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Joint Committee on Climate Action debate -
Wednesday, 16 Jan 2019

Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Discussion (Resumed)


I welcome viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the 19th public session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. Before I introduce the witnesses today, at the request of the broadcasting and recording services, I ask members and visitors to turn their mobile phones off or to put them into flight mode as they interfere with the broadcasting system. On behalf of the committee I extend a warm welcome to Ms Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ, and her colleagues, Mr. Jim Jennings, director of content on RTÉ, and Mr. Jon Williams, managing director of RTÉ news and current affairs. From Met Éireann, I welcome Mr. Eoin Moran, director, who is joined by his colleagues, Dr. Sarah O'Reilly, assistant director, Ms Evelyn Cusack, head of the forecasting division, Dr. Saji Varghese, Mr. Séamus Walsh and Mr. Eoin Sherlock.

Before we commence our meeting I want to carry out some formalities. I wish to 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 this committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I call Ms Forbes to make her opening statement.

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the committee for the invitation to come here today. This is the first time that RTÉ has been invited to attend this committee, and we welcome the opportunity to engage with national legislators and policymakers on this important issue. As we understand it, the purpose of this committee session is to explore some of the ways in which RTÉ can contribute to the broader discussions and awareness relating to climate change. In that regard, this engagement is especially timely as it coincides with a range of editorial opportunities that we are exploring at this time.

As Ireland’s leading national public service media entity, RTÉ plays a unique role in Irish life and society. With a 94% weekly reach across all adults in the country across our services, we continue to play a central role in the national conversations. That is a position that we never take for granted. As a dual-funded broadcaster, RTÉ receives approximately 50% of its overall operating costs from the licence fee collected from the public. For that, RTÉ must deliver against a very wide-ranging remit which includes national and international news coverage, the provision of an Irish language media service, the provision of online services, orchestras and performing groups, a national media archive and the coverage of national sports.

RTÉ plays a trusted and important role in informing Irish citizens and in shaping national debate. Coverage of climate change and environmental issues has been regularly reflected in both news and current affairs coverage and across many other different types of programming. A cursory review of coverage over the past six months on this issue demonstrates that RTÉ is making genuine efforts to engage with this subject across a diverse range of output and from a wide range of perspectives. Apart from dedicated reportage in long running programmes such as "Eco Eye" or consistent analysis and reports from our correspondent Mr. George Lee, the topic is well reflected in output which ranges from bespoke children’s games and programmes on RTÉjr, current affairs debate on radio and on television, long form articles and opinion pieces on, exploration of the moral and ethical considerations on programmes in worship and faith related programmes, and putting the topic in more localised context in output such as "Big Week on The Farm" and "Science Week" on RTÉ. Beyond that the more global impacts are reflected in programmes such as "This Week" and "What in the World".

Efforts are being made to make the topic relevant, accessible, and in regular focus in relevant sectoral debates such as those on programmes such as "Countrywide" or "Ear to the Ground". The subject has also been well represented in various political debate programmes such as "Drivetime", "Today with Sean O’Rourke", "Late Debate", or "Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra". It has also featured on prime time flagship entertainment programmes such as "The Late Late Show", with questions on this issue being raised with former President Mary Robinson and the Taoiseach, to give two recent examples.

The topic of climate change can be perceived as complex and somewhat removed from day-to-day life. In terms of our own editorial contribution, however, we are trying our best to ensure that it is explored and discussed from many perspectives to meet the needs of different audiences. That is not to say that there is room for complacency. The coverage of climate change, and other sustainability topics is a matter of ongoing review in terms of our editorial activities, and we have renewed ambition in this regard for 2019. By way of example, some of our plans include making it the theme of one of our Big Picture projects, which is a themed week of programming exploring a particular topic with depth and range across the unique range of multiplatform services that RTÉ offers.

Giving a single topic such concentrated focus and amplification can deliver significant impacts in terms of public attention and action. We are also looking at our lifestyle programming to explore ways in which we can make some of the mitigating actions seem more relevant and more accessible. Given the growing levels of public interest and concern around this issue, the topic of climate change will be a thematic priority in our news and current affairs coverage. We are also exploring partnerships and imaginative approaches in terms of messaging this to younger audiences through our RTÉjr services.

However, notwithstanding our own reach and remit, as well as the importance of national media in general, I would caution that if there is an ambition at a broader political level to create mass awareness on climate change and related corrective action, there is no substitute for bespoke public information campaigns, as well as a correlating level of leadership actions and policy implementation.

