Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Discussion


I welcome members of the committee and viewers who are watching the proceedings of the meeting on Oireachtas TV today. This is the first public session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action.

Members, witnesses and people in the Public Gallery should please switch off their mobile phones or put them in flight mode as they interfere with the broadcast. On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, chairperson of the Citizens' Assembly, and Ms Gráinne Hynes, deputy secretary of the assembly. The Citizens' Assembly has completed its work and this is the second report of the assembly that has been referred to an Oireachtas committee. I know that members would want me to thank Ms Justice Laffoy and the secretariat of the Citizens' Assembly for the work they have done at the behest of the Houses of the Oireachtas on the five topics that were referred to it to consider.

I advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now call on Ms Justice Laffoy to make her opening statement.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I am grateful to the Chairman and members of the committee for their invitation to address them today as they embark on very important work. I also thank the clerk of the committee, Mr. Ted McEnery, for his assistance in making the necessary preparations for today's meeting. I am joined by the now former deputy secretary of the assembly, Gráinne Hynes.

In July 2016, the Citizens' Assembly was established and received its mandate from a resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas and, as in the case of the topic of the eighth amendment, it is appropriate that I appear before the committee to discuss the assembly's deliberations on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. In these introductory remarks I aim to provide the members of the committee with a clear account of the processes underpinning the work of the assembly, how we approached this topic, structured our work programme and formulated the recommendations contained in the report submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas on 18 April 2018 and which the committee has been tasked with considering to decide how they might be progressed. In appearing before the committee today I am anxious to provide it with any assistance it needs as it commences its role.

I was appointed chair of the Citizens' Assembly on 29 July 2016 and work began on the set-up of the assembly in August 2016. We did not waste any time. Following public tendering processes, suppliers were selected to provide the necessary services required to carry out the logistical arrangements for an exercise such as the assembly. The Oireachtas resolution stipulated that the membership of the assembly would be made up of a chairperson appointment by the Government and 99 citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society. The members were chosen at random to represent the views of the people of Ireland, and to be broadly representative of society as reflected in the census of 2011 and the quarterly national household survey population estimates. This is the standard methodology used for establishing a geographical spread in a national sample. This process yielded a varied cohort of citizens, young and old, who travelled from all corners of the country to attend each meeting. I am satisfied that the method used delivered a representative sample of modern Irish society, within the confines of what is possible with a sample size of 99 as stipulated by the Oireachtas resolution and that the members who participated in the deliberations on this topic were properly selected.

It was originally intended that climate change would be the final topic the Citizens' Assembly would consider, as it was listed last in the resolution approving the assembly's establishment. The members' interest in the topic was, however, clearly demonstrated when, during a private session at the January 2017 meeting, it was suggested and, in turn, agreed by a majority vote of the full membership, to bring forward its consideration and examine it as the assembly's third topic. We originally expected that consideration of this topic would be done over a single weekend. It quickly became apparent that this was not feasible if the members were to become sufficiently informed on the subject matter to make meaningful recommendations. Taking account of proposals from the members, the challenges faced in attempting to cover the topic adequately in one weekend and the advice of a newly appointed expert advisory group, it was agreed that two weekends would be required.

I suspect all committee members agree that it was implicit in the mandate the assembly received in the Oireachtas resolution that climate change is real, happening and must be tackled. The deliberations of the assembly, therefore, focused on how the State could best meet that challenge. In constructing the work programme on this topic over two weekends - the first in late September, early October 2017 and the second at the beginning of November 2017 - I regarded it as crucial that we consider how Ireland could be made a leader in this area and, as I said at that time, "put Ireland in the vanguard in relation to action on climate change". As with the other topics the assembly has already considered, this topic was incredibly broad, wide-ranging and affects us all in one way or another. It has previously been the subject of a number of Government policy documents, strategies and reviews.

Given the relatively recent establishment of the national dialogue on climate action by the Government and the publication of the national mitigation plan and then draft national adaptation framework by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, the timing of the Citizens' Assembly deliberations on this topic was particularly opportune. In fact, as an example of public service collaboration, it was possible for the assembly to dovetail with the work simultaneously being carried out by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the form of providing feedback on how the national dialogue on climate action can best engage with a wider reach of citizens on this very important topic.

During the final weekend on the previous topic - how best to respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population - in July 2017, the members of the Citizens' Assembly were asked what they wanted to see included on the work programme for the assembly's discussions on climate change. As such, the views of the members were an important part of the work programme development. I was assisted in devising a comprehensive and coherent work programme by the secretariat and the expert advisory group which was established pursuant to the Oireachtas resolution, the membership of which is set out in paragraph 180 of the report, which I am sure members have. The expert advisory group had an integral role in advising me on the formation of a work programme and the selection of potential speakers and I am very grateful for the invaluable assistance I and the secretariat received from it.

A key part of our work also concerned submissions from the public and we received just over 1,200 such submissions on this topic, of which 1,185 were published. The agenda and work programme was, to a large extent, informed by the submissions received. The secretariat also produced a signpost document which identified, in order of frequency, the key issues, topics and themes presented in the submissions.

Taking account of the consultations with the members, the issues which arose through the submissions process and discussions and advice from the expert advisory group, it was agreed that the focus of the first weekend on this topic would be climate science, the impact of climate change and energy policy. On the second weekend it was agreed that the focus would be on the areas of transport and agriculture policy. These were the areas that came through most frequently in the submissions received.

On the first weekend, at the end of September, the assembly heard presentations on the science of climate change, current efforts being made nationally and internationally to tackle climate change, the impact of climate change and the status of climate change in Ireland. Members also heard about the national mitigation plan and the national dialogue on climate action. This was followed with an examination of the energy sector, specifically heat and power. Members heard what Ireland would look like as a leader in climate change in these areas and also listened to first-hand examples of leadership in communities and workplaces in Ireland.

On the second weekend, in November, the members focused their attention on the transport and agriculture sectors and examined climate change under current policy for each. This was followed in both cases by an examination of what policy might look like if Ireland was a leader in tackling climate change. The members also heard international perspectives on the issue, including on the Danish and Scottish experiences. On Saturday, 4 November, the members heard first-hand examples of leadership in agriculture, food and land use, which was then followed by a panel discussion and a questions and answers session. Particularly throughout this second weekend, guidance was given on how to surmount what is within our control on both a national and individual level and could make Ireland a global exemplar. This material really resonated with the members and focused their minds on feasible ways of addressing this issue that would be likely to have the support of the public and, in turn, would allow us to not only meet our existing international and European obligations but also make Ireland a leader for other nations in doing so.

As with previous topics, in considering the topic of climate change, the members of the assembly once again had the benefit of an array of expertise and perspectives. They heard from a total of 15 experts and six individuals who shared their personal experience and the assembly conducted 26 hours of listening, discussion and deliberation. All of the public proceedings were live-streamed and the recordings are available to view back on the assembly’s YouTube channel. Also, all of the papers and presentations made to members were uploaded on the website as they were delivered.

I take this opportunity to recognise the impact the speakers made on our consideration of the topic. The speakers were chosen because of their expertise in their respective fields. Many travelled to join us and I am most grateful to them for making the effort to be with us and assist with our deliberations. The quality and high standard of the material placed before the assembly are self-evident. All of that material is available in appendix F of the report, a fairly heavy document, and on the assembly website. Without the speakers imparting this scientific and often complicated information in a manner which was accessible and easily understood, the members would not have been in a position to make meaningful contributions to the ballot paper and, in turn, produce such insightful recommendations as they did.

I will give a broad outline of the ballot paper. The Citizens’ Assembly was an exercise in deliberative democracy whereby the reach of the members’ involvement encompassed not only the development of the work programme but also the construction of a ballot paper and the formulation of the recommendations. I was at all times very conscious of the members’ role and we took the necessary steps to ensure the ballot paper development and design were very much member-led. The manner in which recommendations should be made was provided in the resolution approving establishment of the assembly, which stated that all matters before the assembly would be determined by a majority of the members present and voting, other than the chairperson, who would have a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes. I was not called on to make such a casting vote, as is obvious from the appendix to this presentation. The activity on the Sunday of the second weekend, 5 November 2017, comprised the important steps that would eventually lead to the recommendations of the assembly. These were agreeing the issues to be included in a ballot; agreeing on the precise wording; and voting.

As the committee will have seen in the report, independent oversight of the voting process took place by the retired returning officer for County Dublin, Mr. John Fitzpatrick, and his team. At the end of the weekend of our first meeting on the topic, members were invited to make comments and suggestions on what they might like to see on a draft ballot paper. All this information was collated by the secretariat and preparation of a draft ballot paper was led by me, as chair, along with the secretariat and expert advisory group. The members took ownership of the ballot and the preliminary draft was first presented to the steering group on 19 October 2017. This led to a revision and a second preliminary ballot was presented to them on 26 October. It was then presented to the full membership of the assembly in advance of the November meeting and again feedback was obtained from members and at the round-table discussions at the November meeting. Following the assembly meeting on Saturday, 4 November, a revised ballot paper was prepared and there was further discussion and refinement of the ballot paper on Sunday, 5 November, before a final ballot paper was prepared and agreed. Much work went into the structure of the ballot paper and the precise terminology included in it.

I will deal in general with the voted recommendations. The final ballot paper had four sections. Section A concerned putting climate change consideration at the centre of policy-making, taking in questions Nos. 1 to 4. Section B concerned energy policy, taking in questions Nos. 5 to 7. Section C concerned transport policy, taking in questions Nos. 8 to 10. Section D concerned agriculture and land use policy, taking in questions Nos. 11 to 13. As the committee will see from the report, the assembly made 13 recommendations, all by majority vote. In particular, it is worth noting the level of support for each of the recommendations from the members, with the vast majority having unanimous or near-unanimous support.

In the interest of time and brevity, I do not propose to restate each of the 13 recommendations, as the committee has been tasked with dealing with the recommendations set out in the report. For the record of the committee and for the ease of the members of the committee and the media covering these proceedings, I have provided the list of recommendations to the end of my address.

Having spoken about voted recommendations, I will briefly mention ancillary recommendations made by members. It is worth drawing the attention of the committee to the ancillary recommendations of the assembly. As was the case with the eighth amendment, the members indicated that they wished to express other views and recommendations on the topic beyond what they were able to explicitly express on the ballot paper. These four ancillary recommendations, although not voted on, represent the greatest consensus after the members completed a written reflective exercise.

Again, I have set out these ancillary recommendations in appendix 1. In summary, they emphasise the following: providing a positive information campaign to the public on the benefits of acting on climate change, rather than the negatives of failing to act; taking steps to reduce the levels of packaging, particularly plastic packaging, including a deposit scheme on plastic bottles; acknowledgement that the agriculture sector will require ongoing support to transition to lower greenhouse gas emissions; and ensuring that all new buildings have a carbon footprint of zero or a low carbon footprint. I am very conscious of the importance of transparency in a system like the Citizens' Assembly. In appendix B we have provided the full verbatim text of these comments from the members. They are worth examining because they followed the reflective exercise.

The assembly’s recommendations on this and the other four topics it considered were built upon the robust process applied to consideration of the topic. As I stated, it was implicit in the mandate in the Oireachtas resolution that climate change was real, happening and must be tackled. As with other topics considered by the assembly, some of the recommendations and results on this topic caused surprise in some sections of society. All I can say on the matter is that each member of the assembly had engaged in a thorough and rational thought process before stepping up to the ballot box. In addition, the members were aware at all times that innovation and progress in one area can have consequences in other areas, such as competitiveness. In making their recommendations, the members were cognisant of the need for a balance to be struck between these competing interests.

The voted recommendations are underpinned by expert evidence, evidence of personal experiences and deliberations over more than 26 hours of active participation by the members, each of whom had also engaged in countless hours of preparatory work, reading papers and submissions, not to the mention the weeks of work preparing for the assembly deliberations. All of that contributed to the reason we are here today. It is important to note that point.

As I said in the report, I very much hope that the work done and recommendations made by the Citizens’ Assembly can continue to contribute to the wider public engagement and national discourse on the issue. Our citizen members have shown that they can produce clear recommendations when given the opportunity to reflect on and consider an issue that requires societal change. It is now a matter for the committee to consider the merits of each of the 17 recommendations, 13 voted and four ancillary, and how they can be implemented and form part of the policy response on climate action. I note that as part of the committee’s terms of reference, it will specifically consider how the assembly’s recommendations might inform further implementation of the national mitigation plan and the development of Ireland’s draft integrated national energy and climate plan. I have no doubt that in some ways the assembly’s role of formulating recommendations was less difficult than the one that awaits the committee, as the real challenge in respect of climate change has always been implementation - I stress that point - in the pursuit of achieving real and tangible results.

I encourage each member of the committee, the wider Oireachtas membership and members of the public with an interest in this topic to review the footage of the two weekends we spent on this topic, which is available on the assembly’s YouTube channel. This shows the diligence of our members, the engagement they had on this topic, the probing questions they asked of experts and the deliberative way they came to their conclusions. I take this opportunity to thank them for their work. The commitment they gave to this matter and the other topics considered by the assembly is not always understood or sufficiently acknowledged.

