Deputy Whitmore was in possession.
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I was speaking about the issue of governance and accountability when it comes to the climate Bill. This Bill is a motherboard for overall governance and accountability measures that we can apply to hold Government to account, regardless of who is in power. A huge part of the committee report recommendations focused on this issue as well. I welcome the increased accountability measures dotted throughout the Bill as a result of the Minister taking on board the suggestions of the committee. Welcome additions include references to corrective actions where failures occur to meet emission targets, a section on climate reporting and a requirement that the Minister shall, when preparing a climate action plan, ensure that the plan is consistent with the carbon budget programme.
Other welcome aspects of the new Bill include the strengthened role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, by increasing its membership from 11 to 14 and a provision that future appointments to the council provide for a greater range of relevant expertise, including ecological expertise, which I was particularly keen would be included. Do these improvements go far enough? Will they ensure that all arms of the State work in tandem to reduce emissions and meet our national and international targets? The reporting lag inherent in the Bill will need to be tackled. The advisory committee has a year after the expiry of a carbon budget to propose a new one. The Minister also has four months to consider and amend the carbon budget and to lay it before the Oireachtas. The Dáil committee may also be set up to consider the carbon budget and make recommendations within two months. Therefore, carbon budgets will be set up based on a previous five-year period, potentially two to three years after the commencement of the relevant period. There is also the issue of too much front-loading on one Department in our response to climate change, rather than the burden being shared equally across all Departments and agencies of the State. We tend to compartmentalise the environment, to set it aside from economic development, transport and roads when it needs to be a core component of everything we do within government and in our governance.
Accountability must also be shared across all Ministers, Departments and agencies. The Taoiseach should take a lead role in ensuring the implementation of the carbon Bill. The Taoiseach needs to show that leadership. We have seen throughout the Covid crisis times where the Government partners have not worked against each other and have not pulled together as one and that has impacted on community support and engagement. We cannot afford to have something like that happening in relation to the climate crisis.
We need to climate proof all existing policies and legislation, including international trade deals, which brings me to the most pressing and urgent issue of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA. How can we expect to validate this climate action Bill while at the same time the Government is seeking approval for the investor court system despite international comparative analysis revealing the threat these investor courts have on countries' ability to regulate for increased climate and environmental protections? The environmental chapter of CETA is very weak when it comes to legal enforceability in contrast to the strong provisions to protect investors and any references to sustainability, environmental protection, and adherence to international climate agreements are only aspirational and voluntary in nature.
The combination of weak environmental protections, as contained in CETA, and the large pay outs resulting from existing dispute mechanisms to large energy companies, reveal that the environment has the most to lose from the new investor court system which forces national Governments to pull back on ambitious climate action policies and regulations. We have real time and real world examples of this happening and it is not something we can ignore. The threat of being sued under an investor court system of the type created by CETA has the potential to create a chilling effect on Governments' ability or willingness to implement policy in the interest of the public good or the environmental good.
I am happy to see the inclusion of a definition of biodiversity and nature-based solutions and its inclusion in the climate action plan and long-term climate objective, which I have been pushing for since I was first elected. I also welcome that the amendments I tabled to the Nation Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill 2020, NORA, have been transposed and will be taken into account in this Bill. That is a really positive move. However, we could, and need to, go further in this regard. There is need for clear objectives in support of the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity at the core of legislation. Other countries, such as Costa Rica, have done this very successfully. That country has managed to provide a broad and multifaceted objective in its legislation which focuses on the integration of biodiversity into policies and the State's decision–making processes. In Ireland, our approach to date has been to develop separate plans, separate reports and separate actions for biodiversity and for climate change. A widening gap is emerging between biodiversity and climate action, with little communication between the two processes and we need to work hard close that gap.
On just transition, other Deputies mentioned that none of this will be achievable if we do not bring on board communities and those who will be most impacted by any climate actions and support them to make the changes they need to make.
The climate committee made a number of very strong suggestions in regard to just transition but, unfortunately, they have not translated into the provisions of the Bill. In fact, there is a significant get-out clause in the section on just transition, with the inclusion of the phrase "in so far as is practicable". That provision needs to be strengthened. We have seen in the media over the past two days that some politicians are scaremongering and causing confusion about the Bill among rural and other communities. We cannot allow that to happen. We must make sure that people understand, first, that this has to be done and these issues must be addressed but that, in doing so, we will not leave them behind and the policies and funding we put in place will focus on those who most need Government support. That is key and it is where we need to be moving in terms of just transition.
We also need to ensure we have significant consultation on policies in this area. This is an issue I raised with the Minister previously in regard to the waste management regulations. There was no poverty-proofing of those provisions. There were 40 people on the stakeholder committee but nobody representing people at risk of poverty and nobody from a grassroots disability perspective. A key consideration must be to make sure we hear those voices when we are developing policies on climate action issues.
Another recommendation of the committee was to have a requirement for public consultation when preparing the long-term national climate action strategy. Democratic participation of civil society has slowly been eroded over time, particularly in terms of the cost of judicial reviews or appeals. Civil society organisations receive a minimal amount of funding and cannot afford to spend it dealing with costlier barriers that make it harder for them to protect and preserve the environment. This is an issue of which we need to be very conscious. Adequate consultation will ensure the action plans are poverty-proofed and just transition is carried out at each stage.
The draft forestry Bill, in its preliminary form, threatened to curb the rights of individuals and environmental organisations to appeal decisions, as a way to address the administrative failings of the current appeals system. This is not how we would envisage just transition. In fact, we should be strengthening the rights of those who guard our natural environment. We should appreciate the work they put into protecting our environment and communities. Democracy and transparency are cornerstones of climate action, which is why the committee's recommendation to include references to the Aarhus Convention is an important one.
We must ensure people on low incomes can afford to meet their minimum energy needs. This can be achieved by ensuring people have an adequate income, benchmarked against energy costs, and controlling the cost of utilities for low-income households, via social tariffs or price caps, as we make the transition to renewable energy. We need to expand access to free energy-efficiency upgrades, focusing on those living in social housing and private rental accommodation, and invest in public transport and rural transport, looking particularly at the potential for free public transport. For example, rolling out things like Local Link infrastructure to facilitate local and rural communities is absolutely vital.
Unfortunately, the current retrofitting programme is not on course to meet the energy needs of those most vulnerable to transition. There is a very long waiting list of people who have applied for a better energy warmer homes grant to retrofit their homes. This disadvantages certain groups of people, including the elderly. To date, 142,000 households have received free upgrades but there are currently 7,800 homeowners waiting for works to be done under the scheme. There is a two-year waiting list from the time someone makes an application to when he or she gets a surveyor visit. I spoke to the Minister about a pensioner constituent of mine in Wicklow who has very little money and had an electricity bill of nearly €900 in February. She will probably have a three-year wait to get that work done. We need to make sure the people who want to make the changes are facilitated to do so quickly.
Legislation may be drafted with all the best intentions but where Ireland consistently falls down is on implementation. The Government continues to delay in developing the necessary legislative framework to allow for green energy to be harnessed, developed and disseminated to households and businesses across the country in line with our 70% target for renewable energy production by 2030. Wind Energy Ireland predicts that we could miss our 2030 targets if existing barriers to planning and grid connections are not resolved quickly enough. That is why the marine planning Bill must be introduced. Again, we need to take into account environmental considerations. Concerns have been expressed that we are putting the cart before the horse in this regard. We have not yet established our marine protected areas and we have not looked ecologically to see which sections of our maritime resource should be protected before we start putting in the infrastructure. I would like to see progress being made in that regard. The Government needs to get to work on the renewable energy support scheme, RESS, auctions and the accompanying guidelines to facilitate these large-scale developments. The Minister also needs to clarify the guidelines for developing community funds for wind energy, which could really benefit local communities. In my constituency of Wicklow, there is a significant number of applications going in for offshore wind farms.
I want to raise the issue of energy-heavy industry, including data centres, which is a sector that continues to grow in Ireland. Data centres are currently responsible for 1.5% of the country's carbon emissions but they are projected to use nearly 30% of Ireland's total energy by 2028. EirGrid has warned that, by 2026, the twin demands of data centres and electric cars could exceed Ireland's energy supply. It cannot be the case that the only real beneficiaries of renewable energy are corporations, with the cost being put onto the State, and onto our climate, if we cannot, as a consequence, meet our emissions and renewable energy targets. We need assurances from Government that our move towards a different energy system will not be compromised by growing energy-heavy industries, our green energy system will serve local communities and our development needs will be met in a sustainable way.
Implementation will be key to all of this and the Bill must be dealt with on an emergency basis. Alongside implementation is the need for the necessary funding to support Departments, agencies and local authorities to implement their climate action plans. The Government has had practice at dealing with a crisis. The impact of Covid can be viewed as a test of the economic disruption we want to avoid as a country as we transition to a zero-carbon economy. We can expect the hallmarks of the pandemic to be carried through a climate emergency, including the need to protect our most vulnerable, apply systemic changes in our economic system and provide proper and effective governance to implement the changes required, with funding allocated to where the needs are greatest.
There is a rhythm and tempo that accompanies legislation as it passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas. That rhythm reflects the urgency the Government assigns to the issues at hand. In the case of this Bill, the tempo of action is out of synch with the reality it attempts to address. This once-in-a-generation, generation-defining legislation has not consistently been progressed with the sense of urgency that climate change and the biodiversity crisis require. The Bill veers towards a safer, more measured rhythm, which is a result of the compromise between the opposing sections of Government. Climate change and biodiversity loss do not care for compromise. Such compromise is what got us here in the first place. It is time now to pick up the pace of action.
I am sharing time with Deputy Cathal Crowe. The best environmentalists are not to be found behind a computer or in a lecture hall. One will find them on the small farms in County Longford and other rural counties. There is probably no body of people better placed to know that we need to transition towards a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy.
