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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for the conclusion of this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue with my Second Stage speech on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021.

Last Wednesday, when first speaking on the Bill, I referred to several issues, including how disenfranchised the general public are in these discussions because of the technical nature of these debates. I also said climate action campaigns have been fairly middle class with many measures targeting the working class and people with less money. I wonder if those are more or less likely to be contributing to climate change.

Earlier this month, during the "Today with Claire Byrne" radio programme, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, spoke out against low-cost flights. The conversation was around meeting climate change targets and the need to change the way we travel. The Minister suggested that €10 flights will end. On special low-cost flights he said, "No, they won't be going for €10, I don't expect that, but people will still be flying." He was, of course, talking about the need to halve emissions in transport.

I have been thinking about this. It is not the person or family who travel for a sun holiday on a special low-cost flight who are causing the most damage to the climate. Why should they be deprived of an opportunity to travel when businesspeople can travel all over regularly? Why can flight costs not be linked to a person’s air miles? The more one flies, the more one pays because the more one is contributing to aviation emissions. The less frequent fliers are those who can least afford to travel. Why should they be punished? If someone can afford three holidays per year, he or she should be charged more for that privilege. Low-cost flights have opened up travel opportunities for people who may not previously have been able to fly abroad. It is complete snobbery to suggest that it is the low-cost flights which are causing more damage to the environment.

The cost of flying should be linked to a person's air miles. If people are travelling for business, it becomes just another expense. If they are travelling for pleasure, they can afford to pay more. If someone is privately jetting around the place, he or she should have huge levies and contributions to make. We must stop blaming the general population for the pollution of the richer and wealthier. The Bill does not even cover international aviation and shipping. These areas of transport are not even included in the definitions but the Minister was already on air talking down to those who buy low-cost flights.

I thank Johnny McElligott from the Safety Before LNG group for getting in touch this morning about the petition for Ireland to propose a global ban on fracking at the UN. He said:

When deciding at the Cabinet in the coming weeks on a policy against fracked gas imports, as was agreed in the programme for Government, it would be the appropriate time to decide on the ask that was made directly by grassroots activists on Earth Day to the Government which was to take the opportunity to propose the adoption of a strong UN resolution for a global ban on fracking on climate-mitigation, public-health, environmental-protection and human-rights grounds.

This is a measure that the 2020 programme for Government and widespread public opinion support, and that scientific evidence shows increasingly to be necessary. A call for a global ban on fracking would set Ireland on course to become a global climate leader. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has already explicitly informed the United Nations Security Council that Ireland will take "a practical and action-orientated approach” to climate action. When he addressed the Berlin Climate and Security Conference in June 2020, he stated:

We must remember that those who have contributed least to climate change - people from least-developed countries and small island developing states - are the most exposed to its consequences. Those most at risk have the least capacity to respond. Protecting the most vulnerable and safeguarding their human rights must be at the heart of genuinely inclusive global response. With climate already driving insecurity, we need the United Nations and the Security Council to play their part. On the Security Council, Germany has shown great leadership on climate and security. Ireland, as a newly elected member, will work hard on the council to take this agenda forward. … We are only ten years away from the deadline that we set for ourselves in the 2030 agenda. The decade of action is upon us. Now is the time to act.

When we look back on our record, I wonder if we will see that we have acted. I was on the climate committee when Professor Robert Howarth explained that importing fracked gas would leave a carbon-equivalent footprint at least 44% greater than importing coal over a 20-year period. True climate action is about looking at the impact of our decisions. We need victories against the fossil fuel sector to bring the people along in this journey. We need to think globally and act locally.

Last week, there were yet another two depressing reports published. The Global Energy Review by the International Energy Agency, IEA, showed that carbon dioxide emissions are predicted to rise by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021. This increase will reverse most of the decline seen in 2020, which we know was due to Covid. The report of the UN's World Meteorological Organization, Global Climate 2020, was also published. The Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, said:

This report shows that we have no time to waste. The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.

That is perhaps the understatement of the century. Will we look back on this time and see that Ireland acted? I hope we will. However, I do not know whether this Bill will provide the impetus to make that happen. I am concerned the Bill does not refer to justice actions. It provides the perfect opportunity to have these enshrined as the Government's policy but, instead, they have been left behind. That is a worrying omen for the future.