I wish the committee well with the work ahead. Insofar as is practical, given that the Citizens’ Assembly has now been wound down, both I and the former secretariat will endeavour to be of any assistance required as the committee continues its work. I will be pleased to engage with the committee on any questions members may have.


I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for all her work and for that comprehensive synopsis of how the recommendations were arrived at. We will follow the speaking order as best we can. I will start with three questions of my own. On the establishment of the oversight body, the Citizens' Assembly recommended that this body should have the power to pursue the State, that is, for one arm of the State to be able to sue another arm. This would have cost implications. As we know, the European Union has powers to fine Ireland if we do not reach our emissions targets. The recommendation envisages an arm of the State suing the State and the imposition of fines by the EU. I ask Ms Justice Laffoy to address that issue first.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The Chairman is referring to one of the examples given in recommendation 1. We think there should be an oversight body and it should have a statutory function. We have suggested that its powers and functions might include the power to pursue the State in legal proceedings to ensure that it lives up to its legal obligations relating to climate change. I envisage - this is the lawyer in me more than the citizen - proceedings that would seek an injunction from the court mandating the State to fulfil its function. I do not see this action as the oversight body suing for damages. I see it as the State being pursued for injunctive relief.


As such, it is more a threat than a follow-through.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

Such an injunction would be an order for the State to get on and do the job that it is supposed to do. The body would ask the court to tell the State or relevant Department to get on and do the job. I appreciate that members of the committee may have a view on that, but I do not see this action as a process that would lead to the State paying damages to someone.


Sanctions imposed by the EU and an arm of the State would have cost implications.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy



The second question concerns the acceptance of the polluter pays principle. In Ireland, as we know, the sectors that would be hardest hit are transport and agriculture. Was there any discussion of the impact this would have on those sectors?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

Not so much in relation to transport. We did consider this in the context of agriculture, and I am conscious that concerns were expressed around recommendations 11 and 13 on agriculture. In fairness to the members of the assembly, if one looks at the wording of recommendation 11 in particular, one sees that it recommends a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. However, it then recommends that there should be rewards for farmers for land management that sequesters carbon.

Again adopting a balanced approach, it stipulates that any resulting revenue would be reinvested to support climate-friendly agricultural practices. The objective is to have a system that would provide for a just transition to what it is hoped will be an emissions-diminished or emissions-free form of agriculture while also protecting farmers. I highly recommend that members read some of the papers submitted to the Citizens' Assembly, which I looked back at while preparing for today and which are very interesting. In particular, that recommendation is largely based on a paper by Alan Matthews which emphasises that there should be a just transition and farmers should be protected.


Is there any area which Ms Justice Laffoy or the expert panel felt could have been dealt with more comprehensively had the Citizens' Assembly had more time and which could now be considered by the committee?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I will be somewhat long-winded in my response as I have given some thought to that issue. I hope the Chairman does not mind if I make some general observations. These are matters that came to mind while I was preparing for this meeting. I am conscious that the task of the committee as set out in the Dáil resolution of last July, at which I have looked, is different from and more difficult than the task performed by the Citizens' Assembly. A second point of which I am conscious is that things have changed somewhat since the assembly's two meetings and deliberations ten and 11 months ago. It is important that the committee take on board the national adaptation framework, which was published in January 2018, some time after the meetings of the Citizens' Assembly on this issue had taken place. A draft version of the framework was in existence in October and November of last year. Of course, the national development plan, which features in the resolution, was published after the assembly made its recommendations. The resolution outlining the role of the committee asks it to assess the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and the current situation against the background of the draft integrated national energy and climate plan and with reference to the national development plan and the national adaptation framework. Those plans did not form part of the consideration of the issue by the Citizens' Assembly as they did not exist at that time. I was a little puzzled about the national energy and climate plan because it must be considered in the context of an EU regulation which is also referred to in the resolution. The secretariat asked the Department for an update on the situation and we got a very useful note from the Department which indicates that the State must submit the first draft of that plan to the European Commission by 31 December 2018. I mention these matters merely to emphasise that the committee has a specific obligation to look at certain matters that the Citizen's Assembly was not asked to examine and which did not exist during our deliberations.

On the recommendations, I have already outlined the position in regard to agriculture and the concerns referred to in the Chairman's question. I urge members to read the very useful final paper delivered to the members of the Citizens' Assembly before they voted, which was a presentation by Professor John FitzGerald, who, as members know, is chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council. His conclusions are summarised at page 87 of the report, to which I draw the attention of members. The recommendations of the members of the Citizens' Assembly in regard to agriculture clearly reflect what was stated by Professor FitzGerald. In general, our approach reflected what members heard and, in particular, what Professor Fitzgerald stated at the very end of his presentation. His paper is included in appendix F to the report at page F484 and is worth reading. It states that in order to move to becoming a leader it is the view of the advisory council that:

Ireland needs to take urgent action to move the country back onto a sustainable path, so that it will at least meet its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. To do this action is needed across all sectors of society and the economy.

He outlines that there needs to be leadership from the Government and citizens. I emphasise that he sees such leadership as leadership by us all. Specifically on agriculture, he states that there needs to be a focus on "how land use change could help reduce net greenhouse gas emissions and implementing policies to reduce the carbon footprint of the agricultural sector". I may be beginning to bore the committee but I point out that the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly reflect the information it was given by the experts.

I will briefly mention three other matters. I ask members to look at ancillary recommendation 2 in regard to plastic packaging. It is one of the issues on which the Citizens' Assembly could have spent more time if such had been available as it is of great importance.

The following is my personal view, with which members might not agree. In the consideration of the eighth amendment by the Citizens' Assembly, an entire Saturday was assigned to hearing from advocacy groups, which was very helpful. However, we did not have time to hear from advocacy groups on climate change. I note that it was indicated during the first meeting of the committee that it will hear from the environmental pillar. It is my view that there may be some benefit from hearing advocacy groups on both sides of any particular argument.

I ask the committee to take on board is what we say in the ancillary recommendation 1, which relates to the manner in which the public is kept informed about the necessity to tackle climate change. In this context - I will not read the recommendation which is AR1, as the members can do so themselves - it would be useful to refer the committee to the focus in Mr. Joseph Curtin's paper on societal acceptance. We have to have a framework in which society as a whole accepts what needs to be done to deal with climate change. That paper is contained in appendix F, at page F74, and we have summarised what he said in the report at page 65. It is wise to have regard to the members' suggestions as to how we could get societal acceptance for the changes. I hope that I have not taken up too much time.


That was very good and I thank Ms Justice Laffoy. I will now start going through the rota and if members do not wish to speak at this time, that is not a problem. I will just follow the names as they appear here. I call Deputy Dooley.

I wish to thank Ms Justice Laffoy, the secretariat to the Citizens' Assembly and indeed the members of the assembly itself for the very important work that they have done. Ms Justice Laffoy is here to represent them today and I want to offer our thanks to them through her.

As always, Ms Justice Laffoy has given a very comprehensive presentation so there is a limited number of questions left to ask, based on the clarity that she has provided us with. Ms Justice Laffoy raised a point, if not a challenge for us, in terms of leadership of citizen and Government and the political process generally if we are to address climate change. The commentary around that would be that Ms Justice Laffoy was able to spend 26 hours with 99 citizens and was able to infuse in them a clearer understanding of the challenges that we face as a society. It is very clear from the work that she has done and where the information is provided in a calm, collected and a balanced way that people get the message. Unfortunately we do not have the capacity to take the general population, 99 citizens at a time, and spend 26 hours with them. That is why the work of this committee is really important.

I am sure Ms Justice Laffoy would agree that there is a burden of responsibility on organs of the media to reflect the discussion here and attempt, insofar as they can, to inform the citizens in a calm and collected way, and in a manner that will help to inform and educate. That is a challenge. I would like to hear of any ideas Ms Justice Laffoy might have in that regard because that would be helpful to us. The reality is that if we are to get the political process, or get decision-making at Government level, we have to see it in a manner other than that of the short-term electoral cycles. Decisions will be taken by this Government that will impact not just on society but right the way through on future Governments and decisions taken now will have to be followed through. To get that kind of buy-in from those who have to seek election, there is a necessity for the citizens to be informed and be prepared to accept the decisions, whether it is increased taxation, it is impact on agriculture or it is a significant burden of taxation to address the investment in public transport. All of these measures will take really big political decisions. It is important that in attempting to get the political process to make the decisions, the citizens are well enough informed to accept these changes, and to continue to support the politicians who believe that these measures have to be implemented. That is the real challenge.

I would welcome any ideas or thoughts which Ms Justice Laffoy might have in taking the debate wider than just the 99 that could be helpful in informing the public at large. The public understands that climate change is a real issue. They do so in the different sectors as well. Take for example the agricultural sector which was affected dramatically this year by the intensity of the summer period and the heat, and the impact that has had on planning for fodder and the potential of a future fodder crisis. I refer to the impact of the weather last year and the heavy rains and the extent to which that made some farming practices unviable because of the shortage of fodder. The flooding crisis, the snow that we had earlier this year and the extreme storms are all pointers to very significant climate change.

People may talk about it, understand it and recognise what is happening but it may not impact on their particular way of life. Somebody may see a fodder crisis but it may not have an impact on his or her life. People may continue to do what they have always done in terms of burning diesel in their car, or having a home that is poorly insulated and using energy unnecessarily. They may not want to make the connection as to the tough decisions that will be taken by Government that will impact on their lifestyle and force them to change their habits, but for the benefit of all.

The next phase that I see is trying to engage with the citizens to build the understanding that regardless of how one lives one's life, one will have to change significantly for the greater good of all. The issue will be to communicate that.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I absolutely agree. On day one when we started on the topic of climate change, it was something that I knew absolutely nothing about. At our first meeting with the expert advisory group I sat there and I listened. I copped on, if I may put it that way, to the difference between adaptation and mitigation and all of that. I needed, however, a lot of information to get to that point. The Department has done a good thing in establishing the National Dialogue on Climate Change. I am sure the committee has heard of this. In the context of preparing for this meeting, I asked for an update in respect of this. It has been set up for two years and there has been one pilot meeting already in Athlone. I fully agree with Deputy Dooley in that the most crucial thing is to engage the public in the topic. I do not know how the committee can do this except through the coverage in the media. The committee has time limitations as well but an organisation like the National Dialogue on Climate Change has to get out there and tell the people what it is all about. There has been some good media coverage of the issue but it is about getting out there and talking to the people.

Would Ms Justice Laffoy also accept that there is an onus on all of us to demystify the language and to try to move from the academic to the practical? She rightly identified the advocacy groups and I believe that all of them are exceptionally well-meaning and have that capacity in their own way to break down the science and the academia of this topic. There is so much evolving and developing around the science of climate change that those who have a real interest in it often focus on the academic and scientific aspects and the macro effect. Unfortunately, from my vantage point, that is where citizens tend to glaze over and believe that it is for somebody else to worry about, and that when the time comes, they will be forced into it or will address it. There is enough of a body of evidence now, in real practical terms, to enable us to hammer it at every available opportunity. It is hard to say that each aspect of our weather pattern over the past year has been due to climatic change.

We can see the impact extreme weather patterns have on lifestyles, livelihoods and the economy. If we can highlight that in our work in addition to and supporting the decisions we have to take in order to try to ensure they are not features of every annual weather cycle, we would certainly have achieved something.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I agree with everything the Deputy said. However, we need to get the picture across to the people in a meaningful way.


We are trying to keep to ten minutes per speaker. I call Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy and the Citizens' Assembly for the fantastic work they have done in all the topics before it, not just this one. I am very interested in what Ms Justice Laffoy said about the ancillary recommendations and the extra work at which she thinks we could look. I know the committee will discuss that.

The key issue relates to communicating that the climate is changing. Many people recognise that something unusual is happening. We talk about flood events and all the rest of it. I live in a very rural area. People in rural areas notice things happening that they never saw previously, such as daffodils coming up in November or snowdrops appearing before Christmas. People are tuning into all these changes, what is happening to wildlife, etc. We are pushing at an open door in the context of getting information to people because I am of the view that they will be receptive to what we have to say.

It will be very challenging for us to impress on organisations, such as the State broadcaster, RTÉ, which has a grave responsibility in this area, the importance of ensuring that information is disseminated accurately. Topics such as proposed development for the generation of renewable energy need to be properly analysed and reported on rather than simply being the subject of the type of sensationalism that we have seen in programmes that purport to be reflective of whatever they are trying to do. I do not know what those involved are trying to do much the time, but accuracy does not seem to form a big part of it. That is one area we need to look at and I know we will make strong recommendations in that regard.

Does Ms Justice Laffoy believe Met Éireann has a role to play? Every day, people listen to and watch Met Éireann forecasts on radio and television. The organisation has a role to play. A representative from Met Éireann made a presentation. Rather than being a tiny line on its website, Met Éireann should include in its weather forecast broadcasts some references to climate change, such as how much energy has been generated through renewable energy on that day. That is really important and I believe the public will be receptive.

There is a recommendation on the planting of forests. The emphasis will always be on farmers to use their land to plant trees - most likely broadleaf trees. Would it be better to consider encouraging bodies such as Bord na Móna and Coillte to plant the massive tracts of land they have with broadleaf trees in order that they might become parks that we could all enjoy? Bord na Móna is doing a considerable amount of work in Lough Boora in my electoral area in Offaly and in other places. It is moving away from the harvesting of peat and we could consider planting forestry on those lands. In areas that Coillte has harvested, it could consider planting broadleaf trees.