It is very important that we debunk the many myths that have grown up around this Bill. There are no plans, covert or otherwise, to reduce the national herd by 50%. That is scaremongering and it is deeply unfair to the farming community. There is no mention in the legislation or the programme for Government of a 50% reduction. It simply will not happen. It is also scaremongering to say that heavy-track machinery and diggers will have to be powered by electricity. Similarly, it is unfair to say that we plan to tax airlines out of the sky and cripple our tourism sector. Nor is there any intention to stop people cutting or burning their turf. That is another myth and further scaremongering.
Just transition and the quest for decarbonisation have been fast-tracked in the midlands. Bord na Móna is to cease its traditional operations and that will have a devastating effect on my region. I agree that there are crazy inconsistencies in what is proposed. We are planning to cease the production of peat briquettes, and it seems there is an unfathomable supply issue at Bord na Móna in terms of its briquettes, while, at the same time, we are importing much inferior products from abroad.
It is crazy, too, that we still do not know when our commercial peat harvesters will be able to work this season, yet, at the same time, we are importing peat from abroad. Commercial peat production for the horticultural sector is an important industry for counties Longford and Westmeath. The sector made a compelling submission to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine yet it seems we are no closer to seeing if harvesting can commence this season.
It is crazy too that there is a two-year wait on grant aid to retrofit a home. There are many anomalies and issues that have to be addressed but it is also critical that those issues are not lost in the hysteria of the hour.
The findings of the Citizens' Assembly have brought us to where we are and fed into the previous Government's climate action plan in 2019. In turn, that Government committed to today's Bill and to our five-year carbon budgets and sectoral targets. It also set out plans for an independent climate action council that will recommend carbon budgets and evaluate policy on an annual basis. The climate action plan is open for public consultation until 18 May and will be published in the summer.
It is true this climate Bill will cause farmers to focus on smart farming methods. There needs to be supports and incentives to help them. The key policy instrument in implementing and enabling agriculture to reach climate neutrality by 2050 is set out in the Ag Climatise roadmap launched at the end of last year. It includes 29 specific actions that were primarily based on the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curves. We are on a difficult journey towards a climate -neutral economy. It will not be without challenges. As legislators, we have an onus and responsibility on us to legislate not only for today but for tomorrow as well. The reality is that those in Ireland in 2050 will not thank us or remember us kindly if we do not vigorously pursue this Bill.
I am glad to be able to contribute to the debate. Some positive legislation has come before us, yet there are some concerning areas I wish to speak on as well.
This legislation commits to cutting carbon emissions by 51% by the year 2030 and meeting a zero carbon emissions level by 2050. This Bill puts a statutory commitment to both of these and provides for economy-wide five-year carbon budgets. After the legislation is passed through these Houses, the next step will be to prepare a climate action plan. This will set out the actions required to reach the ambitious targets that are detailed in the Bill.
There are several areas I wish to speak on specifically and put to the Minister. The first is aviation. I hope that he will take a diametric position to one he held 12 or 14 months ago around the time of Government formation relating to aviation taxes. An article featured in the Irish Examiner newspaper last week in which the Minister spoke about this. At a time when airplanes are not in our skies and when aviation is at its lowest all-time ebb it is essential that everything is done to stimulate the sector to get back flying and to restore some normality. Some say it could take between four and five years to return to 2019 aviation international flight levels. Any talk of carbon and aviation taxes only serves to keep the industry down at ground level. That is not where aviation belongs. Aviation belongs in the skies above us and we need to have a diametric position as a nation when we engage with the European Commission and counterparts throughout Europe in that regard.
We need to see farmers as guardians of the land. They are the current custodians. They will pass the farms onto other generations. They are the best allies we can have in environmental protection. In that regard, they need to be treated properly. A new results-based environment agri-pilot project is being devised and launched by my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. It is a pilot scheme. In future, CAP reform and farming centres need to be based around environmental measures that properly reward a farmer in the sense that they make it meaningful and reward him or her financially for going out and doing that work.
The Department needs to look at other measures beyond this legislation. Irish Cement has a tyre incineration application currently at appeal licensing stage with the Environmental Protection Agency. It is absurd that, at a time when most developed countries are moving out of incineration and large chimney stacks, this project is being considered in Limerick. As the crow flies, it is a stone's throw from my county of Clare. We are highly concerned about how we will be affected by the prevailing winds that will pass over the county, including over the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark. It is not where we want to be going as a county, especially when last week we had such a progressive announcement relating to offshore wind energy. The two do not mix. I realise the Minister cannot interfere but I hope that he and the Department would signal that this is not the direction in which we should go.
Positive and progressive legislation is before us but there is one glaring omission in the environmental legislation that I hope the Department will tighten up. It relates to GDPR and CCTV being used as a surveillance instrument for illegal dumping. We are being told by local authorities throughout the country that they cannot use CCTV, yet weekend after weekend, trucks and trailers come up the highways and byways of our countryside and dump material. There is some loophole that needs to be tightened. The Minister cares about the environment. I hope sincerely the Minister and his officials will urgently look at tightening that loophole so that CCTV can be used effectively in future to capture those who are illegally littering and fly-tipping and bring them to justice.
Deputy Matt Carthy is next. Níl sé anseo. Deputy Bríd Smith is sharing with her colleagues, Deputy Murphy and Deputy Barry.
Deputy Barry will not be here but I am sharing with Deputy Murphy. I want to start by saying something the Minister may not believe or his party may not believe. I can honestly say that those of us in People Before Profit had hoped we would welcome the Bill and engage in the debate on the basis of support for the Bill that would begin to tackle the greatest issue of our time and the biggest threat to our people and planet. We genuinely hoped to support it along with the school strikers, the children who stood outside the Dáil on the Fridays For Future demonstrations, the activists in Extinction Rebellion, those we have been campaigning with to end the extraction of fossil fuel, fracked gas and LNG and the hundreds of thousands of people who have looked at the science and understood what we are facing. The idea was that with this one tranche of legislation we would have some hope that at least at the highest levels of the State the process of reacting and taking the necessary steps would at last have begun.
I wondered how it might be possible that a Government dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could deliver on such a meaningful measure. I wondered how those in government at the highest level of the State might try every trick in the book, procedurally in the Dáil, legally in the courts, media spin and spin merchants and in their unashamed prioritising of economic and business arguments to stop meaningful measures like the climate emergency Bill. I wondered how these forces in society and government could be combatted by the Green Party.
Since the stakes are so high we genuinely hoped that the acceleration of CO2 in the atmosphere and Covid-19 shutting down large sections of the economy might change things yet the volumes of carbon in the atmosphere were at 420 ppm and not at the 350 ppm safety level that science recommends. This is the highest known on record.
Like thousands of others, we had hoped, watching record temperatures broken, seeing the wildfires and droughts, understanding what has happened globally to our most vulnerable, poorest and least resilient on the planet and watching as these events get more extreme, common and devastating, that would result in this Bill setting out to start dealing with that in this country. We hoped or understood that this could happen to the poorest people in Ireland who will suffer the most from what is coming down the tracks. They are targeted by carbon taxes and lectured about their personal choices when they are the least responsible and least able to alter their personal behaviour. For selfish reasons I had hoped that in ten or 15 years when we looked back at the volume of emissions and saw that this Bill did not deliver or even begin to address the core issues, there would be no sense in me or anyone else in the House saying "I told you so" because to be proven right on such an issue is not exactly a happy place to be. It would be a disaster for the world and the people in it.
We stand 100% with the climate campaigners, school strikers and the movement. This Bill is not fit for the scale of the crisis we face. It is not a good first step and it does not justify the participation of the Minister's party in a neoliberal Government that has turned its back on so many groups in our society in the past year.
This failure is quantitatively different from the disaster of the Minister's previous participation in government. It is not something that will be forgiven in ten years or forgotten by a new generation. This is why the Green Party were given a second chance by many at the last election. They forgot about bank bailouts, austerity measures and the betrayal of the most vulnerable. However, there will be no fig leaf in future to justify the failure to deliver on climate change.
Why will this Bill not deliver? It will fail at every basic level because it is not adequate to deal with the task we face. Goals of net zero or carbon neutral by 2050 are not putting us on the road to Paris. They are not putting us on the road to anywhere. Kevin Anderson, the climate scientist, and others have pointed out that being concerned chiefly with the targets or putting in higher targets or articulating higher ambitions is not what is required. If one starts off aiming for a target that is not what is needed, then one's chances of success are pretty limited. One does not get to Paris by walking west to begin with.
Net zero is a con and a con that the global climate movement has already called out. It is a con because it sets out the idea that the main task is not to actually cut fossil fuel use, but to use some form of inventive accounting to calculate sinks and other measures to balance the emissions, while also lighting a candle to the patron saint of climate and hoping that somewhere, somehow, somebody invents something that can capture and store fossil fuels that we know we will continue to use.
I want to argue that the reasons given by the Minister for the failure to address the issues of liquefied natural gases, LNGs, and fracked gas in this Bill are not ones I accept. It is not good enough to say this is only about governance and is not the place to insert bans on LNGs and yet we are still being told that on Committee Stage the Minister will deal with the issue of oil and gas exploration. That is extraordinary and highly unusual for an issue of such importance. If I accept him at his word, then it raises the issue that if he intends to amend the petroleum and minerals Act on Committee Stage, why does he not amend the Planning and Development Act, to insert there loudly and clearly that we will ban LNG development
I raise the question Professor Sweeney and others have raised with the Minister by letter in regard to the wording around the carbon budgets and what that wording actually means and will deliver. In theory this wording could mean that the Government will fail utterly to reduce CO2 levels between now and 2029 and yet it would still not technically be failing to comply with the provisions of this legislation. While I think this issue is key, something that also pervades the entire Bill is a vagueness and get-out clauses are peppered throughout every section of it. There is a deeper and more vulnerable issue, however, that goes to the heart of the problems with the Bill.
