We are very grateful for the opportunity to present to the committee at the start of its deliberations on Ireland's next steps on climate action.
The organisations we represent were keen observers at the Citizens' Assembly process. We welcome the establishment of the members' committee and wish them well in their important, urgent work.
Our civil society delegation includes members of both the Environmental Pillar, the national advocacy coalition of 26 environmental non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and Stop Climate Chaos, the coalition of 28 overseas aid, youth, faith and environment organisations campaigning for Ireland to do its fair share to tackle climate change.
These hearings are very timely: Irish climate policy is at a crucial crossroads. Three paths converge here, namely, the increasing impacts of climate change, Ireland’s track record on climate action and the emerging all-party consensus that new policies and measures are required.
Our presentation will briefly address the three paths that converge here, namely the increasing impacts of climate change, Ireland's track record on climate action and the all-party consensus that new policies and measures are required. We want to look briefly at those areas before scouting the path ahead, which the committee is charged with mapping. We are seeing the increasing impact of climate change in Ireland through an increase in extreme weather events that have economic and social impacts such as the fodder crisis and flooding. The global picture is even more stark, as evidenced in our written submission, which demonstrates that floods, droughts, wildfires and extreme temperature events are on the increase. UN Secretary General, António Guterres, described climate change as a global emergency and told the world, "It is time to get off the path of suicidal emissions", in a major speech in New York last Monday.
How does Ireland stand in the face of this existential challenge? To borrow a phrase, I would not start from here. Our written submission contains graphs which show that Ireland has the third highest greenhouse gas emissions per person among the EU 28 and the eighth highest in the OCED. Ireland is one of only two EU countries that will miss the 2020 targets. The current projections from the EPA show our emissions increasing and suggest they will be 30% above 1990 levels in 2030, notwithstanding the fact that our 2050 target is to be between 80% and 95% below the 1990 level. In two studies in the past year, Ireland placed last or second last in the EU in the context of climate performance. No one is asking Ireland to do more than its fair share. Ireland is being asked just to do its fair share and to live up to the targets we have set ourselves.
The big development this year, which is positive, is that the Government has conceded frankly that current policies and measures are not working and that we need a reset. The significance of these admissions is that they clear the decks for the work of this committee. Government Deputies and Senators need no longer feel honour bound to defend the current plan while Opposition Deputies and Senators no longer have an incentive to score points against it. It is back to the drawing board and the committee's work can shape the outcome in that regard. Like the all-party committees on the eighth amendment and health care, respectively, the committee has a historic opportunity to forge a climate action plan for the next decade that puts Ireland on track to do its fair share to meet the Paris commitments.
What we lack in Ireland is the road map of agreed policies and measures to put us on the right path and get us to our destination on time. The most damning critique of the 2017 climate action plan - the national mitigation plan - comes from Professor John FitzGerald, with whom the committee engaged this morning. He said it contains many bright ideas but no new decisions. The national energy and climate plan the committee is shaping is the first step towards putting that right. If members take one thing away from our presentation, it should be this. To build on the promise of the Citizens’ Assembly and to maintain credibility in this process, the committee's final report must recommend new decisions that reduce emissions. It cannot simply recommend more research, analysis and consideration. As Al Gore, quoting Winston Churchill from 1936, has put it:
The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.
In the face of the global emergency, as the UN Secretary General called it, and Ireland's baffling procrastination, the committee's role is to usher in an era of action. We are not lost. The report of the Citizens' Assembly and the modest proposals in the joint submission to the assembly of the Environmental Pillar and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition give the committee all the tools it needs to set Ireland in the right direction. We look forward to discussing those and other proposals with the members in this session. My colleagues and I will touch on various sectoral areas in that regard. Our written submission mentions energy. We need to put energy efficiency first, phase out fossil fuels, establish a just-transition commission to move off peak now and kick start community ownership of renewable energy with a price for solar which allows schools, farms and community buildings to get involved in energy resolution.
In my final few minutes, I will focus on the policy architecture needed to ensure action and accountability, as envisaged by recommendation 1 of the Citizens' Assembly which is to "ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making in Ireland, as a matter of urgency". No doubt when it comes to specific sectors and measures, differing perspectives and priorities will be expressed in the committee's hearings. I hope, however, we all agree on the urgency of designing and implementing a policy architecture that puts climate change consistently at the centre of policymaking. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 was a step in that direction and we campaigned for it for eight years. However, the failure of the national mitigation plan has demonstrated the weakness of the legislation. Comparing this Act to similar laws in other countries makes the gaps clear. First, the 2050 target should be in the legislation. Analysis of the UK legislation indicates that inclusion is the cornerstone of the effectiveness of the law in that jurisdiction in driving policy change. Second, a provision is required to ensure that all new Government policies and plans are audited for their emissions impact before they are approved. While such a provision was discussed in the context of previous Bills, it did not make it into the Act. It is clear now that this provision is necessary. Crucially, and our central point having regard to the overall architecture, the statutory requirement for five-year carbon budgets, adopted by parliament for the entire economy, drives action across all departments in the UK. These five-year emissions envelopes are adopted 12 years in advance on foot of the advice of the UK climate change committee.
We consistently argued for those carbon budgets in the Irish law but they did not make the final Bill. We had one for the Kyoto period, from 2008 to 2012. We need them now on a five-year basis for the 2020-25 period. They need to be adopted by Parliament, not just by the Government. We believe that will help us move in the right direction.
If one looks at the carbon budget outline from this joint committee, one will see that non-agricultural emissions must go down by 5% every year from now until 2050 to meet our own national targets, even before they are amended for Paris. I refer not to EU or other externally imposed targets but to our own target of an 80% reduction by 2050. The task of this committee is to identify policies and measures that will reduce Irish emissions by 5% in 2020 and every year thereafter until 2050.
I will hand over to my colleagues to address some of those policy areas. Our message is that it is up to the committee members to choose the measures. We want to reinforce the idea that we have agreed to targets that are just about getting us towards our fair share of the Paris commitment. This committee's challenge is to actually choose the measures that deliver those reductions.