I am interested in a deposit-and-return scheme for plastic bottles. I am old enough to remember the deposit-and-return scheme on glass bottles and benefited enormously from it when I was a child by collecting glass bottles from neighbours and elderly people. There is certainly scope for such a scheme and I have no doubt that the committee will consider the matter.

Returning to agriculture and greenhouse gases, it is quite unfair that, on the one hand, we want farmers to produce food and that, on the other, we are going to penalise them in respect of the by-products relating to what they produce. Did the assembly give consideration to the sequestration of methane? I was glad to see the recommendation on supports for farmers in the context of carbon sequestration. Could methane also be included under the emissions-trading scheme? The assembly might have considered that.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

We are getting very specific in talking about methane and the ETS. I would be inclined to leave that to the committee's experts. I might put my foot in it; let me put it that way.

As it is not covered in the report, I was wondering if consideration had been given to it.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

There would have been some very minor consideration of it, but I think it should be looked at.

Obviously, the committee should really look at plastic bottles. It comes to mind particularly this week given all we heard after Electric Picnic. Waste is a big issue and I am sorry we did not have more time to deal with those matters.

On the forests, I refer the Deputy to the report's summary of the evidence we got from Tony Garahy of Lough Boora Farm. I do not know if she had an opportunity to see that but I encourage her to read it. I agree with what she said. Bord na Móna and particularly Coillte are State bodies with remits in these areas and obviously that should be looked at.

The Deputy asked whether Met Éireann should have a role. I think it is a statutory body with specific statutory functions and the committee would have to look at that. Met Éireann gave the assembly a very interesting and useful presentation on what is happening now. In deciding whether Met Éireann could have a role in warning people about climate change, as the Deputy is suggesting, the committee would need to consider the statutory functions of Met Éireann. I am inclined to the view - I could be totally wrong - that it probably would not come in its remit, but it is definitely worth examining.

The media should be encouraged to deal in a fair and balanced manner with the issue of climate change. More importantly, bodies such as the EPA should be doing that. I am sure some members may have noticed that last week The Irish Times provided a supplement on climate change published by the EPA. In the final analysis, the State and the organs of the State need to provide the proper information to the citizens. I agree with the Deputy that the media should cover the matter in a balanced manner.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for her work in chairing the Citizens' Assembly. I also thank all the participants in the Citizens' Assembly who have done an enormous service on this issue and other issues. I have four or five different questions depending on time. I might pose a question, take the answer and move on to the next question if that is acceptable.

When one reads the report, it strikes one that there are very decisive majorities in favour of a range of radical actions or policy changes on the issue of climate change. Some 100% of members recommended that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change through mitigation measures. Some 97% of members recommended that climate change should be at the centre of policy-making in Ireland and that there should be an independent body. Some 92% of members were in favour of the expansion of public transport rather than the road network. There were similar majorities in favour of a range of other recommendations. In Ms Justice Laffoy's opinion, what is the reason for that? What was the most compelling evidence or testimony heard by the Citizens' Assembly that caused it to adopt such radical positions with such near-unanimity?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I am speaking as a citizen when I say that I think the members of the assembly were informed and got the information. I do not doubt that their decisions were based on the information they received. When we were dealing with these topics, we provided very good information to the members. We gave them opportunities to deliberate and to ask questions. I think their decisions were informed and based on proper deliberation and discussion - I would put it as simply as that. I think the information they got was the important thing.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for that useful clarification. My second question may be in contrast to some of what has been said before. My conclusion from this is not that it is up to politicians to educate the public, it is, rather, that people who are informed are very far ahead of the politicians. That was the case when the people voted on the eighth amendment. There is a very big contrast between these recommendations and the actions of numerous Governments involving all the major political parties. The recommendations stand in stark contrast to the reality of Irish policy on the environment. Was that a feature of the discussion? The Citizens' Assembly has said that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change. The reality is that Ireland is a laggard, even in EU terms, in addressing climate change. The Climate Action Network has found that Ireland is the second worst EU member state in this category. Was that discussed when this radical action - that climate action should be put at the centre of public policy - was recommended? The reality is that the actions of the political establishment point in the opposite direction. Was there a discussion about the possibility of EU fines for missing the emissions targets? Were things like that a feature of the discussion?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The reality is that the citizens were told that we are a laggard. There is no doubt about it. I think that expression was used by some of the experts. Over and above that, they were given information which made it clear to them that we have to do something. We have to cease to be a laggard. I genuinely believe the information that was given to them was the crucial thing.

I would like to ask a particular question about the wording of the question on community or public ownership of future renewable energy projects. According to the report:

A number of suggestions were received from Members ... expressing a view that all future renewable energy projects should be publicly State owned, in light of concerns about Ireland's energy security into the future and a desire to retain ownership ... The Chairperson explained that this could involve complex areas of European Union law including issues such as state aid rules [and therefore] it was deemed inappropriate that the Assembly should vote on this.

A slightly broader formulation, referring to "the greatest possible levels of community ownership", was recommended instead. Why did Ms Justice Laffoy feel that the wording of the question that was being suggested should be changed in light of EU rules? Is not the case that many of the recommendations in this report would involve changes in domestic law?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy


Surely it was up to the Citizens' Assembly to make recommendations. If that means certain laws need to be changed, so be it. If a majority of the members of the assembly felt that there should be public ownership of all future renewable energy projects, they should have had a chance to vote for that.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

To what page of the report is the Deputy referring?

I am referring to paragraph 79 on page 30.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The paragraph in question records that I explained that State or community ownership would involve complex areas of European law. I alluded particularly to the state aid rules. I am quite sure that the transcript of that session is included in appendix F, if the Deputy is interested in it. We cannot change EU law.

Sure. The Citizens' Assembly is set up to provide recommendations on what needs to happen.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy


Surely we should have allowed the assembly to make whatever recommendations it wanted to make. EU law can be changed.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy


Obviously, the Citizens' Assembly cannot change it, just as it cannot change the law in Ireland.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy


Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The actual recommendation is that the State "should act to ensure the greatest possible levels of community ownership in all future renewable energy projects by encouraging communities to develop their own projects and by requiring that developer-led projects make share offers to communities to encourage greater local involvement and ownership". It is below the level at which the Deputy would like to see it.

Is it is possible that it is below the level at which the members of the assembly wanted to see it? That is the important question.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

It was raised as a question and it was discussed. I suggest that the Deputy should have a look at the transcript. I dare to say that the approach we adopted was probably the most sensible one. The EU law implications were worrying me. I might not have been right on particular state aid rules and matters like that.

Did EU law affect the wording of any of the other questions in this session or any other session?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I cannot think of anything in particular.

Okay. My final question relates to the recommendation that an independent body should be established.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

Is the Deputy referring to recommendation No. 1?

Yes. It is implicit in that recommendation that the members of the assembly do not consider the Climate Change Advisory Council to have sufficient teeth to play this role.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The advisory body mentioned by the Deputy was set up under the 2015 Act.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I think the members of the assembly were in favour of the creation of a State body which could make the State do what is right. I think that is what recommendation 1 is about.

Was the advisory council discussed in that context? Was it pointed out that a body already exists?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The council is an advisory council.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

It does a very good job. The members wanted a body that could compel the State to implement what the advisers consider to be the correct approach. The word that the members of this committee should bear in mind most frequently is "implementation". Implementation is the big issue.


I thank Ms Justice Laffoy. I now call on Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has five minutes.

As I have five minutes I will make more of a statement but I hope it will lead to a question. I thank the secretariat, Ms Justice Laffoy and the 99 members of the Citizens' Assembly. They have done the State real service and set an international example that has been noticed in terms of how engagement with people on complex issues can work. Ms Justice Laffoy did the job really well on climate as well as on other issues and I thank her for that.

I am interested in Ms Justice Laffoy's comment that since then there has been a series of developments so that we are being asked a different question, which is true. Our role is as policymakers and some members are part of the Government, which involves real decisions about real investment. The circumstances have changed in that the Government has now admitted failure. We must have a new national climate energy plan in place by Christmas. In my understanding of the legal system that supersedes everything, so we have a huge challenge.

I am concerned about putting out the message that if only we were informed about climate change we would end up with the right decisions. I think most people in this country and around the world are informed about climate change. The story of climate change has been told for 30 years and the science has been certain for most of that. As we heard in the private briefing this morning the science is now categoric and is not questioned. Perhaps the assembly helped in the sense of getting the message across that in tackling it we would bring about a better Ireland. The information we need to have is how we can achieve that. To my mind we will not tackle climate change if we just say to people that they have to stop going from A to B, which is a punitive or restrictive approach. We must have a transformative moment whereby we realise there is a better alternative in C, which will give rise to a better Ireland, a better economy and society. Information around that is the key objective.

There is much attention on agriculture and we will look at that in detail. I was very pleased to be able to sit on the sidelines of the session in Malahide when the National Transport Authority presented its analysis from the transport perspective but to be honest, I was bitterly disappointed at the lack of vision, ambition and sense of how we could be different. I mention that because Ms Justice Laffoy cited that since her report we have had the new national development plan, which to my mind ignored the assembly's recommendations. I know that some have different views based on their political position. We have 63 new national motorway and road projects already planned and in construction. There are PPPs involved so people make money out of it. Everything is ready to go. The State is looking at three public transport projects.

I mention that because I attended a meeting last night of the Nutley Residents Association. Other members will be familiar with the experience. Nutley Lane was a lane 50 or 60 years ago and the plan is now to turn it pretty much into a four-lane motorway and to put in a bus lane. I am in favour of bus lanes and cycle lanes but I fear that if we asked the 100 citizens who attended last night's meeting to vote on whether to proceed with this particular section of road that we would not get a 95% "Yes" vote. In fact, I fear the vote would go the other way. I cite that as an example. An interesting question is on how we get this dialogue at a local council policy level in order to make the leap to convince the people on Nutley Lane that it will turn Nutley Lane into part of Copenhagen and it is not just that lane which is taking the hit. We must be flexible in how we do it. To my mind, that is the scale of the information that is needed and that is the scale of the challenge we face. I put it to Ms Justice Laffoy that it is not just a case of saying, "Here is the science now do the right thing". I think it must be a case of saying, "Here is the science and here is the better Ireland and here are the ways to achieve it". We will make mistakes and we will have to stop and start again. That is one response to the conversation here.

Ms Justice Laffoy is not just an esteemed citizen but a former Supreme Court judge. Following on from the questions asked by the Chair earlier, from having looked at the issue and based on her experience as a Supreme Court judge, is there a legal change we need to make? Is there something we can do in term of the Constitution to strengthen the rights of the environment? This is such a difficult task. Is our legal system and Constitution serving us in terms of providing some of the guidelines and a rights base? As a former Supreme Court judge does Ms Justice Laffoy believe we have adequate constitutional provisions? I know that is a very big question but I thought I would ask it given that I had the chance.


That is a very long question for a one-minute answer. Ms Justice Laffoy should try to keep it brief.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

To go back to the first thing Deputy Ryan said, it is not just about giving information that there is such a thing as climate change; it is how do we deal with it. That is the information we gave. If the Deputy looks at what we did in relation to energy, the first talk was from Marie Donnelly on "How do I heat, power and service my home or place of work." The next session was Dr. Brian Motherway on "How would I heat, power and service my home and place of work if Ireland was a world leader". We not only gave information about the way it is but we gave information about what needs to be done. I agree with Deputy Ryan that what we have to get across is how we get a better Ireland.

On the question of the Constitution, there is sufficient protection for the personal rights of citizens in the Constitution. There is a lot of protection in the environmental area in EU law, for example, the Habitats Directive. We also have the European convention. To be honest, I have not given this any thought but off the top of my head I am not inclined to the view that there is a need for some constitutional amendment to protect environmental rights. In fact, I think there may have been a High Court decision in which this was raised a couple of months ago, which may be under appeal so I do not want to say anything more about that.


I am conscious of time so I will call Deputy Lahart. He has five minutes.

I will not use all of the time. I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for her public service and her work in that regard with the Citizens' Assembly. From radio interviews I heard in recent months some members of the assembly spoke very highly of the manner in which the Citizens' Assembly was structured.

I have one basic question. In her opening remarks Ms Justice Laffoy stated how it was implicit in the mandate in the Oireachtas resolution that climate change was real, happening and must be tackled. There is a saying that if one scratches every Christian one will find a pagan somewhere there. Likewise, if one scratches every believer in climate change hard enough one will find a climate change denier. In other words, that becomes apparent if it becomes an issue that affects people personally or the call to change what they are doing affects them personally. There is at least one climate change denier in Parliament and climate change denial seems to be a favoured theme of the President of the United States. I raise the issue because Ms Justice Laffoy stated in her opening remarks that climate change is accepted as a fact. I do not know if we need to take that so much for granted because on a general level, as Deputy Eamon Ryan said, people accept it but when people are pushed to make a change, all the usual easy arguments come up to the effect that climate has been changing for thousands of years. I remember in the 1950s when we had the big snow or the night of the big wind and there has been nothing comparable to that since. That is one of the points where the rubber really hits the road.

