Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is time for us to take action as signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is time, five years after the signing of the Paris climate agreement, for us to start to show real ambition and bring this home. It is also time for hope. There is some hope in this country these days that we may be able to manage the worst of this Covid-19 pandemic and start to see days that are slightly brighter than the hard days we have seen in the past year and a half. The issues of our health and our treatment of our climate are inextricably linked. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization has said that, from his extensive experience, pandemics are coming because we have not, in our time, protected the natural world. The destruction of the biome, as he puts it, is the reason we are seeing these pandemics coming at us in a way that is destroying our lives.

There are health connections and benefits from the actions we will take. We will have a more active social transport system. We will have clean air because we will not burn fossil fuels, thereby protect our lungs, hearts and heads. We will build a connection to nature which is one thing we have seen in this time of Covid when the protection of nature has become all the more real, important and special to us. It is clearly time for us to act because the natural world is in crisis and being destroyed before our eyes. We have witnessed it within my lifetime and must stop it. That is the biggest risk and challenge. It puts Covid in the shade in terms of the risks that it brings to our people. It is for that reason we are seeing other countries starting to step up and say they too want to act. I believe there were some signs of hope yesterday, as there are today and, I hope, there will be tomorrow. The UK Government has expressed real ambition in what it is going to do. The EU stated earlier today that it is going to set ambitious targets for action on climate. The US Government is likely to do the same tomorrow. These are massive, dramatic and significant changes to how we address climate change. When I attend tomorrow's leaders' summit on climate action, called by President Biden, I am glad that I will be able to say with certainty on behalf of Ireland that we share that ambition and stand up for climate justice. I will say that we are ready to stand up as a signatory to the Paris climate agreement and turn that into real action and give it meaning and force. I will do so humbled by the knowledge that by any comparison, our per capita emissions are high. We must show significant change in how we are addressing these matters but I believe we can and will do that. The vote we have just taken signifies that our people are ready for this. We are ready to show leadership and will no longer be called laggards. We are ready and it is time for us to act on climate change.

I am proud of the Green Party's role in this. For 40 years, we have stood on a ticket that we are in a moment of ecological crisis and must react. We have stood on the understanding that the solution to that crisis has to come from democratic, peaceful and participative politics. Is lá fíor-stairiúl é don Comhaontas Glas. It is a proud day for our party and for the thousands of people with whom we have worked over the years to bring this sort of legislation to this floor.

I am glad it is time that the Bill is read a Second Time.

But it is not just our party: the key point is that it is consensual and that it is broadly accepted. This involves everyone. Every place is going to matter. What gives me real confidence is what has happened to this country in the past five years and the politics of climate change. Starting with that Citizens' Assembly where, on a scientific basis, we brought in 100 citizens, presented the best evidence and analysis and then stood back as they came back to us with really ambitious recommendations. That was behind what has ended up here today as we read this Bill for the Second Time.

I am very proud of the Oireachtas and the way we set up an Oireachtas joint committee to work on this on a participative, collective and collaborative basis, and the really good work it did in the previous Oireachtas. It is time for the Bill to be read because the Chairman, Deputy Leddin, and the committee members have put in the time. The committee sat for 50 hours in private session and it had weeks of hearings when it brought in the best experts. It is time we read the Bill now on Second Stage, taking into account the 78 amendments the committee recommended, the vast majority of which have been implemented in the Bill.

It is time as well to thank the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, our coalition partners in government, because they do get it. They really believe that as a country we can be good at this and their support and commitment in the programme for Government was critical in getting the legislation to this Stage. I look forward to working with them on implementing the provisions that we are about to legislate for. I say the same to every other party because this is not a Bill that just applies to this Oireachtas or this Government, this is something that will be there to guide at least six if not seven or more Governments over the next 30 years. It must not be a stop-start change, but it must be consistent, collective and agreed upon.

If we are to thank anyone for getting to this Stage in reading this Bill today for the Second Time, I wish to single out the students, teachers and their friends and families who stood outside the Dáil every Friday in rail, hail, sleet and snow for so long and were part of the international movement of young students who stood up and said it was time for them to act, that another world was possible and that they are unstoppable when they think in that way. I thank them on our behalf in this Oireachtas because I think it was their influence at a critical time in this country and across the world that set the scene which allowed for those more ambitious targets that will be discussed at President Biden's meeting tomorrow, in the European Union today and that was discussed in the UK yesterday. To my mind, they are the ones who deserve the credit for this legislation and they are the ones who will have to implement most of it, who will be the beneficiaries of the real, positive and hopeful developments this legislation will bring. Not only does it protect us from the risk climate change brings, it also delivers a new energy economy where we in this country have a comparative competitive advantage. There are jobs for young people in this. Their digital skills will be key in how we do efficiency. It will lead to balanced regional development because our power will be dispersed right across the country. The Rural Independents know that. This is going to be the future for the west, south west, north west, east and midlands. This is going to be good for rural Ireland. I am absolutely convinced of that.

It is also going to be good for the transport system, electrifying it and using our own power supplies rather than buying it in from abroad. It is a social transformation because it will be a modal shift towards public transport and active travel, which creates a stronger sense of community and connection and reduces the amount of travel we have to do.

This is the future for Irish agriculture. It will mean the protection of the Irish family farm. This is the chance for us to pay a whole generation of young new farmers-----

It will wipe them out. The Green Party is backed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Social Democrats.

-----to come in to manage the land and protect nature. They will be the front-line heroes of this transformation with this climate action plan.

It is also a chance for the economy in terms of what we make and sell to the rest of the world. We will still have to be open and engage and collaborate with the world.

What about China?

We have everything to gain from going green in tourism, in the high-tech, low-carbon manufacturing that we are really skilled in, in farming, food and in every one of the industries that is strong in this country. We have everything to gain from going green, but we need to change.

We will have to import more of everything.

We need to change from putting all the blame, shame and pressure on the consumer for doing the right thing and instead change the system so that it is easier for people to do the right thing. That is what this Bill is about. It is a Bill for system change that delivers a just transition, a new economic model that is fairer, more balanced, more secure and sustainable in every way.

It is the end of rural Ireland.

To change the system, we need our system – the public service and the agencies of the State-----

That is what it is: a Bill to finish rural Ireland.

-----which must take the lead, be flexible and creative and be willing to make mistakes and to learn from other countries and share with them what we are doing. We are stepping up as leaders today and, more than anyone else, it is the public service that will step up as leaders. I thank the officials and advisers in my Department and in others who have been central to the drafting of this legislation.

There are hundreds of advisers.

We are lucky and proud to have the public service that we have, whose staff are independent, straight and hard working. This is going to put them to the test. This legislation, more than anything else, is going to put significant demands on them. I will set out in the provisions how they will do their work and what they are going to do in the next 30 years.

As is proper procedure during the Second Reading of the Bill I will now set out the provisions in the Bill. At the core of this Bill is the national climate objective, which commits the State to pursue and achieve a transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy by no later than 2050.

The Bill defines a climate-neutral economy as a sustainable economy and society where greenhouse gas emissions in the State are balanced or exceeded by the removal of greenhouse gases. This commitment is clear and consistent with delivering on our obligations under the Paris climate agreement. That is what we are implementing in this Bill.

