run by the UN on climate. There was a general feeling that we need to dramatically step up funding. Many countries, particularly those in Europe, committed to a doubling of the funding to assist other countries in adapting to the challenges that they are facing. There was considerable interest also in those nations developing themselves renewable power because many of them are dependent on fossil fuels and feel that they are at the end of the supply line and particularly exposed.
The UN conference endorsed my belief that the window of opportunity is closing rapidly. Ireland needs to respond by implementing the plan we have put in place, and, hopefully, by going even further. The elements in that plan are already challenging. We want five times the amount of renewable power. By 2030, we will want 25 times the proportion of drivers buying electric vehicles. We will want ten times the amount of retrofitting going on by 2030. These are ambitious targets and I am determined that we will deliver them.