It is great to have an opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I have listened with interest to the previous speakers and have agreed with some of them, though not all. It is necessary to put into the public arena the various views because whether we agree with them or not, they are part of the debate.
Whenever we come to the issue of climate change, we seem or tend to descend into totally polarised positions. Some say it is not taking place at all. That is not true and the scientific evidence is there. We may at some stage improve the situation, having taken the necessary action, and I hope we will. Some say that we have to stop living in order to comply with the regulations intended to arrest the issue of climate change. That is not true either. We do not have to stop living. That applies particularly to the agri-food sector. It is true to say that the agricultural community has a significant role to play on the issue of climate change. It has played that role in the past and will continue to do so, with the support of Government and incentives. It can play that role and make a major contribution.
We need to get recognition for what we are already doing in this country in the agri-food area. On the basis of our current carbon footprint, we produce food for approximately 42 million people. That is a sizeable achievement. We can continue to do that and, in fact, can improve and are improving. In comparison with other jurisdictions, we are way ahead. Deputy Creed already made an interesting contribution in that regard that was scientifically based. We need to recognise that a sector does not have to close down in order to achieve a needed contribution on the whole issue. We can, however, improve and that is what I hope is going to happen.
I do not necessarily agree with my colleague from County Clare on the issue of forestry. We need a variety of species of tree. That has always been the case. For those who say the Scots pine is not a native species, there is evidence of it in the Céide Fields, dating from 5,000 years ago. At what stage does it become a native species? The point is that it was not possible to isolate the species in Scotland or its adjoining countries.
I know there are many imported species, such as redwoods and so on. I am an amateur grower of trees and have looked at the area quite a bit. Some species are not suitable for this country but there is a lot of space and we need to recognise there is space for both soft and hard woods. The best way to grow and develop forestry is through growing a variety of species, some of which will shelter others and expedite their growth. Non-deciduous species, for example, will remain a part of the shelter which is important. There are parts of this country where a fairly stiff breeze is blowing most of the time. We need to recognise that in order to encourage forestry and the growth of trees, we should encourage the interspacing of trees that retain their foliage throughout the year. That is possible to do while, at the same time, we make a major contribution to the fight to address climate change. Some species, such as the much-maligned Sitka spruce, have the capacity to absorb something like four times the amount of carbon dioxide of an oak tree, ash tree or any of the harder species. We should not toss them away or dismiss them. We need to recognise the role they have to play. They have played that role for millions of years and will continue to do so.
We have heard a lot concerns from our various constituents about the demise of the peat industry and, in particular, its effect on the horticultural sector. I and many others have said before that the horticultural sector needs a certain amount of peat product, or something similar, in order to continue to provide services, including nurseries for the production of trees and shrubs throughout the country. It is not a good idea to rely on imported material in that regard because all we are doing is creating further carbon miles in order to bring in something we can produce ourselves. I ask the Minister to keep in mind the possibility of ensuring that we have carbon-free access to a product at home, or whatever, in order that we do not have to import from other areas within a 5,000 mile radius, or whatever the case may be. We can and should do that.
The next issue relates to the transport sector and the fuel used in that area. I strongly support the move towards electric vehicles. There has been considerable progress in that area, although many of my friends and some of my opponents do not agree with me. The fact is that we will ultimately, inevitably and inexorably move in that direction. If we do, we will be making a major contribution to the fight against the changes that are taking place to our climate. One of the arguments that is put up is that we do not have enough charging points for motor vehicles. Why not? That is not something outside our reach. We can produce the necessary electrical charging points to ensure motorists can travel up and down the country without having to stay overnight somewhere, as an extreme example. The radius it was possible for those vehicles to travel ten years ago was approximately 180 km or 200 km, or so garage people tell me. That is now up to 450 km and is growing.
It is obvious that there is considerable benefit to a switchover to electric cars. The sooner that comes, the better. I compliment An Post and other companies that have already moved or changed over and have a carbon-free policy in their respective organisations. We need to realise that the world is competitive and does not stop. We must use what we can to our advantage to advance our own cause, while at the same time maintaining best practice insofar as dealing with carbon is concerned.
Retrofitting has already been mentioned. We need to do more of that. There is no sense blaming ourselves and beating ourselves up, while at the same time saying it would be good if we had more retrofitting but we cannot afford it. If we cannot afford it, perhaps we should be able to justify the means of affording it and appeal to the international communities. We should ensure that whatever is done, everybody makes the same sacrifices, and we do not become the only ones either to sit in the cold hoping for benefits in the future or that we do not have to close down parts of our industries to claim our rightful place in the changes that are taking place.
Some of the changes that have been made without any great upheaval are obviously those regarding motor engines. The internal combustion engine, of course, was not the first one. The electrical engine was the first for different reasons. People say that it was a changeover. My view is that the development of the petrochemical industry was a major factor in that and still continues, something to which previous speakers also made reference.