The Bill as a whole, and not only the national climate objective, is underpinned by our international obligations and informed by science. The Bill requires the Government to carry out its functions under the Bill in a manner consistent with the objectives of, and the State's obligations to, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Article 2 and 4(1) of the Paris Agreement, and which also takes account of Ireland's greenhouse gas inventory and projection reports.

The Bill reflects the need to provide a strong and clear governance framework to achieve its ambition and will permanently cement a strengthened statutory framework to drive this transformative change over time. To this end, the Bill provides that the State must, first, prepare five-year carbon budgets, which cover all of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions; apportion each five-year carbon budget among key emitting sectors and establish emission ceilings for those sectors; define the key Ministers responsible for achieving emissions reductions in these sectors and make them accountable for doing so; prepare an annual climate action plan that describes the actions every Minister will take to achieve his or her sectoral emissions ceilings; and develop a national long-term climate action strategy at least every five years that describes the mitigation and adaptation policies that we will put in place towards meeting the national climate objective.

There is recognition of the need for early action. Realising the importance of near-to-medium term action to enable the achievement of climate neutrality by mid-century, the Bill ensures our efforts are front-loaded and provides that the first two carbon budgets will provide a 51% reduction in the annual level of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This enacted commitment, which will be one of the most ambitious of any developed country, is informed by climate science and in line with the increased ambition at EU level and the commitment in the programme for Government.

The national herd will be reduced by 51%.

Our increased ambition to 2030, in law, will ensure that for the first time Ireland goes beyond just setting targets.

The Minister should tell the farmers that.

The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

It instead guarantees, to the best extent possible, that we deliver on our fair share of the global effort, in essence, providing real climate justice.

Of key significance in this Bill is the embedding, in a statutory process, of carbon budgeting and sectoral emission targets. Carbon budgets will explicitly cover the whole economy, include all greenhouse gases and provide a ceiling of total emissions allowed within a five-year period. Three consecutive five-year carbon budgets are set once every five years as part of a rolling carbon budget programme, with the third five-year plan and the later carbon budget of each series set as a provisional budget. This means it can be reviewed and revised in finalising the next carbon budget programme.

How much will the electricity be going up?

This approach provides an appropriate balance between certainty and flexibility. It provides certainty on our medium-term goals-----

Can I make a point of order?

If the clock can be stopped, I will take the point of order.

We do not have any copies of the Minister's speech. I have asked and none are available. We are 20 minutes-----

Only a select few could get into the climate change committee. All of the sessions were held in private.

I am informed that is not a point of order. Can the Minister arrange-----

Of course it is.

It is a protest-----

All of the committee meetings were held in private. No other view could be heard. The committee did not want to hear them.

This is more of it. It is a cover up again so that we cannot hear the truth.

It also offers an appropriate level of flexibility to allow, where necessary, a degree of adjustment and reorientation of plans and strategies over time and within different sectors. The Climate Change Advisory Council, which is an independent statutory body established under the 2015 Act, will have a crucial role to play in developing carbon budgets and is given additional responsibility, through this Bill, to propose carbon budgets to the Minister. Following Government approval of the carbon budget programme, the Minister will invite both Houses of the Oireachtas to consider and approve the carbon budget programmes, ensuring full cross-party participation in the carbon budget process.

In regard to economy-wide action, after the carbon budget is approved sectoral emissions ceilings will be adopted for each relevant sector. The Bill sets out key principles which will influence and guide the development of carbon budgets, sectoral emissions ceilings and the underpinning plans and strategies to ensure the transmission is managed in as fair and just a way as possible. This includes the importance of promoting sustainable development and restoring and protecting biodiversity.

It is not fair or just.

The Bill also provides for the need to have regard to the social and economic imperative for early and cost-effective action, the need for a just transition which supports peoples and communities that may be negatively impacted and the need to maximise employment and the attractiveness of the State for investment.

The fact is that the means of achieving a carbon neutral economy and other measures to enable the State to pursue the national climate objective may not yet be fully identified and may evolve over time, through innovation, as the evolving scientific consensus and emerging technologies arrive. This objective of sharing the effort across the economy and over time is a key feature of the Bill.

Sectoral emissions ceilings identified and set for all relevant sectors of the economy will, in my view, drive the necessary restructuring to incentivise change and drive innovation across all sectors. The Bill also provides a greater level of oversight and accountability. Section 14A, which is a new section introduced by the Bill, will provide that the Minister with responsibility for climate action must give an account annually to a joint committee of the Oireachtas with regard to compliance with the carbon budget and progress under the climate action plan.

Other Ministers must also account for progress in their own sectors within the context of the adopted sectoral emissions ceilings, ensuring-----

I want clarification on why the Minister is being allowed to continue without Members being given his speech before he started making it. It is a departure from the rules that are usually abided by in the House. The Minister is a very experienced politician and knows this himself. Ministers do not stand up to make speeches without giving a copy to the Members present beforehand. What are they trying to cover up and hide in this Bill?

I am informed that is not a point of order. It is a matter for each individual Minister. I will ask-----

-----the Minister. Minister, will you undertake to furnish Deputies with a copy of the speech in due course?

Why is he being allowed to continue?

I would be happy to do that.

He did not want to hear any other view. All of the meetings were held in private and this is the very same. They want to try to hide what they are doing from the people of Ireland.

Before we will be finished with you, the people of Ireland will know what they are trying to do with them, especially the people in rural Ireland.

(Interruptions).

For good and glory, that is what they are at. That is what they are trying to do. They are trying to hoodwink the people. When Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael go to the doors the next time they will get their answer if they do this to the people of rural Ireland.

(Interruptions).

If Deputies wish to know the content of the speech I suggest they resume their seats and allow the Minister to continue his speech.

We are either democratic or we are not.

Why has the speech not been distributed?

It was all held in camera. They want to do it all in private.

It should not be going any further-----

The people of Ireland will know because the people of Ireland will have to pay.

We were respectful enough to be here to listen to the speech. The least we should get is the speech before us. It should stop until the speech is handed to us.

I repeat I am informed that it is a matter-----

What is the cover up? What are you ashamed of?

-----for the Minister, not for the Chair of the House. The Minister has undertaken-----

It is not for me to sort out; it is for the Minister.

The Minister has undertaken to supply a copy of his speech in due course.

It is like everything else here. They are putting the cart before the horse.

It is, however, not a point of order. I would ask Members to resume their seats and allow the Minister to resume his setting out of the Bill.

It is absolutely disgraceful that he could not even do that.

The Minister should be honourable enough to make sure that he would not continue until we have a copy of his speech before us.

There are three Members on their feet. We should have one. I again ask Deputies to resume their seats and allow the Minister to continue.

There are not so many of us here that we cannot be given a copy of the speech that the Minister is making.

That is not a matter for the Chair.

It is the Cathaoirleach who should demand that we get the speeches.

That is not a point of order. I ask the Deputies to resume their seats.

Hold him up there until we get the speeches.

This should be abandoned until we are given the speech-----

We want a copy.

-----in the same manner as was always the procedure.

It is more like Russia now. Putin in action.

That is not a matter for the Chair of the House. It is within the discretion of the Minister. The Minister has undertaken to provide a copy of the speech in due course. I ask Members to resume their seats and allow the Minister to continue.

Why did he not give it to us before?