When one enshrines in legislation a list of items that a Minister, a council or a Government must have regard to when formulating policy around climate change, and when many of these items are clearly contradictory and prioritise other concerns apart from climate, one is setting out one's stall to fail and is signalling well in advance one's excuses to do just that. Aside from peppering the Bill with phrases such as "insofar as practicable" we also have a list of priorities to be considered first, such as the need to deliver the best possible value for money; the attractiveness of the State for investment and the long-term competitiveness of the economy; the role of behavioural changes on the part of individuals; and the special economic and social role of agriculture, particularly in respect of biogenic methane.
To take the attractiveness of the State for investment, what on earth is that doing in a Bill that pretends to deal with catastrophic climate change? Does the Minister's party or anyone in government actually believe there is not a fundamental clash between the priorities of global capitalism and stopping climate chaos? We currently have plans to build hundreds of data centres around this country that will consume vast quantities of our renewable energy, a vast proportion of which we had hoped to use to replace the fossil fuel industry. Does the Minister really think banning the development of data centres is a step that would not meet with serious ire from companies like Amazon or Google? That is why these things are not included in the Bill but rather we will go on and on doing what we usually do as part of climate change.
Does the Minister really that banning oil and gas exploration or the importation of LNGs will go down well with investors in Shell, BP or General Motors, or the vast industrial complex tied intimately into the fossil fuel industry? We cannot use the State's attractiveness to investors to prioritise its competitiveness when deciding climate policy because dealing with the drivers of climate change means challenging those very priorities and challenging the drive for profits and the need for constant and wasteful production and competition.
What would a climate Bill that aimed to be compliant with Paris and that saw the reality as a crisis and as something that Naomi Klein said must change everything look like? It would amount to a green new eco-socialist deal and would herald and plan for a revolution in things like free public transport, with an ambition that would make BusConnects look like child’s play. Within a year we would be providing free and frequent public transport in our cities but also in rural towns and villages.
It would take on the beef barons on whose behalf our agricultural policy has been framed. Yes, that means a reduction in the herd but, more importantly, it would mean freeing our farming community from the grip of the big agribusiness that has been responsible for the slow strangulation of our farming communities and family farms. It would mean a rebirth of rural communities based on horticulture and make farming both sustainable for our environment and for workers farmers at its heart. It would mean setting out how we will harvest renewable energy in the interests of the people in the State and how we would do so by investing in solar and offshore energy, through a State company, delivered in a planned and rational way based on the need to cut CO2 and not on the investment decisions of private interests.
There are obvious dangers when we fail in this area. We all know what the science is saying but there is another danger. We saw a bit of it in this House today and I want to address that. The dangers of climate denial are not limited to Trump or the far right conspiracy theorists. There is a deep kick-back from the industries affected and at the heart of the climate crisis that is not always outright denial but is often a policy that demands "not here, not now, and not just yet" or that it is not practical or cost effective and that it would damage the economy. At a fundamental level, this Bill gives cover to that and the corollary of admitting or suggesting that we cannot tackle the huge vested interests of business and corporations that are driving climate crisis or worse suggesting that there is no contradiction between climate justice and the action of those very vested interests will breed scepticism. It will seek to confirm to ordinary people that the big industries do not have to make any sacrifices, but that ordinary people do. We will give people carbon taxes for using petrol or diesel but not free public transport. We will punish people if they heat their homes with oil or coal, but we will not fund the retrofitting of people's homes. We will bombard people with ads that demand they change their personal behaviour. Those ads will be from the banks that have evicted people or the banks that were bailed out by the people in the past and were responsible for the economic collapse. They will be from the big car manufacturers and oil companies whose profits are based on the climate crisis. The danger is that that hypocrisy will be seen by ordinary people and it will make it easier for those other voices to whisper or often shout, as they did in this House today, that this is all a con and that we do not need to make any changes. If all the Green Party has to offer is carbon taxes for ordinary people and a windfall for corporations, then we will see a resurgence of climate denial at the very moment when we need greater action and more ambition.
We will be proposing amendments to the Bill. We will be trying to change the language and will be pointing out that the targets are not sufficient and that there is a need to ban LNGs outright, and not just the licensing of future fossil fuel extraction but to deal with the current licences which run until 2035.
What we had in the Dáil this afternoon was political theatre. This was shown most obviously and blatantly by the climate change denial group which was scaremongering about things that are not in the Bill for some cheap publicity and presumably, hopefully, for some votes down the line. This ignores the fact that it is the small farmers who they claim to stand up for and defend who will be impacted hard by the kind of climate crisis that is coming down the road if the world does not enact a very sharp turn and change.
We also had political theatre from the Government side and from the Green Party, in particular. Listening to the Minister, Deputy Ryan's opening speech, one would be forgiven for thinking that this is a historic Bill and victory for the climate change movement. The Minister said, "It is a Bill for system change that delivers a just transition." That is nonsense and the Minister knows that it is nonsense. It is a scandalous misappropriation of the language of a movement that is being betrayed by the Green Party. "Follow the science" is what that movement demands. "System change and not climate change" is what the people cry out.
Instead, we have a Bill that blatantly closes its eyes and ears to the science to avoid any challenge to fossil capitalism. Every step of the way, capitalist governments have refused to do what is necessary and what the science spells out. The Paris targets, which are not being met anywhere, are themselves inadequate. The EU targets signed off yesterday do not meet the Paris targets and they in turn will not be met. The Government targets we have in a climate action Bill brought forward by a Government including the Green Party do not even meet those inadequate EU targets. It is a case of one inadequate target after another, all of which will be missed if we stay on the road we are on.
To start with the overall science, the target for Ireland to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is not in line with what the science demands. The year 2050 is the absolute deadline to get to net zero or zero to give us a 66% chance of limiting climate change to 1.5°C. Ireland, as a wealthy country, should be leading. It should be going for zero carbon emissions by 2030 rather than by 2050. As has been pointed out, something very important is being hidden in the language of net reductions by 2030 and 2050. It is out of step with science. I have raised previously with the Minister that the language of carbon neutrality leaves it completely open as to how that neutrality is achieved, usually giving a nod to some vague aspiration towards carbon capture techniques and technologies which do not even exist yet. The faith placed in the productive and research capabilities of capitalism is absolutely not warranted and the theoretical effects are completely speculative. Reliance on carbon capture and storage is not a viable climate action strategy.
Even going by the Government's promises, such as in the programme for Government, we are committed to a 7% per annum reduction between now and 2030. However, the Bill, which is obviously lauded by the Government, does not even meet the commitments in the programme for Government. The language used in the Bill means that all of the 51% reduction promised between now and 2030 could be backloaded onto 2029. In the language of the scientists who have written to the Government on this issue, that would represent a predatory delay. It is one of various scenarios the scientists set out, including putting things on the long finger, etc. What is the consequence of that? First, it means the cumulative reductions over the next decade will be less. If it all happens in the last year or most of it happens in the last couple of years or the last three or four years or whatever, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere will be greater. Second, and perhaps most important, it kicks this issue to a future government. It kicks responsibility to a future government which could be relying on the votes or the participation of the climate deniers we currently have in this Dáil. As such, there is no guarantee a future government will follow through on the commitments.
I refer to the language which appears again and again and which amounts to a get-out clause for this and future governments, namely, the language of "insofar as practicable". Section 6 amends section 4 of the principal Act to state, at subsection (11), "A Minister of the Government, shall, in so far as practicable, perform his or her functions in a manner consistent with the most recent approved climate action plan". Section 9 inserts a section 6B which provides at subsection (13) "A Minister of the Government shall, in so far as practicable, perform his or her functions ...". The climate does not care whether everything that can be done has been done insofar as practicable, which in the political reality in this country means insofar as it does not interfere with or tread on the toes of agribusiness in particular. There are not going to be fewer extreme weather events as a result of the Ministers doing everything they could insofar as practicable. There will not be smaller sea level rises because the Ministers did everything insofar as practicable. There will not be a smaller increase in global temperatures because we tried really hard insofar as practicable. It is a get-out clause in the same vein as the references to just transition which did not manage to find their way into the original Bill. There are a few references to just transition in the Bill before the House but every single reference to just transition or climate justice is preceded by "having regard to", which effectively makes it worthless.
In my final minute, I wish to refer to the twin of the climate crisis, namely, the biodiversity crisis. The fourth review of the status of birds in Ireland, a report published in the past week, should be an alarm to everybody, but to the Government in particular. The figures are shocking. Some 63% of Ireland's regularly occurring wild bird species are now of serious conservation concern. There has been a 46% increase in the number of Irish birds on the endangered list in less than a decade. In a sense, these birds are canaries in the coal mine. They are key indicators of environmental health, and changes to their distribution and populations reflect changes in habitats, food change and wider biodiversity. They are incredibly important to the health of ecosystems. They are pollinators, seed dispersers and insect hunters. We cannot survive without them. We have to hear the warning there and recognise we need radical eco-socialist policies to break with the whole logic of fossil fuel capitalism to put an end to and avert the biodiversity and climate crises.
Is mór an onóir dom a bheith ag caint anseo inniu ar an Bille um Ghníomhú ar son na hAeráide agus um Fhorbairt Ísealcharbóin (Leasú). I am honoured to speak as the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is introduced into the Dáil. It represents a pivotal moment for the nation, for us as politicians and for me on a personal level. Some weeks ago, I was going through old boxes and found election literature from the first time I campaigned for a seat on Kilkenny county and borough council, in 2004. On the back of the leaflet, I had written:
As I watch my young baby son Colm grow up so fast, I wonder what our city will be like for him in 10 or even 20 years' time. The future I want for him is the future I want for you and your families. You can help me shape that future.
