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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 5

Annual Transition Statement: Statements

I am pleased to have the opportunity to update the House on this matter. Climate change is one of the key challenges of this century and failure to address it effectively will result in major adverse impacts that will affect all countries. The latest climate science has observed unprecedented changes in the climate system. I am pleased to present this annual transition statement as provided for under section 14(1) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. This is the fifth annual transition statement and it is being presented to both Houses in line with the requirements of the 2015 Act. The statement includes an overview of Ireland's climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures, including specific updates for the various sectors designated in the 2015 Act. The 2020 annual transition statement also sets out a record of our greenhouse gas emissions and projections from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, as well as a report on the State's compliance under EU law and international agreements. While the 2020 annual transition statement must predominately contain information in respect of 2019, it also records more recent policy developments relating to climate mitigation and adaptation. This strengthened climate governance framework provided for under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 means that annual transition statements are now replaced with climate action plans and long-term climate strategies and, therefore, this will be the final annual transition statement.

To give a brief overview of the various development and policy measures adopted to mitigate and reduce emissions, I will highlight some of the key items included within the 2020 annual transition statement. The climate action (amendment) Bill was signed into law in July 2021. It set Ireland on a legally binding path to net-zero emissions no later than 2050 and to a 51% reduction in emissions, relative to 2018 levels, by the end of this decade. To deliver on the ambition set out in the Act, the Government published the Climate Action Plan 2021 last November. It includes policies and measures in every sector to bring about the significant changes needed to transform our society and to meet our climate ambition for 2030 and beyond. The 2021 Act established a system of carbon budgeting as a key element of a strengthened legislative framework. In April, following an extensive consultation process, a programme of carbon budgets was approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas and thus came into effect.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is currently preparing the sectoral emission ceilings for Government approval in the coming weeks. This process has included extensive engagement with all relevant Departments and agencies. Carbon pricing is a key pillar of Ireland's overall decarbonisation strategy. The Finance Act 2020 sets a statutory trajectory for carbon prices in Ireland that will raise an additional €9.5 billion by 2030. This revenue is being allocated to programmes that support sustainability and those most vulnerable to rising costs, including €5 billion for energy efficient retrofits, €3 billion to address fuel poverty and a just transition, as well as €1.5 billion to promote sustainable agriculture practices.

On the electricity generation sector, the 2020 annual transition statement highlights progress made while also noting our increasing ambitions for renewable energy. This fundamental shift will require major changes to the electricity generation mix, transmission and distribution grids alongside significant changes to our national demand profiles and storage capacity. The statement identifies measures adopted and progress made across a number of areas, including via the renewable electricity support scheme, RES; the enactment of the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021; ongoing work on a new offshore renewable energy development plan as well as efforts to support microgeneration and small-scale solar energy. The 2020 statement also highlighted ongoing work to enhance our electricity interconnection and upgrade our electricity grid, with €4 billion allocated for capital investment over the period 2021-2025.

The statement lists progress in the enterprise sector through a number of the measures to meet our 2030 targets. These include the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment engaging with the cement sector to identify opportunities for further introduction of alternative fuel sources; Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland introducing strategies that focus on decarbonisation and sustainability; the launch of the ClimateToolKit4Business website; the extension of the accelerated capital allowance scheme for energy efficient equipment; and the introduction of the disruptive technologies innovation fund and the climate enterprise action fund.

In our built environment, the statement provides updates on progress made to decarbonise our commercial buildings with a range of supports and funding. In addition, support is provided to our SMEs through the excellence in energy efficiency design, EXEED, programme to provide energy savings and emissions reductions. The public sector energy efficiency programme, led by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, is providing comprehensive support to public bodies to achieve their energy efficiency targets. The annual statement also notes how Climate Action Plan 2021 supports measures to develop our district heating potential and to ensure our retrofit ambitions also align with the Housing for All strategy.

The 2020 annual transition statement details how our transport sector is playing a significant role in the national mitigation effort. The decarbonisation pathway in transport is multilayered and will primarily focus on shifting to more sustainable transport modes; reducing the overall distances driven by fossil-fuel-powered cars; accelerating the electrification of road transport and an increased use of biofuels.

Measures to support this have included the delivery of 261 new buses in 2021, with progress also made on delivering BusConnects and the launch of the NTA's Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan. A low-emission vehicle task force has been established and a national electric vehicle, EV, charging infrastructure strategy is in development to prioritise delivery of fast charge point infrastructure over the next five years. An additional 248 staff were allocated across the 31 local authorities and national roads offices to assist with the delivery of the significantly increased number of projects to promote active travel.

The launch of the sustainable mobility policy in April set out the framework to deliver at least 500,000 additional daily active travel and public transport journeys by 2030 and a 10% reduction in the distances driven by fossil-fuelled cars. The Department of Transport is developing a ten-year strategy for the haulage sector that will be focused on improving efficiencies and standards and helping the sector move to a low-carbon future.

The 2020 annual transition statement highlights a number of developments in how our agriculture and land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, sector is committing to reducing its emissions. The sector will also contribute by reducing land-based emissions through managing our soils in a better way. Food Vision, launched in August 2021, is a landmark for the agrifood sector and has the potential to transform the agriculture, food, forestry and marine sectors, with sustainability at its core.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, DAFM, has overseen a number of programmes and initiatives to support the farming community to adopt and expand sustainable practices. This has included collaboration with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the nitrates action programme to reduce chemical nitrogen use, establish a national fertiliser register, reduce the crude protein content of livestock feed and upskill farmers.

Other initiatives and programmes to support cost savings and more efficient and sustainable farming have included the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, the young farmer capital investment scheme and the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS. Further work is also ongoing on the promotion of protected urea fertilisers. There has also been significant improvement in grant and premium rates for the forestry for fibre scheme, which has been extended to the end of 2022. The DAFM is currently preparing a new forest strategy and in 2020, €79.2 million of capital expenditure was invested in forestry development.

The 2020 annual transition statement also highlights our ongoing work on climate adaptation to address current and future risks posed by a changing climate. Ireland's robust adaptation strategies will also have positive benefits through fostering green growth, innovation, jobs, ecosystem enhancement and improvements in water and air quality. Ireland's first statutory national adaptation framework identified 12 key sectors requiring sectoral adaptation plans. These plans were approved by Government and published in October 2019.

The progress on implementation of the agriculture, forest and seafood adaptation plan has been made both within the DAFM and externally. Work has continued to raise the profile of adaptation by aligning the mitigation and adaptation reporting processes together. Actions within this biodiversity sectoral adaptation plan build on the foundations of the national biodiversity action plan. These actions are aimed at improving sustainable agriculture and fisheries, better soil and land management and, most urgently, the restoration of natural systems.

Climate change can also cause major infrastructural damage to transport networks, as well as disruptions to services and safety conditions. The adaptation plan for transport infrastructure identifies key risks in the area and serves as a step towards building Ireland's long-term vision of a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable transport sector by 2050. The energy and gas networks adaptation plan seeks to identify options that will help build resilience against the impacts of climate change and asses our vulnerability to likely climate impacts on our electricity and gas networks. The adaptation plan for the water quality and water services infrastructure presents an assessment of future climate risks to the sectors. The plan outlines the measures available to build resilience to the effects of climate change and weather-related events and other socio-economic developments in both sectors.

The 2020 annual transition statement refers to the EPA's provisional greenhouse gases emissions report for 2019 emissions and projections for 2020 to 2040. However, as there are now more up-to-date figures available, I will provide a brief overview of them. In November 2021, the agency reported that for 2020, total emissions in Ireland were estimated to have declined by approximately 3.6% compared to 2019. This reduction was driven by a drop in the use of peat for electricity generation and Covid-19's impact on transport. This relatively small overall reduction, given the substantial impact Covid has had on our society, further highlights the transformative nature of the measures that are now required to meet our 2030 and 2050 targets.

In May, the EPA released its emissions projections out to 2040. These projections estimate that in 2021, Ireland's emissions rose by 6% compared to 2020. In some part, this was driven by our emergence from Covid-19 and associated restrictions. The agency also estimated that we were not on course to meet our 2030 targets, although its modelling could not fully factor in all actions and measures in our climate action plan, given further technical details are still to be developed.

We must consider how to accelerate the delivery of measures and actions that can not only reduce our emissions, but also support new ways of conducting business and encouraging innovation. As part of the process to deliver the next climate action plan, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications will engage with other Departments to identify opportunities for accelerating our climate action.

The transition to a carbon-neutral economy will provide considerable opportunities to foster innovation, create new jobs and grow businesses in areas such as offshore wind, cutting-edge sustainable agriculture and low-carbon construction. While we all must act together towards our climate objective, I realise that the costs of climate action will be more acutely felt by some than by others. As a Government, we are committed to protecting those most vulnerable and to ensuring a just transition to a low-carbon economy. I thank Members for their time and I welcome their comments.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Although the annual transition statements framework was abolished and replaced with a new process under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, this gives us a good opportunity to reflect on the Government’s progress to date on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and take on board suggestions from the Opposition on actions that need to be taken. I will pick up on one of the Minister of State's final comments that "we must consider how to accelerate the delivery of measures and actions". We are really in a space in which we need implementation. It is the number one word we heard from the EPA. Let us get on with the considering but, more importantly, let us get on with the action. There are many frameworks, plans and reports but there is an acute shortage of action.

The Government committed in the programme for Government to cut emissions by an average of 7% per annum over its lifetime. Unfortunately, what is coming to pass is very different. I know the figure of 7% is contested but it is certainly the figure in the programme for Government, if not in the carbon budgets. After a fall in emissions in 2020, due significantly to the shuttering of the economy and people being confined to their homes, we are back to business as usual with our national emissions increasing last year and almost certainly this year too.

Total greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to have increased by 6% in 2021, as the Minister of State has indicated, rather than decreased by the required 4.8% as per the Climate Change Advisory Council’s carbon budgets. In addition, earlier this year, the head of the EPA said emissions are again unlikely to fall in 2022. Either way, it is a long way off where we need to be. I am not highlighting these failures to try to score political points. We are serious about these matters. We want to meet our targets because it is beyond party politics. This is very important but, of course, there are huge wheels to turn and many component parts in making policy work and delivering on those objectives. That is where the differences arise between my party and the Government.

Missed climate targets are a loss for everyone, not least the climate, and make the 2030 target, for whoever is in government, even harder to reach. The incoherent Government policy that is contributing to these missed emission targets needs to be called out. Yesterday, it was announced that the State is set to spend €350 million on new gas-powered generators, due entirely to the failure of this Government and previous Governments to appropriately balance our electricity demand and supply. This means much-needed investment is being redirected from renewables and into fossil fuel infrastructure. There is an opportunity cost with every ounce of energy and euro that we put into this infrastructure.

Data centres drive the instability in our electricity system and place a massive burden on it. The previous Fine Gael Government rolled out the red carpet for data centres and sought to make Ireland, especially Dublin, the data centre capital of the world, or certainly of Europe, with no thought given to the impact this would have on our electricity supply or carbon emissions. There was certainly no tangible indication that any thought was given to it. The current Government has not changed approach sufficiently, despite our more ambitious climate targets and the increased threat of electricity blackouts. People are familiar with the term "amber alert" now in a way they never were before. Data centres now use as much electricity as all the homes in rural Ireland combined. Their consumption is set to at least double by 2030. This is already putting severe pressure on our energy system and cannot be consistent with our emission reduction targets. It is a policy choice that this Government made over our climate targets.

The recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further reinforce the need for urgent action to mitigate climate change. Our energy sector has huge potential to deliver significant carbon savings. Sinn Féin has called for an acceleration in the delivery of renewables, particularly offshore wind and green hydrogen. The length of time it takes to deliver offshore wind, from concept to generation, is far too long. We need to speed up this process. We are happy to work with the Government to provide clear proposals in that regard and support constructive measures from the Government. The Government can do this by fully resourcing the agencies involved, such as An Bord Pleanála, EirGrid and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. I have repeatedly raised this with the Minister.

Our island has significant potential relating to green hydrogen, but we still have no national plan in this area. The price of renewables in the latest RESS auction is far too high. Sinn Féin has called for the establishment of a cross-government high-level task force to bring forward recommendations on how to lower the price of renewable energy here. Policy options can be implemented to reduce the cost of renewables. EirGrid says the auction itself will do it, but it is not doing so. That is another immediate move the Minister can make, but we see no action in this area. The Government and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, are holding firm in their position. Simple measures like removing the planning barriers for schools to install solar photovoltaics took two full years for this Government to begin to address. We have now entered a public consultation phase on it. This is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. I do not know of anybody who opposes this measure. I know Departments and institutions have their way of working, but given the state of the crisis, it looks like a government-as-usual approach. The Government needs to focus on unravelling those knots and getting through those processes immediately. As another example, five years since Sinn Féin introduced a Bill on microgeneration in the Dáil, people are still not getting paid for the clean energy they are exporting to the grid.

There are many opportunities relating to transport. I welcome the progress that has been made on fares. Much more can be done by expanding Connecting Ireland. Its funding needs to be increased. There is significant opportunity for progress, but every time the Government designs schemes, they fail the equity test and the just transition test. That acts as a barrier to progressive climate action.

In his closing remarks, the Minister of State spoke about the need for a just transition for communities, which is crucial. It is particularly important for communities that have been hardest hit. I am thinking of those in Shannonbridge and Lough Ree and the severe economic blow that the closure of plants there has dealt to the local communities. Generations of families have relied on these plants for employment. The bottom line is that those jobs have not been replaced. My colleague, Deputy Sorca Clarke, and I met community representatives in Lanesborough a couple of weeks ago. We were right across the road from the now closed Lough Ree power station. We discussed the recent feasibility study carried out on behalf of Roscommon County Council about the potential for a boardwalk on Lough Ree at Ballyleague.

I will highlight the potential for this boardwalk. It offers something unique that is really needed and can make a difference in Ballyleague and Lanesborough for tourism, the local economy and job creation. Four options were outlined in the feasibility study. The report concluded that the first option, at a cost of €10 million, was the best. I hope the Minister will give his backing to the project to ensure this investment is made. The report concludes that it would be a key element of infrastructure necessary to promote economic development and the potential extension and opening of new tourism-related business. It states it will help to offset negative social and economic impacts arising from the loss of employment in the area and that it will help to rank up Ballyleague as a premier water recreation and angling destination. We need to invest in these communities that have been at the coalface. This is a good project. I hope it will receive backing and support. The communities in question have given so much to us over many years in the form of electricity generation and we need to give something back to them. We need to make sure they are supported as part of a just transition.

It is no surprise that the publication of the annual transition report comes 18 months after the statutory deadline before which the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was due to deliver it. It is no surprise because the three Government parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, have met none of the climate targets they set. Unfortunately, the Government is following a familiar trajectory. To give some examples, the 2020 report that we are debating today refers to an afforestation target of 8,000 ha every year until 2030. In fact, since this Government took office with a Green Party Minister of State at the helm of afforestation policy, the Government has overseen a 42% reduction in afforestation. We reach about 25% of the targets. The Minister keeps telling us we have turned a corner. Even since the beginning of this year, the very soft forestry licensing targets that have been set have been missed almost the entire time.

It is also the case for organics. The EU average for organics stood at 7.5% in 2017 and a target of 25% has been set for 2030, but this Government has decided on a target of 7.5% conversion by 2025, which it has pushed out to 2027. The only stated objective on climate action that this Government has been able to implement is to continuously increase carbon taxes at a time when ordinary workers, families, communities, businesses and farmers are absolutely begging for support.

We have a Government that, instead of implementing measures to assist us all in achieving our climate targets, is continuously attacking ordinary communities which have no option but to use those things, for which they are charged. It is not good enough. A sea change in attitude is needed. We need to recognise that if we are to meet our ambitious climate action targets, there needs to be leadership at Government level. That leadership has unfortunately been lacking far too often.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the annual transition statements and address the big picture of where we are. The cost-of-living crisis is bringing a new urgency and worry to the issue, not alone in terms of money and cost but by exposing the unsustainable way in which the global economic system encourages and depends on us to live. We were reminded of the sheer scale and folly of this by young people from across the State who came to speak to us at the climate committee in the Seanad last Friday week. They get all of it, the hell we are headed to without radical change. We must change so as to use radically less energy and we must manufacture, buy and consume less stuff. To give the impression they have the transition under control Governments, including our own, are peddling the narrative that tweaks will save us. Electric vehicles, wind and solar are crucial for sure but in the real and burning world tweaks will not save us. Less energy, production and consumption and less stuff has to be the premise from which a just transition flows. Otherwise we are ignoring what the scientists at the climate committee are telling us is just dead ahead.

The just transition that Sinn Féin is committed to must face the reality of where we are now, not the greenwash or the spin. We are well ahead in milestones of heat, methane release and acidity of our oceans. The current modelling has not even factored in the breaking up of the Antarctic ice or the atmosphere's sensitivity to carbon and methane. We have to target retrofitting our homes. We have to get clean public transport sorted. We have to look after our biodiversity and keep our waterways pristine with tough sanctions on polluters. In north Kildare last week we had our own biodiversity crisis in Leixlip with dangerous pollution of the River Rye, a salmon spawning site which is cherished by the community. It really is unacceptable.

As we come to the end of our Dáil term, let us be honest about where we are in our just transition. No matter the extremes, we can and must make the necessary radical changes even though we have to start from where we are now. We have to be honest with people. Otherwise we are just whistling in the wind.

I welcome the opportunity to debate climate action and discuss the interdepartmental negotiations on sectoral targets. We know that the deadline is drawing ever close as weeks pass coming up to the end of this term in mid-July. Our global climate and biodiversity crises are existential and fundamental to our capacity to live and to the survival of our planet, but it is not all doom and gloom and we should never feel powerless. That is always an important message. We must ensure that there is always some optimism and grounds for hope. Resisting despair does not mean ignoring the alarm bells, however. Consecutive reports of the EPA and IPCC have provided us with a chilling prognosis but also a reminder that action is still possible to avoid a climate catastrophe. We have many of the solutions before us. Every day and every year we see positive changes with growing understanding of how we can roll out renewables, develop offshore wind energy and so on. From agriculture to transport, we know what we have to do. Today we reiterate our call for urgent action to be taken to ensure that we meet our ambitious but necessary climate targets.

The first Bill I published when I was first elected to the Oireachtas 15 years ago, in the Seanad which seems a long time ago in some ways, sought to impose a cap on Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. It was the first Bill of its kind in Ireland. Although that took place relatively recently, it seems a lifetime ago in terms of understanding the urgent need for action to combat the crisis. Even 15 years ago, there was none of that sense of urgency at international level and there was a great deal more climate denial both here and elsewhere. It is good that we are today in a place where sectoral caps are being made a reality and there is far greater consensus on the science of climate change and the necessity to move swiftly to avoid catastrophe.

The IPCC is clear that we are currently on a path to exceed 2°C warming worldwide, which could result in enormous loss of life, livelihoods, biodiversity and food security. We hear chilling reports of the loss of species which is a wake-up call. This debate today must serve to refocus our energy on the urgent need to ramp up drastic climate action and to call for more urgency from Government. I will not waste this opportunity to express my frustration at continued attempts by some Members of the Opposition to derail climate action in Ireland. We saw the most recent occurrence of that in the House this morning when we debated a backward-looking, regressive motion on fossil fuels which the Labour Party is opposing along with others. I am glad that this is a more constructive debate this afternoon.

I am glad we will have sight of the Government’s sectoral pollution targets for electricity, transport, buildings, industry and agriculture before the Dáil breaks for its recess in July. However, I again express my frustration that, as was the situation before Christmas, we are right up against the deadline of a recess when it comes to scrutinising these important measures. We saw this before Christmas with the long delays leading eventually to publication of the annexe to the climate action plan that I and many others had been looking for to enable us to have more time prior to the break. I hope we will not see a repeat of the delays of the past and I look forward to engaging further with the Minister of State and his Department on this in the coming month. Can the Minister of State provide a commitment that we will see this announcement made in a timely fashion and not just in the last week of the term? In the spirit of constructive engagement, I ask that an open line of communication is maintained with Opposition politicians and other stakeholders in the NGO sector such as Friends of the Earth, even when the Dáil is in recess.

Since our overall limits for the decade to 2030 were passed by the Dáil in April, I am very grateful to activists, NGOs and others for commentary and support. During that debate in April, I noted the degree of back-loading of our reductions between 2025 and 2030. It underlines the need to ensure that between now and 2025, we meet those more moderate targets. The IPCC has been very clear that a small window of three years exists to meet those necessary targets and avoid disaster. During negotiations of our sectoral emissions, there must be an understanding that we are dealing not so much with targets but, more accurately, a floor beneath which we cannot fall. It would be morally unconscionable to pass the clear tipping points the IPCC has identified, which would trigger larger scale changes in Earth's systems and a loss of biodiversity. We know that only in the event that every sector meets the upper end of the ranges published last November will we meet the overall target in the climate law. The concern is that we are not currently on target to achieve this.

For example, we understand from recent media commentary that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is under intense pressure not to agree to pollution cuts of more than 22%. We need to be careful about all sectors meeting the relevant targets. The just transition that we in the Labour Party, as red greens, are calling for requires that those who are being asked to make the most onerous changes are aided and supported in doing so. In advance of the final publication of overall objectives later in the year, I ask that the Minister of State consider the questions asked by Friends of the Earth: Will the sectoral ceilings add up to no more than the national carbon budget passed by this House previously? Will the sectoral ceilings align with our 51% emissions reduction target for 2030? Will every sector do its fair share to reduce emissions or are other sectors being penalised for the foot-dragging of others? Will the Government ensure that any contingency fund of unallocated emissions budget is only used for sectors that are doing everything possible to cut emissions?

We seek to offer constructive Opposition. We support the ambitious but necessary climate targets and look to stand with the Government and all of those who wish to work seriously and genuinely and to engage on the necessary actions to achieve the survival of our planet. We want to stand together and work together to ensure that we do right by people in Ireland, not only of our generation but generations to come. We need to ensure that we do so by meeting our targets and working together collectively. In that spirit I thank the Minister of State and his officials for engaging with us in this debate but I hope we will see further engagement outside of this House and beyond July. I really look forward to seeing the publication of measures before the end of this term.