We will be taking actions with this legislation which will make ordinary and poor people responsible for climate action. They are the people who can bring about these changes if the Government puts in place a system which will make them able to bring about the necessary changes. That is what we need to do in the time we have left in the next year or two. I hope we can but I think the jury is still out.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Government's climate change action Bill. It is an important element of the programme for Government, as well as having been a crucial element of the Government formation talks.

The Bill sets out how the whole of government can, must and will confront climate change, reduce emissions, as well as providing and ensuring real actions and commitments to match Ireland's obligations under the Paris accord. The Bill provides a focused procedure and set of processes which are new to the Government seeking to address climate change. In recent years and decades, we flittered around it and flattered to deceive.

There has been some progress but not nearly enough to match previous commitments and previous signatures to previous accords. One thinks of the social change we have witnessed in this country in the last ten years and how it was slow to materialise. When the various Oireachtas committees, motions and debates were taking place, when there was consideration of the Citizens' Assembly recommendations and when the issue was then put before special Oireachtas hearings and further scrutiny took place, all the while the people of the younger generation were demanding to participate, to force an opportunity for them to dominate that debate. Ultimately, it was them who convinced many in the rest of the population to pass both referendums. Many of us, all of us in fact, revelled in their participation. We welcomed and admired them and thanked them for such participation. We hoped they would involve themselves in future debates and decisions for the country, be they social or indeed economic. It is that generation, and indeed the younger one, which dominates this subject matter and demands action.

The last election was dominated by a number of issues, predominantly housing, health, balanced regional development and climate change. The electorate naturally expects the Government subsequently elected by the Dáil to address and place emphasis on these issues. We provided for the largest ever monetary provision in relation to our efforts to address the social and affordable housing situation. We also have an opportunity, like never before, to finally invest in the sort of funding that is necessary in both acute and community health services, by building on the goodwill, the endeavour and the lifesaving actions of all those who have worked so diligently and with such effort and commitment in the health services during the course of the pandemic. We have also heard in recent weeks how the Government will seek to augment and support remote working to provide e-hubs in many towns and villages across the country which otherwise need and deserve such action and for such an opportunity to be presented. It is obviously one of the good things that has come out of the pandemic.

Now, at this stage, we can build and act on the climate change credentials of this Government with this Bill. It was not just members of the Green Party who spoke of, participated in or commented on their or their party's aspirations on the country's commitments in the Paris Agreement. Last week I noted even Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said he was not a climate denier. However, what many of these people have successfully denied to date is their failure to inform the rest of the electorate and the rest of the House, what specific measures they would make, initiate or participate in, in order to meet our commitments. Would they deny the Paris Agreement? Would they by association deny this country the type of international investment that is there for the taking in relation to measures, methods and initiatives in the provision of alternative energies, for example? In the absence of those specifics, many of them shout loudest, shriek loudest, for extra funding for flood relief schemes to deal with the very issues caused by the very issues we seek to address tonight. They shout and shriek loudest for increased funding towards the rural environmental protections scheme, REPS, in agriculture. Again, that too has become too much of an income support rather than the initiative it was intended to be in the first instance and we hope the new scheme and the opportunities presented by the CAP will afford this Government an opportunity to make real inroads there and offer real opportunities for increased income for farm families. We also hear many shriek and shout loudly for exceptional payments over and above what is there presently with house adaptation grants, for example. Again, this is due to the pressures caused by global warming and climate change.

The Bill places obligations and responsibilities and an onus on each Government Department to specifically commit to and account for and contribute to the whole-of-government targets on reducing emissions. They will be part of carbon budgets with projected actions on a five-year basis and will of course be responsible and accountable to the Dáil. This too will complement and assure our credibility when we are seeking investment into our economy from international sources. Such funding, from pension funds and the like, is now exclusively dependent on sustainable practices and government pathways towards necessary emission reductions. Such ethics are now a reality. Our economy, let alone our environment, cannot ignore that reality. However, that is not to say the road ahead is an easy one. It is not to say change will be seamless. It not to say the entire population, or sectors within it, get it or are on the same page. To make this process easier, achievable, workable and to garner the results craved economically and socially, the Government must show leadership, offer hope, bring people together, offer assistance, help, entice, assure and reward the sort of change that is necessary. We must seek to engender an attitude, a feeling, a belief that we can come out of climate change actions far better off than we went into them.