Our shared future. Little did I know. My eldest son is now 18 but I still wonder what our city, our county and, indeed, our world will be like for him and his three siblings ten or 20 years from now. The difference is that standing in the Dáil today as a Minister of State, having worked at the grassroots for all of my professional life, I can rest a little bit easier in the middle of all the uncertainty of this world because I know that with this Bill we are putting into law the promise that our shared future is one we will be proud for them to inherit. This Dáil has done that.
Some of us have been on this journey for many decades while others have joined in recent years or even months. It does not matter. We are here now together and we, along with all the NGOs, young activists, scientists and advocates in communities, can feel proud of bringing our country to this important point in its history. The Bill represents the achievement of so much but we must remember it is a first step towards achieving our national climate objective. There is still so much to do, not least within my area of responsibility, that is, nature, wildlife and biodiversity.
The climate crisis and the crisis in the natural world are intrinsically linked. Climate change causes biodiversity loss through droughts, floods, fires, changes in the distribution of species and the spread of pests, diseases and invasives. It causes ecological disruption in terms of the timing of the growing season, bud burst, fruit ripening, egg laying and hatching and migration. Biodiversity loss also causes climate change. Decades of wetland drainage for peat extraction and inappropriate afforestation have resulted in degraded bogs that actually emit carbon instead of storing it.
However, although the problems are linked, so too are the solutions. As the Bill makes clear in its reference to biodiversity richness in the national climate objective and its regard to the protection and restoration of nature, we cannot have one without the other. After all, nature is what regulates the climate. Nature is a vital ally in terms of climate mitigation and balancing Ireland's carbon budget. Degraded ecosystems emit carbon, but we are reversing that flow by growing a restoration economy that leverages public investment and the innovative financial mechanisms to generate labour-intensive rural employment in improving ecosystem health to support carbon sequestration and storage. We are seeing unprecedented investment in the restoration and rehabilitation of raised bogs across the midlands and the economic multipliers that come with that. This is very good news for the climate, but also for water, wildlife and communities.
We are finding through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, living bog project that it is working. The positive changes in habitat condition are happening before our very eyes, and I would be delighted to show that to all Deputies when it is safe to travel.
These results are particularly encouraging as we develop the restoration economy and look ahead to other habitats in need of similar attention, such as upland blanket bogs, grasslands and coastal zones. It goes further than that. We are already seeing the effects of climate change in Ireland and it is important we remember nature is our first and best line of defence against a changed climate. Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to the extreme weather events climate change is bringing, helping to protect communities, crops and infrastructure from devastating natural disasters such as flooding, landslides and droughts. Nature-based solutions, meanwhile, with the co-benefits for biodiversity, are vitally important tools in enhancing liveability in our cities in particular. The evidence is clear: healthy nature must be at the heart of Ireland's approach to climate adaptation.
Ireland's farmers, foresters, fishers, planners and engineers will play a key role in the delivery of these objectives, and it is our job as policymakers to design systems that define, incentivise and support the outcomes we want to see. There are challenges ahead, no doubt. The designation of protected areas, especially in the marine environment, is an urgent priority in terms of aligning renewable policy and biodiversity objectives. The schemes embedded in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and Ireland's strategic plan are critical tools in making agriculture a driver of biodiversity enhancement by rewarding farmers appropriately to deliver real results for nature. The design of a new vision for forestry focuses on the notion of the right trees in the right place under the right management. It presents a significant opportunity to create multifunctional forests that have benefits for nature on land and in our streams and lakes.
Overcoming these challenges will be no small task but through cross-Department collaboration, policy alignment and integrated approaches to community engagement, we can deliver multiple benefits, both financial and non-financial, for the economy, society and the environment.
It is worth noting the EU biodiversity strategy to 2030 is unequivocal in its assessment of the intrinsic link between climate and biodiversity. It states "protecting and restoring wetlands, peatlands and coastal ecosystems, or sustainably managing marine areas, forests, grasslands and agricultural soils, will be essential for emission reduction and climate adaptation". The scale of its ambition for the protection and restoration of nature across the European Union is unprecedented and will contribute significantly to the development of the post-2020 global framework for biodiversity which will be finalised at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's conference in Kunming, China later this year. The conference will set a trajectory for our work for the next 30 years towards 2050.
I often reflect, as I cycle to Leinster House in the mornings, on the extraordinary task ahead of us, and it can sometimes feel daunting. Little or nothing has changed for the better in the 30 years between my first day under Kilkenny's town hall as a climate campaigner and the day last year when, on a way to a council meeting, I met two young climate activists who sat at the same town hall gates every Friday. The next 30 years simply must be vastly different. I promised those young people that day we would do our best and I intend to keep that promise.
The world is mobilising for change and, with this Bill, Ireland is placing itself at the heart of a global movement. For my part, I will be collaborating with colleagues across Government and, indeed, across the Oireachtas to ensure Ireland seizes the opportunity to create the shared future the next generation deserves.
In the words of Greta Thunberg, our house is on fire. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are less than ten years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. The programme for Government commits to ban the registration of new fossil-fuelled cars and light commercial vehicles from 2030 onwards while phasing out diesel and petrol cars from Irish cities in the same period. If we are serious about climate change, why is the groundwork for planning these changes not in the climate action Bill? Those targets are less than nine years away, yet nobody is talking about the elephant in the room. How are we going to charge electric cars when few local authorities are planning for public chargers? We need to incentivise businesses to provide chargers in a scheme similar to the shopfront improvement scheme. The State must do more if we are to avert this crisis. It must do more than just buying carbon credits. I am concerned Ireland has spent somewhere between €68 million and €150 million buying carbon credits recently. I would like to know exactly how much we are spending and over what period. Are these carbon credits ethical?
Why are we buying carbon credits when we should be spending this money on sustainable measures that will provide a just transition for those who will struggle when further carbon taxes are introduced on 1 May? Those carbon taxes disproportionately affect our older people and those who live in rural areas, and that needs to stop. Fuel poverty is not acceptable in this day and age. We need to reward those who are serious about climate change. We should be installing solar panels on our public buildings, such as hospitals and schools, and providing proper grants for homes to do the same. We need real steps that will make a difference, not airy-fairy aspirational stuff that means nothing. We need simple steps that will make a real difference. Beehives should be deemed as livestock units for the purpose of CAP payments. Hedgerows should be improved and proper value attached to carbon sequestration properties. Our house is on fire and it is about time this Government woke up and did something about it.
This particular Bill, as presently drafted, is anti-climate, anti-democratic, anti-Irish and anti-poor. Do not get me wrong, climate change must be addressed and I believe we need a new climate law to make it happen in urban and rural areas in Ireland. I was Ireland's first Minister with responsibility for the climate and did not have the legal tools available to me to bring about the type of sustainable change that was needed. For example, after a long and protracted battle, I secured a Cabinet decision in January 2018 not to purchase any new fossil fuel buses for public transport. Disappointingly, the very first double-decker electric vehicle will not be on the streets of Dublin until January 2023, a full five years after I secured that commitment.
I envy the current Minister in the way he can push things along, but in the rush to get things done, our economy, especially our rural economy, is being needlessly sacrificed when there are alternative approaches which should be taken to achieve the same goal. While the climate Bill provides the framework for the delivery, it does not provide the mechanism to achieve it. As presently constituted, it will decimate our economy, particularly our rural economy, and do little in return to achieve our global goal of reducing emissions because the primary focus will not change. My big fear is the focus will remain on upfront costs, which is an incentive to do little and leave it all to the agricultural sector, with the easy option being an overall reduction in the national herd which could, ultimately, be anti-climate.
The current system of calculating climate emissions discriminates against a food exporter such as Ireland. Even though 90% of our beef is exported, Ireland is penalised for being the most carbon efficient beef exporter within the European Union because the rules state responsibility is on the producer, rather than the consumer. Relatively carbon efficient beef production in Ireland can, therefore, be replaced throughout the Union with beef that is 35 times worse from an environmental perspective coming from the Amazon basin. That is okay, according to the climate mathematicians, but not our atmosphere. Unless we completely change the approach to calculating agricultural emissions, we will decimate the industry here in Ireland while also destroying our atmosphere for generations to come. This is a lose-lose situation unless we look again at the maths behind the climate targets.
This Bill is anti-democratic. If enacted, this Bill will legislate Dáil Éireann out of existence on all climate-related matters. That is undemocratic and must be opposed outright. Section 9 states the carbon budget for the following five years is to be laid before Dáil Éireann for approval but Deputies have no ability to amend or alter the proposals.
If Dáil Éireann rejects the five-year carbon budget then the Minister will, within 60 days, bring in his or her own five-year carbon budget without any need to consult with the Dáil or to seek its approval. Furthermore, Dáil Éireann has no role or input into the individual five-year sectoral emission caps for agriculture, transport, home heating, etc. This is akin to a law being passed to the effect that the Minister for Finance can present a full five-year taxation budget to the Dáil without any detail of how he or she intends to spend the money collected. If the Dáil rejects it, the Government can bring in any taxation measure it likes within 60 days and the Dáil has no say whatsoever. On top of that, the Minister for Finance can decide how much funding is to be allocated to each Department for the following five years and Deputies have no role in considering whether it is appropriate or not. They did not even go to that extreme in Stalinist Russia.