Why is he being allowed to continue until we get the speech? We are being fair.

I accept that the Acting Chairman is in a difficult position.

No, we are out of order. There is no-----

I do not accept the advice. How are we going to-----

-----point of order in this. I have asked Deputies repeatedly to resume their seats. We are now out of order.

I have seen this before, where Ministers were asked for speeches, instructions were given and they arrived. Are we going to get a copy of the speech?

The Minister has undertaken that a copy of the speech will be furnished to you.

I ask you to resume your seat and allow the Minister to continue.

When are we going to get it? That is the question we are asking.

We are asking the question and the Acting Chairman is not able to give us an answer.

Can the Minister give us a time-----

You do not want to give us an answer.

I would also say that other Members of the House want to hear the speech. I will provide a copy of it as soon as I can. Out of respect to all Deputies here, let us hear each other and listen. I will set out the provisions of the Bill, which I am in the middle of doing, and I ask for the right to finish that process. Deputies will have the speech as soon as we can deliver it to them.

The joint committee will be informed by the latest projections and inventories prepared by the EPA and by the annual report of the Climate Change Advisory Council, which will also now include an assessment of compliance with the carbon budget and sectoral emissions ceilings for that period. The annual update to the climate action plan complements this process and provides an opportunity to include new and updated or corrective actions, where necessary, to adjust and ensure compliance with the carbon budget and sectoral emissions ceilings. Through regular reporting of progress and a shared responsibility for the tasks ahead, we will deliver the change required, realise our long-term climate objectives and achieve our EU and international obligations.

In recognition that climate action will be an iterative process over many decades, the Bill provides that the climate action plan will be reviewed and updated annually and that we will adjust our measures, if necessary, to ensure we remain on track. The annual climate action plan will be aligned to the adopted three five-year carbon budgets. It will set out the actions and measures to be achieved in each five-year budget and the associated sectoral targets assigned.

The national long-term climate action strategy will look at the long-term pathways to achieve the 2050 target. As science and technology evolves these pathways will be expected, in turn, to evolve over time. It is appropriate, therefore, that this long-term strategy be updated at least every five years,

I fully recognise that while this direction of change will bring many opportunities, it will also present some challenges that we will need to address in our transition. Regular dialogue and listening to individuals, communities and different economic sectors will be a critical feature of this approach. The Bill provides, therefore, for extensive consultation in the development of carbon budgets and future plans and strategies, ensuring effective public participation at all key steps of the process.

This Bill will have a transformative effect on our climate policy ambitions and implementation. In order to achieve such a transformation, we must ensure that there are clear obligations that compel Government, Ministers and public bodies to act. To this end, the Bill requires Ministers and the Government to perform their functions in a manner that is, insofar as is practicable, consistent with the carbon budgets that are in effect. Each Minister is also required to comply in a similar manner with adopted sectoral emissions ceilings and relevant plans and strategies. Consistent with this approach, public bodies will also have a general obligation to perform their functions, insofar as is practicable, in a manner consistent with the requirements of the various plans and strategies under the legislation, and to further the achievement of the national climate objective.

The Bill requires local authorities to prepare their own climate action plans every five years. These plans will be consistent with national climate plans and will include mitigation and adaptation measures. In order to ensure appropriate alignment between the local authority climate action plans and their development plans, the Bill amends the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide that the approved local authority climate action plan is taken into account in the preparation of any future development plan. These requirements ensure that climate action will be integrated into policy-making and implementation at all levels of public administration in Ireland.

I would like some extra time to finish the speech and go through all the provisions in the Bill, recognising that some of my time was lost mid speech.

His time was not lost. The clock had been stopped.

I would now like to address briefly my intention to bring forward certain amendments to this Bill on Committee Stage to give effect to programme for Government commitments. The Government has set a clear pathway towards less reliance on fossil fuels across every sector of our society. It specifically contains a commitment to end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas on the same basis as the decision taken in 2019 by the previous Government relating to oil exploration and extraction. Upon taking office, I made the above commitment effective immediately. My Department is no longer accepting new applications for exploration licences for natural gas or oil nor will there be any future licensing rounds.

Import all the oil and gas.

It is expected that the number of authorisations will decline further as authorisations continue to expire or are relinquished, with no new authorisations for new exploration and extraction replacing them. I received Government approval on 2 February 2021 to prepare legislation to give statutory effect to this prohibition, which will be done through this Bill. A statutory ban will send another clear message to industry and the world that Ireland is moving away from oil and natural gas exploration and extraction.

I have also received Government approval to draft amendments to the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1954 for inclusion in this Bill. Acknowledging the significant level of investment required by ESB group in its business, in particular in electricity network assets and renewable generation assets, these new heads will increase the statutory borrowing limit of the ESB from its current level of €6 billion to €12 billion. This will support the ESB group's efforts to decarbonise the energy sector in Ireland and to support the achievement of the climate action plan and the associated 2030 targets.

This is a critical time and a critical moment in our country. We have seen similar times when we made big decisions that had a deep influence on our society and success as a nation, decisions such as investing in free education, to open up to foreign investment, and to join the EU. This is another of those moments where we commit to the journey to net zero, living a shared future on our planet in a safe, sustainable way that will be good for all our people forever and a day.

I call Deputy O'Rourke who is sharing time with Deputies Ó Murchú and Cronin.

On a point of clarification-----

I see the Deputy's name is on the speaking list further down. He will have more than ample time to debate the issue.

How can anyone have faith in the Minister if he cannot give us an indicative time of when we will have a copy of his speech?

You will surely have a copy of the speech-----

-----before your allotted speaking time. You will have ample time.

No, that is not right. We should have it. Normal practice is that we would have it.

I ask you to resume your seat.

Can we have an indicative time for when we will have it? That is all I am asking. I do not want to be unfair to the Minister. I am asking the Minister to give us an indicative time. Will we have it in an hour? We will have it this evening at all? When will we have it?

The Minister undertook to give the Deputy a copy of the speech as soon as possible. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat-----

That is not acceptable.

-----because the representative from Sinn Féin is on his feet. I call Deputy O'Rourke.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward this Bill. We have already had one vote on it and we will have plenty of discussion and many more votes. It is acknowledged this Bill benefited greatly from the pre-legislative scrutiny at the Joint Committee on Climate Action before Christmas, which was ably chaired by the Minister's colleague, Deputy Leddin. The climate committee members worked on a cross-party basis, heard from a wide range of experts, in private and public, and made 78 recommendations to the Minister with a view to improving and strengthening this Bill. Many of these recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill before us today, which is welcome. However, while this version is a considerable improvement on the draft Bill, we believe there is room for further improvement, and we will be proposing amendments on Committee Stage.

This is landmark legislation which will outlive any one Administration, so it is important we get it right at this stage. It is important to set the targets and the framework to get us there. The Minister will have received correspondence in recent days from Professors John Sweeney and Barry McMullin and Dr. Andrew Jackson outlining some concerns about the Bill, principally its failure, legally or scientifically, to place the commitment of the programme for Government for the period 2021 to 2030 on a secure statutory basis. They argue the language used in section 9 is legally uncertain and could give rise to contradictory interpretations. Given the limited time I have and the fact the Minister has no doubt read the letter and considered its contents, I will not articulate its contents in full but I ask that he might, in his concluding remarks, address the points raised in it and whether he intends to amend the section accordingly.