I am sharing time with Deputy Bruton. There is an irony in how many young people live their lives these days. They have no problem going online and ordering a pair of jeans manufactured in China or Asia which have to make four or five stops before being courier-delivered to their door. However, the people who are prepared to shop like this are increasingly discouraged from travelling because of carbon shaming and the feeling that if they go on holidays, they are also a cause of the global warming phenomenon. That has become a trend. Aviation has responded and in the last years large aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus have gone into the exploration of hydrogen fuel and are now launching flights.

This is very much where the sector is moving, and Ireland needs to position itself as a country that can really tap into this. It will be a pioneering phase of global aviation, guided by the right and just principles associated with trying to save our planet and cut down on carbon emissions from international travel.

A major development to be considered in Ireland, which I do not believe has been properly considered by the Government and its agencies yet, is the Green Atlantic wind farm off the wild Atlantic coast, or off the coast of Clare. It is an offshore wind farm that will bring electricity onshore at the site of the former Moneypoint coal-burning power station. It is a massive project. It is the biggest wind energy project to be committed to in Ireland and one of the largest in Europe. The most interesting aspect, on which construction has already started, is a synchronous compensator. The cost is to be €50 million. Everyone who understands wind energy knows that when electricity is generated by wind, it cannot be stored. If it is not used on the grid, it has to be grounded. Every week, electricity worth millions of euro is grounded into the earth unused. At Moneypoint, the electricity generated offshore will be brought to the sink compensator and stored as hydrogen, which can be used in many facets.

This morning, another hydrogen vehicle was trialled in the streets of Dublin. Aviation is very quickly moving in this direction. Further into the Shannon Estuary, about 15 or 16 nautical miles from Moneypoint, is Shannon Airport, where there is the capacity to store 33,000 metric tonnes of aviation fuel at any given time. Shannon Airport and its fuel farm, with its capacity, have great potential to be the stopping point for aircraft coming in from the United States and passing over from Europe. When aircraft first convert to hydrogen fuel, which will happen in the next decade or so, they will not have the same capacity as on avgas. They will have to touch down, refuel and take off again. This is far more environmentally friendly, and we are positioned geographically as the unique stepping stone between the continents of North America and Europe. It is an opportunity that has not yet been explored properly to any great extent from an Irish perspective.

The wind energy guidelines are grossly outdated. They are 16 years old. On the eve of the last general election, the previous Government had a set of brand new draft guidelines that were to be signed off on. Along came an election, Covid and a host of other issues and they seem to have got buried. Those in the industry who want to build wind facilities and see more of them say the guidelines are totally outdated and do not reflect what they have in their workshops and want to construct, and those who live in communities surrounded by wind farms say the protective measures of the guidelines, relating to setback distance, flicker effect and such matters, do not give sufficient protection. Therefore, it is lose–lose at the moment. If we are serious as a country about greening our economy and grasping renewable energy, we should have a current, modern set of guidelines related to wind energy production.

Many believe Moneypoint is closed but it still has coal-burning and electricity-generating capacity. In a time of national fuel and energy crises, it makes sense for us to continue to use power stations like Moneypoint to fuel up and ensure that our country is lit up by night and that we have a sufficient supply of domestically generated electricity. We have an east–west interconnector. In Ireland, we are choosing to move away from fossil fuels, and rightly so. I am not saying we should not, because we all want to get to that point, but that we should relinquish fuels only when we have developed replacement capacity through renewables. Every time we buy electricity on the east–west interconnector, it comes from power stations in Britain, three of which, including Drax, produce electricity by burning coal. If we are talking about global warming and a global problem, we are only putting our heads in the sand if we believe that by shutting down our facilities and buying from Britain, we have solved the problem. I ask for a more holistic approach to this over the next two or three years. When we have the offshore capacity, which is coming, we can then shut things down.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address this. These annual transition statements, as an exercise in assessing the impact of policy, comprise a very poor instrument. I know it is a legacy from the previous legislation but it is dealing with the matter too late. In the middle of 2022, we are dealing with figures from 2019. When trying to look to the road ahead, looking so far out the back window is of little benefit. It gives no insight into how individual policy measures are impacting the targets in various sectors and imposes no serious line responsibility on Ministers regarding performance in their sectors. Therefore, the statements are very much an instrument of the past and are simply not fit for purpose. As the Minister designs the mechanism for future accountability to the House, he will have to ensure it is radically different. The legislation we have passed gives a framework for doing that, but I would like to see the Minister of State return to the House to tell us how it will be done and how we can have a genuine role in holding the Government to account.

The annual transition statements provide some benchmarks on how we are doing. Regarding the target for 2020 to 2025, we have done well on renewables and electricity, achieving minus 41% in our emissions. We failed pretty miserably in all the other sectors, including the transport, agriculture and residential sectors, where we delivered a reduction of only 7%. While I share absolutely the vision of renewables being a key and a very great opportunity for us, it is greenwashing somewhat to pretend they will save us. We have heard the Opposition accusing the Government of greenwashing but it is greenwashing to pretend we will solve the problem with a renewables sector that will not impact on the way we live and without having carbon pricing. There are those on the Opposition benches who say polluters must pay. Carbon is the big polluter. It is what is polluting our globe and making it burn up. Despite this, there are those who say in the same breath that they want the polluters to pay but not the polluters who generate carbon.

The Government has a genuine uphill struggle because, in trying to bring people with it on this challenging journey, there will be much cynicism in the political world. We have seen this in the portrayal that rural Ireland can build a prosperous future by clinging to old practices. That is the message we often hear in this House. That is not a future that will deliver for rural Ireland. We have to build a future for rural Ireland on modern practices. That means sustainable food, broadband, the remote delivery of services and remote working. I am referring to the many ways in which we can greatly transform the face of rural Ireland and create a very prosperous vision for it. That is what we need to build. My saying this is not to fault the effort going into all the planning and the sectoral allocation but I believe we do need to build a vision people can share. That is where we will face the greatest challenge.

I will repeat an appeal to the Minister of State that I know has fallen on deaf ears somewhat, that is, that we should adopt the circular economy as the central plank of our climate planning. That is the way in which we can mobilise people. At the heart of the circular economy idea is having the vision that we can produce food sustainably, meet our travel needs and deliver all the standards of living we enjoy but in a way that designs out the environmental damage. It is not about a blame-and-shame approach, which unfortunately characterises some of the focus on greenhouse emissions alone. It is about considering the whole supply chain and emphasising design change, the mobilisation of communities and consumers, and giving people information on what is happening in the various services they use. The approach emphasises that future prosperity will arise from adapting now and that the early movers will be the successful and prosperous movers of the future. The Minister of State needs to bring that back into the narrative about what we are doing because people want to know that in ten, 15 or 20 years, we will still have an agriculture sector that is prosperous and delivers income to the family farm. The rewards will be different, however. One would be rewarded for managing methane and environmental services as well as for one’s food. The reality is that we do not have the instruments in place that will give farmers the confidence that they will have a prosperous farm in ten years. That is where we need to bring the emphasis.

Yes, in the process we have to deliver these targets, but there is also the narrative around the story we are telling and why it is vital we take the environmental damage and design it out of our chain, including our buildings, where our neglect of timber versus concrete is embedding high carbon emissions into the way we build. Every sector, be it construction, food or travel, has to look at this in that context. That is the way the Minister can mobilise more support behind this, instead of the red mark on the copybook, saying, “You did not hit your target this year.” The Government needs to get everyone sharing the targets and then have a more honest evaluation of whether we have the toolbox in place to deliver them. That is where I hope the debate moves now.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the statements. I was reading down through the statement released last Friday and it is welcome to see the value of biodiversity given a somewhat more substantial standing, particularly when it referred to sustainable development to underpin our economy, given a loss of biodiversity that we have not seen since previous mass extinctions. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity needs to be escalated as well as the restoration of natural systems for constituencies like mine, Longford-Westmeath, which is a critical piece of work. There is a real and substantial opportunity to develop biodiversity in a sustainable manner that will benefit towns like Lanesborough, where the power plant was once the primary source of employment. For generations, the identity of towns like Lanesborough was intertwined with either Bord na Móna or the ESB because, after all, it was those companies that paid the wage cheques that paid the mortgages and rent, put food on the table and contributed to local shops and the local economy.

There is now a very ambitious plan to build a boardwalk on the Roscommon side of the River Shannon that would link to the islands and then, further on, on the Longford side, connect to another boardwalk on that side of the Shannon. I understand the cost of this would be approximately €10 million, including the cost of the land, but the huge economic benefit to the local economy of creating this cannot be overestimated, with the further creation of a potential hub as another driver for economic development. I urge the Minister to work with the Department and the two local authorities to ensure this town benefits from a true just transition into the future. I understand that at a meeting late last week, it was referred to as being a case of do or die because of the lack of other options. There is a real need for success in this programme.

It is plans like that - the positive plans, the plans that look to the future – that highlight the utter lack of forethought in regard to the Derryad Mid-Shannon Wilderness Park, which not only flies in the face of both preservation and development but will also have a serious negative consequence for the current and future biodiversity of the area. Instead of viewing the potential of this area as being of benefit to the community for training, education, research and appropriate tourism, there is instead a brutal proposal to remove those habitats and the subsequent loss of biodiversity that is, quite frankly, mind-boggling. We know there are regional, national and global assessments that show a decline in biodiversity, yet without the benefit of intervention or any form of interaction, this area flourished. It did best when left alone.

I specifically mentioned education because still today, in 2022, there is this flawed opinion that bogs are empty, barren places, that they are a wasteland, when in reality they are rich with flora and fauna and are a habitat to many creatures. There is the opportunity also to create on that site a museum that recognises its history, a history that is disintegrating. Huts that are still there, coats that are still hanging on hooks, are a snapshot of a part of our history that should not be lost through neglect. They should be preserved.

The threat to biodiversity in that instance is sadly replicated across my constituency, and Clonsura is another such area. The Government needs to adopt a much more far-reaching, long-term and truly sustainable approach to these issues. As referenced in the House before, part of that is the wind energy guidelines. We need to see them produced because where there is a vacuum of information, there is a vacuum that can be exploited, often to the detriment of these communities who are reliant on the Government to come out with guidelines to give them this information that seems so slow in coming.

It is very rare that what we do today in terms of biodiversity is something we will benefit from, but what we do today, our children, our grandchildren and future generations will absolutely benefit from.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the statements. I acknowledge and agree with the comments from Deputy Bruton that these transition statements are probably not the best mechanism for accountability because they refer to points so far in the past and this is such a dynamic and quickly changing policy environment we are dealing with. However, it is always welcome to be able to stand here and talk about environmental issues, climate and biodiversity.

One of the major charges that is often made against politicians and Governments by scientists, NGOs and people who are passionate about this area is that there is a lot of talk but not the action that is required. It is that issue of whether we are moving from the rhetoric to action. I want to read from the speech by the Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, at the Dublin Climate Summit in May, where he said:

The challenges facing us from climate change are stark ... The truth is that not acting is not an option ... The challenge is profound. Genuine transformation is required ... we must do it quickly.