Many have spoken here, and speak regularly, about the challenges faced by farmers and facing agriculture. However, few acknowledge the advancements, progress and leadership provided to date by that sector. The agricultural industry, the food and drink industry, remains one of our greatest assets and exports. It retains its status as a world leader because of its ability to adapt and to change, to embrace diversity, adapt to consumer sentiments, explore new markets and deliver a quality product. The lazy argument that the industry must simply reduce the national herd to play its role is exactly that: lazy and absurd. The growing world population and growing world markets mean our produce must keep pace. It can do so as other industries can, namely, by adapting and aligning production systems to environmental ambition and by recognising, embracing and employing new sciences and innovation to meet that demand.

When I talk of the Government offering hope, assistance, help, initiatives, incentives and rewards, I consider or would have considered the example that should have been shown with energy transition in County Offaly and the midlands. The accelerated decarbonisation process including cessation of peat extraction meant the Government was under severe pressure to provide and cater for a just transition in the past two years. I envisaged funding addressing the effects of cessation and change with improved educational retraining opportunities and the potential to be derived from alternative energy options, proposals and solutions. I would have expected us to champion innovation among other projects within the counties impacted on. Such a positive experience for us in my county and region could and should be an example to other regions and sectors.

Unfortunately, I am extremely sorry to say this has not been our experience to date. It is therefore essential that parallel to this Bill's journey through the Oireachtas, this Government convene or reconvene Department officials who have responsibility in this area and the just transition commissioner, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, whose reports issued following extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders. His reports are representative of the ambition that exists in our country among its communities and among public representatives, such as myself, too.

I committed to, and sold, just transition to my electorate. It is therefore my duty at this stage to call out the lack of progress and to insist on it being rectified as soon as possible. It was with this mindset that I wrote to the Taoiseach last week on the commencement of this debate. I take this opportunity to read it into the Official Report. It is dated, as I said, Wednesday, 21 April.

It states:

Dear Taoiseach,

With the Climate Change Bill now published I think it an opportune time to voice my disappointment, frustration and no little anger at the ridiculously slow, poorly administered and apparent inept governance/leadership/delivery of just transition to date.

I was at the forefront of our Party's commitment to establish and ensure that revenue raised from carbon taxes would fund just transition in areas/counties/regions most impacted by decarbonisation. Indeed, I championed the increase [in carbon tax] when a Fianna Fáil negotiator agreeing the budget in October 2018. We also insisted on fuel poverty provisions being included [in that package to give it the sort of credibility the project deserved].

The slow snail's pace & lack of progress to date is a far cry from where I'd expected to be today. That's further compounded [for me personally] considering Fianna Fáil being the lead party in government since June last year. It would appear not having a cabinet member for example from Offaly, Longford, Laois, Kildare, Westmeath, Roscommon or [even] East Galway is very evident and telling when it comes to just transition.

In recent weeks I posed a series of written PQ's to Minister Ryan on just transition matters. Unfortunately, the responses (rather than answers) confirmed my fears/concerns [which are included in this letter I refer to]. Those responses included confirmation that:

1) not one job [I am afraid] has yet been created by just transition funding.

2) only €166,000 has been drawn down to date

3) the rules/terms associated with the proposed funding previously announced/lauded [by me too, I might add] do little to ensure such funds will materialise [at all].

4) the county most impacted by [Bord na Móna and] ESB job losses & economic damage (Offaly) is not prioritised or benefitting as proportionately as it should. There also appears to be a suggestion that the midland region be extended even further for the purpose of the EU [just transition fund], further diluting the impact on communities most affected.

5) the midlands regional transition team is merely a sounding board with no real powers (despite recommendations to the contrary by Kieran Mulvey, Just Commissioner and I [and others]). It would appear too that the Dept is actually depriving BNM / ESB staff of upskilling opportunities that match the jobs the [just transition fund] may create, as they won't share any of the details of these employment opportunities [that they have sought to enter into].

6) there's no decision on potential community gain arising from either a) [the Department's] consideration [or] investigation [into the] future use of now [defunct] power plants at Lanesboro & Shannonbridge. [There has been no response to my recommendation, where I asked that the local authorities would act as administrators in seeking an open tender competition to determine the future use of those plants that might yield a community, social and economic gain.] Concurrently ESB are seeking a refund from the energy regulator of the €5m it supposedly "gifted" to just transition upon the announcement of the closures. It is also seeking further millions from the same source to cover costs of its exit!!

