I would first like to note with appreciation the work of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and his Department in producing a comprehensive Bill for consideration before the House. As Members will know, the Joint Committee on Climate Action, of which I am a member, spent several months working on recommendations for implementation of and improvements to the draft Bill provided to us in late 2020. I am very proud of the work we achieved as a group and I am equally pleased to see so many recommendations we made being incorporated into the Bill.
I also acknowledge the work of the members, from all parties and none, of the previous climate action committee and the then Minister, Deputy Bruton. The recommendations from and work in prior years led to the 2019 Act, which we aspire to improve through this Bill.
The committee report was informed by relevant experts who gave of their time and for that I am very grateful. As have Members of both Houses, members of the committee received hundreds of emails making various recommendations. The majority of these are contained in the Bill, though there are some notable exceptions which will undoubtedly be dealt with by way of other legislation in the coming term.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and others have at this stage gone through the objectives of the Bill but it is important, as a member of the committee, to set out some of the points here today. The Bill places on a statutory basis the national climate objective, which commits to pursue and achieve no later than 2050 the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral economy. It embeds the process of carbon budgeting into law, which will see the Government required to adopt a series of economy-wide five-year carbon budgets, including sectoral targets for each relevant sector, on a rolling 15-year basis, starting this year.
Actions for each sector will be detailed in the climate action plan and will be updated annually. A national long-term climate action strategy will be prepared every five years. Ministers will be responsible for achieving the legally binding targets for their own sectoral area, with each Minister accounting for his or her performance towards sectoral targets and actions before an Oireachtas committee each year. This of course gives all Members of the Houses an opportunity to scrutinise in detail their own sectoral interests.
The Bill strengthens the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, tasking it with proposing carbon budgets to the Minister. It provides that the first two five-year carbon budgets proposed by the council should equate to a total reduction of 51% in emissions over the period to 2030, in line with the programme for Government commitments. Furthermore, we will see the expansion of the council from 11 to 14 members, and the Bill provides that future appointments to the council provide for a greater range of relevant expertise and gender balance.
The Bill introduces an opportunity for each local authority to prepare a climate action plan that will be updated every five years and which in itself is an extremely important public participation tool and will include mitigation and adaptation measures. Local authority development plans will have to conform with their climate action plans, which is an important step. Public bodies will be obliged to perform their functions in a manner consistent with climate plans and strategies and to further the achievement of the national climate objective.
Many have commented that Ireland is a small island off the coast of Europe, that what we do in the context of climate action and carbon emissions reductions simply does not matter, and that we are too small and insignificant to make any difference to global warming. I am not alone in believing Ireland has a duty to the world to use our unique global influence, within the EU and our broader reach across the globe, to lead by example. We are one of the richest nations on the planet. We are leaders in technology, education, longevity and wealth, to name but a few. Despite what my colleagues opposite believe, we are a wonderful country and have extraordinary potential to punch well above our weight, and in regard to climate action we should be no different.
By way of example, last month the OECD reported that Ireland had the second-highest rate of university graduates in the EU. Recently, it ranked Ireland in the top percentile, that is, 13th in the world, for safety and security and noted our life expectancy is higher than that of the European average. Indeed, at the end of 2020, the UN ranked Ireland second in the world for quality of life. We are far from flawless, but we are not just a small island off the coast of Europe; we are global influencers.
The Bill is a step in the right direction in recognising our responsibilities and putting in place legislation that will give us the tools to be ambitious with our targets. Bringing all communities with us in this goal will be fundamental to our success or failure in reaching our targets. Whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches are needed, linking public and private interest where necessary to achieve the kind of climate responsible Ireland we all want to see.
Many scientists and experts have highlighted the year 2100 as a year of unthinkable severity. Children born in 2018 in Ireland, in line with the average life expectancy of 82 years, will be alive in the year 2100. Without action, by this time our planet will be experiencing some of the most dramatic impacts of climate change. This, therefore, is not some abstract debate. The generations that will live with the consequences are already among us and we can already see it. The children of today will be the voters of tomorrow, and they will not easily forget who did and said what.