He said the Government he leads is committed to providing this leadership. I cannot disagree with a single word of what he said but the question for those in this Chamber is whether these are just words in a speech that was written for the Taoiseach or whether the Government has really taken this on board and is providing the leadership he said he is committed to, leadership not just in talking but leadership in doing.

I will first refer to the Climate Change Advisory Council review and the EPA report. Both of these entities are the watchdogs that were installed by the Government to be that mirror that can be held up to Government to see whether it is doing what needs to be done. The Climate Change Advisory Council’s last annual review in 2021 identified a significant gap between climate action policy and climate action delivery. The review emphasised the urgency of shifting from planning to action to reduce emissions and to put Ireland on track to achieve climate neutrality and resilience by 2050. The chairperson of the council, Marie Donnelly, said Ireland's failure to meet its targets is due to not matching the ambitions with plans, that is, timely and complete delivery of actions. It is clear the Government has not met, at least in the mind of the Climate Change Advisory Council, the move from rhetoric to action.

The EPA in recent weeks came out with a report that confirmed that Ireland is way off course when it comes to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and that there is a huge gap between the ambitions of Ireland's legally binding climate Act and the actions needed to deliver on that ambition. The report highlighted that even in the unlikely event that every planned climate policy and measure outlined in the climate action plan were fully implemented on time, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions would only fall by 28% by 2030, which is a little over half of what is required. The report states Ireland already looks to be in deep trouble. It does not bode well for this Government but the reality is it does not bode well for our country because we need this to happen, and quickly.

The EPA director general, Ms Laura Burke, was reported as saying the data shows that a step-up in both the implementation of actions already set out in plans and policies and the identification of new measures is needed.

There we have two very well respected entities saying to the Government it is not doing enough. The talk is there but the walk is not following it. I understand that many of the measures that are in place and needed are very complex and will take some time to implement. I can understand the rationale for backloading some of them. I do not like it. One of the things I said with the programme for Government was that actually it was not a programme for this Government. What was written was actually a programme for the next Government because the majority of the actions, in particular the major ones, were actions that the next Government would be expected to implement and certainly complete.

If we look at the simple things that Government can do and are in its remit, one of the most fundamental and simple things is the funding of staff within Government bodies. I raise this because I was a councillor, as were many of my colleagues here in the Dáil, and we know there has been underfunding of councils’ responsibilities over many governments. In relation to climate and biodiversity challenges, however, the requirements being placed on councils are far greater than they have ever been before. The climate action regional offices, CARO, estimates that each local authority requires nine staff members to undertake their climate role. CARO talks about needing a senior executive, a liaison person, an energy person, a climate action officer, a biodiversity person, environmental officers and a green infrastructure person, so that is nine per council. When I asked the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications how many staff had been funded in local authorities by that Department, I was told none - absolutely zero. Not even a single person in any local authority has received funding from the Department to do the functions the Department is asking of them. This comes back to the statement, “Show me your budget and I will show you what your priorities are.” When I look at the priorities of Government at the moment, I do not believe, judging by where it is prioritising its spend, it is prioritising climate or biodiversity action. If that budget is compared with the €144,000 that is being given to developers to build a single apartment, that would pay for two staff members in each local authority. I ask the Government to rethink its priorities and focus on the actions that can be simply achieved.

I welcome the opportunity to speak, even if briefly, on this issue. Of course, one could not be expected to cover the whole gamut associated with the transition of the economy and the effort on the part of Government to meet its target in regard to emissions right up to 2030 and even beyond to 2050. I will deal with a few issues that are pertinent to my own constituency and that have been greatly impacted, initially by the acceleration of decarbonisation long before the introduction of carbon budgets or the new targets that this Government set in its programme for Government. The cessation of extraction of peat on a commercial and industrial basis by Bord na Móna and, of course, the closure of power plants were eight to ten years ahead of plan. Thereafter, because such agencies as Bord na Móna and the ESB could no longer fulfil the remit that was given to them when they were set up, which was to create jobs and allow that region and economy to flourish, that remit is now back with Government. In its response, the Government, together with the EU, has created a €170 million just transition fund for the midlands, predominantly County Offaly, which was most impacted by that acceleration over recent years.

I welcome the fact the national development plan has matched the EU funding and that the Eastern and Midland Regional Authority is the administrative body that will administer and deliver that fund. I look forward to the early completion of the territorial plan that is being drawn up by the Department in conjunction with the stakeholders, having consulted the stakeholders and the wider audience over recent months. I ask that that would be done as speedily as possible and that the Government would forward it to the EU for clearance so that, ultimately, the process can begin by which that fund does what it was originally intended to do, which is to engender new innovative entrepreneurial skills to allow that region respond in the way it can.

As a result of that and, more recently, the debate about the turf issue and the clean air policy, which is primarily charged with the responsibility of extending the ban in regard to smoky coal, on foot of a response in this House by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, there was an intention on his part at least to extend that to turf usage throughout the country as well. As I said in response to that, both publicly and in this House, that practice is no longer as prevalent as it was. It is being replaced by new alternatives continually emerging. The process is being addressed by a new retrofit programme, but it is only beginning to do so. The turf cutting that we know, grew up with and acknowledge is something that will die organically.

The retrofitting programme in its first guise this year, for example, contains an 80% grant up to about €3,000 for the insulation of walls, ceilings and roofs, and the draught-proofing of doors and windows. I have argued and will continue to do so, and I hope, on an initial review of that retrofit programme, the Government will ensure, that those dependent on solid fuels would have an opportunity to retrofit their heating systems on foot of and further to the insulation grant. That would be a realistic option for those who are not in a position to do the deep retrofit that can cost many multiples of that figure, notwithstanding the ability of some households to do so, and more luck to them. I am aware of many credit unions that have green loan offerings to help and augment the costs associated over and above the grant that is being made available. I am sure that sort of product can only grow. Post offices and many others could enter that market too because that is the path we want to see travelled by all.

On the issue of heat I caution against the wholesale electrification of it. There are other means by which that can be addressed which can save on emissions and, it is hoped, save on cost too over time. I am particularly conscious of hydrotreated vegetable oil and the opportunity that exists for oil pumps to be converted to cater for it. Over a ten-year period that can bring up to 85% savings in emissions, which can and should be welcomed, and does not place the sort of strain there has been and will be on electrical provision. I do not believe we have the capacity, unfortunately, to meet the demands being placed upon energy in this country. Since the programme for Government and the detail associated with it in this regard was agreed by all parties and approved by the Dáil in the formation of Government, we have seen the pandemic and an ongoing terrible war in Ukraine and the impact that is having on energy provision and, as a consequence, on the cost of living in households and in business. The ambition that was contained within that might have been great initially but it does not meet the sort of ambition I believe can be harnessed in this country, especially in its offshore capabilities. It is not realistic to aim for 5 GW by 2030. It could be far more.

Progress is being made in regard to the authority that has been put in place to help in driving that ambition but it needs to be far greater. I am conscious for example of the work done by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to ensure that area was developed and that the International Financial Services Centre materialised. It materialised more quickly than would have been the case had it not been put in place. It may have gone sour near the end, but lessons have to be learned from that.

It is that type of authority, drive, leadership and ambition that needs to be in place to drive the potential that we have offshore. Our offshore capability can be to the forefront of the delivery of a pan-European pipe across Europe. We have been at the back end of a pipe for too long. We can be at the front end now. I impressed upon the Taoiseach in recent months to ensure that is high on the agenda at EU Council meetings.

There has to be a way in which we can devise mechanisms to deliver the capacity and the capabilities much quicker than at present. Planning is taking far too long. I note much talk in relation to housing on foot of the President's remarks yesterday. Everybody shares that frustration at the inability to deal with this in a way which provides supply to meet demand. Despite record levels of funding and despite record levels of different schemes and initiatives that help in relation to affordability in relation to cost rental, these are not yet delivering on the ground. That is against the backdrop of a planning system that can take up to five years. That is against a background through which funds have been made available from Europeans, for example, who wish to invest in this country and walked away from it when they saw the delays associated with An Bord Pleanála not having a statutory time period to make decision. They see it regularly. For example, one saw it with Glanbia in Kilkenny, where one had a judicial review system that can allow a planning application of that nature, importance and significance to take up to five years to deliver. As a former councillor, I know the strides that have been made in relation to the background associated with the production of county development plans, regional development plans and national development plans. All those are done in a way which is compatible with national and regional guidelines in relation to density, capacity, height, design etc. Never was that the case back at the time when the planning laws were being flouted and disregarded, but they are there now. There has to be something in the national interest - legislation that can be brought to bear - to weigh an objection where there is one objection against 30,000 who might not have objected, are agreeing to or participated in the process by which a development plan was arrived at. Somebody can arrive and, at the stroke of a pen, put in a objection and hold something up for five years. Such a delay is wrong and has to be corrected. It is high time the Dáil and all the heads within it got together in a way in which they recognise that there is a national interest here that has to be respected, and also respect the process by which development plans are put in place and all of this combined is brought to bear to ensure that they are in place.

I see the same in relation to the provision of energy. I ask that the ambition that is contained within the targets that have been set be revisited. We have 15 GW available in offshore development on the south and east coast. There is 30 GW on the west coast. There is a potential 70 GW from wave energy there beyond. Each gigawatt powers 750,000 homes. There is an abundance that is available to us at our doorstep that is not being tapped into and we are told it is taking, in this country and beyond, seven years from inception to delivery. There is no way we as legislators can sit on our hands and allow that to be the case in relation to that sector of the provision of energy, and also five years in relation to housing.

The Government will bring forward proposals to amend the Planning and Development Act, we are told, in the autumn. I look forward to that but it is time we were a bit more prescriptive about what we want amended. Rather than allowing the Attorney General to give his opinion and bring forward his proposals and ideas, the Government and Members of the Dáil need to be prescriptive and tell him what they expect him to do in order that they then respect the views, opinions and the wishes of the electorate.

We have seen over the past number of decades, and especially in the recent past, the need for progressive climate action. We hear it from our children and, for those of us lucky enough to have them, from our grandchildren. Thankfully, the debate has largely shifted from one about personal responsibility to a whole-of-system approach. The public at large are doing all that they can and more to tackle the climate crisis and that has to be matched, or even bettered, by the various sectors of the economy and businesses within it.

Nobody said achieving these emissions targets would be easy but there is no other way. Reducing our emissions and tackling the climate crisis is the only show in town. Nevertheless, the State has a role to play, not only in setting the targets but in ensuring that businesses in each sector can reach them. This means that people, businesses and the different sectors of the economy can transition in a fair and, indeed, fast manner.

Ensuring that there are alternative fuels for sectors such as the concrete sector will help with decarbonisation of buildings, and supports and help for the SME sector are key. Anyone who speaks to businesses in the SME sector will tell the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, that access to simplified information, time and definitive support from the State are key to helping them reach their targets. In this way, the climate toolkit for business is a useful tool, and I welcome it.

