Planning and Development (Climate Emergency Measures) (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 in order to restrict certain developments in fossil fuels infrastructure and high energy usage data centres, to remove some developments from listing as strategic development infrastructure projects, to revise the procedure for making applications directly to An Bord Pleanála and to ensure that regard be given to the State’s climate targets and commitments and to provide for related matters.

People may have seen the Business Post last week. It published research from the Marine Institute, which probably told a lot of us something quite obvious. This is that the target of reaching a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 51% by 2030 cannot be met if we continue to facilitate the growth of data centres in this country. It showed that if we allow a corporate rush for data centres on the premise of an ever-expanding market, contrary to what the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has repeatedly said in the House, we cannot have our cake and eat it. We cannot have an unlimited boom in data centres and fulfil our obligations to try to limit global temperature rises.

In the world the Minister seems to believe in, we have to continue to welcome data centres and see more investment in offshore and onshore renewable energy to fuel these very same centres. Thus, we enter a magical roundabout where the land is festooned with data centres empowered by fields of windmills that litter our lands and banks of windmills off our shores and around our coast. I am really not sure whether the Green Party believes in this vision but it is a fantasy. It exposes a basic flaw in the policy of trying to deal with the climate crisis, which is an attempt to marry the insatiable demands of an economy based on the blind pursuit of profit, ever-expanding and increasing markets and an endless accumulation of wealth, with the need for a sustainable humane society in which the people and the planet are a priority. Data centres are not essential for the future of our economy or our society. They are not great investments and they are only essential as a component of an economy built and structured on the needs of the corporate sector.

There is no way we can reconcile the economy with the needs of addressing the climate crisis when more than 100 data centres are planned in the country, which will consume more than 70% of whatever renewable energy we produce. Therefore, we have a stark choice to make. We can and should be replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy but allowing data centres to gobble up this energy will leave us with a Herculean task to meet the reduction we need to make to stave off the worst of the climate catastrophe. Those who are most enthusiastic about placing carbon taxes on ordinary people to change individual behaviour seem to see it as a given that they do not ever attempt to change the behaviour of corporations or businesses or challenge them.

The Bill will address another gaping hole in the climate Bill the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is bringing before the House today, which is the issue of liquified natural gas, LNG, and fracked gas. Later today, we will be encouraged by the Minister and others to rejoice at the passing of the climate Bill, and although there are many provisions in it that we welcome, above all else we need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. We cannot fool nature. We can fool ourselves but we cannot fool nature or the atmosphere.

I welcome the ban on new licences for oil and gas exploration but this is tempered with the knowledge that vast swathes of our oceans remain under the control of oil and gas interests, with licenses good to go until 2034. We are told an energy security review is under way, which will ultimately decide the Government's policy on gas and LNG. In the meantime, the Minister states he disapproves of it as does the Government. On 3 June, we learned the Shannon LNG project had completed its preplanning consultation with An Bord Pleanála and remains a live project, notwithstanding the displeasure of the Minister. It is not good enough for the Minister or the Government to state they personally oppose LNG or fracked gas. We need them to legislate for this opposition. The Bill will do this and this is what we are stating must be done.

The Bill points to the fault lines in the future climate battle. Reliance on market mechanisms and hoped for future technology will not stop the climate crisis and will not deliver a just transition. The Bill points to the action the State needs to take. We need to legislate to stop the development of LNG. We need to legislate to stop the importation of fracked gas or the development of the data centres I mentioned. If we do not do so, we will hasten the destruction of our environment. The science is settled and we need to stop the expansion and stop pretending that gas is somehow a magical green transitional fuel.

I hope the Bill will get the support of the House and move to Committee Stage as soon as possible. I commend the climate movement, the students and the groups who protested and brought a mass movement onto the street. The Bill going forward today is totally inadequate. I know this will be the future battleground for the movement and I hope they will put their weight behind ending the expansion of data centres and stopping the importation of LNG and the development of LNG in Ireland.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.