It is hard to believe that out of 99 members of the Citizens' Assembly there was no denier, somebody who had doubts or issues or somebody who had questions about the science behind climate change. I believe in the science behind climate change, but it is quite fragile. It can be disrupted by clever, manipulative people. Did this arise in the Citizens' Assembly in a real or meaningful way, notwithstanding the implicit mandate Ms Justice Laffoy was given? Does she have any advice for members of the committee as to how that ought to be addressed, given there has to be a proportion of the population who are not so certain about this? In the last two or three years we have seen democracies where the role of experts, knowledge and science has been easily undermined. That is a challenge that will face us in terms of trying to put flesh on the bones of what the Citizens' Assembly has produced.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I will be brief on that. There is no doubt that there is an element of climate change denial among the public. The Deputy believes in the climate science and so do I. Most people should because it really cannot be denied, although one sees such articles in newspapers and so forth. The committee should acknowledge that there could be an element of climate change denial among the public and it should consider how to deal with that. Again, I believe it is through information.

The question I had intended to ask has been asked by Deputies Murphy and Dooley. It is on Ms Justice Laffoy's opinion of observing proceedings over the weekend. For the sake of discussion, if the ballot paper that was arrived at had been given to the participants and if they were cold called as part of an opinion poll or an information gathering exercise with that same ballot paper, from observing how the group had evolved over the weekend when they received the information from the expert groups how different does Ms Justice Laffoy think the outcome would have been?

I am from an agricultural background, and I am not here to defend it. When making the proposals and arriving at the outcomes - I refer to agriculture and the proposed emissions tax - how much consideration was given to the global aspect, given that this is a global issue? Take the example of beef production. If a greenhouse gas tax is imposed it will probably reduce our beef production. While we have a problem and we are not the best in the world, we are not far from the best with regard to our greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of beef produced. The Irish situation was the brief of the assembly and it is our brief. We cannot dictate to others. However, if we reduce our beef production due to this, our markets would then be supplied by South America, which will be transporting that beef half way across the world and whose production is not nearly as efficient as ours, even if ours might not be perfect. Was any consideration given to what part we play in the global jigsaw? Even if Ireland ticked all the boxes, solved all the problems and met all its targets, if other countries are not doing that the global climate change issues will not be solved.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

That is a very big question and the Senator is justified in asking it. Our recommendations are in general terms and are broadly expressed. The issues of climate change have broad implications and undoubtedly so for the agricultural sector. Overall, however, where will we be if we do not deal with climate change? One may have to take economic factors into account in terms of how one deals with it. It is interesting that there are so many economists on the national advisory council. That is good because an overview has to be taken of all the elements that affect citizens and, obviously, the economy is a big factor. Notwithstanding that, however, one must face up to the reality of having to deal with climate change. It may be the case that one sector is affected more than others, but that is the way it is. For example, the Government says peat extraction is going to come to an end. One must take a broad view and take all factors into consideration. It is going to be a difficult job.

I welcome Ms Justice Laffoy and thank her for her contribution to society in different areas. I have some brief questions to follow up on Senator Daly's question on the agriculture sector. Ms Justice Laffoy made the point earlier that Professor Alan Matthews was the main contributor to the agricultural module, if I can so describe it.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy


Was much consideration given to how we can balance the equation with the Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 targets that were set by the agriculture industry in Ireland over the last number of years whereby there has been a large increase in production and targets? For example, there will be an increase of up to 80% in production in the dairy sector and a 50% increase in production in the beef sector between now and 2025. Was much consideration given to the question of how we balance that with the greenhouse gas emissions during the overall discussion?

In addition, one of Professor Matthews's recommendations was a substantial reduction in suckler farming in the country.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy


Suckler farming is mainly confined to the west of Ireland. We have seen reports in the media recently about the decimation of rural Ireland with regard to post offices, school transport and so forth, so this would result in a closing down of certain parts of rural Ireland. Was much consideration given to that recommendation as well?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

We had Professor Gary Lanigan from Teagasc on the agricultural and land use sector. There is good information in his paper and it is worth reading. We also had Professor Matthews. In truth, if we had time we could have had more information on the agricultural sphere and, in particular, on how various parts of the sector are and would be affected. Again, I remind the Deputy of the recommendation made by the members. It is quite clear that they recognised that there should be a fair and just transition and that the farmers have to be protected. That is going to be a job for the State. How does one protect a farmer with suckler cows in west Mayo? I do not know the answer to that, but it is something that probably will have to be examined in the overall context.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for her contributions so far. One of my questions was asked earlier so I will not ask it again. It is clear from the discussions and deliberations at the Citizens' Assembly that the citizens are way ahead of the politicians. Does Ms Justice Laffoy believe that more of the focus should be on Government acceptance that things need to change rather than on citizens' acceptance of the work we have to do?

There was some consideration of people living in rural areas, particularly in relation to farming. As time has gone on, many more people living in rural areas are not involved in farming, unfortunately. Does Ms Justice Laffoy believe members of the Citizens' Assembly or the public generally would be in favour of rural proofing or rural profiling changes? It is not feasible, for example, for people living in Donegal to use public transport because there is none. Should we balance the changes? A reduction in car traffic is more feasible in Dublin because public transport is available whereas people in Donegal must use private transport out of necessity. How do Ms Justice Laffoy and the assembly view that issue?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

In terms of Deputy Pringle's first observation about Government acceptance versus citizen acceptance, the latter is crucial because the Government could be in difficulty if the citizens did not accept. In the real world, citizen acceptance is crucial and that is what we should be striving for, namely, to get the citizens to accept what is right. Deputy Pringle also made reference to taking account of rural areas and of course, that is necessary. The Deputy mentioned the transport sector in particular and one of the points made was that measures should be introduced to progressively disincentivise the purchase of new carbon-intensive vehicles such as year-on-year increases in taxes on petrol and diesel as well as in motor and purchase taxes. We are looking at ways of incentivising people to behave. Deputy Pringle pointed out that cars are more necessary in Donegal than in Ballsbridge and that is unquestionably true. Transport in rural areas will have to be taken into account in the measures adopted. There must be a proper balance and fairness. It is difficult to see how one achieves that but there are ways of doing it. We could have more public transport in rural areas. That may be the way it has to be done. I do not know.


I call Senator Mulherin.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy and the Citizens' Assembly. It is fantastic that we have such a clear and strong position taken by the assembly on the need to tackle climate change. This has become much more topical, particularly in the media, and it is an issue about which people are talking. It should not be viewed as entirely negative because with the right investment in the right technologies, it can provide economic opportunities. Furthermore, we have not been living in a sustainable way and now we have the opportunity to develop new systems and new ways of living that are more desirable in the context of the future of the planet. All of that is really good. However, like previous speakers, I am concerned about the farming community in particular. There was quite a negative reaction to the report from many farmers and farming organisations and to be honest, I do not blame them. The Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which completed a report on climate change and what might be done about it, is present.

In terms of the deliberations of the assembly, farmers feel that fair consideration was not given to their position. They are at the coalface in the context of climate change. They are dealing with it right now. We had an emergency meeting yesterday on the fodder shortage. People have to eat. We want to eat and to have our food produced in the most carbon efficient way possible. We are leaders in dairy in that regard and we want to do better in beef. Farmers, as primary producers, are on such small margins and the idea of another carbon tax being slapped on them is very daunting, particularly in the west where one is talking about very marginal farms. It seems that all of that did not go into the mix. Farmers are members of the public and are crucial players in tackling climate change. In the course of our deliberations, we heard that staff in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who deal with the climate change requirements, objectives and goals were not consulted by the assembly. I know that experts were brought in but I feel that the assembly was not given a complete picture. I know that there were time constraints and I acknowledge that Ms Justice Laffoy has said that there could have been much more discussion.

I am also concerned about the recommendation on the prioritisation of public transport over roads by a ratio of two to one. That sounds fine but no major roads were built in the west or the north-west during the Celtic tiger period. There is a massive infrastructural deficit in terms of roads in that region, which is now crying out for investment. We are hoping that under Project Ireland 2040 this investment will be delivered. I know this is only a recommendation and people are trying their best but this highlights to me the extent of the rural, urban divide. It also highlights a lack of understanding of what is required for sustainable living in rural Ireland. The west is not just a game reserve. This is also related to the habitats directive - which we are not dealing with here today - which is also impeding the development of infrastructure in rural Ireland right now. I hope that we get a chance to look at this as a committee because it is another dimension to the debate that we need to examine.

I would like to see practical measures introduced that take on board agriculture, business and other concerns and bring stakeholders along rather than putting them off by telling them that they should not eat meat and should not do this, that or the other. We are selling food to 180 countries and are producing that food as carbon efficiently as we can. In the context of the new Common Agricultural Policy, more will be asked of farmers in terms of water quality, biodiversity and climate change. Farmers seem to be easy targets, which is a concern of mine.


Again, Ms Justice Laffoy has only a very short time to reply. Senator Mulherin has made comments and statements rather than asked questions. She has put issues on the record which the committee will follow up on.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

I would like to make one observation on the point regarding the assembly not inviting anybody from the Department. In fact, an expert from Teagasc was in with us, which was very important, and there was very interesting information in his paper. I hear what the Senator is saying and there are questions to be asked, without a doubt. While it is up to this committee to determine how it does its business, it might be useful for members to hear more in relation to the agriculture sector than the assembly heard. I do not feel the same about the transport sector, which I believe we covered very well. However, in relation to the agriculture sector, it might be useful-----


As a committee, we will consider all of that and bring in experts and different groups to give their side of the argument.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

That is certainly worth thinking about.


Senator Grace O'Sullivan is next.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for being here today. We have just been talking about agriculture and food producers but I am interested in the producers of fossil fuels, namely, the exploration and exploitation companies. Did the assembly invite any representatives of the fossil fuel industry to present a paper from their perspective? Did the assembly discuss divestment? Was there any discussion of divesting and removing support from companies that are contributing to global warming?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

There is a list of all of the submissions we received at the back of the report, in appendix 2. While we got a lot of submissions on fossil fuels, we did not specifically hear from any particular producer of fossil fuels.

We got the overall picture. I know Deputy Pringle has a Private Members' Bill on divestment. We did not go into that kind of detail. I do not know whether it is necessary to go into that kind of detail. That is a matter for the committee. In truth, we did not go into it.

I welcome Ms Justice Laffoy and thank her for all her work to date. I will be brief because I know we will go into everything in the next couple of months. In the 26 hours during which the assembly discussed climate action, was there much discussion about wind energy and the fact that wind farms, particularly industrial wind farms, have divided communities the length and breadth of the country? I know it relates more to rural dwellers but did this issue come up?

My second question concerns societal acceptance or a change of mind, which Ms Justice Laffoy touched on in her introductory remarks. Great work has been done in schools, particularly primary schools, with the Green Flag initiative. We are also familiar with the saying "reduce, reuse, recycle" and are all trying to play our small part. It was a huge disappointment to see that 10 kg of rubbish per person was generated at Electric Picnic at the weekend. We all saw it on the news. How far away are we from getting people to accept that climate change is a reality and we must make changes?

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

The assembly did not go into wind energy and its divisiveness in the community. That is covered to a large extent by our planning laws and regulations and EU directives and regulations, including the habitats directive. All of those come into play regarding onshore wind energy. The law is the law. When one gets into planning law and EU law, one gets into complicated areas so we did not look at that.

Deputy Butler's second question really concerns how we get people to behave. Is that not really what she is asking about? That is a very important question. We must have laws that make people behave and have penalties if they do not behave, for example, dumping plastic in a canal.

I thank Ms Justice Laffoy for her presentation. I certainly welcome this comprehensive and credible report that is a credit to all those involved. It is important to contextualise all this. Reference was made earlier to this. When some global leaders are completely in denial about climate change, we must bear in mind that there are some countries where climate change will present opportunities rather than a threat. It is important to recognise that some of the melting of polar ice cap will incentivise and encourage people in areas where there will be an opportunity to grow crops where previously it had been impossible to do so.

A cheap food policy was never going to be helpful in terms of climate change and was always going to be a major concern. Reference is made in the report to the make-up of the assembly. It states the membership was a randomly selected group that was broadly representative of Irish society. Even though agriculture and transport are big players in this discussion, I am not sure they are reflected in that grouping. They could be under-represented, although I stand to be corrected. We have failed to acknowledge the gains agriculture has made in the past five or six decades. Since the Second World War, the environmental impact per kilogram of beef and per litre of milk has been significantly less than it was previously. We skip over this very quickly and do not recognise it.

When we consider emissions, climate change and agriculture we need to be careful about calculations because in hard-and-fast scientific terms, if we want to reduce our carbon footprint, we will have to have massive feed lots, feed thousands of cattle in one place and produce beef very cheaply and in a very cost-effective manner with a lower carbon footprint. The same applies in the dairy sector. However, that is not how Irish agriculture functions. We need to be cognisant of protecting that. It is about sustainability. The environment is one element but it is important to recognise that there are social and economic issues relating to sustainability as well.