The shift in public awareness on climate issues and the appetite for change in recent years has been a really positive development. The youth climate strikes that took place globally and across Ireland before Covid-19, demonstrated the desire for our younger generations for a significant step change in how the State and the private sector approach our environment and deal with the climate crisis. It is essential we listen to people on climate action. It is often noted the public are usually ahead of politicians on issues, and none more so than the need to address the climate emergency. People want change. They want green energy, warmer homes, better transport, cleaner air and unpolluted rivers, but they also want this transition to zero carbon to be fair. This is where this and previous Governments have failed. People know this transition will take personal change on their behalf, but they want to see the Government pulling its weight and big polluters doing their share of the heavy lifting, and that has not been happening to date.

Ordinary people have been an easy target for the Government, and they have been hit again and again. Ask most people what they think of when they hear climate action and reducing our emissions and many will answer it is one cost after another, in rural and in urban Ireland: carbon tax, higher electricity and heating bills, and increased fuel costs at the forecourts. They will also point out how major corporations and vested interests have shirked their responsibilities, enabled by light touch regulation. Take electricity use. Hundreds of thousands of families live in fuel and energy poverty, struggling to keep the electricity bills down as a result of the huge carbon tax and public service obligation levy increases this year, but then they see data centres that use enough energy to power a town springing up with reckless abandon. Government action to date has not been fair or equitable when it comes to reducing our overall emissions. Ordinary people feel they are hit again and again while others continue to get a free ride. That has to change, and if it does not, we will fail.

Climate action does not have to have such negative connotations for people; indeed, quite the opposite. It can deliver huge benefits. It can and should bring about progressive change and transformation: new green jobs, warmer homes, better health outcomes, cheaper and cleaner ways of getting to school or work, cleaner air and rivers, greater connection to place and community and to the environment, additional income for local communities and businesses through selling excess wind energy, and the list goes on.

While this Bill is about the framework governing the targets and reductions and does not deal with the specific measures that will help us achieve them, the specific measures must be inclusive in rural and urban Ireland, they must be fair and they must ensure a just transition is always a priority. This approach must also extend to jobs that will be lost due to our transition to green energy. The ESB’s announcement earlier this month on its Green Atlantic at Moneypoint plan provides an example of how this shift can not only protect jobs but also bring significant new investment and potential to a region. The €5 billion plan to convert the coal power plant into a green energy hub, together with offshore floating wind and green hydrogen production and storage facilities, is an incredibly impressive plan that, if delivered, will bring huge benefits to the region as well as ensuring workers at Moneypoint and in the local community are not left behind as the burning of coal ends. We can and should be leaders in this field.

Workers in Bord na Móna and the midlands, by comparison, have been failed miserably by successive governments. They have been sold a green pup or a climate pup. As peat production winds up in the midlands, we need government intervention and financial support to ensure workers there are supported with new training and new opportunities. That has to happen or we are lost.

I welcome the provisions that seek to engage the public on our climate approach and seek people's input and views. However, more public consultation that acts as just a box-ticking exercise and ignores what is put forward by ordinary people will be a total waste of everyone’s time. Engagement must be meaningful. There will not always be agreement but it is about working with the public, respecting them and bringing them along.

In my constituency, the North-South interconnector is a case in point. It is an important piece of energy infrastructure. The public want it but want it underground. For 15 years, they have been making that case. It is entirely feasible but EirGrid and successive Governments have preferred to bully local communities rather than engage with them. Where is that project? It is nowhere, and that is where it is going to stay unless EirGrid and the Government change tack. The communities along the route are still adamant that they do not want 50 m high pylons carrying 400 kV lines next to their homes, but EirGrid and the Government have ignored public opinion and the clear evidence which shows the underground alternative is technically feasible, affordable and deliverable. In fact, it is the only way this project will be delivered. The approach has infuriated local communities and only serves to paralyse important projects. No amount of propaganda or advertising expenditure can hide that. I ask the Minister to learn from this. What is being done is no way of doing business. If he continues in this vein, we will not have a hope of meeting our emissions and renewables targets. It will be a constant battle between communities and the Government instead of collaboration.

As my party's transport spokesperson I am particularly interested in what we need to do to reduce the 20% contribution of the transport sector to our overall emissions. Public transport will be a key aspect, and significant investment in infrastructure, fleet expansion and replacement is needed to accelerate the modal shift from car to bus or train. There is a huge unmet need, including in respect of school bus transport, that the Government seems intent on continuing to ignore. This must be addressed. Similarly, communities in the west have been advocating for the western rail corridor for years and people in Meath, like me, have been arguing for rail transport to Dublin. People want to leave their cars at home but, owing to a lack of investment in public transport for decades, they have little option. These are just a few examples of key public transport interventions that can deliver significant environmental benefits and boost investment in jobs and tourism in areas but that have been bogged down in review after review with no progress.

As mentioned, we will be making several amendments on Committee Stage with a view to addressing shortcomings we believe remain. Some that were already mentioned relate to interim targets. Our amendments will also strengthen the Bill in terms of its obligation to achieve a just transition and provide certainty on the appointments process for the Climate Change Advisory Council and on the issue of fracked gas and the role of the public in shaping their carbon future. I hope there will be an opportunity for further refinement and I look forward to working with the Minister and others from across this House to continue to improve this really important Bill.

I would like to follow Deputy O'Rourke in offering general support for this climate Bill. We believe, however, there is room for improvement, and in this regard we will be making amendments on Committee Stage. There is nobody who does not accept the reality of climate change and its impact. I accept the Minister's statement that we are dealing with a pandemic that may have resulted from the fact we have absolutely failed to look after the natural world. The necessary buzzwords relate to the fact we need to make changes but that it needs to be sustainable and renewable. We need full support in that regard.

We have noted that there will be differing views on this Bill and the climate change measures that need to be pushed through. There is an element of failure on the part of the Government and others to sell the reality of what they are offering to people. Deputy O'Rourke mentioned the great need for public consultation. In this regard, we think of rural Ireland, agriculture and bodies such as the IFA and others that represent farmers' views.

Deputy Carthy, when he was still an MEP, and I attended a meeting of Louth IFA in Monasterboice. One of the issues on the table, with which the IFA was dealing, related to accepting that changes were required, accepting the circumstances in which we found ourselves and admitting we needed to tackle climate change. There was much discussion and the farmers talked about the huge issue of their work on biodiversity and so on not always being recognised or taken into account when talking about Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, payments and other matters. At the meeting, there was a group of people who saw change was coming down the line but who needed interaction with the Government, not in the sense of the Government pontificating to them but in the sense of offering solutions. We all accept we need to deal with emissions and we need targets. We all accept we need interim targets and some element of policing in that regard, but we also have to offer people the benefits of the Green New Deal. We have to offer individuals benefits.

The carbon tax has not done any great favours. It is just seen as a tax on poor people. We have not given people the alternatives. We do not yet have retrofit programs that are fit for purpose. We need to deal with all these issues. There is an onus on the Government to sell this. There are changes that are necessary but we need a conversation with all the stakeholders. Otherwise, we will have nothing but strife. Deputy O'Rourke said that all people hear when there is talk of climate changes is cost and more cost. They have to see a roadmap that takes their needs and wants into consideration. They need a sustainable roadmap that delivers for the natural world and us and that offers sustainable transport, particularly public transport. We also need solutions in this regard on a North–South basis. I would like the Minister to address that issue. I accept there are difficulties at the minute in that we have not been able to have a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. I hope this, among many other issues we are dealing with, can be addressed.