Of course, notwithstanding the above there's the ongoing failure of still not having put in place a greatly expanded program of home heating retrofit options thus neglecting the very people impacted greatest by the suddenness of decarbonisation.

Meanwhile in the midst of this lack of progress we see the ongoing and indeed growing "importation" of peat products for horticulture and home heating fuels. That indeed is making a laugh and mockery of just transition process altogether!

I had sought a meeting to discuss just transition some months ago and still await a date for same.

In the meantime, [Taoiseach,] you can see from this short appraisal the obvious social, economic and political ramifications of such poor progress on these matters to date.

That was the end of the letter.

I wish this Bill every success. I wish the process of its passage success and I expect that the interaction and engagement by Members of both Houses will improve the Bill and give it the type of ownership that is required to ensure its then leadership can deliver on its intent. I especially hope that Members will recognise that the update I have given the House on just transition reflects the view emanating from the relevant stakeholders, including ESB and Bord na Móna workers of today and the past; pensioners and their families and communities; the county; and the region. It is also the view of other representatives, of all parties and none, whether they are councillors in the locality or my colleague, Deputy Nolan.

When we are elected to this Dáil, irrespective of one's background, party or affiliation, one's duty is to those who gave one the privilege to be here. This was the major issue in our constituency and we will work together, as it is expected of our electorate, to ensure that this Government responds properly and effectively and based on the commitments it made two years ago. It has an opportunity to recommit to them in the context of this Bill and debate and it has the opportunity to rectify the measures which have not been successful to date and which have been unworkable to date. That is why I said earlier and why I ask again that the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications bring back to the Department the aspiration, wish and demand we are making, namely, for the relevant stakeholders in the Department, the just transition commissioner and the public representatives, who have a duty to respond to the needs and aspirations of those we are given the privilege to represent. We want to be there to ensure the changes that are necessary are made as quickly as is possible.

As I said earlier, there is every potential for that example to be a great one to others and for us to come out of this process and these necessary actions far better than we went into them. I also said that the prospect of international investment, financiers and pension funds investing in this country is dependent on our commitment to what is contained within this Bill and on various sectors living up to expectations in a real and meaningful manner. They should not be browbeaten into it or forced to do this, that or the other. There should be a commitment on the part of everybody who is here to recognise that and to work together to ensure the Bill is real, meaningful and can deliver to all the sectors that fear the impact they may feel because of it.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this important Bill. While the most pressing and immediate issues facing our society are the Covid-19 crisis and then beyond that the issues of housing, health, childcare and employment, it is fair to say that climate change and tackling the biodiversity crisis are the greatest challenges of our generation. That is not just in this jurisdiction but right around the globe.

Before I talk on the Bill, I want to commend all of those environmental activists who, over decades, have kept this issue to the fore of the public and political agenda. I pay special tribute to the young people who organised, in huge numbers, the Fridays for Future demonstrations last year and previously. As one of many Deputies who attended those demonstrations, one could not but be struck by the energy, enthusiasm and clear determination of those young people to ensure that those of us entrusted with passing legislation and introducing policy in this House do the right thing, not just for ourselves but for them and their futures, the future of the planet and the future of our environment.

The legislation before us is important because, while it does not say how our society should move towards carbon neutrality and tackle the biodiversity crisis, it sets clear and legally binding obligations that future Governments must meet. That is what has been missing from the framework in recent years. Due to inaction by Governments for decades, we are laggards when it comes to meeting the challenge of climate change and as a result; we have a far larger mountain to climb than we would have otherwise had if previous Governments had acted appropriately.

I also want to pay tribute to the Committee on Climate Action.

When the Minister, Deputy Ryan, first published this Bill, it was incredibly weak. In fact, at that stage the Minister wanted to fast-track the legislation and have it done and dusted by the end of last year. Thankfully, because of the environmental movement on the outside and the hard work of many members of the committee, we have much better legislation in front of us. It is not perfect and it needs change and I hope the Government will continue to listen to people inside and outside the Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure that when the Bill is finally passed that it is the best possible legislation to help this and future Governments do the right thing by the people of this jurisdiction as we rise to the challenges ahead.