We also need to be careful about unforeseen outcomes of some the measures that are considered in this report. I am familiar with a business on the south coast of England that grows asparagus in a field from which the factory in which it is processed and the supermarket in which it is sold are visible. They are bringing in asparagus from South America with a lower carbon footprint than that grown on the south coast of England purely because the kilograms of dry matter in South America are three times that found on the south coast of England so the kilograms of dry matter offset completely the transportation element. We need to be very careful when we consider documents like this. As industries, agriculture and transport are very much long-term games and we need to be careful that we do not have quick-fix solutions to problems that we could regret in the long term.

Ireland has responsibilities, as have many other countries. It is not always necessary to be a pioneer. There is much good science out there that already demonstrates things we could do that would reduce and mitigate climate change and our impact as human beings. The science exists and we need to take it on board. It is important to remember that it is often the second mouse to the trap that gets the cheese so Ireland needs to be careful. We do not need to be first.

Climate change does not recognise borders. Reference was made earlier to collaboration and co-operation. All the solutions are not to be found in Dublin, Cork or Galway, just as all the solutions are not to be found in Belfast, London or Paris. I encourage everyone involved in this discussion to look more closely at collaboration. I know there is fantastic work in Queen's University Belfast on wave energy, energy efficiency, reducing our impact in agriculture and many other areas. Collaboration is important as is recognising the value of that collaboration. We cannot solve all of these problems.


I ask Ms Justice Laffoy to respond to the Senator's questions and make some final remarks.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

Many interesting points were raised. Senator Marshall mentioned the way other countries behave. We are in the EU and we signed up to the Paris Agreement and the UN international panel. That was the topic that was dealt with in the magazine produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, which was delivered by The Irish Times last week. We are part of a bigger world but we have obligations in international organisations and we must take those into account. Obviously, it is a concern that other countries may depart from the Paris Agreement. There are all sorts of issues there. All of this must be seen in the broader international picture having regard to our international obligations.

I take the point that consideration must be given to having a sustainable agricultural sector because the sector is so important to Ireland. The committee would be wise to look at that issue in greater detail than the assembly did.

As for unforeseen outcomes, I do not know. Perhaps my parting words will give the committee a little laugh. I got very concerned earlier this year, around June or July. I like sugar snap peas. I go to the local supermarket, where they are from Zambia, and then I go to another supermarket elsewhere, where they are also from Zambia. Then, a week later, they are from Zimbabwe, and the next week they are from Guatemala. It is very worrying. Would it not be lovely to have some Irish sugar snap peas? I will leave the committee with that thought.


I thank Ms Justice Mary Laffoy and Ms Gráinne Hynes for their contribution here and their work throughout the Citizens' Assembly's sittings. The meeting is suspended until 1.45 p.m., when we will take evidence from the ESRI.

Sitting suspended at 12.51 p.m. and resumed at 1.53 p.m.


I welcome Professor Alan Barrett, director of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and his colleagues Dr. John Curtis and Dr. Kelly de Bruin here this afternoon. Before we commence formal proceedings, I will begin with some formalities and to advise our witnesses on the matter of privilege. I advise the witnesses that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Finally members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the House, or an official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now call on Professor Barrett to make his opening statement.

Professor Alan Barrett

Let me begin by thanking the Chair for the invitation to appear before the committee today. I am Alan Barrett, the director of the ESRI and I am joined by my colleagues Dr. Kelly de Bruin and Dr. John Curtis.

This committee is considering one of most important challenges that Ireland faces and it is critical that the policy response to the climate challenge is well designed along a number of dimensions. Policies must ensure that we reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to a level and within a timeframe that is consistent with our international commitments. However, policies should be least-cost so as to minimise the economic disruption and distributionally fair, whereby those most able to bear the costs do so. Ideally policies on climate action should also generate public support in part because public engagement will be important in achieving climate objectives.

In this opening statement, I want to give members a sense of the current work being conducted at the ESRI on climate issues. As is always the case with ESRI work, our goal is to provide evidence to guide policy formation primarily in the socioeconomic domain. Rather than commenting on the specific proposals of the Citizens’ Assembly, we hope to show how the impacts of proposals can be measured and how proposed policy can be designed most effectively. In these opening remarks and in our subsequent answers, we will generally try to restrict our comments to areas where we are undertaking research ourselves or where we are familiar with relevant research from others. Climate change is a broad area and we do not pretend to be expert on all dimensions.

Our current work in this area can be seen as two strands: modelling greenhouse gas emissions and the link to economic activity and analysing household behaviour with respect to energy. This two-way categorisation does not capture everything but it is a useful way to organise these remarks. Although I have not written it in the opening statement, I wish to note that most of our work in this area is co-funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. The ESRI works very closely in partnership with the Department.

Looking first at our work on modelling greenhouse gas emissions, Dr. de Bruin, my colleague on the right, and another colleague, Dr. Mert Yakut, have developed an energy social accounting matrix, ESAM, model and have used it most recently to analyse the impacts of carbon taxes for the Department of Finance, yet another of our research partners. We will say a few words about the model to give members some sense of what is involved but will say more on the results of the carbon tax analysis. The results are important in themselves but in discussing them we also want to provide an insight into what can be done with the ESAM model.

The ESAM model reproduces the structure of the Irish economy including production sectors, households and the government and quantifies the nature of all existing economic transactions among diverse economic agents. Furthermore, the ESAM includes the flows of energy and emissions, creating a framework that can examine how money, as well as energy and emissions, flow between production sectors, households and the Government. In this way the carbon content of different products and different household’s consumption is estimated.

The current carbon tax in Ireland stands at €20 per tonne of carbon and is levied to incentivise households and producers to reduce their use of carbon-intensive goods. The carbon tax is relatively low, however, and constitutes just 1.9% of total taxes levied on commodities in Ireland. In the case of petrol, carbon tax accounts for 7.6% of total excise duties and, in the case of diesel, 14%.

Dr. de Bruin and Dr. Yakut find that a doubling of the carbon tax to €40 per tonne of carbon will increase the prices of carbon commodities by on average 3.4%. The diesel price is expected to increase the most due to an increase in the carbon tax, where a €40 tax would result in a 7% increase in diesel prices. Putting this into a context, it can be noted that in 2018 alone, consumers have faced much greater fluctuations in diesel prices. Consumers are accustomed to relatively large fluctuations in fuel prices and may not react to increases in prices, assuming prices will fall again. This makes it extremely important to communicate a clear commitment to an increasing carbon tax by the Government.

To gain a better understanding of which production sectors are most vulnerable to increases in the carbon tax, Dr. de Bruin and Dr. Yakut estimate the impact of a carbon tax increase on the production costs across sectors. They find that the natural gas supply sector as well as the transportation sector are impacted the most. Impacts on other sectors are small. Notably, the production sectors which drive Irish exports are relatively insensitive to a carbon tax increase, suggesting that an increase in carbon tax will not have a significant impact on the international competitiveness of Irish exports.

An important issue concerning the implementation of a carbon tax is its distributional impact across different household types. Dr. de Bruin and Dr. Yakut estimated the impacts of a carbon tax increase across income deciles. They found that the impact on the consumer price index, CPI, of the different households is virtually uniform, where a €20 increase in the carbon tax leads to the CPI of all households increasing by approximately 0.5%.

To examine the potential implication of a carbon tax increase on fuel poverty, they also examine the changes in households’ energy CPI. They find that energy CPI increases more among richer households due to a carbon tax increase. While the poorest households face a 2.9% increase in energy CPI for a €20 increase in carbon tax, the richest households face a 4.5% increase.

Heating consumer price index, CPI, on the other hand, shows slightly higher increases for the poorest households compared to the richest.

In monetary terms, a €20 increase in carbon tax would cost the poorest household €1.87 a week and the richest household €9.63 a week. When these costs are expressed in terms of income, they are found to be regressive, that is, the poorest households would lose a higher share of their income compared with the richest. There is a lot of detail there but I am trying to illustrate as much as anything else the richness of this analytical tool and the sort of things one can do with it.

In examining another important issue, the potential impacts of an increase in carbon tax on emissions reduction in Ireland, Dr. de Bruin and Dr. Yakut find that a doubling of the carbon tax will result in less than a 5% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. This indicates a strong need for a more stringent carbon tax policy in combination with other policy levers.

I will now turn to the second strand of research, which is on household behaviour. Until somewhat recently, economists tended to focus on carbon taxes and similar policies in the belief that the price mechanism could solve environmental problems. This approach has a rich tradition in economics, starting in the 1920s with the Cambridge economist Arthur Cecil Pigou and continuing through the Nobel prize-winning Chicago economist Ronald Coase. Economists today continue to believe that incentives to encourage pro-environmental or carbon-friendly behaviours are important. However, they also tend to believe that financial incentives or prices are not the only things that matter.

Research undertaken by the ESRI on the Better Energy Homes energy efficiency grant scheme for residential buildings operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, affords insights that are relevant to other areas of consumer behaviour. The research is based on more than 160,000 homes for which grant applications were made between 2009 and 2015 for the installation of cavity and attic insulation, boiler upgrades, heating controls and solar panels. Lessons from the research include the following. Financial incentives work; the very simple evidence for that is the 190,000 applications to the Better Energy Homes scheme between 2009 and 2018. It seems reasonable to state that many of those energy efficiency retrofits would not have occurred without the financial incentive. However, setting the right price is only one important element when encouraging changes in behaviour and other components are also important. For instance, over 15% of SEAI grant applications are abandoned, with this three times more likely to occur with deeper, more complex energy retrofits compared with simpler applications.

Increasing the financial incentive does not compensate for other barriers to behavioural change. In March 2015 the SEAI revised the grant scheme structure and offered bonus payments totalling up to €400 for households that opted for deeper retrofits, that is, installing three or four energy efficiency measures. The research found that the bonus payments had no measurable impact on grant applications.

Further research found that the structure of the financial incentives matters to households, that is, how the payment is made is important, for example, whether it is a cash payment or via a tax credit. Households strongly prefer cash payment subsidies rather than other indirect methods of financial support, roughly by a 70:30 ratio. However, the research also highlighted that households at different life stages have different views on what are the best types of support schemes.

Most policy focus in residential energy efficiency and carbon intensity is on owner-occupiers rather than the rental sector. The absence of measures targeted at the rental sector is often attributed to the split incentive, whereby the benefits of the investment in energy efficiency do not accrue to the person who pays for that investment, that is, the landlord. Our research on this issue found that rental tenants are willing to pay higher rents for homes with a higher building energy rating, BER. However, tenants’ understanding of BER and associated potential energy cost savings could be better, which in turn could influence their housing decisions and increase the demand for more energy-efficient properties.

These points are made in the context of energy retrofits but the same principles apply in other areas, such as incentives for electric vehicles. Policy interventions must be mindful of ensuring that financial incentives are complemented by other features of the programme which facilitate take-up.

I now wish to make some brief remarks on other policy themes where lessons from ESRI research apply. The Citizens’ Assembly, along with many others, made proposals on environment-related taxes which involve ring-fencing revenues and exempting lower income groups. Both approaches have typically not been favoured in ESRI research. In the case of ring-fencing revenues - or hypothecation - the argument has often been made that tax revenues should simply be added to the pool of State revenue and then spent in the area with the greatest yield. By limiting the scope of expenditure, which could include tax reductions, the usefulness of the revenues is reduced. Generally, hypothecation is proposed as a way to increase the public acceptance of a tax but in the case of many environmental taxes, the onus should be on policymakers to explain the purpose of the tax. That remark is partly directed at committee members as it is one of the responsibilities of the committee.

In regard to exemptions for low-income groups, ESRI researchers have argued that it is preferable to compensate lower-income households through the social welfare system. As environmental taxes are primarily aimed at providing an incentive to reduce certain activities, the effect of the tax is weakened if large groups are exempted. However, it is still important for some groups to be compensated. By increasing social welfare rates in line with environmental taxes, the compensation can be achieved while maintaining the incentives.

I also wish to comment on the proposal of the Citizens’ Assembly to prioritise spending on public transport over new road infrastructure. This may be a good idea but the ESRI would like to see careful appraisal work before endorsing the precise proposal of a 2:1 split. The key issue for us is that climate-related considerations be factored into the types of appraisal conducted by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in a way that fully captures the costs of inaction. If that is done properly, all public investment will have climate policy automatically embedded. An analysis may suggest that the ratio should be 3:1, 5:1 or 10:1 rather than the proposed 2:1 split but the ESRI would like to see the appraisal work.

I will conclude by making two observations. The cost of action in this area will almost certainly be greater under two conditions, namely, if we delay and if we exempt some sectors. Delaying will mean even greater actions are needed in the future, which will tend to be more costly. The exemption of sectors would put a great onus elsewhere, which again is likely to lead to greater cost.

The ESRI wishes the committee every success in its deliberations. We will be happy to assist the committee through our answers today and also in the coming months.


I thank Professor Barrett. I will begin with a few questions. Is Ireland currently in a bind due to the fact that our economy is growing, which will continue to drive up emissions in the short term, thus widening the gap between our targets and actual emissions and possibly leading to greater expenditure in terms of compliance fines?

How does one square the circle in terms of decoupling emissions growth from economic growth and prosperity? Are there examples of other countries performing well in terms of economic growth and meeting environmental targets, either in particular sectors or as a whole?