The Bill is also anti-Irish because the climate rule book has been developed by industrialised countries, so the tools that are being used by our EU colleagues to address the climate problem are based on the bulk of emissions coming from industry, cities and intensive agriculture. In Ireland, 37% of the population live in rural areas. We have just two cities with a population of more than 100,000, namely, Dublin and Cork. Whichever way one looks at it, the climate challenges in Ireland are all about land use, in particular dispersed land use. We have extensive agricultural practices, isolated rural communities reliant on cars, a large number of small towns and the disproportionate scale of Dublin to the rest of the country. I could go on. Our climate challenges are the polar opposites of our European colleagues, yet the EU climate rules are designed to address EU challenges rather than Irish challenges. This inbuilt industrialised-country bias is everywhere, from the environmental zealots who shoot down any alternative approach, right through to the Climate Change Advisory Council, which under this law will set our domestic climate targets. The Bill seeks to enshrine into law this EU bias and Irish climate bias. That is the reason the Bill is anti-Irish.
The Bill is also against the poor. As a result of the pandemic, families' heating bills have gone up dramatically, compounded by increased carbon taxes, but not just because people are spending more time at home. It is because families that are struggling to pay electricity bills are subsidising the supply of electricity into data centres operated by multinational, multibillion euro companies and the level of subsidy is set to increase dramatically with our ambitious renewable energy targets. It is immoral that people who are struggling to pay electricity bills are subsidising the cost of electricity going into data centres, many of which have been constructed on a speculative basis. I argued vehemently against such an approach in Cabinet. This is reflected in the Government policy statement on data centres issued in 2018. However, this particular element of the commitment in that policy statement has yet to be implemented. We need data centres to pay for their own costs in terms of the electricity infrastructure that is being put in place to meet their growing energy demands and in respect of the generation of green electricity. This cost should never be put on the backs of struggling families across this country.
The Bill refers to protecting "the attractiveness of the State for investment", which is commendable. However, there is no mention of fuel poverty anywhere in the Bill. In this Bill, families are forgotten. That is not the only place where families have been forgotten. Approximately 7,000 families that are reliant on social welfare are waiting for approval to have their homes retrofitted under the warmer homes scheme. Disappointingly, the Minister announced that there are changes coming to the scheme "to better target those most in need". In other words, quite a number of those 7,000 people, who are in energy poverty and who are reliant on social welfare, will now be excluded from the scheme due to the proposed revision. That is wrong. We have seen a 9% increase in residential carbon emissions during the 2020 lockdown; we have also seen a dramatic fall-off in the retrofitting of homes, which commenced in 2019 and collapsed in 2020. In the past two and a half years we have failed to meet the targets that have been set for the deep retrofitting of homes and, sadly, if we continue to fail to achieve the targets the agriculture sector will be the one left carrying the can.
I think everyone in this country and in the rest of the world agrees that climate action is a requirement. In Ireland, there is a craving for work to be done and to be the best in class. Where I see it going wrong is that we are tripping over ourselves to bring in a Bill to change the situation and in many cases, as we say down the country, we are putting the cart before the horse. Agriculture is being unfairly categorised in the climate action agenda. We are best in class for dairy production in Europe and we are fifth in class for beef production. Why then are we saying that farmers are adding to the carbon footprint when in fact they are exemplars in what they do? The farmer is the custodian of the land and knows it better than anybody else. Farmers know the land is a source of food. If we reduce herd numbers, we will also reduce beef and dairy production. The alternative is to bring in beef from South America and one could ask what that adds to the carbon footprint.
Another way in which we have put the cart before the horse is that we stopped the production of peat briquettes and now we are importing them. We also stalled the production of milled peat for horticulture and now we are importing it. We are now stopping farmers from increasing production. What will they do then? We have also introduced a retrofit programme for houses but when a person with a fuel allowance applies for it, he or she must wait two years for an inspection. We talk about electric cars coming on-stream but we must look at how much it will cost people to replace their existing car with a new electric car. The infrastructure for electric cars is still very weak. There are charging points here and there, but there are not sufficient charging points across the country to give people the confidence they would expect in using an electric car.
People are being told to take out their stoves and oil-fired heating systems and to put in electric-source heating systems. The cost of making such a change ranges from €15,000 to €25,000 and a grant of €3,500 is available. Where are people going to get the money to do this? A better question still is where is the Government going to get the money to do this. We have a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, scheme at the moment which is adding to the cost of the installation of new types of heating in houses. The reason is that a number of contractors have been selected and approved by the SEAI, in its wisdom, and other contractors are not approved.
We are, therefore, creating additional costs because the people who can do this work are limited.
I heard the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, speak earlier. She said this Bill was for the people, by the people. If we are to deal with climate action for the people we need to make sure that every decision we make is costed so that funding is available to ensure people can justly the transition to the change we require.
We have always talked about a just transition, but it seems to be a nice phrase to use. In effect, we need to make sure that nobody is penalised through the climate action movement that we have to undertake. We need to make sure that whatever efforts are required are put in place and are up and running before we stop something else. It would be a crazy situation if we decided not to burn any more turf or peat in our fires if the houses which now rely on that do not have an alternative in place or cannot afford to change. I am very concerned that we are in a zone whereby we are tripping over ourselves, and are not planning properly for what we need to do and making sure that whatever we do is of benefit to the people.
The Bill proposed by the Government seeks to chart Ireland's transition to climate neutrality by 2050. It will provide for future five-yearly carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings and shape and frame the future economic and social prosperity of our country.
Global warming is now an accepted reality. All countries have a part to play in addressing climate change. Some developing countries, in particular those with increasing populations, are driving significant carbon generation and will do so for years to come.
Ireland's performance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been suboptimal. The aspirations of the proposed legislation are clearly set, but providing for them in the real world and in the context of real life activity will place a significant strain on many components and sectors of our economy and population.
A large part of what has been discussed in terms of an Irish climate change strategy appears to be easier to specify rather than implement. Having 1 million electric cars by 2030 does not seem possible given the difficulties in manufacturing and the charging networks required. There are aspirations to change our diesel and heavy goods vehicles for other forms of fuel such as natural gas or hydrogen systems which underperform in many areas. This is also true for shipping. Remodelling and retrofitting houses and heat generation systems are complex and costly exercises. How can this be achieved successfully without significant grant support? This is unclear.
With respect to the public sector adoption of climate mitigation strategies, as someone who was involved in marketing energy reducing systems for public and Government buildings, I have seen first hand how difficult adoption was to achieve without monetary resources. This brings me to a number of problem areas and how they are to be progressed. One is carbon sequestering versus carbon reduction. Another is Ireland's continued intention to build data centres, which will use up much of the renewable resources we are contemplating developing.
How will underperformance in each of the five-year reduction plans, in particular in sectors such as energy, be compensated for in the next budget cycle? I have concerns that the undershooting of targets in these areas will leave the agricultural sector as the one that will suffer most in trying to recoup lost ground. I acknowledge that the national herd of cattle and sheep is a significant driver of biogenic methane. Unlike other countries, however, the Bill does not separate targets for biogenic methane versus CO2 production in the climate change strategy. This could mean that where agreed sectoral caps are missed, such as in energy, for example, other sectors could be targeted for further savings, such as agriculture or a reduction in the size of the national herd. This could see Ireland cutting beef production while the European Community imports beef from Brazil, which would involve a greenhouse gas impact up to 20 times higher. How can this make sense as a climate mitigation strategy?
Under the Bill, it appears that the Oireachtas can only accept or reject the overall greenhouse gas reduction targets in each of the five-year budgetary plans. When the Dáil decides to reject an annual overall target, the Minister of the day is free to return to the House within a number of weeks and propose whatever sectoral caps he or she wishes without further approval or sanction of the House. This presents a significant danger in terms of democracy and a democratic mandate, and in protecting the national agricultural component from the failures of other sectors to achieve stated goals. This democratic deficit is something I would like to see amended in the final legislation.
Although climate change is a fact and, without doubt, we need ambitious targets to achieve carbon neutrality in the future, we cannot achieve it without a feasible and just transition policy. We cannot seek to implement national carbon reductions while eviscerating the livelihoods of significant population who live in regional and rural Ireland. We are not the same as our European neighbours. We have fewer densely populated areas. We live in lower density housing and often require private transport to access work. These are the facts of life in this country. We need policies that reflect this reality.
We have started an honest conversation on climate change, but we must also be honest in attributing reduction objectives to differing sectors. We need radical management change in our public sector organisations with respect to emissions profiling and saving. We need adequate fiscal and budgetary supports to achieve change targets by our population and industrial, public and community sectors. Whether the national drive to address climate change is powered by hydrogen, oxygen or sunlight, reduction targets must be implemented fairly across sectors and across the national population. This may ensure that we are all in this together.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I would like to address some of the concerns people have with it and the misinformation and false claims that are being put out there in terms of what it is about and what we intend to do. It was claimed that the intention is to reduce the size of the national herd by more than 50%. That is simply not true. It was claimed that the aim is to curtail international tourism and flights into and out of Ireland. That is simply not true. I would like someone to point out to me where there is any mention of reducing the size of the national herd by 50% or curtailing national flights in the Bill or the programme for Government. It is not true, and that is why people will be unable to point that out.
It was also claimed that farmyards right around Ireland would somehow be empty after the Bill is passed. That is not true. Farming is, and will continue to be, an unbelievably important part of the fabric of rural Ireland. Tourism, including international tourism, will continue to be an incredibly important part of the economy and, in particular, the regional and rural economy.
I want to address those points, speak the truth and talk about the facts. The fact is that the Bill is not about decimating or targeting particular sectors. The Bill is about achieving ambitious targets when it come to a reduction in emissions and reacting to the calls of the thousands upon thousands of young students who took to the streets of Ireland and called for leadership and action when it comes to climate change. This is our way of showing that leadership.
The Bill is about missed targets. Ireland has consistently missed its international targets in regard to climate action and emissions. The Bill is about acknowledging the fact that climate change exists. Some Members want to deny that fact, but it exists and we cannot stand by and watch it happen. We have to take action. That is what this Bill is about.