However, where businesses need to transition, they need greater support to do so, such as greater access to funding, facilities and renewables. Businesses will transition if it is simplified for them and if they are supported and encouraged to do so but if the renewables are not there, if the support is not there and if the simplified information is not there, they will not or they will struggle and this will affect their ability to operate and will, indeed, cost jobs.

As for the changes that are needed in the public sector, this is where the State has to be a leader. We cannot have a situation of do as I say but not as I do. In that regard, I reference the fact that local authorities have recently called all of their staff back to the office. Central to achieving the targets in the public sector is remote and hybrid working. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to speak with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, and to encourage him to bring forward remote working legislation that is fit for purpose and delivers for workers and to ensure the State is a leader in this area.

We are in a climate emergency. Report after report highlights the escalating reality of global warming and the need for urgent mitigations. As the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, stated last month, it is long past the time for climate rhetoric. What we need is climate action.

Unfortunately, the Government, like the previous one, is ignoring some of the small wins and the low-hanging fruit that would be a positive step in the right direction. Two weeks ago, Sinn Féin moved legislation on solar panels for schools because we were frustrated at the lack of Government action on removing the current planning permission obstacles that exist for schools and community buildings which want to make use of solar energy. I note that has gone to public consultation, potentially putting this beyond this Dáil term, well into the next term and into the new school year. To mitigate climate, these regulations could be changed overnight if the political will was there. Far from solving the climate crisis, it would be a small step and a small win. It would be a considerable benefit to schools but the Government has been dragging its heals. I am glad to see some progress but, to be honest, we should be much further down the road in relation to that. Four months ago, commitments were made by the Taoiseach that regulations would be introduced within three weeks to allow schools to erect panels and make use of solar energy and that still has not happened. It will be the next Dáil before it does.

I also want to take the opportunity briefly to raise issues regarding the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy. In my area, it has many positive elements. I am glad that light rail, something that I have been raising for three or four years, has made its way into the strategy. However, I have previously raised my fear that we are focusing too much on long-term and not enough on the short and medium-term benefits from that. The issue of the potential for bus rapid transport in Cork is a significant one. The success of the Glider in Belfast is a good demonstration of what is possible in the short term in terms of bus rapid transit. Obviously, there is the BusConnects proposal, but we should look at what has been done in Belfast in terms of something eye-catching and creative that can encourage that modal shift in addition and complementary to the BusConnects proposal. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, agreed in November 2020 that this was a good idea but we have not seen any progress in relation to that. That will be a crucial area in terms of reducing reliance on cars in the Cork area.

There is an old joke about the weather that everyone talks about it but no one ever does anything about it.

It feels the same with the transition. Everyone is in favour of it. Even the usual climate denier Deputies in this House talk about how and when the transition should happen. My main concern is that despite the rhetoric there is no actual transition taking place. What progress there is in any area is akin to Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. For every step forward we see the boulder slip down again. For every electric bus we purchase or every claim of a home that has been retrofitted, we see another data centre being permitted or we hear talk of a new airport runway or a spike in car sales.

This is not just my impression. Looking at the global picture, it is clear there is no real transition taking place away from fossil fuels. The Global Carbon Project, GCP, estimated that fossil fuel emissions in 2021 will reach 36.4 billion tonnes of CO2. That figure is only 0.8% below its pre-pandemic high in 2019. Both coal and gas emissions have already surpassed their pre-pandemic levels, with a 2% increase in gas emissions and a 1% increase in coal emissions between 2019 and 2021. Since the first Kyoto climate conference, global carbon emissions have continued to rise and they are 60% higher today than they were in 1990. In April, we found out that just 20 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, including Shell, Exxon Mobil and Gazprom, are projected to spend $932 billion by the end of 2030 to develop new oil and gas fields. In May, we found out that the oil and gas industry took advantage of the war in Ukraine to spread misinformation about the causes of the energy crisis to apply political pressure and to pursue a long-standing wish list of policy changes. This is according to a report by InfluenceMap. The website DeSmog.com reported oil executives and lobbies conducing a public relations blitz in the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

We see the same results to some extent in this House, with the clamour by some Deputies for LNG and their support for the Barryroe oil field. These are the same voices that share the same contempt for the climate crisis and the same greed that informs these campaigns globally. My question to the Minister of State is: Exactly what transition we are talking about?

The EPA has made it clear that we are failing to meet the targets that the Government set out in the climate action plan. A significant gap exists across all sectors in terms of planned cuts in emissions and those of transport, agriculture, energy, etc. That is bad enough, but the targets themselves are inadequate and are not in line with the science or with the scale of the crisis we face. We are not in a transition; we are in a war. We are not in a transition when we think that it is okay to build more data centres, to build LNG platforms, to licence the extraction of 300 million barrels of oil at Barryroe or to implement carbon taxes on ordinary people whose sole purpose seems to be to pay for retrofitting for the already wealthier sections of society or to subsidise the purchase of EVs.

Radical and far-reaching policies were what the IPCCC report said were needed in 2018. We are still awaiting those policies. In the meantime, in India and North Africa, we see more record-breaking temperatures where the limits of human endurance, the so-called wet-bulb temperature, is now exceeded with alarming regularity. These are temperatures and humidity where the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. This was seen in 2003 in the European heatwave that killed thousands of people and it is now a regular occurrence on the planet. What were once events that would occur within 100 or 1,000 years are now decade and sometimes yearly events.

We will not get the transition we need until we begin to challenge the economic systems and its priorities that are driving this crisis. That means challenging the very logic of capitalism and free markets. There is no middle ground in this war. Hoping that the market will deliver some magic new technology or that it will invest sufficiently in renewables is a child’s hope. It is time we grew up.

I want to raise a specific issue in the climate transition, which is the situation facing our taxi and other public service vehicle drivers. There are approximately 20,000 people whose livelihoods depend on cars. They understand and they are quite happy that the future will be electric for taxi drivers but they have a big problem. An electric vehicle costs a lot of money - between €60,000 and €80,000. The maximum grants available offer between €20,000 and €25,000. The same drivers have lost pretty much two years of income and opportunity to save because of Covid-19. For thousands of them, their vehicles will no longer be licensable at the end of this year. Some of them are not licensable already because they have gone over the ten-year limit. They do not have the money to buy a new EV and because of the ten-year rule on taxis, they are out of business. However, it is important to note that those cars will stay on the road, but just not as taxis.

The ten-year rule does not do anything for the climate. It does not do anything to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on the road. It simply puts taxi drivers out of a livelihood. They are asking for an extension of the ten-year rule because apart from anything else, and this is another critical point, there are no EVs for them to buy or very few that are suitable for taxis.

They are asking for an extension of the ten-year rule to give them the time to accumulate savings to purchase the EVs and to make the transition to an electric taxi fleet. Obviously, additional grants and support beyond what is currently available would also be helpful. There should also be time for the EVs to come on stream, because at the moment they are not there. That is a plea on behalf of the taxi drivers. It is very real and tangible. They deserve a just transition and that extension should be given.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, although I somewhat echo the comments of Deputy Bruton on the retrospective look being a little too far back. I hope we can amend that in future years.

I had the opportunity to attend a youth climate action debate in the Seanad Chamber. It was a feature of climate action committee’s outreach on the subject. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of it. It was a reminder of the anxiety, worry and urgency that young people feel about climate change.

Throughout the debate they highlighted not only their fears of being the generation to bear the burden of our impact on the climate but also the hope, ingenuity, and ambition of young people to tackle this issue and to deliver sustainable change within our society. It is a supreme task for every Member and we must deliver on it but to do so, we have to be willing to face the realities before us. The Government is delivering progress in a range of areas with respect to climate action. However, I believe that if we are to achieve our goals in the years ahead, we must remove some of the barriers that are still holding back our full potential.

Wind and solar energy offer huge potential on this island and to all our communities. We must ensure that our planning framework, our taxation system in respect of such projects and our capacity to have a fully modern electricity grid, matches our ambition. To that end, I look forward to the development of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, among other initiatives. This agency will speed up the process of delivering critical offshore wind energy, or rather, it will speed up the administrative process that will allow offshore wind energy to be developed. Solar power must not be forgotten in this debate either. There are unintended taxation consequences on families, particularly on farming families, that act as a barrier to the installation of wind farms, which I sincerely hope will be addressed in the budget.

I also eagerly await the development of the hydrogen sector in this country. Many of our European counterparts, as I am sure the Minister of State will be aware, have developed extensive plans for the use of hydrogen and the role it will play in their countries in the coming years. We are well behind them. We, too, must ensure that we are at the forefront of this emerging energy sector. It will allow us not only to store electricity in cases where battery technology is insufficient, but it will also make a considerable contribution in reducing emissions in sectors such as haulage and shipping.

As we have seen in recent months, the security of energy supply is essential. World events and, indeed, weather events have the ability to disrupt this most vital of services. The knock-on effects can impact on every home and every sector of the economy. In this context there needs to be an honest and open conversation about alternative energy sources, such as nuclear power in Ireland. The Celtic Interconnector, when it is operational, will link the electricity grids of Ireland and France, the latter of which derives approximately 78% of its electricity from nuclear power.

This means that some of the energy used in Irish homes will eventually be powered by nuclear energy.

This is a conversation we should have. I do not suggest we jump feet first into the delivery of nuclear energy, but we should have that conversation in preparation for a potential decision in the future. The subject of nuclear power has, at times in our history, been a controversial one. However, a great deal has changed in the intervening time in terms of technology and safety and, indeed, when it comes to views within the political sphere. It is a conversation worth having. By engaging now, albeit in an exploratory way, we can begin to develop the potential for this type of energy in Ireland. The need for such engagement is compounded by progress being made with nuclear fusion technology, notably under the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER, programme, to which Ireland is a significant contributor.

In addition to this conversation, we need concrete action on the use of biofuels and the role they can play in bridging the gap as we phase out fossil fuels. We need to consider how we can use anaerobic digestion, biomethane, pyrolysis and other technologies to provide a cleaner way of powering our society in a fossil fuel-free world. These technologies could form part of an overall rethink of how we approach the research and development sector in Ireland. We are a small country but, over the decades, we have attracted some of the largest and most ambitious companies in the world to our shores. This is in no small part a result of our skills, population demographics and education levels. We must consider the future of sectors such as environmental technology, green technology, energy technology and others. By supporting a thriving research and development sector in Ireland, we can develop the skills and expertise the world will not only need, but demand, for decades to come. Other countries are moving in this space and seeking to capture the markets that will be a global revenue driver as we look to the future. A redoubling of our efforts in this field could not only create jobs but grow our exports, bring new investment to Ireland and create a new level of wealth in our country.

It is important to highlight the transition that is taking place within our transport sector. Yesterday, there was a demonstration outside Leinster House of the new electric bus, 120 of which will be on our roads in the early part of next year. In the next five years, 800 such buses will be on the road. I am informed that some 20% of the vehicles will operate outside Dublin, which is to be welcomed. These changes are most welcome and, together with the electrification of DART and other train services, will begin to reduce emissions from this sector. The implementation of the BusConnects strategy must also be delivered without undue delay. The changes to bus network in Dublin can provide a positive impact on commuter experiences if they are fully implemented in a timely manner.