Improving our infrastructure and making it more climate resilient will play an increasingly important role in the coming decades. This is not just about sustainable public transport and a reduction in car dependency. It is about ensuring the energy used to power our transport network is low or no carbon emitting. Simply replacing our national fleet of combustion engine cars - I understand there are nearly 3 million cars - with electric ones is not really a solution. We must put in place the transport infrastructure that meets our needs, even if it does not turn a profit, because it is in our interest, no matter the cost.
We must ensure that worsening storms and other severe weather events do not impede our ability to deliver reliable services to the population. We must also be aware that transition fuels will have a role to play as we advance to our goal of becoming carbon neutral. This includes the realistic need to rely on gas in the short and medium term.
We must, as is our responsibility, provide energy security in Ireland. Simply turning off all fossil fuels is not possible at this very moment, despite how much we might wish it so. I suspect, for example, that deliberately blurring the lines between gas, liquified natural gas and fracked gas will not serve the best interests of our population as we move towards green energy sources.
Investing in wind and solar energy will be a positive move in the short to medium term and can create both direct and indirect jobs and provide a new sector in the economy. Policy and technical innovation in this area are welcome, particularly with regard to deeper waters off the west coast. This innovation that we are so good at, as can be seen in new national policy regarding apprentices, is something we can achieve but we must aim higher.
Environmentally sustainable technologies will continue to grow and play an ever larger role in the international economy. Ireland is well placed to take advantage of this emerging market. Our business environment, high third level attainment and young population lends itself to a competitive advantage over other nations. However, to capture these jobs and revenues, we must be proactive and progressive in our policy decision-making processes. We must also move faster.
Many changes will be necessary to achieve our goals, however, these do not need to be negative, many can have positive impacts improving our efficiency, cost of living and home expenses. Not all change is bad. By developing research and development funds and fostering a culture of innovation across our business and universities we can be at the forefront of cutting-edge technological developments, key to our global success in this endeavour. We have seen the introduction of funds that I hope will be developed over the years to come, namely, the green enterprise fund announced in the July stimulus in 2020 and the green innovation fund, within the EU. I firmly believe that if we can make the necessary steps in providing supports and funding, we will, in time, enjoy a return that far outweighs its costs today. As is the case with many aspects of climate change, we recognise that acting sooner could have limited the number of risks we now face. We must, therefore, not forget that lesson and instead look forward to the challenge ahead, ready to engage with all sectors and build an innovation coalition. If we are successful in this goal, we can lift our communities to new heights.
As with any major societal or industrial change throughout history, there are risks and occasionally certain communities have been marginalised. What sets this situation apart is that the Government has an opportunity to steer these changes, insofar as it can, towards climate justice, ensuring that no section of society is left behind without support. This can only be achieved through hard work, good faith and co-operation between business, communities and Government. Providing sector-specific supports will allow industries to make the necessary changes that will allow us to reach our goals, and for some sectors this will not only benefit the environment but also workers. For others it may be necessary for the Government to provide meaningful upskilling and retraining programmes or deliver economic opportunities. A shift in trajectory of the nature we are discussing, can only be sustained if it is done in a balanced and considered manner. I referred earlier to the apprenticeship programme recently announced by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris. It is a key innovator in carbon neutral elements to an emerging economy, particularly in areas such as retrofitting and maybe other innovations we have not yet embraced.
There is no corner of this land that will be insulated from the kind of changes we are discussing here today. This presents us with a burden of responsibility to ensure that Government policy in one sector is co-ordinated with the policies of other sectors and in conjunction with our overarching climate goals. Retrofitting will be a major undertaking and we must ensure that the resources and skills are there to allow an efficient roll-out of the scheme. Investing in apprenticeships will not only create jobs but allow us to hit our targets in the fastest time possible, particularly in the residential market. The targets are around 25,000 per annum. With 2 million properties in Ireland, we are proposing to do 400,000 by 2030. That leaves a lot left over which is why these reskilling programmes are imperative, not just in job creation but in giving students options other than third level and in terms of climate action. This is also true of other innovations such as heat-pumps and smart-metering which will play a significant role. These schemes will work for the economy, the consumer and the environment. Retrofitting, however, has an obvious deficiency. Our targets are extremely difficult to hit for a number of reasons. We lack the builders, the relevant expertise to transform the sector and, frankly, we do not have the national resources to fund everything that we should or want to achieve. This will be a major challenge in the near future and that is all without touching on commercial buildings.