The planet is, unfortunately, in big trouble. We do not have to look at bush fires in Australia, melting ice caps in the Arctic or Texas freezing over this winter. We can look closer to home, at the towns and villages that, time and again, are experiencing serious and more frequent flooding events. We can look at the coastal locations that are experiencing coastal erosion at a far more rapid rate because of more severe weather conditions.
This is happening right here before our eyes.
The biodiversity crisis is not just a global issue, it is something happening right here in Ireland. This week BirdWatch Ireland produced a report which indicated that 26% of Irish bird species are now on the red list, meaning they are critically endangered. These are species with which every one of us is familiar, including the kestrel we all see hovering over the side of the road, and the puffin, which is used in Ireland's marketing brochures and material and our postcards. They are critically endangered. Today is World Curlew Day, a bird which was the sound of Irish summers in years past. In the 1970s, there were 8,000 pairs of breeding curlew. We are down to 135. That is why this Bill is important, why we must take action and can no longer stand by and let others do the heavy lifting.
People do have valid concerns. We have to listen to those concerns and I agree with many of them, particularly around fuel prices, especially home heating. I can understand those concerns, which is why we have to accelerate and bring forward our warmer homes scheme and retrofitting programmes in order that we can address that and ensure people can heat their houses and keep them warm and at a cheaper cost. That is incredibly important, and without it, these measures will not work.
There will be opportunities, which we must embrace. These will be in employment, where there will be upskilling of tradespeople for the retrofitting programme. There will be job opportunities in renewable energy. When renewable technologies are rolled out in an area or there is a jobs announcement in it, I can guarantee the same Deputies who will criticise this Bill will be the same Deputies who will be the first to take to their Facebook pages and go to the newspapers to welcome the fantastic jobs announcement.
This is about getting the balance right. On the one hand, people are saying we are going too far, and on the other, there are those who say we are not going far enough. This is an incredibly important Bill. The simple fact is, as a nation and as people, we are thinking about the here and now and we are not thinking about the future. We owe it to the young people living in Ireland and across the globe and to future generations to take action now. This Bill is a first step in that. I very much welcome it and hope Members support it.
This Bill commits us to a 51% reduction in emissions by the end of the decade. In my constituency of Meath West, the one project that would make the most difference to climate action is rebuilding the Navan rail line. Irish Rail could rebuild the railway line from Dublin to Navan in three years if given the green light and funding was approved by the Minister's Department. Currently, a review is ongoing. We need it to be successful and for funding to be approved. We spend €2 billion a year on congestion. The Navan rail line would cost €500 million. The population of Meath is 210,000. Navan is the largest town in Ireland not serviced by rail. The project has the full support of all elected representatives across all parties and all council officials are fully behind it. The environmental argument is very strong, taking thousands of cars off the road daily, and is a must for the future success of our county.
Wind energy is an essential part of our approach to reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. Plans on paper are fine and well, but if we want it put them into action, we need to listen and engage with communities and respect their concerns. Wind energy guidelines must be updated, which has not happened since 2006, taking into account set-back distances from people's homes, noise, and shadow flicker. If turbines must be 600 to 650 ft high to get the desired wind speed because of low-lying lands, are these areas really suitable for wind farms? We must also do more for offshore wind energy.
Take into account turf cutting on Bord na Móna bogs over 30 ha. There is one bog in my own area, Lisclogher, on the Meath-Westmeath border, on which 300 families have cut turf for years. It is the only way they have of heating their homes. They have been told they may no longer be able to cut turf on this bog. Retrofitting houses takes time and money. We need a phased approach to ending turf cutting on these bogs of over 30 ha. It has been a way of life for generations and a tradition for hundreds of years. We need to give people a chance to source other ways of heating their homes. This was originally supposed to be phased out by 2030, but now people are being told they will be given a couple of weeks' notice. This is not working with communities and bringing people with the Government. It is walking on them.
The North-South interconnector is another important piece of infrastructure. EirGrid recently announced that the new 400 kV Kildare to Meath line will be put underground. The argument EirGrid used for years about not undergrounding the North-South interconnector was cost. Undergrounding the Kildare-Meath line is more cost-effective than overhead lines, so much so that the cost is no longer a key part of EirGrid's decision-making. It is obvious EirGrid has learned from its mistakes and experiences with communities that the only way to get the Kildare-Meath line completed quickly was to underground it. We need EirGrid to do the same with the North-South interconnector. Recently, the Taoiseach reportedly told a meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party that this will be reviewed. We now know this will only be a review of the last review and is a whitewash as none of the stakeholders, including community groups, will have any input.
In the Minister's own words, it is time for rural Ireland to have an input into climate action changes. It is time the Government had representatives of rural living, which is 37%, at Cabinet. It is time the people knew the truth about what the Minister wants to achieve, which he said on national television in October 2019, that 30 cars are adequate for 3,000 families who live in towns, villages and rural areas in Ireland, and that we can cycle and walk to collection points to collect cars. Those are the Minister's words in 2019. The Government is spending €4.5 billion on infrastructure in Dublin. There are people who have no choice and the Minister is spending their money from fuel taxation on infrastructure in Dublin. There are 25 other counties which, if that €4.5 billion were spent on infrastructure, it would reduce the emissions in Ireland. It is time that people stood up in our towns and villages, and those who are from the towns and villages who moved to Dublin and other parts of the country stood up for the culture and heritage they came from.
Ireland generates only 0.1% of global CO2 emissions according to world trading data. Asia counts for 54% and that is increasing. According to the EPA, agriculture in Ireland is the biggest contributor of emissions at 34%. Methane amounts to 53% of agriculture emissions. The Government's solution is to cut the herd by 51% by 2030, a very simple solution. This could amount to 3.4 million cattle being extracted from the total herd. How can any Minister think this is the right thing to do? Is the agricultural community happy with this solution? I think not. The IFA president, Tim Cullinan, is looking for methane to be treated differently, as has been done in New Zealand. The ICMSA and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, ICSA, are very concerned about the level of reduction demanded of agriculture.
I spoke to Mr. Thomas Duffy, the outgoing president of Macra na Feirme, and he told me he is calling for supports for large and small farmers to encourage them to get involved in biodigesters. I encourage each of the farming groups and the agricultural entrepreneurs to get involved in the new consultation process, which will be open for the next eight weeks, make their point to the Minister and let the Government know how they feel about the strategy for the next ten years.
The farmers should not be fooled about a case being made for methane emissions. It is not in the Bill and it is not being treated separately, even though we have asked for this. There are no sectoral exemptions in this Bill. The solution is in the problem. We should invest in renewables plants. The agricultural community is involved in the extraction of methane from slurry pits and this can be used as a replacement for fossil fuels, producing gas for heating. The gas is stored in a biodigester and, after processing, it is sold to the national grid. I realise it takes time and money but farmers need to be supported in this regard and not given empty promises. This initiative is not new and has brought in major investors from Northern Ireland, Germany and other countries. There are several such examples of innovation around this country and they certainly should be welcomed and supported in a real and meaningful way to cut out carbon emissions. We are setting records all right in that the Government will not be happy until Ireland is the dearest place to heat a home. Customers are currently facing a hike of €200 for a fill of oil, and the price of a bag of coal is to increase by €8. Our electricity cost is going up year on year.
If this Bill is enacted, Ireland will spend billions of euro only to find out that climate change will get worse over the same period. For instance, did the Minister know that a recent study at Oxford University has proved again that farmed fish produce more methane gas than cows? The former Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, told the farmers of Ireland to double their herd, and now the Government is advocating a 30% increase for fish farms although they have a higher methane emissions rate.
Other factors that could support the reduction of emissions are supporting the suckler herd and reducing the finishing age of animals, which could be brought down. One of the easiest solutions would be to encourage the use of sexed semen and not produce bulls. We need supports for low emissions slurry spreading.
It is not all about agriculture. Transport in the private sector has seen little investment, which has an impact in rural areas. We are still fighting for bus links, intercity buses and train services. I often get the impression from urban dwellers that they believe rural people go to work by car just for fun. A reality check is required. There is no other way to go to work, school or college. Why are our third level colleges' car parks full? It is because of a lack of infrastructure. Enterprise in rural areas needs to be encouraged so jobs will be localised, thus keeping down transport emissions. Again, there is a lack of infrastructure.
My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and I will stand up for rural Ireland and family farms with a climate action Bill. We want food safety for ourselves and our children but we also need sustainable living for our families and farms. We will challenge the Government and rigorously scrutinise and debate every line of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill to protect the interests of every rural family in Ireland. The Bill is riddled with hypocrisy and doublespeak. This Government is committed to making Ireland the first country in the world to be carbon free by 2030. This is utter spin. The Rural Independent Group is now asking people all over Ireland, both rural and urban, to lobby their Deputies to protect our culture, heritage and livelihoods by supporting us and amending the Bill.
The people of Ireland, be they in a city, town or rural area, should note that this Bill is being produced by people who are city based and who do not understand farming or rural living. A perfect example is what I pointed out at the very start. It is time the Minister came to rural Ireland and moved in for a week. It was done before with "Livin' with Lucy". The Minister would have a different concept if he had to get up in the morning. We will ask him to cycle down to collect his car and when he does, it will not be there because somebody else will have it gone. The Minister's mentality is as it is because he knows no better. He lives in a city in which he can walk out his front door and get a taxi and walk to a shop within two minutes of where he is. He can get any type of transport he likes within the city in minutes, and he can cycle his bike on a cycle lane. What is happening is happening because he does not understand rural living. The lack of infrastructure that could be put in place represents a failure on the part of the current and previous governments. All the people in rural Ireland could help to bring down emissions but they have to burn fuel to get to work because of the failure of the current and previous Governments to provide infrastructure in rural Ireland. That is a reality check for the Minister and he should listen to us.
I thank Deputy O'Donoghue. I would say Lucy Kennedy would have too much sense to want to live with any of us.