However, we still need to encourage passengers to use public transport. I urge the Minister, as I have done previously, and as I urged the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, last night, to push for the extension of reduced fares, both for young people and across the board, beyond the end of 2022. This will result in an even greater number of people leaving their cars at home. We have had this debate in the House previously and I must admit I was sceptical about the provision of free public transport within the EU. I certainly support greater levels of subvention for public transport if it means getting more people out of their cars. It really will make a positive contribution towards our target of a 51% reduction in transport emissions by 2030.

I appreciate the efforts being made to encourage greater use of private EVs, such as the planned deployment of fast charging points around the country. This will remove a barrier to consumers choice as we aim to phase out the sale of diesel and petrol engines. I particularly welcome the publication of an EV strategy by my local authority and three others, which are the first documents of their kind in the history of the State. Under the strategy, 1,650 charging points will be installed around Fingal and Dublin city and county. This will greatly benefit existing EV users and encourage prospective users, ultimately complementing the Government's aim of having 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030. This target is significant and will be hard to achieve. I hope the ambition is there to realise it. By working with local authorities, we can put our best foot forward in terms of the provision of public charging facilities.

With regard to removing barriers to people, particularly those in middle-income brackets, moving away from older internal combustion engine, ICE, vehicles, a radical rethink of VRT for new electric vehicles should be considered. I am not sure whether this has been suggested in the House. Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to taxi drivers being given a €25,000 grant towards the purchase of an EV. This is a very generous grant considering the price of most of the vehicles used as taxis is €50,000 to €60,000. Unfortunately, the entry price for EVs in Ireland is very high. It is artificially high and much higher than elsewhere in Europe. The Minister knows why that is. We have the authority to change it and we should do so.

With regard to enhancing our biodiversity, there is scope for cross-departmental co-operation on developing the skills necessary within the sector. This extends to land use expertise as well as restoration and design of biodiversity areas. I spoke to a person in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage yesterday who told me that only some local authorities have appointed biodiversity officers. Fingal County Council is one of the fortunate ones but there are is a significant number of local authorities around the country in which this role has not been filled. We need to develop the demand for that level of expertise, not just within our third level institutions but within the sector, if we are to bring the necessary expertise to these shores.

I stress the need for continued stakeholder engagement across the board. If we are to achieve a just transition, we must continue to engage with communities, civil society groups and industry stakeholders the length and breath of the country. If we are to have any success in meeting our targets, we must bring people with us. We need to respond to the demands of the communities that are discommoded by the removal of certain industries. There will be changes required in our daily lives, whether we live in rural or urban areas. However, there also will be opportunities for investment and growth for all communities throughout the country. By talking to people in local communities, we can build the broad social coalition that is needed to tackle the issues that face us and the generation after us.

I have been listening to this debate from the beginning in my office. The broad criticism of the Government for anything and everything serves very little purpose in the context of climate action. The only truly positive, meaningful and thought-provoking contribution from the Opposition benches this afternoon was from Deputy Bacik. Perhaps this is something the electorate needs to think about in the context of climate action and the policies this House and the Oireachtas committee of which I am a proud member have delivered. That committee has made a significant contribution to the overall debate. We have a monumental challenge ahead of us. Our children will not thank us for engaging in the pointless bickering that takes place in these Houses. They will only remember the consequences of our actions.

I am sharing time with Deputy Martin Browne. Last Monday night, I attended a meeting organised by the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, in the mart in Ballymote, County Sligo. Climate action was one of the issues discussed. Of course, farmers are very exercised by the increase in the cost of inputs, including diesel, and all of the issues that make up the bigger problem we are facing. However, a couple of farmers made the point that the farming community has no problem playing its role in delivering the transition we want to happen and that they know must happen. The real problem they have is that they do not see a commitment to providing them with alternatives. I take my colleague's point that we are not here to bicker. We are here to try to find solutions and we must all do so.

However, a farmer at the meeting made the point that it is six or seven years since he considered putting solar panels on his sheds and there still is no proper means of doing it. There are no grant facilities available and no means by which he can sell the electricity generated back to the grid. There is nothing in place. A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the OECD at which I spoke to parliamentarians from other countries in Europe. Speaking to some of them, I learned that there are solar panels on every house in countries in eastern Europe that we might consider to be very backward. The governments in all those countries are paying for that to be done and for the electricity to be put back into their grids until such time as the homeowners have paid for the installation, at which point they will generate a profit from it. This usually happens within seven to eight years. Why on earth can we not do that? Why can we not do the simple and easy things? We are here to find solutions and I believe there are solutions to be found.

Going back to the farmers, they have also made the point that they want to change the way they farm. Biodiversity has been mentioned. It is a big part of this endeavour and the farmers are the custodians of the land. Unfortunately, though, they are not being provided with the incentives to farm in that way and to move to a model of farming that is low intensity and has a high nature value. This is what we need to see happening. The transitions we want to see being put in place must be put in place by the Government. The Government must lead on this and it must provide the financial packages that will make it easy for people to sign up to this mode of farming. It has not been doing that up to now.

While reading through this annual transition statement, I went to the section on forestry because I have represented many foresters during my time in Leinster House. One of the first things I read was that "Forests will play an important role in meeting EU emissions reductions targets during the 2021 to 2030 period". The statement goes on to note, as we all know, "The Climate Action Plan 2021 sets an afforestation target of 8,000 hectares per year." Unfortunately, despite the expense that has gone into hiring new ecologists for the licensing system, we are still at a stage where the annual target I spoke of is being missed. This is due to years spent disregarding the sector and a licensing system that is dysfunctional. This is a key reason the annual transition statement notes that, "This target is ambitious when compared to recent afforestation rates and will be challenging to meet in the next decade."

The number of afforestation licences being issued is erratic. The largest number of licences issued in May was 18 in a week. At the end of the first week of June, it was a mere five. For the service to reach its target of issuing 1,040 afforestation licences in 2022, an average of 28 licences would need to be issued weekly. We are still falling far short in this regard. It is also noted in the annual transition statement that "key to the success of increasing afforestation rates is to build confidence among landowners of the benefits of forestry". How on earth is confidence in forestry going to be built when foresters are struggling to get the licences they need? What message does this give to potential foresters? We have an ash dieback scheme that foresters continue to tell us is not fit for purpose, but the Government remains wedded to it and the lengthy delays and bureaucratic nightmares that go along with it.

In future, we will see individual Ministers being answerable to their communities annually. I appreciate that when it comes to forestry Ministers have appeared before the relevant joint committee on several occasions, but they must act on what they hear to release the potential forestry has to meet our targets. Unfortunately, we are struggling with a series of setbacks, the legacy of which will remain with us for years. Regarding a comment made by a Deputy who has now left the Chamber, we are not here to bicker. We are an Opposition party and we tell the Government where we feel it is going wrong. We listen to the sector. It would be more in line for the Deputy concerned to listen to the sector as well instead of worrying about what is going on over on this side of the House. It is his job to listen.

I thank the Minister of State for his opening statement. I welcome the publication of the annual transition statement for 2020. It is 18 months late, but it is still a very useful piece of evidence and information. Given it is the last one, I also welcome the opportunity to contribute in this regard.

In my limited time, my comments will focus on the concept of energy security, or, more accurately, that of energy independence, which is a bit more of an ambitious goal and something we should aim for. We all recognise what is happening in Ukraine now. Putin's strategy is clear. He wants to wait for about four months and the arrival of winter in the northern hemisphere. He wants to squeeze the northern hemisphere as much as possible from an energy cost and energy supply point of view. Anything we can do between now and then will certainly improve our resilience and ensure the EU stays united to face down the aggression in Ukraine from Russia.

In the context of offshore wind energy, I welcome the recent developments in respect of MARA being established, the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 having been enacted last December and planning permission having been granted for the interconnector between Cork and Brittany. Those are all good things, but they are all just plans. People need to see action. As things stand, there are only seven wind turbines off our coasts. Most people are in favour of offshore wind generation. In phase 1 of the Arklow Bank development there are only seven wind turbines and those have been there for 20 years. There is potential for 4,000 wind turbines off the east and west coasts. Those would be tethered off the east coast and floating off the west coast. We have a great opportunity here not only to improve our own resilience but also to ensure that the EU is resilient from an energy security and energy independence perspective.

Other Deputies mentioned the importance of farming. This country is already feeding the world. We may as well power the world too while we are at it. If we think back to what our grandparents did, they electrified the land with the establishment of the national grid. It falls to our generation now to electrify the sea. We must increase our ambition and accelerate our implementation regarding offshore wind generation.

Turning to solar power, I welcome the recent development, in April, of the Minister going to Ashford in Wicklow to open the solar power farm there. It is a good development. Every residential housing estate in the country, however, has the potential to be its own solar farm. It is very much the case because there is a great deal of south-facing roof space on every housing estate and this would also be a great source of income for residents' committees to allow them to maintain and fund the upkeep of those estates. It is a good goal to aim for.

Moving to my questions, in theory, a rebate or a tariff paid will be paid to domestic solar panel users who have surplus energy and sell it back to the grid. I am aware of the tariff, but has an individual domestic supplier been paid yet in this regard? Has money changed hands? We also know that the tariffs were established approximately six months ago but there has been a massive explosion in energy costs, particularly concerning electricity, since then and in the past three months especially. Will there be a concurrent increase in the tariff that the energy companies will pay to domestic suppliers as a result? We cannot have a situation where the large suppliers are paying X amount per kilowatt hour, kWh, while domestic producers are getting a fraction of that price. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and there should be a similar kWh price for the supplier and the user.

Coming from Kildare, which is a commuter county, along with Laois and Offaly, I welcome the 20% reduction in the pricing of public transport in the past few months. This is a good thing. The Minister of State holds a portfolio not only at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, but also at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I would support any measure in the budget in October that would put further downward pressure on the cost of public transport.

In summary then, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I agree with many of the plans, but we need to see implementation. We have no time to lose. The sooner we do this, the better.

Our approach to climate action is wrong. It is being highlighted more clearly with each passing day. We cannot discuss climate action unless we look at it in the context of the cost-of-living crisis and the way in which our approach to climate action is exacerbating that crisis. I do not expect the Government to be able to provide solutions to all problems or to those problems over which it has no control. The imposition of carbon taxes, however, is one area in which the Government does have full control. On Monday, I read with dismay an Irish Independent article with the headline, "Taoiseach vows crackdown on 'reprehensible' energy crisis profiteering and warns Government is monitoring price trends". The hypocrisy of the statement is almost beyond belief. How dare any Government politician complain about the very small profit margins made by fuel retailers as long as the Government is responsible for adding approximately 50% to the retail price. The biggest culprit when it comes to fuel profiteering is the Government. The Government's profiteering is going to continue until at least 2030, at which point the carbon tax on fuel will have more than doubled from what it is today.