I hope that over the course of our lifetime, we will use the need to comply with international targets on carbon emissions well, first, to justify what we are doing already and what we do naturally with the levels we have achieved on food production and emissions. We are said to be outliers. To be fair, that is not entirely true. As I said before, we produce an awful lot more food per carbon footprint than anybody else can. That is beyond denial. I ask that the Minister try to ensure, insofar as is possible, or ensure full stop, that we get full credit and understanding for what we are delivering when compared with other jurisdictions. Some other jurisdictions obviously cannot achieve the same results. We are not blaming them for that. We want to get credit for what we are doing ourselves, however.
I made a note to remind myself of the issue of rewetting, which can make a major contribution to carbon reduction. Everything that grows requires an intake of carbon, which remains sequestered until such time as a tree is cut. It should also be mentioned and remembered that the only carbon that is released is the amount that the tree has sequestered over its growing lifetime.
Rewetting will have different meanings for different people. Some parts of this country contain large areas that are well-wetted enough already. If one asks people from different parts of the country how they feel about rewetting what is already wet land, they will quickly tell you. It is not that there are very small areas which are already in this condition. There are large tracts of land all over the country, but particularly in the midlands and along the west and south west. There are, therefore, areas we need to promote as currently making a major contribution to the issues we are trying to address.
The development of alternative energy also requires, obviously, wind energy. There was much resistance to wind energy, pylons, overhead cables and so forth. I ask people to try to remember that whatever energy we use has a cost. If we make it too difficult, the cost increases. Whether or not we are happy with it, we need to recognise that our industry in the future will be highly dependent on electricity and whatever way that is generated will be hugely important. Whether it is onshore or offshore, there is a necessity for infrastructural investment in that area now.
I have been hearing about wave development for last 20 years, for instance, and there is not very much of it around yet. There are other alternatives, however, some of which are achievable in the short-term. There is a renewed interest in solar energy. I am not certain that will be the ultimate answer because wind energy requires some other fallback or reliable source. The wind does not blow all the time in all parts of the country. There are those who say that as a flaw. Of course, it is not, because it can be countered by a grid that covers large tracts of this and other countries. Access to our own grid and to the international grid is, therefore, important. While very little wind may be blowing in one particular part of the country at a particular time, one can be absolutely certain that in some other area a fairly stiff breeze is blowing that keeps the turbines turning, which as a result keeps generating electricity.
If we build the grid and link into the international system in such a way that is possible and in line with renewable principles, we can become self-sufficient very quickly. We will only need an alternative for unforeseen emergencies. Wind and hydro energy are, of course, well-proven. When we go for bigger generating capacities, however, wind is probably the best option. Solar energy requires more space. Consider, for example, Moneypoint power station, which has 1,000 MW productive capacity. We need more of that nature. We need alternative energies capable of producing electricity to the same scale without using the entire country, which brings me to biomass.
To provide sufficient electricity for the entire country in the future, we would probably need to cover the whole country in biomass production. While people might say that would be a great thing, it actually would not. We still have to eat and we would have to import food. It would not, therefore, be such a good idea. Reference has already been made to this. There are those who say we should import and that artificial food is every bit as good; it is not. All things do not produce a balanced and varied diet, which is necessary. We need, therefore, to look at the areas in which we can produce reliable sources of energy without any detrimental effects to the environment and at same time retain in every way possible the full extent of our productive sectors in order that we can deliver to future generations something on which they can rely.
I have covered everything I intended to with the exception of the local authorities. It has become populist and popular in local authorities to say that people should not live in rural areas and that it is bad for the environment and so on. That is not true. It is simply a refusal to accept that it is possible to live in rural areas. It is possible to build houses in rural areas without polluting the rivers or waters of the countryside. In fact, all these things are possible provided we apply ourselves to them. A previous speaker made reference to the pollution of rivers and waterways and he is correct. The numbers of rivers and waterways in this country that are polluted and in receipt of untreated or insufficiently treated sewage on a daily basis is appalling. When that argument is trotted out in comparison, as it was with regard to Irish Water as its foundation, everybody said we cannot have any changes and we must make absolutely certain that we continue to pollute the waterways by doing nothing.
We must recognise that if we are serious about what we must do, then we have to make changes to deliver to the community, whether urban or rural. We have to produce a system that enables a person to live wherever they wish, within reason, while at the same time ensuring he or she can avail of the best available means and conditions for dealing with the impact of living in that area.
Peat in dealing with sewage treatment has a proven record, as have reed beds and so on. In order to meet the challenges of the future, no one single remedy will resolve the problem. A combination of remedies, alternatives and effort by all and sundry throughout the country and the globe will ultimately succeed.