This Bill, if it is implemented in its current form, will adversely affect every man, woman and child in rural Ireland. Carbon charge increases will affect people going to work and will cost them more. Farmers' incomes will be reduced as they will have to reduce their herds and pay more carbon tax on diesel. Ordinary, honest people will have to pay more to heat their homes, and they are being told they cannot burn turf or timber. They are being told they must insulate their homes and put in heat pumps and air-to-water systems that are very costly. Where will ordinary working people get the money required? It can be up to €40,000 to do these kinds of jobs. I am referring to poor people who are not working and people on small incomes who are struggling as it is. Already, the waiting period for a deep retrofit, for those who qualify, is more than 18 months and can even be two years. We should remember it is only people on the fuel allowance who will qualify for it.
The tourism sector, which is vital to Kerry, will be financially burdened by the carbon tax changes and by the implications of the utterances of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who has said air travel charges will have to be increased. This will prevent visitors from coming to Ireland. Although most hauliers are now going along with the new Euro 6 diesel engine, they have to pay more carbon charges. The Minister does not understand this.
By 2030, farmers will have to reduce their herds by 51%. I have heard Fianna Fáil Deputies contradicting that and saying we were scaremongering. We are not scaremongering; we are telling the truth, and that is truth about it. Teagasc, formerly ACOT, has advised farmers for the past 40 years to increase their herds. In 2013, the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, told dairy farmers to increase their herds and that milk was the new white gold. He told us the Chinese would drink it. I think they do not like it at all now. Now the Government in which Deputy Coveney is still a Minister is telling us to cut production by more than 50% by 2030.
The Minister stated that farmers who do their best to cut down on carbon emissions and have hedges and ground that sequester carbon will be accounted for, but it will take seven years to measure that. In the meantime, notwithstanding that, all the farmers who do not produce any CO2 and those who sequester more CO2 than they produce will, after the Bill is enacted, pay more in carbon tax. Where were the discussions with the farming organisations such as the IFA, Beef Plan Movement and ICMSA? There have been none. While there is an advisory council and there have been meetings of the climate action committee, their memberships are all restricted. The people who know what they are doing were not allowed in, and that is what the Government is at.
Farmers have made great strides to improve their farms environmentally over recent years, complying with the nitrates directive and storing and spreading slurry safely and properly, with low emissions, vacuum tankers, trailing shoes, dribble bars and all the rest. The Chinese and other Asians are building more coal-burning power stations to produce electricity. Africa, India, China and other Asian countries can use ordinary, reliable diesel engines in machinery, while we have to use the Euro 6 engine. We have to use AdBlue, which is troublesome. The Chinese are building coal-burning stations and we are closing our turf-burning peat stations in Bord na Móna.
In normal times, outside of the pandemic, at any one time there are 7,000 aeroplanes in the sky. Are they going to be operated by electric batteries? Where will they be plugged in in the sky? How long will it take to charge these aeroplanes? The farmer, however, will have to get an electric tractor to spread slurry by 2027. Where are the Fianna Fáil Deputies who said that is not in the Bill? It certainly is. The Government need not try to cod the people because it will not get away with it. There will be nothing for the good tractors that farmers have but to send them to Hammond Lane for scrap. That is where they will end up. After all the efforts of the Minister, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in respect of the Bill, by how much will they reduce the global temperature? What mathematical modules is the Government using? It is scaremongering. This is just another tax. The Minister must know that the global temperature has reduced by less than 1% since 1850. That is a fact. If we all left this country, closed the doors and turned off all the lights, it would reduce global emissions by only 0.13%, and that is a fact.
There are new rules for the Order of Business, but since the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is the one involved in the Bill, I ask him where the funding is for the local improvement schemes for rural Ireland and Kerry. Where is the funding to install a proper water supply to operate in mid-Kerry, around Beaufort? It breaks down every day and people have no water. That is essential but the Government is not considering those issues. The Government, headed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, has done enough harm. It closed Bord na Móna - no more moss peat, no briquettes. While it is true we can import them, that costs money and carbon is emitted in doing so. Does the Government realise that? Is it awake or what is wrong with it? We are leaving 10,000 acres of bog behind us in Littleton, County Tipperary. We did not have gold or diamonds to start with and we do not have oil. If we did, we would not be allowed to use it.
I return to the suggestion that the Minister of the day will be able to bring forward a carbon budget, whether the House supports it or not. That is undemocratic. There is much talk about Putin at present, but he is nowhere near as bad as this - not a hope in the world. He would not be at the races with the gang we have here. What a stunt, whereby the Minister thinks he can push through a budget without giving the House any say. Will he stand up and tell us that is democratic? It is not, and he will not get away with it.
If the Minister, Deputy Ryan, does get away with it for the time being, he will not do so when he next goes to the doors. It is undemocratic, and the men and women of 1916, 1921 and 1922 fought for democracy in this country, and he is trying to shut it down. He will probably try it, given the new voting arrangements and the way that the coalition parties are tied together at the hip. Fianna Fáil, just to stay in power, is backing the Bill and the Minister. Perhaps they will get away with it for the time being, but each and every member of the Government will regret it and get it back on the doors because that is what they deserve for trying to blackguard the people, the ordinary good honest people who are trying hard to survive. The Government is trying to drive them down to the ground but it will not get away with it, and I hope it does not. The Minister might get away with it temporarily but he will have to face the people, and that is democracy. He will get his answer for sure, and I promise him that.
I am sharing time with Deputy Costello. I am pleased to support this very progressive and important law, which is so badly needed and has for so long been campaigned for by many in this country, particularly young people. I wanted to take this opportunity to speak about the positive elements of the legislation but I need to respond to some of the outlandish actions of Deputies in the Chamber. I recognise that every Deputy has a mandate and is entitled to be listened to with respect, but we have to understand that the Bill did not come out of thin air. I recognise the considerable work done by the large number of Deputies and Senators who sit on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, and in particular that done by my colleague Deputy Leddin. Twenty hours of public meetings with experts were held, while there were 30 hours of meetings in private session in which Deputies and Senators contributed their opinions and fought long battles with one another. They came together to try to make the legislation good and to ensure it would work for the entire country.
It has to be asked where certain Deputies who are present, who are making the most noise and have the slickest Facebook videos, were when this process was being engaged in. They were entitled to participate in the work of the joint committee, and the committee facilitated Deputies and Senators inputting into that process, even if they were not members of the committee, in recognition of the importance of this issue to all parts of Ireland, urban and rural. Deputies have come to the Chamber and said they are fighting for rural Ireland, and that they are the sole voice of rural Ireland. When the hard work was being done by the joint committee to bring the legislation forward, where were those Deputies? It is easy to be in the Chamber today when the cameras are on, when Deputies know they will get a snippet on "Six One" or a nice little video for Twitter and Facebook, but when the difficult work is being done, the boring, long hours going through the legislation section by section, that is when the real changes happen.
That is when those Deputies who are so irate today could have had an input, but they did not choose to. In the context of the important issues we are debating, it is important that be put on the record.
As the Minister with responsibility for children, I will briefly speak about our intergenerational obligation to pass this important legislation. My colleagues have spoken about our shared future but the future belongs to the next generation. That generation has led the way and brought us to where we are today, debating this important legislation. Their actions and activism over the past five years and the fact that they demanded that Deputies of all parties and Independent Deputies act on climate change in the last general election and the last European election have created the momentum that brought us here today to speak on this important legislation and to prepare the process to adopt it. This legislation copper-fastens in law the actions that we, as a society and as a country, need to take to secure their future. That is ultimately why we are here today. It is about securing the future of the next generation, of those who cannot vote today and of those who are not even born today but who, in 2050 when the real impact of climate change is felt, will be adults and starting to earn their livelihoods.
I regret that I have had to take a negative tone in my comments today. There is so much good and so much positive to speak about in this legislation but it was important to set the record straight on certain issues.
The urgency of climate change cannot be understated with any seriousness or reasonableness. As such, the importance and urgency of this legislation equally cannot reasonably or seriously be understated. This important legislation provides a starting point for systemic change and is a key step towards setting an agenda for ensuring our planet's future, our children's future and our shared future.
That word, "shared", really must be our priority and focus as we go forward. Climate change does not affect everyone equally. Poorer, low-income communities and countries will be the first to be impacted and will have the least resources to cope. Through this legislation, we can identify ways to improve how our current energy poverty schemes work and ways to target those most in need. This is a vital step in addressing that poverty while at the same time addressing climate change. Through this legislation we can, and must, improve the resilience of communities and ensure that those who are most at risk from adverse weather events get the supports they need to build that resilience. That is in this legislation. It is something we can do - improving communities while addressing climate change. We can and we must ensure that our climate action plans are poverty-proofed so that, as we go forward, the equality we build into this legislation can influence our actions so that we can address both poverty and climate change at the same time. These are essential elements for a just transition. These are things that are open to us under this legislation. They are to be commended and are the way forward for us. Through this legislation we can and must build both a low-carbon future and a more equal society. As I said, the urgency of climate change cannot, with any reasonableness, be understated and the importance and urgency of this Bill equally cannot be understated.
There continues to be a lack of public transport and cycle lanes in my constituency of Cork North-Central. There is a worryingly unfair distribution of public transport, cycle lanes and greenways between the south side and the north side. We need a commitment from the Minister to support Cork City Council in ensuring fairness and in ensuring that public transport, greenways and cycle lanes are provided for the people of Cork North-Central. They need alternatives to petrol and diesel cars and this cannot happen without further investment. The proposed light rail service for Cork city includes no north side-south side link. How can we look for people to get out of their cars if we do not provide the infrastructure for them? The recent announcement of 66 sustainable transport projects in Cork again shows inequality in that 31 of these projects are on the south side and only 12 are on the north side. Some €15.77 million is to be spent on the south side while only €5.8 million is to be spent on the north side. How is this equality? This shows the disparity that exists. If we want to provide truly sustainable and environmentally friendly transport for people, the system must be integrated.