Electrification of our national public transport network will be a major undertaking but one that will have to happen. Plans already under way must receive the support of the Government and this House. I am sure the Government recognises that we need to speed up this process. Many decry that metro, for example, has been planned since 2007 - in fact, it was 1974 when it was first proposed by Forfás, a lifetime ago. It is 40 years too long - we need to move faster.
Increasing transport links and service reliability will increase public confidence in these services, and work in favour of our goal of encouraging greater passenger numbers, who would otherwise have to use private vehicles. Increasing the safety and functionality of our cycle and walkways across towns, villages and cities will further provide the public with access to clean public transport. The Fingal Coastal Way is a prime example of community development that will benefit everyone and the environment. These routes, dotted around the country now, can also form part of our transit offering, and not just for recreation. Electric scooters and e-bikes can also play an enormous role in getting people out of their cars. Micro-mobility needs to be adopted for the last few kilometres of a journey, and providing legislation for these vehicles should be implemented without delay. There are two Bills before the House in this regard and a further undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. Like a Dublin Bus, one waits a long time for something to come along and three arrive at the same time. We must move faster.
All of these public transport plans should not and cannot be the preserve of urban Ireland. Rural Ireland must also benefit from measures which are sustainable and allow choice when it comes to transiting from work or education.
I touched on our global presence earlier. Ireland’s role on the UN Security Council puts us in a unique position at this time and affords us the opportunity to impress upon the nations of the world that climate change is a security and, indeed, an existential threat to all nations, big and small. We have, through our hard work, developed a strong voice in Europe and this has allowed us the opportunity to play a continuing role in the development of climate action policies which will change how many aspects of our society at home and abroad operate.
I admire the growing recognition that 51% by 2030 may not be fast enough. Ireland is committed to the Paris Agreement and should continue to ensure that the international community remains so. We must take a Paris-plus approach and continue to increase our ambitions and our actions when technology and innovation allow us to do so.
Many countries are already suffering and will continue to endure hardship in the years ahead as a direct result of climate change. This threatens to disrupt trade routes, the global economy, regional security and cause humanitarian disasters, the likes of which we have never seen. We must use our international position to prepare for and help those nations most exposed. We have it within our power to help those nations prepare for these issues, while also allowing them to develop their economies, if we act together on climate change. It highlights the importance of our overseas development programme. Citizens of Ireland are often noted as being the most generous individually for their contributions to charitable causes but, as a nation, we have a target that we have not yet met of 1% of GDP. We have to recognise that will form an integral part of dealing with climate change.
In November COP26 will be held in Glasgow and will be a moment on which future generations will look back and highlight as one where we, as an international community, finally acted with conviction or let the moment pass without consensus. The latter would have dire consequences for the world and all those who will follow us. The Dublin climate dialogues will take place shortly and provide an opportunity for us to lay the groundwork for COP26, another opportunity to press our vision of the future on our partners.
I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, will entertain improving amendments to the Bill at a later Stage.
I look forward to that process on Committee Stage. I am a member of the committee. There are great opportunities. Notwithstanding the remarks of the speaker I have followed, there is consensus in this House and the Seanad that it would be simply unacceptable to do nothing. We now have an opportunity, perhaps a little later than we should, to enshrine in legislation the targets we have set out in the programme for Government and other agreements to which we are signatories. It is important that we take our responsibility as Members of this House extremely seriously in this matter. I mentioned in my contribution how future generations will look back and say there was either success or failure. I would hate to believe political squabbling over ambitions and targets within this climate action Bill will somehow result in Members opposite voting against a Government proposal, particularly on fracked gas and such matters, which we know will be included in a later Bill. This has already been stated by the Government.
We are less than a year into the first of what will presumably be five years of government so it irks me somewhat when I get emails saying this or that process has been delayed. We are not even into year two. We have time but the climate does not, and that is why we have to act quickly on climate change and set about carbon budgeting as soon as we possibly can. We should bear in mind this will have implications for all sectors and Departments, and all of us, as Members of this House, have a responsibility to follow through on the commitments in the legislation. Whether Members vote with this Government or not, they have a responsibility to their constituents that is as valid as my commitment to those very same people. I very much look forward to the Bill progressing through the House.