I want to outline a number of key concerns about the legislation and then make a number of more general comments relevant to my portfolio of housing and planning if I have the time. I thank Deputy Cowen for what was a very honest and thought-provoking comment on an issue I wanted to raise, which is that of just transition. There are many challenges in moving towards a carbon-neutral economy and it is absolutely central that those who are most responsible for carbon emissions pay that price. Of course, they are not working people. They are not people who are struggling to pay bills to keep their children in school and ensure that when somebody is sick or has an emergency there is enough money in the credit union to meet those challenges. The people who are primarily responsible for carbon emissions are large industries or governments and those who are much more wealthy in our society. Therefore, if we are to move towards a carbon-neutral economy it has to be done in a way that ensures those most able to pay and those most responsible for those carbon emissions pay their fair share, and that the burden of the transition is not heaped on working people, particularly those working people least able to pay and most negatively affected by some of those challenges.

Listening carefully to Deputy Cowen, not only confirms the concerns of many of us in opposition that the previous Government and this Government did not and have not adequately put in place the supports and mechanisms to ensure a just transition but also that the Government is not even engaging with its own backbenchers who are clearly and legitimately raising these issues. The biggest task for the climate committee and then the Oireachtas is to ensure that a just transition is placed at the very heart of the Bill. It is important to note that, for example, the legislation in Scotland has a chapter of principles detailing what a just transition looks like. The legislation before us has weak language and short text that has to be changed.

The next issue that has been raised, including by my colleague, Deputy Darren O'Rourke, our spokesperson on the matter, when he spoke last week, was the issue of interim targets. There is some confusion about this issue. The targets set are based on science and the Government has already signed up to them in a number of international and European agreements. What we need to ensure is that the Government meets the targets it is setting for itself. It would be completely unacceptable if the Government had weak language on interim targets to get itself off the hook and then on the other side of a general election, which, hopefully, produces a progressive government led by my party, the next government would have to pick up the slack for the failure to act of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. Nobody is proposing to change targets, just to ensure the targets are met appropriately as we move from 2021 to 2030 and then to 2050.

The next issue is that of consultation. This cannot be done unless it is done in partnership with communities. Today we saw an appalling scene in another related matter central to tackling the biodiversity crisis. The Government shutdown scrutiny, consultation and debate with key representative organisations, including inshore fishermen and environmental non-governmental organisations, concerned about marine biodiversity. It would not create a platform for these organisations to raise their concerns regarding the marine planning framework. The fear, of course, is that the Government will plough ahead with large industrial-scale offshore wind energy while sacrificing marine biodiversity and hard-pressed inshore fishermen and their communities. This is not the way to advance the cause of climate change or to tackle the biodiversity crisis.

Much of the debate we have had in recent days has focused on very important issues, and my colleagues will deal with some of these. We also have to ensure that all other areas in the debate are adequately addressed. We need to change our planning code. We need to ensure that we repopulate our villages, towns and particularly our city centres, and end the bad practice of suburban sprawl and the car dependency that comes with it.

We need to make housing affordable. How can we ensure people are less dependent on cars, particularly in our cities, if they are forced to live far away from where they work, play and send their children to school? Housing affordability, particularly in our city centres, is vital. This is something on which the Government continues to fail. We need to ensure the infrastructure is there, including public transport, schools and crèches, so that people can genuinely live in the 15 minute city where they can walk from home to work and school and to play within that time.

We need to tackle the embedded carbon in our construction and building products. We need to embrace new technologies and new ways of developing our construction, particularly residential construction, so that we do not just take into account the energy usage of new homes which, of course, should all be A2 rated but also take into account all of the carbon that is involved in the building of these homes so they have the minimum impact on our environment.