Professor Alan Barrett

I will try to address the first question and then ask my colleagues, who are far more knowledgeable than me, for their input. In the context of the link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions, the ESRI works with agencies such as the SEAI and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in producing the projections of greenhouse gas emissions. In regard to official projections regarding the likelihood that we will miss targets, the ESRI contributes to that work at the mechanical level of using our economic models to project what economic growth is likely to be in the medium term and then linking to emissions. Our work indicates that, risks excepted, there will be quite good rates of economic growth for the next number of years. We do not see any evidence that any significant decoupling between economic activity and the energy intensity will break down. The extent to which we have seen the economic cycle move in a particular direction and greenhouse gas emissions move in exactly the same way is quite remarkable. There does not seem to be any immediate sense that decoupling will happen. Obviously, there are proposals in documents such as the national development plan which may have an effect on this area but it is still an open question as to how strong such effect would be.

Dr. Curtis or Dr. de Bruin may be better placed to respond to the Chairman's question on countries which have had success in that area.

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

I would first like to comment on the economic growth component of emissions projections, which is an important element of the overall area. However, the contribution of economic growth to emissions projections is far smaller than that of mitigation policies and is overshadowed by them. Obviously, high economic growth will make it harder to meet goals but the amount by which mitigation can reduce emissions far outweighs the economic growth component.

There have been examples of the decoupling of emissions growth from economic growth, particularly in Scandinavian countries. For example, Norway has made significant investment in clean green energy in the past decades and has been very prosperous.

It is the same for Denmark and Sweden. Those countries have done it successfully and we could look to them for ideas and recommendations.


Does Dr. Curtis wish to come in?

Dr. John Curtis

On compliance or fines, we will comply with the targets because, ultimately, we will go out and buy allowances elsewhere. That will be one solution. Referring back, however, to Professor Barrett's final comments regarding if we delay, that is a form of delay. It is not an investment in the country's infrastructure to achieve compliance in future years. It is the work of this committee to see how and where investment should be in order that we can decouple. As my colleagues stated, however, there is no evidence of decoupling at this point.


I thank Dr. Curtis and I call Deputy Dooley. The Deputy has ten minutes.

I thank our guests for their thoughtful presentation. I have a number of questions. What our guests indicated that their model shows is borne out by what we see in society generally. I was taken with the point to the effect that the fluctuation in fuel prices here has been so far above the median that there is an expectation that people will just continue to do what they do and that significant measures will be needed to encourage a move to electric vehicles. The feedback we are getting is that the lack of infrastructure for charging such vehicles is a big disincentive and one which needs to be borne in mind. Pushing up the price of carbon and changing the tax model will not necessarily solve the range anxiety that exists for so many people.

The position is the same in the context of encouraging people to insulate their homes or properties regardless of whether they are owner-occupied. It comes down to the incentives put in place rather than just looking at the annual cost. That is something we will have to examine. Have our guests considered what would be the impact on the economy in general if we were to make those significant changes to which reference has been made? We are going to have to invest large amounts of money in the economy if we are to support, by means of incentives, the deep retrofitting of homes to a much greater extent. The figures are there and we can go through them. There are only really pilot-type projects, although the Government would seem to indicate that it is a significant investment. It is proof of concept really because there would have to be a much greater level of investment and deep retrofitting in order for there to be any impact. Have the witnesses examined the matter in another way rather than saying that, on the basis of the need to purchase carbon credits, we are going to have to pay X amount? In the context of investment, what would it take to avoid that burden and what positive impact would that have on the economy? Have our guests examined the numbers in that regard?


The witnesses can come in as they wish and take those questions in any order.

Dr. John Curtis

Members are probably familiar with the low-carbon roadmap published by what was the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. We were involved with colleagues at University College Cork in the analysis relating to that roadmap in the context of achieving targets to 2030 and 2050 and what types of energy will be used. The analysis in question refers to switching to more renewables and that type of thing. Part of it refers to what level of carbon taxation would be required to drive those targets in the future. I do not remember the numbers off the top of my head but they are substantially higher than the current €20 a tonne. That is a burden on the people having to pay it but when we run that analysis through models relating to the economic impact, what we find is that if this taxation revenue is recycled by reducing other types of taxation, such as taxation on labour, the net impact on the economy is minimal. As Deputy Dooley stated, there is much work to be done in the context of investing in the future by means of retrofits, etc. That future, however, is not going to be detrimental to the economy.


Does anyone want to come back in or comment on that? If not, I will move on to Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.

I thank our guests for attending. I refer to the comment about the production sectors which drive Irish exports being relatively insensitive to a carbon tax increase. During our engagement with Ms Justice Laffoy earlier, we were discussed the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation regarding a carbon tax on agriculture. If it is being stated that it will not have a significant impact on the international competitiveness of Irish exports, that is a surprise to me because it does not seem to be the type of information we are getting. Our guests stated that there is a need for a more stringent carbon tax policy in combination with other policy levers because it is being suggested that the carbon tax will not necessarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to them, the reduction will be less than 5%. What is meant by a more stringent carbon tax policy?

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

First, there is no carbon tax on agriculture at the moment so we looked at a carbon tax increase that does not involve agriculture. I agree with Deputy Corcoran Kennedy that a carbon tax on agriculture would have different affects. We have not looked at that because that is not what is there at present. What we mean by a more stringent carbon tax is that, as we try to illustrate, carbon taxes have very little influence on prices because they are very low. When we think about it, the amount involved is €20 per tonne of carbon. There is a great deal of carbon in one tonne. To incentivise people to use less carbon, the amount needs to be higher because it is currently too small to change behaviour significantly. By more stringent carbon taxes, we mean increasing carbon tax so that it gets much higher over time.

On hypothecation, are the witnesses saying that is something the ESRI does not favour?

Professor Alan Barrett

I will not personalise it to the ESRI. It is not quite a mantra but economists have a fundamental block when it comes to this. Hypothecation is normally promoted on the basis of encouraging the political acceptability of a particular tax. It is a perfectly reasonable argument. People are more willing to pay the tax if they feel that they will see an immediate and direct link. That is a fair and perfectly understandable argument. Economists, however, come from the perspective that if a tax is important - in this instance the case can be made that carbon taxes are very important for environmental purposes - then political support should be forthcoming on foot of the inherent importance of the issue. When a revenue stream is generated, we are not being prescriptive as to how the money involved should be spent.

Typically, however, we want revenue to go into the pot so that it can be best applied. It could be invested in housing at a particular point. If money is being raised by means of a carbon tax and it is restricted to a particular environmental purpose while there is a yawning gap in investment in another area, then it is terribly unfortunate to miss out on the opportunity to do that. That is on the spending side. My colleague, Dr. Curtis, touched on this already, as have others. People make the argument that their carbon taxes reduce economic efficiency or competitiveness. If, however, it is possible to compensate by using the revenue from carbon taxes to reduce business rates, increase grants to farmers or do different things like that, that again gives flexibility. Almost inevitably, without hypothecation, we have flexibility and scope to do more imaginative things in a more reactive way. That is what I mean. It is not just an ESRI view, it is a common view among economists.

I think Dr. Curtis mentioned buying the carbon credits. Will he expand on that and how it works?

Dr. John Curtis

At the end of the accounting period to 2020, we have a target to hit. At this stage it looks like we will exceed that so we need to fill that gap. There are various allowances and, from my understanding, the Government already holds some of them that it can use to fill that gap.

Ultimately, however, the EPA, which has administered the emissions trading scheme in this country, would explain that when one tries to balance the gap to achieve the target, one buys allowances from wherever they exist in the market through the EU emissions trading scheme. If the Austrians have a surplus, the Austrian exchequer will wish to recover money for that and will be more than happy to sell it to us and we will achieve compliance in that way. As to whether one wishes to call that a fine, the money will leave the country and there will be no productive investment from that spending, which is a missed opportunity.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. I refer to two aspects of the relationship between economic growth to greenhouse gas emissions. Would the witnesses agree there does not have to be a link between economic growth and increased greenhouse gas? For example, in Britain between 1999 and 2013, transport greenhouse gas emissions fell by 8% in the context of the UK economy expanding by 27%, as a result of investment in public transport in that period. There can be economic growth and improvements in people's living standards and a simultaneous reduction in greenhouse gas. On the other hand, is it not the case that if we want to have a serious approach to this incredibly urgent crisis facing Ireland and the world, particular sectors - and big business in particular sectors - will have their profits affected? Is it not the case, for example, that it is not possible for agribusiness to continue to massively expand profits and deal with its emissions simultaneously? It is not possible to deal with and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the economy without hitting the bottom line of the big oil companies which currently benefit from the production of that carbon.

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

Deputy Paul Murphy's point is very relevant. I agree that one can decouple economic growth in that sense. One can make really smart investments and have good economic growth in line with mitigation at the same time. However, the idea is that when one looks at emissions, one does so in terms of the number of people and how much they earn as that is how general baseline emissions work. There is always a link between the richer we get and the more we emit. In the case of no mitigation, one cannot decouple economic growth and emissions, they connect completely, but with mitigation efforts one can separate the two.

We are economists so we think about the costs. A lot of the emissions can be reduced relatively cheaply, or at a lower cost, whereas some emissions have much higher costs. That is also an issue, so that if one has economic growth there are also more of these high cost emission reductions.

Professor Alan Barrett

I will add to that as I made the point about the projections when we see that the economic growth will be linked to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. We make that point on a purely mechanical basis. The mechanical assumption is that the sort of mitigation measures to which Dr. de Bruin referred, are planned but until we see significant delivery on this we will not necessarily build it into the projections. It is possible if those sorts of investments are made.

On the focus on business, some of the proposals will relate to business but there are also other actors. Governments can be a very significant actor as can citizens. It is an area where there can be disruption for different sets of people and isolating one actor does not necessarily capture the matter. The Deputy is correct, of course they will be impacted, but plenty of others will be too.

Dr. John Curtis

On the last point, it is the case that business will be impacted but we already see that the multinational petrochemical companies are diversifying into renewables. They see the writing on the wall that they need to get their profits elsewhere. Domestically, in peat extraction, Bord na Móna is also diversifying its business because it sees that. In the wider economy, there is the question of continuing to do what we always did in any sector. For instance, how many members have a Nokia phone in their pocket? Ten years ago, it is probable that all the members had one, however Nokia did not diversify or see what was coming. All sectors must continually innovate.

My second questions flows on from that. I do not make the point out of any fear for the profits of corporations but because we need to stand up to the polluters and take action regardless of the effect on profit. Undoubtedly, ordinary citizens want to take action, that is reflected in the report of the Citizens' Assembly that we are discussing. However, a problem with the focus on carbon tax as the main way to deal with the problem is it is like a ship with a massive leak where someone is trying to plug the hole with their finger. It is completely inadequate. The logic is to encourage individuals to make better decisions but individuals do not make decisions in some abstract situation. In the case of a person who lives somewhere where there is no public transport and who works in Dublin city centre, the cost of petrol may increase but that does not mean there are any different choices available. One might go to a shop and buy vegetables. They may have come from another part of the world and may be unnecessarily covered by plastic, but these are not choices made by the person in the shop. The fundamental choices to create the world and the kind of decisions that are available to people are those decisions made by the corporations. A paper in Climatic Change some years ago said that some 90 corporations were responsible for 63% of greenhouse gas emissions. Surely that is where one must look. That points to more serious things than carbon tax. It points to regulation, that is, keeping it in the ground, the need for economic planning, which implies public ownership, and interfering with private property rights, when one is talking about massive multinationals, by saying that our environment, society and our future are too important to be left to the whims of companies that make decisions based on profit and treat the environment as an externality.

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

I understand what the Deputy is saying. I agree that the carbon tax is not a perfect measure. It only works if the infrastructure is there to help people to make decisions on it. However, a carbon tax will put a cost on all the things these organisations are doing that are bad for the environment. The Deputy gave the example of choosing between vegetables packaged in plastic that have been transported from half way across the world and local vegetables. If there is a price difference because of the carbon tax, people will choose the local vegetables which are environmentally better. That is the essence of a carbon tax, that one tries to use these environmental costs that are not incorporated in the decisions by organisations or consumers and one makes them an explicit cost. That is why we need a carbon tax that is higher because the carbon tax does not currently reflect the environmental costs of carbon, which is in the hundreds of euro per tonne.

The tax strategy paper, and the ESRI's presentation, accept that carbon tax a regressive tax as currently operated. It hits the poorest income deciles harder as a percentage of income. Has the ESRI examined the proposal by Dr. James Hansen for a fee and dividend model? As it would be charged at the point of entry of carbon into the economy, it would be primarily charged on fossil fuel companies and then a 100% dividend would be provided back to people. It has the benefit of the impact on consumer choices which the ESRI is discussing, but without having the regressive effect of charging people for things they have no choice in. Has the ESRI considered that or will it do so in its current carbon tax paper?

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

We have not considered that part of the analysis in our current work; we have just considered the initial carbon tax that is levied and then passed on to consumers. It is a very interesting aspect. Professor Barrett also referred to the revenue recycling. These are all elements that are very important. It is important to find a way to provide a carbon tax that provides the incentives but does not hurt the most vulnerable in the economy. It is something that we will look into to a certain degree but we not done so yet.