We are talking about a Bill that we can enact with no worry but we are consistently being told we need to sign up to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. The difficulty with that is the investor court system. We have a difficulty with the legislation because it did not deal with fracking, for example. If we were to ban the importation of fracked gas, we could leave ourselves open if we were to sign up to the investor court system. All agreements being made internationally at the minute are moving away from investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS. On the question of continuing with the provisional application that exists, it is a matter of not hampering ourselves and of giving ourselves the power to bring about real and meaningful change.

I welcome the Second Stage reading of this Bill. It is not exactly what we had hoped for and worked for during pre-legislative scrutiny. We had hoped for and anticipated we would now have a climate Bill that would set out clear and ambitious targets and make the Government accountable for delivering on them. Can the Government be accountable when the recent High Court ruling on the Climate and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 found the Government was not a relevant body? That is less of a loophole and more of a gigantic hole. We in Sinn Féin have written to the Minister calling for it to be closed immediately.

Climate change is now inevitable; it is a fact. All we are trying to do in this legislation is lessen and make more bearable its effects on our children and grandchildren. By that, I mean future generations of the whole world. Young people are miles ahead of us, as adults and legislators. We really are the laggards in living up to the climate reality and our responsibilities. This week, we heard about the vanishing of the A-68a glacier in Antarctica not even four years since it broke away from the Larsen C ice shelf. It is the natural work of millennia reduced in relative moments. The young people in north Kildare know the choices we make matter across the world because we are all in this world together. With climate change, there is nowhere to hide; Earth is our only home.

Everything that has happened in human history has happened on this planet and we owe it to the generations who made us and to the generations we, as humanity, will become to do all in our power to protect it.

In that context, I am bitterly disappointed with the just transition aspect of the Bill. I assure my constituents in Kildare North, young and not so young, and the Fridays for Future groups who have been so active, particularly in my town of Maynooth, that we will do our utmost to change it. We went from having no mention of a just transition in the first draft to having one mere reference to it in the Bill before us, despite the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We have tried to change the language in the Bill in respect of a just transition. There are weasel-word terms such as "best endeavours", "as far as is practicable" and "have regard to". They are useless. There is just too much wriggle room. The meaning, however, is clear. The comfortable and privileged can transition, retrofitting their second homes without breaking a financial sweat, while the people barely hanging on can do it only insofar as is practicable. I ask the Minister for whom is it practicable. Sinn Féin will fight for a just transition and decarbonisation as a right for all, regardless of income. Scotland got it right in its climate Act. There is an entire section on just transition principles, that is, things to stand over, not like these kinds of weasel words. They are not enough. We need engagement with workers and communities to ensure we get the buy-in necessary to take this over the line.

I have other concerns. That the importation of fracked gas will continue after the passing of any climate Bill is ludicrous. It needs to be banned immediately by legislation before the Government tries to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, or before any other sneakily timed licence applications are made. The Minister said he would bring in a ban on fracked gas and he needs to do it. Equally, the Government needs to get moving on reaching our targets without any more slouching around. Near-term ambition is vital. There is a significant shortfall of ambition compared with what was promised in the programme for Government.

As for reaching our interim targets as quickly as possible, we share the concerns of Professor John Sweeney, Dr. Andrew Jackson and Professor Barry McMullin in their letter to the Minister and his coalition partners. For amendment purposes, we are assessing the two options they outlined. Regarding the Climate Change Advisory Council, we welcome Ms Patricia King from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, as a voice for workers, but I was taken aback that our recommendation arising from pre-legislative scrutiny that there be an open public appointments process was effectively ignored. The Minister might think he is getting away with it while he is in office and making the appointments, but if he is replaced by a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael Minister, that could change. We quite simply have to have an open public appointments process.

Finally, yesterday's warning from the International Energy Agency on an historic increase in emissions in the first quarter of 2021 was dire. Any climate gains made during the pandemic have been trashed by the industrial addiction to coal internationally. As it stands, the Bill does not scream real, radical or urgent change, and it should. There is no reason for us not to do all we can in the Bill to fulfil our responsibilities. We must examine our addiction to the economic growth that capitalism demands and to the relentless pursuit of profit for the remarkably few. That is the real inconvenient truth.

I am delighted to have just received a written copy of the Minister's contribution because, unfortunately, I did not get to hear a large part of it. From what I did hear, the Bill means an awful lot to the Minister and the Green Party, and that needs to be acknowledged. This is a big piece of work and it is clear from his opening contribution that this, while not the culmination because there is much work ahead, is a big moment for him and his party. It is great finally to have an opportunity to speak to the Bill on Second Stage because it feels like it has been a long time coming. It is right to acknowledge the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Unfortunately, I am not a member of the committee but the work it did was fantastic. It is a credit to the Parliament that a committee can work in such a way to make changes to a Bill before it comes before the House. Whether I spend one term, six terms or however many terms in the House, very few Bills, if any, will be as important or have such an impact as this one.

The Bill is not just about today or tomorrow; it is about the very existence and sustainability of our communities, our country and, if its principles are applied in other countries, the planet. Climate change is being experienced globally in dramatic ways and that is clear to see, but it is also being experienced in this country in dramatic ways, with flooding, extreme weather events in summer and winter and coastal erosion. It is not something that is just for sub-Saharan Africa, the outback in Australia or South America; it is everywhere, including here. That is why the Bill is important and it is why we welcome it and will work on Committee and Remaining Stages to bring amendments to strengthen it. Hopefully, some of those amendments, if not all of them, will be taken on board.

A number of issues remain of great concern and we believe they will work to weaken the integrity of the Bill, possibly undermining future climate action plans and carbon budgets. The understanding of climate justice as outlined in the Bill is very weak and there is only one mention of a just transition. Even this one mention seems both narrow and constrained in definition and ambition. We would like the definition of climate justice to be amended to recognise the need for equitable responses to the climate and biodiversity crisis that address inequalities and incorporate human rights at their core. The just transition principles should be defined as a framework for interventions that support affected workers and communities. These principles should be the foundation for all climate action plans and activities of public bodies under the Bill.

While the Bill has been strengthened and the Government has listened to some concerns, it needs to listen more. It needs to review the submissions made to the climate action committee from NGOs, trade unions and those working with the marginalised and vulnerable. I ask the Minister to examine many of them but in particular that given by the Community Law & Mediation centre, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The submission was informed by work with communities who experience poverty, social exclusion and inequality. They called on the Government to strengthen the definitions of climate justice and a just transition, and we can look to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, as amended over the years, for a better way to do this. We can do this on Committee Stage and it must be done.

There must also be a strong reference to promoting sustainable development in line with the UN's sustainable development goals, which is also notably absent from the Bill. When talking about climate justice and just transition, we need to listen to those who work with those on the very edge of society. The Bill, as it stands, does not reflect that and we believe it can do more. On the issue of workers, the appointment of ICTU general secretary, Ms Patricia King, to the just transition advisory committee is very welcome. Ensuring an outcome that works for all workers is at the core of how we tackle climate change.