This is an important Bill but it only sets the targets. It is up to the Government to determine how we then reach those targets. I am very concerned that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party will do what they have always done, which is to try to make ordinary working people pay for the mistakes and bad practices of governments and corporations. Let us have real climate change. Let us have real action on biodiversity. Let us do it in a way that is just and fair, with clear consultation and in partnership with communities the length and breadth of the country. If we do this we will meet these targets in a way that is good for our economy, society and environment, and in a way that is good, in particular, for those least able to pay the costs of the changes that will come down the tracks.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which is the principal Act, placed national climate policy on a statutory footing for the first time in Ireland. This was a significant step. One of the main criticisms of it was a lack of specific emissions targets. The draft amendment Bill of 2020 was a step forward in this regard in that it tried to set out a legal framework by which Ireland's 2050 climate emissions targets were to be reached. However, as my colleague, Senator Boylan, pointed out, it was full of loopholes. The amendment Bill of 2021 is more ambitious than its draft predecessor and I welcome this. It provides for many of the recommendations made by the committee, which is also welcome. It provides for 2030 interim targets with five-year carbon budgets, sectoral emissions ceilings, an annually updated climate action plan and a long-term climate action strategy.

This places Ireland on a surer footing when it comes to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and will allow us to play our part in this transition. This will require a fundamental transformation of the Irish and European economies, with sectors such as transport, buildings and energy production all having key roles to play. We must recognise this as a bold, ambitious and exciting opportunity for us to create new jobs, new industries and new ways of life.

As the Covid crisis recedes, we should see the tackling of this climate crisis as a route back to a more sustainable planet with an economy based on inclusive growth and shared prosperity. It was very concerning that a just transition was not mentioned once in the first draft of the Bill. It was even more disappointing that the inclusion of references to a just transition have been so weak in this redraft. Phrases such as "best endeavours" and "in so far as is practicable" are not a just transition and will do nothing to bring communities along the road to decarbonisation. The Bill fails to grasp the opportunity provided to reimagine and recreate the society in which we live.

As we come out of the pandemic we will face a new challenge of unemployment, specifically long-term unemployment.

Many have now been out of work for a year. That is, of course, considered as long-term unemployment. We have already heard from the Government that it is considering removing aid to those businesses which it no longer deems to be viable meaning that a cohort of people will not be able to go back to work. We are told, of course, that new digital jobs will be created but the reality is that this, too, leaves behind a specific age group who do not have those digital skills. We need to realise not everyone will learn how to code. We have an opportunity here to tackle this pending unemployment crisis and the climate crisis through the creation of green jobs and we should not let this opportunity slide.

There is also an important omission that had been included in the programme for Government around the 7% per annum reductions. While I recognise this Bill sets a 51% reduction over the decade in law, it does not provide for the 7% annual reduction figures, which leading climate experts have said is a serious flaw.

Ireland has been a laggard on climate action and has continually kicked the can down the road and missed its targets. We need to ensure the Government starts immediately to reduce emissions and does not leave the heavy lifting to the next Government, which will bring us up to our 2030 target.

There is also a question raised relating to the accountability of those who fail to comply with the provisions of the Bill. We saw in The Irish Times that the Bill does not provide for penalties if targets are not met but it is understood that where actions fall short in particular sectors, Ministers with responsibilities in these areas may in future face budget reductions. A clear line of accountability is lacking here. Too often in the past, when targets have not been reached, there has been a shrug of the shoulders and an acceptance of fines.

I am also concerned by the recent High Court ruling interpretation of the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act which found that the Government is not a relevant body. That is ridiculous. My party has written to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and asked him to amend this before it comes to the Dáil to close this loophole.

The 2015 principal Act first established the bone structure of our national climate Bill by placing it on a statutory footing, and the current amendment Bill acts as a connective tissue which ties our climate policy to specific targets. However, my lingering concern is we are awaiting the muscle fibres needed to drive performance so as to reach these targets, and it is seems like that job, in addition to others, may fall to a future Government.

When I talk to people in rural communities and I ask them what climate change means to them and what climate action has meant to them, they tell me it means higher taxes, higher costs on products for which they have no alternatives, job losses and greater fear for their livelihoods, particularly in farming families. The climate crisis is real. The need for a climate action Bill is real but so too is the need for this House and for Government to recognise the real concerns and the realities of ordinary workers, families and rural communities.

The biggest problem I have is the confidence that any of the parties in government can address those concerns and realise the difficulties of the realities I have outlined. I heard one Fianna Fáil Deputy assert that perhaps the problem was the lack of a Fianna Fáil Minister from the midlands in Cabinet. I would have to say the real problem is the lack of any ambition or vision for rural communities within Fianna Fáil or within the Government as a whole. In fact, none of the parties that make up the Government - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Green Party - can be trusted to deliver for either the environment or for rural communities. I base that entirely on their track record. The Green Party, in particular, has adopted a policy of simply exporting whatever it perceives to be problems.