I am on the finance committee and every time we deal with the Department of Finance, it says it cannot touch hypothecation. The Department of Finance and economists want tax revenue coming in and then they want to make rational decisions as to how they spend it. One can understand why the public is in favour of hypothecation, namely, linking tax to particular spending, which in this case is for a just transition? The public does not trust the Government and that it will not just take this money and use it so that Apple will not have to pay tax. They do not believe that if they pay an increased carbon tax that it is actually going to be spent on climate change.


A brief answer.

Professor Alan Barrett

I will give the Deputy a succinct answer. One day the Deputy might be the Minister for Finance, and believe me he will think back on today and say that the ESRI was so right.


I will bring in Deputy Ryan.

I think that if Deputy Murphy becomes Minister for Finance, he will look back and say the ESRI did not think big enough. I am sorry but I see a complete dearth of ambition here and the scale of change we need is not in the analysis presented. I am sorry for giving such a blunt assessment but I believe it is true. We need system change not marginal change and what the ESRI has presented is marginal change, which a carbon tax will do, but it is not big enough and not good enough on its own. It is not going to win the public over to us and it is not working. The Department of Finance figures show this, as clear as day.

Are we in agreement? I would be interested to hear the ESRI's assessment as to what exactly are we aiming for in 2050? Are we aiming for a zero-carbon energy system, a zero-carbon transport system and carbon neutral agricultural land use system with three decades? The scale of that change is immense. One has to change the industrial system at the same time. One has to change everything in two or three decades. Are we agreed on that? Is that where we are going? Does the carbon tax that has been outlined bring us anywhere near that in any sort of timeframe? Does Professor Barrett have an estimate of the fines we are likely to face, even in the short term? I think I heard some official say €500 million a year. Dr. Curtis is absolutely right that it is a sunk, wasted cost. Does Professor Barrett have a figure for that?

Is the challenge of our population growth being factored into this? The targets that were set, or have been given, are based on an old population. Our population is growing and this is going to make it even more challenging. Does Professor Barrett agree that sort of scale of change challenge is not reflected in the response we have here?

Professor Alan Barrett

I will give a couple of quick responses. On this issue of the ESRI lacking ambition, it is important we are clear on the role of the ESRI. The ESRI is not setting policy. What we try to do is provide inputs into the policy process. In terms of the modelling work we conduct, on the analysis we have done on the carbon tax, for example, one of the main points to come out of it was precisely the point the Deputy made, that it is totally inadequate to get us where we need to go. In terms of the work we have done where we are examining, the retrofit policies, for example, the other point we are making is that very often a pricing approach is not enough. The ESRI does not write the national development plan. We comment on and we have an input at a particular level. I do not think it is necessarily up to us to set the national ambition.

I will move on from that to the questions the Deputy raised on whether it is the case that we are vastly behind where we need to be. We are, absolutely. As we input into the figures, we are very conscious that Ireland is nowhere near the sort of levels of achievement we have set out. I do not think there is necessarily any disagreement.

On the carbon tax issue, I thought I was quite clear in my opening statement that 15 to 20 years ago when I started my career, an economist would have focused on taxes, but we have moved way beyond that for a number of reasons. For the sorts of issues we have discussed, we know that the world is much more complicated and there needs to be a much wider set of design features. The other thing, and I am not sure if this came across in my opening statement, is that we are conscious of the fact the challenge now is so enormous that one cannot rely on a single policy instrument at all. There needs to be a multiplicity of interventions to see that we arrive where we want. I do not believe there is any disagreement between us on the scale of the challenge. However, the role of the ESRI in this is a little bit different.

I wish to raise a couple of things on which Professor Barrett might come back to us. It could be a written response; he does not have a respond immediately here. I would appreciate it if he could write to us.

I will take one or two examples from each of the key sectors. In energy, the carbon tax will have an effect on the domestic but on the main power generation side, it is not relevant because it is the emissions trading scheme, ETS, supplies. Even though it has gone up to €20 a tonne in recent months, it is still a fraction of what we need it to be to effect the change. In respect of the ETS, would Professor Barrett support the recommendation that we shut down the peat-fired power stations, although not immediately because we have to look after the workers and ensure they get new employment in retrofitting and elsewhere, and that we do not wait another 20 or 30 years to shut them down? I disagree with the UCC analysis that biomass is going to have any future purpose in power generation, other than in very specific limited cases. Would Professor Barrett recommend, if he was giving policy advice, that we shut down the peat-fired power stations in a radically different timeline to the one being recommended, namely, 2031?

Dr. John Curtis

Yes, the ESRI has said that before. The situation at present is that peat is co-fired and by having a refit scheme to incentivise the burning of biomass, at the same time we are burning peat, which is the most emissions intensive. There is a case made for security of supply as to our use of peat, but I find it hard on economic grounds to justify why we would continue to burn peat. We have said that before, repeatedly.

The second question relates to the specific sector of transport. Would Professor Barrett agree with the analysis of, I think, Professor Edgar Morgenroth that our national planning framework was right in terms of bringing development back to the core, which helps to cut down carbon as well as creating a better and much more economically efficient society? Instead what we ended up with in the national development plan was the same-old, same-old approach - 63 motorway and national roads projects and the same-old development model. What Professor Barrett says in regard to the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly, which we are considering, and a shift much more towards public transport, is that this needs further analysis. Would Professor Barrett recommend to this committee that we reopen the national development plan, given that the Government has admitted that it is completely failing? In regard to carbon, Professor John FitzGerald said that we are completely off-course and heading rapidly in the wrong direction. Does that mean that if we are to take the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly seriously, we need to reopen the national development, which I am sure Professor Morgenroth would recommend?

Professor Alan Barrett

I would certainly like to see more of the analysis, and a lot of people made this comment at the time. The national development plan includes a huge list of what certainly seem, on the face of it, to be very important infrastructural investments. It is very hard, however, to think in terms of prioritisation, without having seen the analysis that goes behind these sorts of things. On the two-to-one split, I do not know if the two-to-one split is correct or not. I would certainly have a concern. This is really a question for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and I would encourage the committee to ask it this question. When it does cost-benefit analyses of projects, which is the standard practice, there are a whole range of parameters that go into that when one is trying to work out what is a good project and when one is trying to rank these things. The critical variable when it comes to environmental issues is how one puts a value on, for example, greenhouse gas emission reductions that arise from certain investments. There seems to be a problem at the moment in some of the evaluations in that a rather low price of carbon is applied, whereby one is inherently devaluing the importance of the environmental good. It would certainly be fairly readily done to look at the parameters that are used in those evaluations. My suspicion is if one alters the shadow price of carbon in those analyses, one can get quite different rankings. In our opening statement, we talked about this and I did not want to say that the-----


Very briefly, Deputy.

The shadow price of carbon on transport fuels is €120 a tonne at the moment. It is not effecting any change so I am slightly sceptical about that part.

I have one final question. Does Professor Barrett agree with the recommendation from the Citizens' Assembly from Alan Matthews with regard to the introduction of a form of taxation on land use emissions, including agriculture? That was presented to the Citizens' Assembly and was voted on in significant numbers. In that case also, would Professor Barrett agree to hypothecation, in the sense that we know that we have to completely redraw the whole CAP payment system? We know from listening to Senator Mulherin earlier that we need to pay farmers in the west of Ireland, particularly in Mayo. We also know from listening to Deputy Deering that we are going to have to pay suckler farmers and indeed other farmers properly for managing our land. We know from our own internal experts that what we have to get right is adaptation and mitigation at the same time. Part of the adaptation is that those farmers are going to play a critical role in flood, carbon, soil and diversity management and in access to land as well as in producing food.

Do we not already know that we will have to do a significant transfer of payments to agriculture, particularly to farmers and foresters? Would our guests not agree to that hypothecation in any such carbon tax that Alan Matthews proposes?


I ask Dr. Curtis to be brief. I know it is a very big question but I ask him to be as brief as possible. He might be able to answer later in more depth when replying to other speakers' questions.

Dr. John Curtis

We still do not agree to hypothecation but if there is a cost-benefit analysis and it makes good sense to do them, there is no reason why the Government should not assign expenditure to them. If there is not enough money in the hypothecation, one will still not be able to finance them and will go to the Exchequer in any event.

On the individual proposal, the ESRI does not specifically carry out research in respect of the minutiae of agriculture practices. The Deputy mentioned all these things that farmers can diversify into, providing public services. He talked about flood control, etc. Teagasc's most recent national farm survey, which was published earlier this summer, provides a very insightful table on the average direct payment contributions to income across the different enterprises. In the context of cattle and sheep enterprises, direct payments account for 100% of income. That means that these enterprises are not making money and are not profitable. It seems to me that in any other area of business, one would diversify and change one's business model. It seems the Deputy is suggesting areas of diversification for unprofitable enterprises, some of which account for the greatest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the economy.

Professor Barrett provided a good breakdown at the outset regarding the cost per household if the carbon tax was doubled from €20 to €40 per tonne. I would like more of a breakdown in the context of how he arrives at figures such as that. He stated that €20 per tonne would probably result in a 5% reduction, give or take. I question how he came up with that figure. It has been touched upon. From an industrial perspective, if there is a tax increase from €20 to €40, €60 or €80 per tonne, those who have the greatest greenhouse gas emissions under their industrial business model will sit down at the beginning of the year, take their costs, look at the end product cost to the consumer and build that extra cost into the end consumer's price. Depending on the size of the business and the number of customers or consumers it has, it could be a very small increase. Ultimately, however, it is the end consumer who pays the tax. The businesses to which I refer will not reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in any way and will be no worse off. How does driving up tax in that scenario change anything? How does it hurt the people the ESRI wants to hurt and how does it change the behaviour of people whose mentality the ESRI wants to change? How does it improve or reduce greenhouse gas emissions? On the 2:1, 3:1 or whatever ratios are being thrown out on the ratio of public transport versus road infrastructure improvement, where would we be if, when going to Galway, I was still obliged to go through Leixlip, Lucan, Chapelizod, Kinnegad, Moate and Ballinasloe, compared with getting there in two hours? How much worse off would we be if we did not have the roads?

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

I will start with the first question on the carbon tax analysis. I do not think here is the place to go into the specific details of a model but the way it works is that we track all the carbon commodities through the economy, so we see how the carbon commodities go into the production processes and create goods. These goods are consumed by households. Households can choose to consume different goods with different carbon contents. We agree with the Senator and, in our model, all the prices are directly sent to the household. The prices of certain goods become higher because of their carbon content. Households can then choose to switch from one good to another because it becomes cheaper because other goods have become more expensive due to this carbon tax. In that way, even though the producer is paying these taxes but putting them on to the consumer, they are hurt in that fewer of their goods will be consumed. That is the framework in which we look at this.

Deputy Timmy Dooley took the Chair.

That is a theory.

Dr. Kelly de Bruin

That is a theory, yes. We are economists; we work with theories. It is obviously a theory but it is based on real data and empirics on how consumers behave.

Professor Alan Barrett

With regard to the modelling exercise, this is a phenomenally complicated area but we need to have some sort of a framework to think about how these things might impact. Many of the ESRI modelling exercises are data driven. We are taking the data and trying to construct somewhat artificial statistical models of the economy. The real usefulness is that it at least provides some sort of quantification. When we talk about the carbon tax going from one level to another, we need to have some sense of whether that is having an effect. That is where much of the intellectual energy goes. That is why entities such as the Department fund us to try to develop these sorts of tools so that we are at least talking a common language and working to a particular benchmark.

On the Senator's point about driving to Galway, I come back to the issue of appraisal. It would be pure opinion to say that I prefer roads or rail but the point is that it is all about how we evaluate these various investments. When the road between Dublin and Galway was being built, I am not convinced that the damage the Senator is doing to the planet as he drives - I am sure he owns a very modest car - was factored in, whereas his timesaving certainly was.

Deputy Hildegarde Naughton resumed the Chair.

I have a few questions. Our guests have set out that one has to look at the cost of alternative renewable energy solutions. What is most cost-efficient would be more favoured. I want to ask them about the different renewable sources such as wind, onshore, offshore, solar, anaerobic digestion and the rest. What is the most efficient way? What do taxpayers get the best value for when we are investing, bearing in mind that the cheapest option is fossil fuel and that there will be an initial cost to diversify? We are regularly lobbied about wind energy. Everybody knows that the wind does not always blow. There are those who have eureka moments and state that people are being fooled because the wind does not blow all the time. There is a mix involved. There is sometimes much crude analysis. I ask our guests to go through the various renewable electricity-generating sources and say what they are. We are looking at a new support scheme. There is talk of offshore wind which I know is perhaps more at a developmental stage. We have a massive resource in offshore wind and wave power. To what extent do we invest now for something for which we have a resource but may be a bit more costly? Do our guests take that into account?

On the issue of the grid and transmission, it has been notoriously difficult to get a grid built here in recent years. It is tied up with our ability to bring in renewables on the grid. I want to ask our guests about the comparison between undergrounding and overgrounding. Some of these issues have not gone away. I ask them to comment on that and on what we are losing by not having transmission.