The Government has committed to giving statutory effect to ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas. The Government has indicated that the commitment will be provided for in legislation on Committee Stage. Why not include it for debate on Second Stage? Why will the Government not impose a ban on LNG infrastructure being developed to facilitate the importation of fracked gas? The programme for Government included an explicit commitment to bringing this forward as a policy to end the importation of fracked gas and LNG. This gap must be addressed in the Bill and the Government must publish a comprehensive plan to ban the importation of fracked gas and, specifically, to ban LNG terminals in Ireland within 2021.

Overall, I believe that the weaknesses in this area are due to the influence of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The Minister paid tribute to them and that is understandable, but the two parties need to stop playing an overall-defensive game when it comes to climate change. Instead of defending the status quo, they need to embrace ambition and understand that if we are to meet our targets, not only will one or two sections of our society need to change but all of it will need to do so. If we are to meet our targets as set out in the Bill, we need to be honest with ourselves. If we are to reduce our emissions by 7% annually, as is the target, we must begin to visualise what that will look like. Ireland and how we live our lives will not look the same if we meet our 7% annual targets. How we live, travel, commute, work, socialise and everything else will look and be very different.

Over the past year, we have experienced an Ireland that was unrecognisable. It changed to both our eye and our lived experience. Industrial activity dropped, transport use decreased and during the most stringent lockdowns, the roads were quiet. We will all tell future generations about how quiet the streets were and the impact of Covid-19 on our lives, how people spoke of being able to hear nature again and how our natural environment re-asserted itself in our built communities.

We experienced a quieter, slower paced Ireland and this was replicated in many countries and regions all over the world. All that decrease in activity ultimately equated to a carbon reduction of 6.4% globally and 5.9% in Ireland. A unique global event like the Covid pandemic, about which we will be speaking for generations and which slowed the pace at which we live our lives, only resulted in a carbon reduction of just shy of 6%.

Over the past year, there has been a massive decrease in transport emissions but this was offset by increased home energy consumption while food production and agriculture remained constant. Transport, agriculture, home energy and large industry are the four areas responsible for the vast majority of our emissions and each will require ambitious programmes of assistance and reform if we are to be a climate leader and shake our title of climate laggard.

The pandemic has highlighted just how committed individuals are in wanting to restore our biodiversity, improve our environment and save our planet. We see it with every planting of a wildflower meadow or pollinator patch and with the uptick in active travel, the use of electric scooters and cycling. People want to reduce their carbon footprint but they need assistance.

In the area of home retrofitting, the plan to spend €8.7 billion on 500,000 deep retrofits in addition to the installation of 400,000 renewable heating systems in homes is daunting but it must be carried out. Up to this point, the retrofitting of homes was the preserve of the well-off. The poor and those struggling to make ends meet simply cannot afford to even think about retrofitting their homes. It is now accepted that the SEAI support schemes that have existed over recent years were not sufficiently geared towards meeting our targets. The retrofit programmes for which funds were allocated in the Government's latest budget, including the one-stop-shop for people to apply for subsidies for heat pumps, solar panels and insulation, need to be fast-tracked. These programmes must be State-led and the cost to people must be negligible. If the carbon tax is to be retained, this is what it should be spent on.

There is added value to be obtained from such programmes if they include robust apprenticeship opportunities with a focus on the trade crafts. Other elements of government are also focusing on this. I have concerns about some elements of that, but we need an improved State-led apprenticeship scheme and we can use the retrofitting of our homes to that end. The trade unions have done a lot of work in that space and I ask that more of their input be taken on board. Our net targets for reduction will not be met unless retrofitting is conducted on an ambitious scale.

Agriculture remains a real point of discussion and contention that needs to be resolved. We have seen issues in this sector informing today's debate. We have a good understanding of how to drive down emissions generally but this remains a challenge with regard to agriculture. There is a fair and just solution for farmers. Labour wants to create a farming and diversification scheme to help boost farm families' incomes and to promote alternative sustainable uses of farmland. The Government could also look at supports to help with farm modernisation and to help the next generation of young farmers. Such supports could include the reintroduction of the early retirement scheme, extending the second targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II, beyond 2020, and implementing a standardised and simplified hedge cutting grant scheme. Helping farmers to diversify into areas such as biofuel and ensuring that such diversification is rewarded with a good living is vital.

Some people are drawing pretty stark battle lines in this area. This is unhelpful and will help nobody. We cannot allow it to happen. Our agriculture industry is suffering as a result of climate change. Flood risk and extreme weather events have challenged the ability of our farmers to pursue traditional farming methods and such challenges will only intensify if we do not tackle climate change effectively. I represent a constituency with a large and growing agricultural sector and have seen at first hand the enthusiasm of those communities and workers to embrace change. They do, however, need assistance and assurance that their livelihoods will not be impacted.

With regard to transport, we know the solution. We need greater uptake of, and greater investment in, public transport. It still does not feel like we are being ambitious enough to get there. Commuting was not working for commuters before Covid. One in ten workers spent more than an hour travelling to work every day, with commuter losing an average of five hours per week stuck in traffic. Dublin was the third worst city in the world for congestion, which is not only bad for our economy and for workers' mental health, but for the environment. Our air quality results have proven that. Transport in Ireland remains a significant contributor to carbon emissions. According to the 2017 figures, at 19.8%, it was the second largest emitter, behind agriculture.

There are further challenges in respect of public transport. Covid has thrown us a curve ball which we will have to work through. I refer to social distancing. Our buses and trains are running at 50% capacity. We do not know when it will be safe to increase the numbers allowed to travel on them. Unfortunately, we are seeing the car industry trying to use that to get people back into cars. We have seen this issue used as a marketing strategy to try to get people to turn their backs on public transport, including the bus and the train. Preying on people's fears in this regard is absolutely abhorrent and which we must challenge with ambitious positive policy.

How do we do this? We need to look at the cost of commuting. Cost is still a barrier to people taking public transport, particularly those living on the outskirts of cities who have great distances to travel. The limited competition that has been introduced in some sectors has not served to reduce prices. Fares only increased. We need infrastructural improvements such as proper segregated commuter cycle lanes for people travelling long distances at relatively high speeds. There are cyclists who want to cycle in from Balbriggan, Swords, Greystones and Newbridge but it is not safe for them to do so. Those cycle lanes need to be delivered. We may need to look at doing something like what was done in Luxembourg, where free public transport has been implemented. We could introduce that as a pilot scheme. It would be ambitious but it would greatly assist people on low incomes, some of whom have to pay for kids to take Dublin Bus services to school. Why do people take public transport? It is not for the comfort of sitting on a bus and admiring the scenery. It is to go to work or to school, to go shopping or to visit people, when that is allowed. It is to contribute to both the economy and society. Let us value that contribution and invest in it.