A good example of that has been the approach to horticultural peat. The Green Party has driven an agenda, that has been by and large facilitated by its Government partners, of banning the cultivation of horticultural peat - a key component in vital sectors of rural communities such as the mushroom industry. When asked, they tell us those sectors need to find alternatives, but when you engage with them, as I did with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in this Chamber, and ask what are the alternatives, the alternative is importing peat from outside of the State. That is not climate action. That is hypocrisy. If we take the same approach to beef, for example, as we do to peat, that is hypocrisy that will devastate rural communities for no benefit for the environment whatsoever. If we were to suggest, as we apparently are, that we reduce the number of suckler farmers and suckler beef cows being produced along the west, the Border region or the midlands, and on the other hand agree, as the Government has done, to a Mercosur trade deal that will see the importation of 100,000 tonnes of additional Brazilian beef to the European market, that is not climate action. That is hypocrisy. We need the State bodies and Government agencies to take responsibility. People want and are asking for fairness.

I have spoken to many dairy farmers who have expanded in recent years. Many young farmers were told dairy was the sector for them. They were told by Ministers, State agencies and financial institutions they needed to go into or expand in dairy, and yet this week there are being told there is a limit to the amount of milk that they will produce. Nobody is suggesting there will be less milk consumed. The only question left unanswered is where that milk will be produced. If our only suggestion is we reduce food production in Ireland and we import from countries of more intensive production such as those in South America, that is not climate action. That is hypocrisy.

I have listened to Government representatives all throughout this debate talking about just transition and fairness for rural communities, and none of them has specified what that means in reality. I will put up to them two challenges. The first is we rural-proof the policies to ensure the response to climate action we all agree needs to happen does not disproportionately impact those who have suffered as a result of virtually all other Government policies, whether it be regional development or the wider economic policies driven by successive governments. If we are to be serious about climate action, let us get serious about those who are primarily responsible for the climate crisis, that is, the big corporations - those who will find it easiest to transition to alternatives. Those who cannot transition to alternatives in the short term without Government support, that is, ordinary workers, ordinary families and the rural communities of the country, need to be facilitated.

To speak on this Bill today, we must be honest with ourselves as to where we are and what needs to change but we also need to be honest with ourselves in terms of what needs to be protected and what the benefits are that need to be protected rather than talked down.

If we look at agriculture and the fears in the agriculture community about any climate change or challenges in climate change, we must first acknowledge that those in the farming community have been the custodians of our countryside for many a long decade and century and they have done an exceptionally good job on it. We look at people who have been planting trees and minding the fields, hedgerows and communities of our countryside. As a practising farmer myself, I take great pride in what our farmers have done over the years.

They are also providing food. They are providing excellent produce, which is very green and which is seen as being environmentally friendly the world over. We have to make sure in all the debates that we have at the forefront of our mind that Irish agriculture is probably one of the most green agriculture sectors on the planet. It is being produced with a great deal of regulation that has been put in over the years. We have to ensure that food security. Many decades ago, the European Union was set up in relation to food security. We want to make sure our food is produced to the highest standard, that the people who work every day to produce it are supported and that our industry is supported. That has to be at the very front of it.

One could be forgiven for thinking that agriculture is the sole reason for the challenges we face in terms of climate change and the green agenda but that is not so. As I look around at my own community, I am reminded of the poem by Máirtín Ó Direáin and the lines:

Thóg an fear seo teach

Is an fear úd

Claí nó fál

A mhair ina dhiaidh

Is a choinnigh a chuimhne buan.

When one looks around, one sees the fantastic work that has been done by generations of farmers, by people who planted hedgerows, worked in their communities and enhanced our environment. We should take our hats off to those people and should protect agriculture going forward.

I wish to raise the issues of energy efficiency, the retrofitting of homes and the cost of the energy required to heat homes. The green agenda is a national agenda and it is a challenge for our own Government and for governments the world over. The green agenda will yield long-term benefits for our climate and our planet and, in that context, we must ensure that the retrofitting of homes is a priority for the Government. We must address the long wait for approval under the warmer homes retrofitting scheme and improve the incentives. Many houses built between 40 and 60 years ago need to be retrofitted but the grants that are available do not match the costs involved in retrofitting them to the standard required today. The grants that are available are minuscule. They simply are not sufficient to incentivise people to retrofit their homes. Such retrofitting will benefit the State and will progress the green agenda. If we are serious about this, we must provide proper incentives for people to retrofit their homes.