In the context of energy efficiency, retrofitting and grants that are given by the SEAI and local authorities that give grants for energy efficiency measures undertaken on houses, many of these measures say that they relate to heat and are grants for the replacement of oil-fired central heating systems. I understand that it is more efficient. It involves replacing a boiler. However, one will have a boiler for the next certain number of years and will use oil or another fossil fuel. My local authority has a policy whereby it will not put in back-boilers, let people change to wood-burning stoves or that sort of thing. It has put people on a course where the only fuel they can use to heat their homes is oil.

I compliment the local authorities and the SEAI. They have very good energy efficiency initiatives and are obviously reaping the benefits of them. However, there seems to be somewhat of a contradiction. I return to the carbon tax. I am talking not just about people on very low incomes, but also about people who are working, raising families and paying for everything. Realistically, if a carbon tax is slapped on them for using fossil fuels, they will not have the money to buy a new heating system and so on. If the only way they are being directed is this way, are we really being as clever as we should be about going down alternative paths? I am allowing for the fact that Professor Barrett has already said that in the case of people who are, say, dependent on social welfare payments, one could perhaps levy a tax but supplement it by another payment from the Government. I am talking about people who are very hard-pressed - the squeezed middle, as they are called - who cannot afford to make these investments and whose behaviour the carbon tax is therefore not changing. It may stop them from switching on the heat or make their lifestyle more impoverished, which is not what we want. We must come up with technological solutions that will allow people to have decent but more sustainable lifestyles.


I ask Dr. Curtis to keep his answer relatively brief. I am just trying to keep to the time.

Dr. John Curtis

I do not think that is possible.


I ask Dr. Curtis to do what he can.

Dr. John Curtis

There were many questions in the Senator's contribution.

I will pass on the costs of the different electricity-generating technologies because the ESRI does not carry out research on the costs of different technologies. One way of looking at the matter is that if one goes onto the single electricity market, SEM, the cheapest technologies or plants are dispatched first. However, even with the same fuels one can have very different costs, depending on the infrastructure and the equipment - for instance, different types of gas plants.

The Senator mentioned offshore wind energy generation. It may be developmental here but it is a matter of its cost. It is a lot more expensive than onshore wind energy generation. It is up to EirGrid, which will give the committee more detail. My understanding is that the opportunities for onshore wind are basically being used up in that there are not very many suitable sites left. There will be some need for offshore. Onshore can be placed in remote locations where the electricity demand is not there, so the electricity is generated away from where there is a need for the power. The grid therefore needs to be strengthened, and much of EirGrid's DS3 programme has sought to achieve this strengthening of the grid.

The Senator mentioned undergrounding and overgrounding. We look at the economic side of things; we do not look at such technical issues. However, one thing I was involved in a number of years ago was analysis we did modelling the electricity market. We looked at the economic difference between having a new North-South interconnector in place and not having it in place. I do not remember the exact numbers off the top of my head, but that interconnector will reduce electricity prices for customers. At present, the network there is not able to generate electricity where it is needed at the cheapest cost. The interconnector will allow the electrons to move where they need to go.

The Senator talked about grants for oil-fired boilers. She has hit the nail on the head in that anyone who is retrofitting his or her house or doing anything else with it now is locked in for the next 15 or 20 years, so it is a missed opportunity. When someone's boiler claps out, his or her first source of contact is probably the local plumber or whoever else, who will put in place what he or she sells or knows best, which may not be the best for the customer in the long term. It is not that plumber or whoever else is selling the customer down the road; it is what the plumber knows. Putting in such old-world technology is therefore in a sense a lost opportunity.

As for the cost of new heating systems and the squeezed middle, the Senator has a point. I cannot think of the SEAI scheme, but the better energy home grant covers roughly 35% of the cost, so one must have the disposable income to be able to pay the remaining 65%. That is a gap in the market. In the opening statement we made reference to different structures for different stages in people's lives, which I think is what the Deputy was referring to. As to whether it is the heating system one should put in first, I would say "No"; one should first of all insulate one's house. Most people think about the windows. The walls and ceiling should be insulated first; windows can come later. Otherwise, if one puts in the best heating system and the home is not insulated, one is just heating the sky at some remove.

How was I for time?


I thank Dr. Curtis. That was excellent.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. I want to focus on the second strand of research the ESRI did, which concerned household behaviour, if I may. The institute's research was based on more than 160,000 homes in respect of which grant applications were made between 2009 and 2015. That was a huge group to look at. Do the witnesses have any further information? Do we know, for example, how many of the people who applied for these grants were in fuel poverty? I know cavity insulation is very popular because it is the least expensive, and I agree with a comment Dr. Curtis made at the end of his contribution: it comes down to cost. People coming into my constituency office see other people having their houses wrapped, for example. They might be older houses that are not suitable for cavity insulation. However, given they must pay the 65% not covered by the grant, I am surprised only 15% of people fall away. When people come to apply for it, they think it is cheaper than it actually is. Do the witnesses have a breakdown between, for example, cavity insulation, boiler, heating control and solar panels? Are there any percentages that show which was the most popular? If I were asked, I would say cavity insulation is by far the most popular because it is the most affordable.

We spoke this morning with Ms Justice Laffoy about consideration of climate change, people's mindset changes and societal acceptance. We saw an example of this last weekend, and I referred earlier this morning to Electric Picnic, where 10 kg of rubbish was produced by every person who attended. My daughter was there. The point I am making is that one must start in the home, and every little change makes a difference. The grants that are available have been very positive and are very worthwhile. I would even like to see them extended.


Do the witnesses have any comments on that? Dr. Curtis, perhaps.

Dr. John Curtis

The Deputy's first question was about people in fuel poverty. This research was carried out in collaboration with the SEAI. We had access to the administrative data of this scheme at household level but the data were anonymised. Some of the Deputy's questions were about the people in the homes. We knew nothing apart from where they were but we knew a lot about the types of houses and what they had done to them, whether cavity wall insulation or otherwise. Some people went back to apply multiple times and so on. While we do not have a full picture of everything the Deputy asked about, we learned a lot just by interrogating the data that were there. She is right that cavity and attic insulation was by far the most popular. It is also the cheapest to put in and probably, in many instances, the least burdensome for households.

She referred to the abandonment of applications. We said the rate is 15%, which she thought would be higher, but if she thinks about it, these are households that first of all can afford to do this because they are coming up with the 65% not covered by the grant. They are also engaged enough that they know when they need to do something to reduce their energy costs, they turn up and they have made the decision that they will do something. However, some fall away and, in a sense, one has lost them because getting people engaged is really difficult. The SEAI is finding this. The number of applications is going down over time because the people who are positively engaged have all already done it. From analysis of the data, the people who abandoned applications were those who were going for what one might call a deep retrofit. They were going for the walls, the attic, the solar panels. They were also the ones who had the bonus payments in latter years. Our conclusion on this was that when the cold light of day came and they realised they had to get in touch with a plumber and probably a builder and whoever else and take time off work, they just stopped.

Our recommendation to the SEAI on this was that it needs to make it easy for people and create a MABS-type one stop shop for retrofits where people would receive objective advice. It is probably worse than buying a car or a house. As most people are not energy technology oriented, they are buying something they do not fully understand. They need independent advice and they need to be able to buy it as an entire product.

The Deputy made a point on the breakdown. We have a lot of data on the breakdown but I do not have them here. It tails off very quickly after people put in one and two measures, such as cavity wall insulation. Previous research and surveys of occupants done by some of my colleagues with Respond! Housing Association on retrofits in some of its housing stock found that once people make an energy efficiency measure, they wipe their hands and decide they are sorted because they have dealt with the climate bit and they move onto the next issue. To achieve our low-carbon future, even the houses that have a done a retrofit need to reduce their amount of carbon production and the amount of fossil fuels they burn by a huge amount. In a sense, the people who already have done a retrofit feel they have done their bit and it will be very difficult to engage with them.

Another recommendation we made to SEAI based on the research is that at present, the grant scheme is very much input driven. People get grants for installing something and it does not matter whether they need it or whether it works. In a sense, the grant should be for achieving an improvement in the BER rating or some such measure so there is a return on the State's investment in achieving low carbon.

There is an energy supplier obligation to achieve energy savings with which committee members may be familiar. The fossil fuel, electricity and gas companies have an obligation to achieve energy efficiency savings in the housing stock. They may cold call people at night and piggyback on the grant from the SEAI to install energy efficiency measures. We could tell the applicants in the scheme who sent in their own applications and the applicants who came through an energy company. We did not know the particular energy supplier in question because they are coded and anonymous, but we saw a different pattern in what the companies were encouraging people to install in their houses. The companies' target was not energy efficiency or reduced carbon but they were signing up for credits to comply with their own obligation. We had a split incentive. The companies were seeking to meet their obligation target but were not necessarily doing the best thing on behalf of the households in question. If more grant schemes are put in place, and we do need more help for households, instead of being input driven it would be hugely beneficial to achieving low carbon emissions to have them output driven.

For a large portion of this morning, we have heard about the negative contribution made to climate change by agriculture. It is a glaring omission not to use this opportunity to identify a positive contribution made by the industry. Agriculture is unique in that it can make a positive contribution through soil carbon sequestration. Deputy Eamon Ryan made reference to the change in the subsidy and support mechanism of the CAP. I am slightly disappointed because this should not and does not need to be about a subsidy to agriculture because all that would happen is that farmers would be paid for what they already deliver. Soil carbon sequestration means that by managing pastureland efficiently and effectively, one sequesters a lot of carbon, and we must remember that Ireland is mostly pasture. This is something of which we have not taken note and we have not been prepared to consider paying carbon credits to farmers for doing it. I am interested to hear the comments of the witnesses on this.

Professor Alan Barrett

By soil carbon sequestration, does the Senator mean forestry or something much broader than forestry?

Much broader, I am speaking about pastureland and grassland being managed effectively and growing productively and efficiently.

Professor Alan Barrett

One of my earliest introductions to the notion that economics did not answer everything was 15 years or more ago when I did a study on forestry subsidies. The specific question in the research was whether forestry subsidies had an impact on land prices. The issue still exists. As I started looking into it, the generosity of the grant schemes in place to encourage people to engage in forestry was constantly explained to me and as a very naïve economist I could not understand why the take-up was not stronger. Luckily, I am married to somebody from the west of Ireland and I was able to ask my brother-in-law, who is a farmer there. He told me he would not go into forestry because he would not have anything to talk about in the pub on a Saturday night. It was a lovely simple illustration that there are activities in farming to which people are attached. I use this as an example that we are cognisant of the fact that often it is not just a straightforward incentive. People like doing certain things with their farmland. Dr. Curtis knows much more about this than I do.

Dr. John Curtis

I am the son of a farmer from the south east. Carbon sequestration in soil is not really my area. With regard to allowing it to be included in the targets, it has been a long slog on behalf of the scientists at the EPA to include sequestration from forestry. It would definitely be good to achieve that sequestration and we would benefit from it. In terms of stating farmers should not be given a subsidy for what they are already doing, the agricultural sector already accounts for one third of the emissions from the economy and anything that can be done to reduce this would be good. The ambition for agriculture at present in the mitigation plan is to have no growth in emissions whereas the other sectors have been asked to reduce emissions. If I understand the Senator correctly, I would not suggest there should be a subsidy for what is already being done. If additional services can be provided by farmers, landowners, Coillte or whoever and if they would provide a public good, then it makes sense to pay for them.

When we look at the west of Ireland we have suckler farms that are small family businesses and there are not many alternative uses for that land. As much as there are some areas that would have flood plain opportunities and various strategies that could pay for public goods, for the majority it is about doing what they do now but doing it better. My point was not about not paying subsidies to support farming but more about paying farmers for behavioural change whereby they would undertake to do things differently in recognition of climate change issues by virtue of managing their farms or businesses more efficiently and effectively. That in itself would mitigate some of the issues.

Dr. John Curtis

Far be it from the ESRI to recommend what farmers should do. The Senator has said that in some areas there are not many other opportunities. That is true when we look only so far into the future. Earlier, I stated that according to Teagasc, suckler herds are not very profitable at present.

In a sense, therefore, it would perhaps be better for suckler farmers financially to look to diversify but, as Professor Barrett has said, for a farmer, farming is almost a vocation, so I can see clearly why this continues. There is a huge body of research on the production of biogas for the future, much of it coming from colleagues in UCC with whom we work as part of the MaREI Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy. We are not there yet - we are reliant in the electricity sector on natural gas - but there is a huge amount of research on moving that natural gas in 20 years' time, or whatever the timeframe is. People connected to the gas grid will be burning biogas. Where will it come from? It will come from anaerobic digestion of waste and so on but also, potentially, fuel stocks. There is a huge amount of research that states that grasslands may be a potential fuel source, and who better to know about growing grass than farmers themselves?

There are opportunities, but perhaps it takes a nudge to move people to find them. Furthermore, perhaps farmers individually cannot take that first step; infrastructure and so on must be put in place too.


Do the witnesses have any final remarks? They have been well grilled by our members. I thank Dr. Kelly de Bruin, Professor Alan Barrett and Dr. John Curtis for having come before us. We have had a very informative session. If there is no other business, the joint committee is adjourned until next Wednesday, 12 September, at 10 a.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.12 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 September 2018.