I will return to the responsibilities of corporations and large industry. This is an area in which I am concerned we will not make the required progress. I voiced my concerns about the carbon emissions related to data centres. We are on course to have more than 100 data centres in this country by 2025. The Minister knows how much energy these centres use. It is extraordinary. They also have an unbelievable appetite for water, another area of resource security we need to tackle. During the recent level 5 restrictions, data centre construction projects were considered essential while building houses to deal with the housing crisis was not. This is an indication of the importance of these centres to the industrial strategy of the State. Research I had commissioned shows that data centres could account for up to 29% of our overall emissions by 2030. That is incredible and very worrying. The corporate power purchase agreements in place mean that these companies will be siphoning off renewable energy that has not yet been created. Who is ultimately winning in this? We have a great deal of retrospective work to do with regard to our homes and existing industries but we are now creating new industries that emit an astronomical volume of carbon but that provide few jobs. We are going to have to create an awful lot of renewable energy just to power these industries. As far as we are concerned, it is bad environmental policy and we need to tackle it.

Corporations are also seeking to present themselves as climate activists. I am very suspicious of this. They are aware that this is good marketing and that there is a good euro or dollar to be made from presenting themselves as green and environmentally friendly and aware. We cannot be fooled. They are ultimately motivated only by profit and share price. Any attempt to greenwash products with self-regulated carbon labelling needs to be tackled by the State. Carbon labelling will come. Large conglomerates are trying to introduce it. We cannot allow this to happen. A few weeks ago, I introduced the National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021 on First Stage. I ask that the Minister include its provisions as part of his climate action plan. We need a trusted, State-led carbon labelling system that does not allow corporations to greenwash their products. We can be leaders on this and set the standard. We can do it, so let us.

In my final few minutes, I will speak to a number of elements of the Bill that have been changed or presented. In section 4, there is a new clause with regard to the limitation of liability. This is a good idea. No one should be allowed to sue the State because of climate action having reduced his or her ability to make a profit. There is a principle involved which we are seeing in the debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and the investor court, which is the reason we oppose the agreement. This is a similar principle and it is welcome to see it included in the Bill. We also have to recognise that there have been studies done in this area.

I point to the study of Dr. Rachel Hilliard in NUI Galway, who has done some Irish based research on how strong environmental rules can benefit enterprises. Basically, some firms will want a strong floor of regulation so that they cannot be undercut by firms cutting costs on the environmental side, either in their own countries or elsewhere. Good work can be done here and it is welcome to see that included.

Section 6 states that the Minister "shall have regard to" a long list of sources from subsection (a) through to subsection (r). This is an understandable attempt to be comprehensive but it could unintentionally lead to people ticking boxes on a checklist or writing long reports to satisfy this clause as opposed to complying with the spirit of the law, which will be onerous on Ministers, Departments and many people. Climate change is not easy, however. We are so far down a bad road that to get back up will require some difficult choices and decisions. Those decisions have to be made because it is too important.

We need a further discussion on carbon leakage. This is the system of transferring products to other countries with less restrictive regimes that we are hoping to bring in through this Bill. It is an important concept but we have a concern that if this is not implemented or structured correctly, firms could get out of meeting their targets here through carbon leakage.

We welcome the implementation of carbon budgets and we support it in principle. It is a good idea. The Bill states: "The Advisory Council shall prepare and submit a proposed carbon budget programme". This is an onerous task so I ask the Minister whether he has plans to increase the staff numbers and resources of the advisory council so it can do this work quickly and effectively. There is also concern about the carbon budgets and the work that needs to be done because they are five-year cycles. Therefore, an awful lot of the heavy lifting will have to be done in the second and subsequent carbon budgets. That is a big problem, particularly when one considers the likelihood of the lifetime of any Government exceeding five years, and we are already nearly a year into this Government. We need to ensure that this Bill is strengthened so that the heavy lifting begins early because it will become a cumulative effect. We have already lost so much ground and if we lose ground next year and the year after then subsequent carbon budgets will have almost impossible tasks in catching up.

The Minister set a target of four months before which Ministers shall lay carbon budgets before the Oireachtas. Why is the target four months? Surely Ministers knew this was coming. We have waited a number of months for this Bill to be brought to us for discussion on Second Stage but Ministers will have had a heads-up that they will need to do work on carbon budgets so why will it take four months? Surely it could be a short time after this Bill passes through the House.

We will bring forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage but that will be in the spirit of strengthening the Bill. We acknowledge it is a good Bill that has been strengthened through pre-legislative scrutiny. Whatever the outcome of the Bill, it is important it works as best as possible and that we all work together to reduce our carbon emissions and to help tackle climate change collectively.

Since its foundation 40 years ago, the Green Party, alongside environmental NGOs, campaigners and climate activists, has tirelessly campaigned and advocated for an ambitious and far-reaching response to the climate crisis facing our planet. This immense climate challenge requires an equally immense effort to combat what will be, if we do not act, an utterly devastating impact on our world as we know it.

The Green Party entered Government with a mandate from the Irish people to tackle this challenge head-on and to implement legislation that would make Ireland a leader on the world stage in the fight against climate change. The message was clear; we need climate action now. This momentum and appetite for system change, not climate change, has been steadily building. The urgency of this crisis has united millions of people across the globe. They have marched in their droves to strike for climate, demand change and fight for their futures. We must deliver emission reductions now for our children's futures, our planet's future and our shared future.

Sustained climate action requires a combined commitment and co-operation across politics and society. It cannot just be climate action. Crucially, we must also have climate justice. They are inextricably linked; the same side of the same coin. We must ensure a just transition that protects the most vulnerable in our society and ensures nobody is left behind. This will be a transition that will centre on people and their communities: where everyone can partake in a socially just society with access to housing, a strong education and stability; where we strengthen our connection with nature, build better communities and transform our society; where environmental awareness is in the mainstream and not seen as an alternative lifestyle; and where we come together to rise to this challenge with a shared purpose, while simultaneously ensuring that those who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis are brought along with us every step of the way.

The green movement is unique in that it is both on a global and an individual scale. At its core, however, it is a movement of the people for the people. The climate challenge can only be addressed if we are all working together to do so. This requires a change in the way we govern, live and work. We must educate our children through school, university and apprenticeships so they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to tackle this challenge head-on. We need system change so that it is clear, obvious, safe and cheaper to make the green choice rather than the environmentally destructive one. It is critical that we engage with people and ask how the State can best help to support them to make the green choice.

The Government's consultation on the climate action plan does not just ask what we can do but how Government can best help everybody to work together to meet this challenge. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is a momentous Bill. I commend my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on his work on this Bill and in bringing it before the Dáil. I commend every single official, activist, expert and campaigner who contributed to make this the vital Bill it truly is. This Bill is the culmination of years of hard work, endless campaigning and unwavering commitment by so many to protect our planet as best we can, to make it a livable and safe place for generations to come and to transform Ireland into a world leader when it comes to tackling this climate crisis. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

Four years ago, 99 women and men set in motion a train of events that has led to the introduction of this climate action Bill. The 99 women and men of the Citizens' Assembly were representative then of the people of Ireland but they reflect the many voices we have heard over the years. These were voices from all corners of this island and the world, of people who have asked, demanded and persuaded us to do our level best to stop the destruction of the natural world. In this Thirty-third Dáil, we are taking up the baton.

As Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, as this Bill starts its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas, I want to sincerely thank each member of our committee. From all parties and none, from the Government and Opposition benches, we are working together to forge the best way forward and serve the people we represent. To me, this collaborative work reflects the best of the Oireachtas. Some 16 years ago, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan said:

It is in the interests of every Deputy and party in this House to address what is increasingly regarded as the most important and daunting challenge mankind has ever faced.