In the article I mentioned, the Taoiseach was quoted as having used the word "reprehensible" to describe the profiteering by retailers. When it comes to fuel prices, I think what is reprehensible is the practice of charging tax on tax. I have highlighted this aspect before. VAT is charged on excise duty and carbon tax and, therefore, not only is the Government taxing people into fuel poverty, but it is even charging them VAT for the pleasure of paying their excise duty. This is what is reprehensible in my opinion and, I am sure, in the opinion of hundreds of thousands of people who are being scammed by this every day. A few weeks ago, the Government became less greedy and reduced the excise duty by 15 cent a litre, at which time petrol could be bought at €1.80 per litre in some places. The price is now around €2.20 per litre in many places. This is an increase of 40 cent per litre in the pump price in a matter of weeks. Out of that increase of 40 cent, approximately 8 cent is in the form of extra VAT for this Government. Even ending the disgusting practice of charging tax on tax would be a start for the hard-pressed taxpayer.

The invasion of Ukraine and the decision to impose sanctions on Russian products has also been a contributing factor. In fairness to the Government, this is a factor outside its control. It should, though, bring into sharp focus the folly of curtailing or abandoning indigenous energy production and gas exploration

Through these short-sighted climate policies, we have come to rely far too much on supplies which are now proven to be on shaky ground.

I saw the delight of Deputy Higgins a few weeks ago about her successful campaign to change the name of the passport service to reflect the fact that it is not an express service. This Government, rather than addressing the key problem of the poor service, found it easier to change the name. Perhaps, in the spirit of naming things accurately, the Minister of State and others will consider joining me when I urge the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to remove all references to a just transition and instead use the more accurate term of unjust transition. We need to remember that in April 2022, the Government, which does not have a money tree and says it cannot do any more, collected an extra €35 million in tax compared with April 2021.

Having observed and listened to the debate, it is becoming very clear why meeting our targets is at risk. On the one hand, there is a group of people in this House and the Seanad which is saying that we should take our foot off the pedal and not do too much too fast, start drilling for oil and gas and do everything that has led us to the situation in which we are in. On the other hand, there is criticism and some have said we are not moving fast enough or doing enough and we need to move faster.

The reality is that the Government has done more than any previous Government or administration to tackle climate action. Of course, more can always be done but we are putting the right measures in place to allow us to finally tackle this crisis which will have an impact not just on future generations but on us. We will see the impacts unless we act now, and we have done that We have introduced the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act and climate targets. We introduced a target to reduce emissions by 51% by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

We have introduced a new climate action plan and retrofitting and microgeneration schemes. We have done far more than any other Government, yet we are hearing a tug-of-war between those who think we are doing too much and those who think we are doing too little. That has to stop. If we really want to make an impact, we all have to be on board on this journey.

The most recent action has been the RESS 2 auction. Communities own the movement towards a more carbon-neutral economy and are leading on projects to generate their own energy. A perfect example of that is in my home town of Clonakilty. A solar farm, owned, built and run by the community, will generate enough energy to essentially take Clonakilty off grid. In other words, the energy generated by the solar farm will meet Clonakilty's energy demands, in particular in the summer months. That is proper leadership. People should look to towns like Clonakilty for an example of how to tackle climate change.

Of course, the rate and pace of change have to increase and we have to accelerate our actions in order to reach the targets. The school solar panel scheme was mentioned. We need to increase public transport provision, in particular in rural areas where we need to give people viable alternatives to cars because they are not there at the moment. We all see in front of our eyes that electric vehicles are becoming more and more common on the roads, but they could become even more common if proper charging infrastructure was put in place. Local authorities need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, along this journey. We need to ensure electric chargers are installed, in particular in tourist and peripheral areas, because that is important for people who take journeys by electric car. That needs to happen quicker.

No sector can get off scot-free, and agriculture is willing to play its role. Like many other rural Deputies, my office has been inundated with calls from farmers who want to participate in the microgeneration scheme and install solar panels, but they are being sent mixed messages. If they installed solar panels under TAMS, they would not get the rate for generation put back into the grid. They can avail of the microgeneration scheme. We need to be clear what the right option is for the farming sector in terms of energy needs.

A vital way in which agriculture can be involved in the decarbonisation journey is anaerobic digestion. It is important, but we have no strategy. All we do is put obstacles, including paperwork, in the way. We have no strategy on anaerobic digestion. It is a way for the farming community to come together in a co-operative manner. Waste products, including slurry, waste feed stocks from piggeries and chicken houses or whatever, can generate energy, reduce emissions and carbon and generate renewable energy. We need to start putting that strategy in place.

We have done a lot as a Government. I ask all Members of the House to be on the same page. We only have one shot at this, but we have more to do.

Two weeks ago, the EPA presented its report on greenhouse gas predictions for the next two decades, the conclusions of which were no surprise to most of us. We have done a lot on climate, but there is still a significant challenge ahead. We have set up the legislative framework, are close to meeting our green targets across all sectors of the economy to reduce emissions and have an ambitious roadmap in place.

I agree with Deputy Bruton that we have a lot more to do. I also agree with his statement that the message that we can build a prosperous future by clinging to old practices and behaviours is false and we need to embrace the reality that we must fundamentally change how we do transport, agriculture, heating and electricity generation. It is one thing to have targets in place, but it is an entirely different matter to implement these targets in bringing about the systemic change that is necessary.

We cannot afford to get distracted and play politics. We need all of the Government, the Opposition, State agencies, local government and the public sector to realise their role in this transition, internalise the concept of sustainability in every walk of life and start delivering climate action every day. We also need the private sector, including businesses, communities and individuals, to play their part and step up to achieve the ambition.

While we face a significant challenge, we have made solid progress in many areas. Our national retrofit plan looks to be one of the best home energy upgrade schemes in Europe and will create thousands of jobs. Upgrading 500,000 homes over the next decade to B2 standard or higher will ensure that people are living in comfortable and healthy homes that they can afford to heat.

We are making immense strides in the renewable energy sector. We currently generate over 40% of our electricity from renewable sources. I studied renewable energy systems 20 years ago. Back then, it was deemed impossible to get to 20% renewable generation within this or any timeframe. The belief was that the grid could not do that. We not only got there but doubled the figure because of the policies the Green Party put in place when it was in government the last time.

We have great ambition for the offshore wind sector in the Maritime Area Planning Act, which was passed at the end of last year. It established for the first time a consenting process for offshore wind energy and the first grid scale solar farm was connected in Wicklow in response, as previous Deputies mentioned.

Yesterday, as Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned, the results of the renewable energy support scheme were announced which gives the green light to almost 2,000 MW of onshore wind and solar farms. We are removing the barriers and making way for climate action to take place. I agree with Deputy Cowen's remarks that we need to look at planning, but we need to be careful that when we reform the planning and development Acts we maintain the right of stakeholders to have a meaningful input into the planning process.

We have to be realistic. We are not on track to reduce emissions in Ireland at a level anywhere close to our fair share globally. We are at risk of not meeting the targets we set, namely, the 51% reduction by 2030, unless we manage to do everything that is in our current climate action plan and more.

Agriculture is a big emitter of greenhouse emissions and in Ireland we need to focus our efforts on supporting farmers to continue to grow healthy nutritious food to feed our people.

I am afraid we are not doing that just yet. We need a proper and nuanced conversation about food. Often the debate is reduced to herd numbers. I see plans from the agriculture industry to increase the number of dairy cattle and to decrease the number of suckler cows, leaving herd numbers slightly lower than they are now. The EPA notes that dairy cows produce more methane per annum than any other cattle, so such an overall decline in animal numbers will not lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Transport is another sector we really need to get more serious about. We need to reorient our thinking to a "if you build it, they will come" mentality. Just last week the consultation on the revised draft Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy ended. It is a great improvement on the original draft, which was almost unanimously rejected. The ambition of the new strategy, however, is nowhere close to where we need to be. It is acknowledged in the strategy that all the proposed elements in it will result in just a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We need to get to 50% or greater. We need a fundamental change in transport over the next decade. I have said it before and I need to keep saying it: we need an extremely ambitious plan for our public transport, rail in particular. I was working on a submission for the strategy last week. While it is much improved, it just is not enough to meet our targets. We can have a new train station in Raheen, Limerick, where there are already more than the Project Ireland 2040 employment projections in the industrial estate at 5,000. We will be at 8,000 within this decade. That necessitates a public transport plan. Similarly, as for the Waterford-Limerick train line, we see that a report recently showed that, despite improving services, there will be just a 0.3% increase in demand. Something is terribly wrong there. We need to induce public transport demand rather than waiting for it to come. Local authorities often cannot build cycle lanes and walking infrastructure because of opposition in favour of continued unfettered access for private cars. We have seen that in Galway and Dublin, where there are plenty of examples of it.

Moving from local politics to national politics, if I may echo Deputy Alan Farrell's and Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan's comments, we have seen political point scoring undermining climate action, from Bills that would ban wind turbines to motions calling for drilling for oil in Irish waters and maintaining industrial-scale turf cutting to agitation around critical enabling infrastructure and opposition to the polluter-pays principle in action. We see point scoring here today. We see the politicisation of climate action, with Members barking up the wrong tree for solutions. Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time. If we are to solve it, we need to change how we do politics and work together.

My position on the unjust transition has been very clear ever since the process was announced. The reason I maintain that it is an unjust transition is that it is absolutely reckless to initiate and to escalate a process in the absence of basic alternatives. People have no alternatives in respect of jobs in the midlands. There are very few job creation opportunities there. I welcome the apprenticeships, but that is only one area and is long overdue. We are dictated to by the Government while it misses its own afforestation targets. I will take no lectures from any Government Deputy who comes in here. We are entitled to call this out on behalf of our constituents and to ask questions. If the Government does like it, tough. There are serious problems in the midlands and Laois-Offaly. There are very legitimate concerns. We hear about the fabled €84 million but not its delivery. Will the Government escalate the delivery in the same way it escalated the process? Will it escalate the job creation in the same way it escalated a very unjust process which is imposed on people? It is one thing the Government missing its own targets, but it then expects everybody else to dance to its tune without asking questions. We will continue to ask questions of the Government.

I was deeply alarmed today by a reply I received from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of turbary rights. I had sought clarification from the Minister as to whether persons in possession of folio numbers for bog plots would have their turbary rights removed or infringed by the State, a private company or a semi-State company. I am alarmed by the tone and emphasis of the Minister's reply. It is just over two months since the Government almost tore itself apart on the very same issue. On a statutory basis, it has been absolutely clear since at least 1951 that turbary rights in respect of bogland mean the right to cut and to carry away turf from the bogland and include the right to prepare and to store on the bogland any turf cut therefrom. Now the Minister is unable or unwilling to provide basic assurances that all persons in possession of folio numbers for bog plots with associated turbary rights will have their rights protected. The Minister states in his reply to me that, as a general principle, it is a matter of settled law that private property rights are not absolute in nature and may be delimited in law. We need certainty and clarity on that. Rural people do not need this.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak about this. My understanding of the words "just transition" is different from the Government's. As Deputy Nolan said, there are no alternatives, or very few, and we are now being threatened in here day after day. It is as if the Government is trying to muzzle us. I guarantee the Minister of State that while we are elected here we will not be muzzled or held back by anyone. We have a right to represent the people and I have a right to represent the people of Kerry.