I welcome the progress made in recent months on the generation of offshore wind energy. This is something that was talked about six or seven years ago but the technology exists today to allow us to generate electricity offshore and bring it on to our island. This is hugely important and will form an important part of the debate in various communities on the sustainability of wind energy.

In recent decades we have pursued a planning policy based on the urbanisation of our society. The policy has been to push economic activity into large urban centres. I have been saying since the day I was elected to the Dáil that this policy is wrong. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. That policy has fundamentally failed, especially in the context of the green agenda being debated here today. On transport, let us consider the number of cars on the road and the fact that many people have to commute long distances for work. That goes against the green agenda. It also goes against the idea of a balanced society and proper regional development. The policy was wrong from the start and some of the people who were driving it were toffee-nosed people who looked down their noses at rural communities. They were not prepared to listen to the debate we were having and to the arguments in favour of balanced regional development. In the past 12 months more has been done for regional development than ever before. Unfortunate as the global Covid-19 pandemic has been, it has forced many people to examine their lifestyles and to reassess the benefits of rural communities. There has been much negative commentary about rural communities in various media but we now have a chance to do the right thing, not just in terms of rebalancing society and advancing the green agenda, but also for the sake of human beings. We have a chance to do something for the person who has spent two or three hours every day commuting to work rather than being able to work in his or her local rural community.

Our rural communities are ready to embrace change. In the context of the green agenda, the climate change agenda and the challenges we face, we must make sure that we are starting from the correct base. We cannot start from the planning policy base of recent decades that holds we must urbanise everything. I fundamentally believe that we have to ruralise everything. We must turn the policy on its head completely. We must ruralise everything on the basis of the benefits that will bring in the context of the green agenda. There has been much talk of digital hubs, rural hubs and people working from home. The great enabler of all of this, of course, is broadband. If we are to properly embrace the agenda we are debating, we must be very serious about rural Ireland and what it can contribute to improving our climate, our planet and the lifestyle of our people.

These are fundamental issues. The contributors to this debate have been very serious and have put a great deal of thought into their contributions. Serious commentators the world over have said that climate change is the biggest issue facing mankind. We have a duty in this country to make sure that we are fully informed as we make decisions on the future. We cannot just look at this issue through the prism of urban centres or the way we have approached planning heretofore. We have to turn it on its head. We have to recognise the good that is in our countryside and we have to protect it. We must recognise the enormous contribution of agriculture the world over. We must protect that and not threaten it further. We must engage on agriculture and make sure that the family farm remains viable. We must make sure there is proper planning and that rural regeneration is our focus. The change of emphasis towards rural Ireland must be maintained. If we are serious about energy, we must put a proper system in place to retrofit homes. This will ensure that people who are less well off will be able to reduce their energy bills and their reliance on fossil fuels.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I will contribute again on later stages as the Bill makes its way through the House.

The next speaker is Deputy Sherlock. The slot is 20 minutes but, unfortunately, I will have to stop the Deputy and move the adjournment at 8 p.m.. The Deputy has only two minutes now but he will still be in possession when the debate resumes.

The Labour Party welcomes the Bill. We will support it but will table amendments to it to make it more robust. I will start by acknowledging the countless emails I have received from my constituents in Cork East in respect of the Bill. There are one or two points that I would like to see addressed in it, as reflected in the emails from my constituents. The first relates to the Climate Change Advisory Council and the adequacy of the 2050 net zero target. It is vitally important to reflect the fact that climate change does not affect everyone or every county equally but impacts first, and most profoundly, on poorer countries, counties and communities, on those that have done the least to cause the problem and who have the least resources to cope. A target of net zero emissions by 2050, which is the climate neutrality objective as defined in the Bill, is simply too little, too late, is out of step with the scientific advice presented to the Oireachtas and does not amount to our fair share of the global effort needed to deliver on the Paris Agreement.

The second point relates to the just transition, a phrase that is used quite often in this debate. It is important to acknowledge that in the sphere of agriculture-----

The time is up I am afraid.

The clock has ticked down on me, I fear.

Debate adjourned.