It is a daunting challenge. Even though there is no effort without error or shortcoming, we accept the challenge and we get in the arena. If we fail, we will fail while daring greatly.

However, if we fail in our responsibility, we will also fail to grasp our opportunity because Ireland has the potential to punch far above her weight in the global fight against this existential threat. The greatest renewable energy resource lies off our shores. Some 100 years on from the visionary project at Ardnacrusha, which brought light to every corner of Ireland, the west will once again be the backdrop to a project that will benefit the entire island. The people along our Atlantic coastline, from Cork to Kerry, up through Limerick and Clare and on to Donegal, will benefit from the development and deployment of offshore wind power.

The ambition and scale of this project are breathtaking. It will help rebalance our island, and opportunity will no longer be limited to a narrow east-coast economic corridor.

With societal transformation will come unparalleled economic and employment opportunities in renewable energy, nature conservation, sustainable transport and in retrofitting our homes, schools and hospitals. There will be a profound positive impact on people’s quality of life because climate action policies are public health policies and are socially just policies. Climate action will help rebalance our society as a fairer and healthier one, which treads far more lightly on our land.

Climate action is often described as a race against time. The challenge ahead may seem insurmountable, but we are living in a time when change for a better shared future is possible. It may be difficult to imagine, but I know it is attainable. Peter Rice, the eminent engineer, and a Louth man, was responsible for the design and construction of some of the world’s most ambitious buildings. He believed in crossing boundaries and imagining solutions beyond the accepted constraints. Science and imagination when combined with an urgent purpose form a powerful compound.

The race is urgent, but every runner in a race faces forward. I thank Deputies for their support.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I welcome the confirmation by the Labour Party spokesperson that his party will oppose CETA. My understanding had been that that party's position on that was not clear, so this is very welcome news for those of us who will work hard in opposing that agreement.

I want to talk about climate action and a just transition, which is what we need to tackle this climate emergency. It often suits those opposed to any attempt to tackle climate action to push the burden on to ordinary people. This is also true of the parties in government. Those parties of the right will try to push the burden on to ordinary working people at every available opportunity and that is possibly why, as has been referenced by other Deputies, we see only one reference to a just transition in this legislation. That needs to be changed.

Hardly anybody in the State has not become more environmentally conscious and does not want to do their bit to tackle climate action. In recent years, whether it is buying local produce, buying seasonal fruit and vegetables or recycling everything they can, people have made significant changes to their lifestyles. Those who are lucky enough to be able to afford retrofitting or solar panels have installed them. The main thing is that ordinary people have been doing everything that they can. Indeed, they have been doing much more to tackle climate action than the main polluters, big business, those who fly first class around the world, or those living in our cities who drive 2020 or 2021 Range Rover jeeps 500 m down the road to go to the shops.

If we want to properly address the climate emergency, of course we need to make serious change. That is not lost on people, but it needs to be fair. In my constituency people are losing their homes to coastal erosion in Donabate and Portrane. Many of our rivers which at one time were stocked with fish are now full of plastic bottles. People will do all they can and if the Government helps them, they will be able to do more.

However, do Members know how insulting it is to those who are doing all that they can when they are asked to do more especially when they cannot afford to do it? They may buy an electric car, which is great. On the Government's advice, I bought a diesel car a few years ago. If people can afford to do so, they should buy electric. However, the Government should not lecture people who cannot afford an electric car; it should help them. It should not castigate people who cannot afford to heat their house for not retrofitting it; it should help them retrofit it. Attacking allies and supporters of climate action will not help us overcome the climate crisis.

We need to direct our criticisms and solutions to the right place. For instance, we rarely hear a squeak about data centres. They eat up as much energy as a small town and use the same volume of water. Big business rarely gets the same treatment, which always annoys people, especially those who will be allies in this battle.

People know we need to improve our ways, but they are also steadfast in saying that it must be done fairly. I ask the Government to work with us in supporting the amendments we will table to make this legislation fit for purpose to work for all people and not just the elite, the cosy few, the top 1%.

I welcome the Bill. On a personal note, I congratulate the Minister. I know what it is taken for him to get the Bill to this point and I know it is a major milestone for him. I also acknowledge the work done by the Committee on Climate Action, chaired by Deputy Leddin. We did serious analysis and listened to the experts. I believe the work we did has strengthened the Bill. The discussions we had with the experts did not take place in private, as was stated earlier in the debate. The climate committee will continue to work on this legislation and on these issues. I invite other Deputies to attend those meetings so that when they are talking to their constituents, they can be armed with the facts and not mislead people over the impact of this Bill on communities.

We need to look at this Bill in the context of what has happened this week. This week the World Meteorological Organization announced that 2020 was the third hottest year on record. Next year, it is forecast that emissions will experience the second highest rise since records began. The UN Secretary General has said we are standing on the edge of the abyss when it comes to climate change. The question for us today is: is this Bill enough to pull us back from that edge? Is it strong enough? Is it ambitious enough? I do not believe it is; I believe we can go much further as do the Social Democrats.

We need to dispel the myth that this revised Bill will be the most progressive in the world in implementing targets in primary legislation. Denmark has set a target to reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 in legislation, while the UK has committed to putting in place a 78% target by 2035. We are no longer progressive; in fact, we are behind the curve on this. A target of net zero emissions by 2050 is simply too late, out of step with the scientific advice and far short of our fair share of the global effort needed to deliver on the Paris Agreement. This must be the floor, not the ceiling of our ambition.

Dr. Andrew Jackson, Professor John Sweeney and Professor Barry McMullin recently indicated the issue of predatory delay in a letter to the Minister, suggesting that the Bill referencing the 7% annual emissions target, as transposed in section 6A(5), is legally unclear, permitting multiple conflicting interpretations, none of which is strongly supported by the text. I welcome the Minister's commitment to clarify that issue and I hope he will introduce amendments in this regard on Committee Stage.

Some weaknesses in the Bill give a degree of discretion to Ministers when keeping in line with carbon budgets. There are no penalties if targets are missed or if the budgets are exceeded. This urgently needs to be addressed before the Bill is passed.

The Government cannot talk out of both sides of its mouth in addressing the issue of climate change. The intentions in the Bill must be reflected on the ground and must be reflected in strong policy, but this does not seem to be happening when it comes to fossil fuel and gas infrastructure. I understand the Minister plans to introduce amendments on Committee Stage on exploration. Despite a commitment in the programme for Government to ban the importation of fracked gas and the development of LNG infrastructure, applications for LNG development continue. We have been waiting for a policy statement for more than ten months and the Minister needs to commit today to issue that statement before new applications are in train. It is time for the Government to reaffirm its commitment to ban the importation of fracked gas by referencing this explicitly in the Bill by way of amendment. This was an explicit commitment made by the Green Party when it entered government, but we have yet to see any progress on that, including in this Bill.

As we begin a decade in which global emissions must decrease by half if the 1.5°C limit set out in the Paris Agreement is to remain viable, there is no scientific justification for the continued investment in and subsidisation of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

The Bill is a motherboard for overall governance and accountability measures so that we can hold the Government to account, no matter who is in power. The Minister said that it could take five or six government terms.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 4.30 p.m. and resumed at 4.50 p.m.