I have no problem with electric cars when they are economical and practical, provide durability and can travel the distance and when the Government provides enough charging points and faster charging points. I have no problem with the Government wanting to stop us cutting turf, but it must provide the alternatives. People need to be let use turf to warm their homes, as they always have done. Maybe, in time, transition will come. We will give the next generation a chance. Europe said the other day that no more new petrol or diesel cars can be bought after 2035. That is bully work, and that is what the Government is doing now. That is how the Government is depicted in rural Ireland: bullies trying to bully us all in a hurry. On top of the exorbitant cost of fuel at present, the Government is taking in more tax, including carbon tax, VAT and excise duty. The Government is so greedy and cannot understand that the people on the roads are being driven into the ground because they cannot afford the cost of fuel at present. The Government will not do anything for them. It will not listen. If we say anything, we are criticised.

Just transition is about giving people a choice and alternatives to move to options when the EU is looking to bring in zero emissions by 2050. The alternatives are not happening. Thirty per cent of Ireland's gas needs to come from the Corrib gas field, our own indigenous source, which will be depleted by the end of the decade. I fully support any plan to develop large-scale offshore wind generation projects. Such massive projects can offer Ireland real potential but they require proper planning and will take billions of euro to develop. Currently, it is as if nothing is happening. Scotland has steamed ahead but, again, there are no alternatives here. Meanwhile, we will have to look to Barryroe as a realistic alternative while we wait for another alternative. The Government should bring the people along with it to get buy-in. It should give them alternatives, not ultimatums. Why are we not looking at bioenergy and the conversion of biofuels, that is, the burning of biomass, including trees, crops, food waste and agricultural residue? Biodigesters should be installed in order that gas can be trapped and sold on the grid.

We have said it since the very start. I am all for a better, greener environment, but the Government has to provide alternatives. The Government's alternatives are all ten years and longer out for people to make a just transition. We have asked the Government for a just transition. It has given us no alternatives, just ultimatums. If the Government works with the people, they will work with the Government for a better future for all. However, the Government has to have the alternatives before giving the ultimatums. It has no alternatives.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to contribute on the annual transition statements. I welcome the recent publication of the annual transition statement for 2020. However, the fact that it has come 18 months too late is not acceptable, especially in view of the ever-worsening climate crisis.

Annual transition statements have been an essential source of evidence of the Government’s record on tackling climate change. They are very important in holding the Government to account for its climate action commitments. Without this information we cannot accurately determine how the country is performing on climate policies and it can be hard for us to determine properly how to improve our impact going forward.

Having followed the debate on the Rural Independent Group motion, it is clear that the publication of annual transition statements is more important than ever. I am very afraid that we will go backward rather than forward. We cannot even afford to stay put at this stage. We need to move forward much more quickly than this Government intends, unfortunately. The truth, as this report shows, is that we are failing to move forward on climate change. We are at a defining moment, with rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, shifting weather patterns and threats to food production. The impacts of climate change are truly unprecedented in scale.

This Government's policies do not reflect the emergency in which we find ourselves. The ideas coming from the Government are, unfortunately, old, tired and not nearly strong enough. We see every day the impact of what is happening with climate change in the warnings we are receiving.

When preparing to speak, I noted a report on Twitter on global sea level rises. Based on the current trajectory, the sea level will rise by between 2 ft and 6 ft by 2100. That is a very conservative estimate, by the looks of things, and means that by 2035, Bangkok, Manila, Mumbai and Amsterdam, to name but a few cities, will be under water. That is the reality. None of these cities is an island. Some Members of this House may say that is great because it has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with us. Whether we like it or not, Ireland is among the countries with the highest incomes in the world and we are contributing to this. We must try to prevent this from happening through some of the actions we take. Unfortunately, things do not look very promising.

I was inspired by the ideas put forward by the young people who debated climate action in the Seanad last week. They have shown such strong leadership and innovation on the climate discussion. Interestingly, they do not have a vote so we do not have to listen to them in this House. That is a problem and it just proves how important young voices are, especially when discussing climate change. They are the ones who will be most affected by it and, sadly, they are the ones who will be left to solve it.

If I may get a wee plug in, my Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Vote at 16) Bill 2021 will move to Second Stage in the House next Thursday. The Bill proposes to reduce the voting age in Ireland to 16. We need to ensure that young voices are included in discussions such as this one. Giving them a vote would be a great step forward. The only way to ensure young people's voices are heard to give them a vote because the only thing politicians respond to is voters. We are ignoring a large number of people who need this change to take place because they do not have voice. It is their future we are talking about.

An annual transition statement is supposed to be an overview of climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures adopted to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It is supposed to suggest how to adapt to the effects of climate change in order to enable the achievement of the national transition objective. How are we to have conversations about what and how to adapt without the inclusion of the people this will affect? We need to ensure that young people are included in these conversations and significantly increase our climate funding. We also need to ensure we do not let the publication of the annual transition statement slip again.

It is important in respect of a just transition that we have a genuine and real just transition. People who are being affected are being left behind by the inaction of the Government. We cannot let the Government away with that because public buy-in and acceptance of the measures are necessary because they will become more rather than less onerous. They will also have to be done more urgently, so we must keep the public on board. The job of the Government should be to do this and the only way this can be done is to ensure people are treated justly and are not left behind or to wallow. That is very important.

I will put a series of questions to the Minister of State on behalf of Friends of the Earth. I ask him to answer them in his response. Will the sectoral ceilings add up to more than the national carbon budget passed by the Dáil? Will they align with Ireland's 51% emissions reduction target for 2030? Will every sector of the economy do its fair share to reduce emissions or are other sectors being penalised because agriculture may be dragging its feet, if that is the case? Will the Government ensure that any contingency fund or unallocated emissions budget is only used for sectors that are doing everything possible to cut emissions? I would be grateful if the Minister of State would respond to those queries.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and all of the Members for their contributions to this debate. I will address some of the points raised, starting with Deputy O’Rourke who is the last survivor in the Chamber. The Deputy said he wanted to see this debate done on a non-party political basis and some other Deputies also raised that issue. The Deputy's contribution was very constructive and he made a number of suggestions to make matters better. He is correct that we need to go further. The next climate action plan, which will come later this year, will have an emphasis on implementation and acceleration.

Deputy Kerrane, in common with Deputy Clarke, raised a particular project, namely, a boardwalk in Lough Ree and noted that it could be very beneficial to the area. I am happy to engage with her on that issue. I would also be happy to discuss with any Senator or Deputy who may wish to raise with me a particular concern or perhaps a project he or she would like to advance.

Deputy Bacik specifically asked for an open line of communication with Opposition parties on climate action measures. I am specifically agreeing with that suggestion.

Shannon Airport is probably in Deputy Crowe's constituency. Two weeks ago, I was in Luxembourg discussing sustainable airline fuel which, believe it or not, is a real thing. It was a very contentious discussion but the transport ministers managed to agree an approved general approach on this and how we will move forward towards having clean fuel for airlines in future. I am happy that there is a route out of this, albeit in the medium rather than short term. Deputy Crowe also referred to the need for wind area guidelines, which are antiquated at this stage. I am happy to revert to him on that particular issue.

Deputy Bruton asked about how the accountability structures will work for climate in the future. The document we are discussing, the annual transition statement for 2020, is the last of the annual transition statements and dates back to earlier legislation from 2015, which required an annual statement. Under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, we now have annual climate action plans and the facility to have every Minister appear before the joint committee to discuss progress in his or her sector and be cross-examined by members. That is, I expect, the new accountability mechanism.

Deputy Clarke was very keen on biodiversity and how it can be advanced. There is a clear link between biodiversity and climate action and the Deputy referred to specific areas in her constituency that are affected by this. I reassure her that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is working with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on how to help local authorities to develop their climate action plans. These plans will emphasise biodiversity, just transition, sustainable enterprise and transport.

There is a biodiversity officer in my local authority as there is in Fingal and in other local authorities, although I do not know how many have them. Biodiversity and all aspects of the local environment are areas that local authorities very much focus on, something that can be seen in their various functions.

Deputy Whitmore mentioned the EPA report that indicated much more needed to be done and that it was likely we would not meet the 2030 targets based on the measures in place. We take the report very seriously but it did not assess the measures in the climate action plan on the basis they were not detailed enough. That is why the new climate action plan will be much more detailed this year.

Deputy Cowen is in a constituency in the midlands that is greatly affected by the loss of jobs in Bord na Móna and the ESB. I have to give him credit that two years ago he successfully negotiated compensation, I suppose, for just transition funds to be targeted towards the midlands and obtained EU funds to help with that. He said he did not feel the 5 GW of offshore wind power was ambitious enough and that the target could be more ambitious. The EU, in response to the Ukraine crisis, has also said it wants to increase the ambition for renewable energy by 2030. A number of countries have announced increased ambition levels which they are doing under a project called REPowerEU, which will allow for new means of financing, using green bonds to finance this kind of energy, and for new common rules to accelerate planning times across the EU. Deputy Cowen also mentioned planning as a particular problem that needs to be addressed. I see that Bord na Móna is saying planning is not a problem for its wind farms but the ease with which judicial reviews can be taken against it is, so the legal challenges are a separate problem from the planning challenges.

Deputies Boyd Barrett and Alan Farrell spoke about taxis. Taxis have a very significant effect on emissions and pollution. They drive for much longer periods than private cars and in densely populated areas so the pollution they create has a greater effect than a single vehicle in a rural area. That is why it is most important taxis are converted to be electric vehicles as soon as possible. The same goes for buses, which for many years have been pumping out diesel fumes into populated areas of our cities. Therefore there is a €20,000 to €25,000 grant for taxi drivers to convert to an electric vehicle. If Deputy Boyd Barrett or taxi drivers feel it is not working out, I am willing to discuss that with them.

Deputy Stanley said farmers could not sell their power back to the grid or get photovoltaic, PV, grants. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan also raised the difficultly of farmers getting solar power and he said he wanted more clarity. There are grants of 40% for farmers for PV under the targeted agriculture modernisation scheme, TAMS, and there is a VAT refund for PV for farmers. It is possible to sell power back to the grid and the first payments should come in July. That was something Deputy Berry asked about. If more clarity is needed, I will see if we can produce a document to explain it better and I can discuss it with Deputies Stanley and Berry.

Deputy Pringle mentioned the need for more young voices. Young people are those who are most affected by climate change. They have a larger stake in what happens in the future and they are not responsible for what happened. They did not take those decisions. Deputy Pringle is absolutely right. He pointed out that people should be able to vote at a younger age. I think people in Scotland voted at 16 years in the Brexit referendum, for example. It is something that should be looked at and we should find ways to bring in young people, even if they cannot vote in the short term, and listen to their opinions. There are people who have been protesting outside the Dáil for years. A group of young climate activists has been outside the Dáil every Friday - a non-sitting day - at noon for the past two or three years. We should bring them in and discuss it with them in whatever forum we can, not to convert them from being activists to being parliamentarians but to get their views, listen to them and treat them with respect. I absolutely take that point.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I think it was a useful exercise. It is historic because it is the last of its kind but we will have other means of accountability and debates on how climate action should proceed. I am looking forward to the climate action plan coming out this year and to the sectoral ceilings being agreed before the recess.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ag 4.36 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ag 5 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 4.36 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.
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