There have been deep retrofits in Allen Square and Brother Rice Avenue and surrounding areas in my constituency over the past 12 months. These works were finished last week. People have said that their heating costs have been halved and that their houses are warmer. It has made a great difference. There is no more dampness or cold in the houses. However, they had to fight for years to get this done. They had to campaign. Areas from Mary Aikenhead Place across Cork city are crying out for such retrofitting. I listened to Fine Gael Deputies talking about a just transition. Where is the just transition for those people who live in houses that are freezing cold and damp and which have draughts and mould in the walls and who have been waiting years for retrofitting? It needs to be done now.
There is a great deal I want to say on this matter but I have limited time. In a recent finding, the European Court of Human Rights said that Ireland is in breach of Article 16 of the European directive on local authority housing and that local authority tenants are living in substandard accommodation. In addition, the Economic and Social Research Institute says that there is a clear link between fuel poverty and poor health.
Climate justice cannot happen without social justice. That is why we are saying that this Bill does not go far enough. We want to support a Bill on climate action but we do not support taxing poor people who cannot afford to pay.
I congratulate the Green Party on bringing the Bill to this point. In saying that, the revised Bill is a great disappointment. To assess it, one must ask two core questions. First, if the legislation is implemented in full and all the targets in it are achieved, will Ireland have done all it can to ensure that human activities do not cause global average temperatures to increase by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels? Second, does the legislation show a clear commitment to climate justice so that those individuals, corporations and societies that have contributed most to the problem of global warming contribute most to its solution? With regard to this Bill, the answer to both questions is "No". That is what has to be improved upon.
The Bill is a positive improvement on the legislation proposed last October, which was full of loopholes and vague language. At least it is now tighter from that point of view but some areas remain to be tackled. The justification for the Green Party entering the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government was that it would have an impact on climate change but the Bill now before the Dáil falls way short of what is actually required. The biggest problem with the Bill, although not the only one, is the weakness of its definition of "climate justice". Put simply, climate justice means that those individuals, corporations and states that contribute most to climate change must contribute most to its solution. Some of the world's poorest people, who are affected by drought, flooding and the loss of land to desert not at some time in the future, but today, have contributed hardly anything to climate change.
In 2015, Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty calculated that the top 10% of emitters worldwide contributed approximately 45% of global emissions annually while the bottom 50% contributed approximately 13%. Accordingly, the first principle of climate justice is that the richest individuals and societies, those that contribute most to global warming, must pay to protect poorer individuals and societies from its negative effects and must also play the biggest part in halting and reversing those effects.
Climate justice must also apply to carbon taxes. Carbon tax is one of the most commonly proposed means of lowering emissions but it is controversial because it can be regressive, meaning that those with less wealth and income end up paying a greater proportion of their income and wealth than those with more. This is the situation we are at with Ireland's current tax regime, which involves a simple tax on fuel, oil, natural gas, kerosene, marked gas oil, liquid petroleum gas and solid fuels. The Bill should include progressivity in carbon taxes as a guiding principle of climate action. There is a need for all carbon taxes to be progressive, that is the proportion of an individual's income or wealth paid in tax to increase with increasing income and wealth and for the revenue from such taxes to be solely spent on measures to further climate justice, including a just transition.
The question of a just transition for those who could lose their jobs, such as those in Bord na Móna and the ESB is a major weakness in the Bill. There must be strong income supports and retraining, alongside investment in sustainable green energy in the areas most affected. A just transition is best achieved through the solidarity economy, meaning through initiatives controlled and owned by local communities. For example, a body of research shows that a community is much more supportive of renewable energy production if it has a stake in it. The Western Development Commission has shown that community-owned energy initiatives have greater economic multiplier effects than externally-owned projects.
Climate justice demands that the Bill sets much more ambitious goals. The global target for net greenhouse gas emissions is that they reach net zero by 2050. However, the living standards of the poorest people, who are least responsible for climate change, need to rise to acceptable levels. That means the poorest countries should be allowed to increase their emissions for some time after the richest nations. They should not be expected to reach net zero emissions until after 2050. To achieve the global goal, countries such as Ireland need to reach net zero emissions long before 2050 and we have to be looking at 2040 or 2045 at a maximum. That has to be dealt with on Committee Stage. In particular, section 35C of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 on just transition should be inserted in the Bill. I will propose that when we come to amendments.
Earlier this month, the High Court found that the Government as a whole was not obliged, in the exercise of its executive power, to have regard to a national mitigation plan, nor to the furthering of a national transition objective under the 2015 Act. The Government must seek to fix this loophole by way of an amendment on Committee Stage. It must close the loophole identified by the High Court in the Friends of the Irish Environment v. An Bord Pleanála (Shannon LNG) case. This Government has committed to giving statutory effect to ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas. The Minister indicated that this commitment would be provided for in legislation on Committee Stage of the Bill. However, this will not impose a ban on LNG infrastructure being developed in Ireland to facilitate imports of fracked gas. The programme for Government includes an explicit commitment to bringing forward a policy to end imports of fracked gas and LNG. The Minister should address this gap in the Bill and publish a comprehensive plan to ban the importation of fracked gas, and specifically to ban LNG terminals in Ireland this year, which should be included in the Bill.
Experts in climate law and science have identified a weakness in the drafting of the new section 6A(5), which sets a binding target for 2030 to guide the setting of the first two carbon budgets by the Climate Change Advisory Council. There is some uncertainty over how the 51% emission reduction target, as set out in the Bill, is to be calculated. I am not a climate scientist so I will leave it to the scientists to make those points. The Minister has a copy of that letter from those scientists and he should respond to it.
The Joint Committee on Climate Action recommended that the Bill should fully account for emissions from aviation, shipping, non-territorial or consumption-based emissions, and offshore mitigation strategies. All of these areas need to be explicitly addressed in the Bill, alongside targets to prevent the offshoring of Ireland's climate obligations.
Tomorrow, April 22, is Earth Day. The first Earth Day took place in 1970. Now, the Earth Day website states that more than 1 billion people have mobilised for “the future of the planet” and that there are more than 75,000 partners working “to drive positive action”. In 1970, 20 million individuals are said to have mobilised on the first Earth Day. That is 51 years ago. One would expect there to have been major change in the interim given the level of awareness back in 1970 on the need to protect our planet. Yet, here we still are burning, destroying and decimating our natural resources and our life source. All of this is done in the name of capitalism, greed and the patriarchy.
In the summer of 2018, the world sat up and took notice of a young Swedish activist who began the hugely popular School Strike for Climate. From the strike came the Fridays For Future movement, which, pre-Covid, was a mass movement of over 100,000 schoolchildren going on strikes in more than 100 countries around the world. Greta Thunberg and her peers around the world put climate action firmly back on the political agenda. I say "back" on the political agenda because climate action has been on international agendas for some time. There have been countless global conferences and historic agreements, endless reports, climate change denial and realisation that developing countries are suffering the impacts most, while having contributed the least to climate change.
Part of the disconnect from the urgency of climate change is how the problems are portrayed. We are not speaking in layperson's terms. We speak about tonnes of CO2 or CO2 equivalent, emissions trading schemes, ETS and greenhouse gases, GHGs, including CO2, methane and N2O. Scientists, academics and researchers are, thankfully, educating us about the percentages of carbon emission reductions, sinks, biomethane emissions from livestock, gases and targets. One of the great things about the previous Dáil, as Sinead Mercier reminded us in her interview in the Business Post at the weekend, was that every political party was assigned a climate researcher so that every political party and Member in the Dáil could understand what was being talked about with these issues.
We all remember the 1980s and 1990s when we were worried about the hole in the ozone layer. Scientists had discovered that chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, were causing this hole. People were told that aerosols contained CFCs and there was a concerted effort across industry, manufacturers and consumers to eliminate and drastically reduce, or both, the use of CFCs in aerosols and other products that up to then had been emitting them at large rates.
In recent years, climate action has seemed like an upper- and middle-class issue. Those who could afford to buy electric cars bought them. They also retrofitted their homes and shopped organic and from ethically sourced suppliers. There is no fast fashion for those who can afford otherwise. There has been a kind of snobbery around the individual responsibility for addressing climate action. The reality is that some aspects of climate action are not accessible for cohorts in our society and people are doing their best within the systems that have been created around them. We need to look at that and that is why a just transition is so important. Why talk so consistently about personal responsibility but then allow Google to move $75 billion in profits through the supposedly defunct double Irish loophole? That does not make any sense and people see that.
The Bill before us is a vast improvement on what was initially introduced. I commend the members of the Joint Committee on Climate Action on the thorough pre-legislative scrutiny they undertook. It is welcome to see that many of the committee’s 78 recommendations were accepted. There are some remaining issues with the Bill, which I hope will be addressed on Committee Stage because it is imperative that we have tangible and clear targets in place. The Government must be held to account for missed targets. We cannot continue to pay lip service to the most pressing issues of our time. I would also like to commend the activists and grassroots organisers who have been working tirelessly to scrutinise the Bill and offer solutions to all Members.
In 2018, we made history in this House by passing the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018. The Act amended the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014 and instructed the agency to divest the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund of its assets in fossil fuel companies. This divestment is to take place within five years of the commencement of the Act to precipitate a timely decarbonisation process in line with Ireland's climate change commitments under Article 2 of the Paris Agreement. It was a great day and we were lauded internationally for our work. We know that Ireland is so small that we do not make a huge difference globally but we can and should be a leader in the fight against climate change.
That Act made a difference globally and it sent out a message across the world that it is possible to divest and that everybody can do it. If a state sets out to do it, it can be done.