The State routinely and effectively develops public information campaigns focused on communicating clear and easily understood pathways to practical action by citizens around broad areas such as healthy living, road safety, nutrition and so on. While such campaigns to be effective must be accompanied by substantive and coherent policies and incentives, they are essential in bringing about the broad understanding critical to changing behaviour. On a broader point, if there is little by way of action on climate change in terms of legislative change, policy initiatives, parliamentary debate and business innovation, regrettably there is less for the media as a whole to report on.

Perhaps this is one of the other ways in which RTÉ can demonstrate its value. The work of RTÉ is only possible with the support of Irish citizens. It exists to serve the needs of those citizens. Among those needs is the requirement for an independent media voice which will hold the powerful to account on what they are doing and what they are not.

Arising from their wide-ranging deliberations, the Citizens’ Assembly delivered a focused range of cogent recommendations for action. There are clearly ways in which as a country, as a society and at an individual level we can make a contribution. RTÉ is keen to play its part within this framework and within this conversation.


I thank Ms Forbes. I call on Mr. Eoin Moran, director of Met Éireann, to make his opening statement.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I thank the committee for the invitation to Met Éireann to give evidence. It was also a great honour for Met Éireann to present at the Citizens' Assembly in 2017.

Met Éireann is the Irish national meteorological service, as recognised by the UN Convention of the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, a specialised agency of the United Nations. Established in 1936, Met Éireann’s mission is to monitor, analyse and predict Ireland's weather and climate, as well as to provide a range of high-quality meteorological and related information to the public. This is focused on supporting public safety and promoting wider societal and economic well-being through the delivery of timely, actionable and reliable science-based weather and climate information.

In December 2017, Met Éireann put in place its ten-year strategy to help Irish society to be ready for and responsive to weather and climate risks with the vision of making Ireland weather and climate prepared.

Weather and climate science is intrinsically international in nature. The global network of national meteorological services collaborates internationally to share information, along with building the expertise and knowledge needed to support and develop the global predictive capability available for weather and climate systems. Met Éireann represents Ireland and actively contributes to the WMO, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, EUMETSAT, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, ECMWF, which, among other things, is responsible for the implementation of the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Met Éireann’s public services are based on knowledge-leading, scientific expertise and capacity, developed in co-operation with a wide range of leading international scientific collaborative networks including the EC-Earth climate modelling research consortium, the HIRLAM numerical weather prediction consortium and EUMETNET, the European meteorological services network.

Met Éireann places a major focus on our international collaborative partnerships as they allow it to successfully build strategic national capacity and capabilities, while providing Ireland with the best possible weather and climate services based on world-leading expertise. Such co-operation and collaboration was at the foundation of how the international scientific community has detected and helped develop an understanding of the challenge of climate change, which brings me to the global context for climate change.

Climate change is a reality. It is likely that the world is now warmer than at any time during the past 125,000 years. The past four years were the warmest on record globally with the most pronounced warming in the Arctic. Latest indications show the average temperature of the past five years was 1.1° Celsius above the pre-industrial era. Last year was more than 0.4° Celsius warmer than the average temperature from 1981 to 2010. This warming is directly linked to increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases, which are also higher in concentration now than any time in the past 800,000 years. Further warming is inevitable due to the continuing rapid and record rise in human produced greenhouse gases.

This global warming is now impacting global weather patterns. This includes changes in circulation patterns leading to, for example, changes in the Asian monsoon, changes to the behaviour of the jet stream, more heatwaves and droughts worldwide, increased flood events, as well as slower moving and more moisture-bearing hurricanes or typhoons. The frequency, severity and probability of extreme weather have also increased globally. Recent extreme events in Ireland, such as the flooding of 2015-16, including Storm Desmond, Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma, as well as the recent summer drought of 2018, are all consistent with, and part of, the trend of more frequent high-impact weather events.

How does global warming affect weather patterns in Ireland? Ireland currently benefits from a temperate oceanic climate with abundant rainfall in a predominantly westerly atmospheric circulation, moderated by the North Atlantic Drift with little in the way of temperature extremes. It is worth noting we have always had extreme weather in the past such as downpours, flooding, droughts, cold spells and windstorms. However, with increased global warming, Ireland is likely to experience a less dependable, less stable climate with more frequent and intense extreme weather events. In general, modelled projections show the Irish climate is trending towards a reduction in overall rainfall, particularly in spring and summer, along with more heavy rainfall events in autumn and winter. Heatwaves and droughts are becoming more probable and all seasons will be warmer with more hot days and fewer frosts. The overall number of storms affecting Ireland is likely to decrease. The number of extreme damaging storms, however, could increase. This, coupled with expected sea level rise, is likely to lead to an increased risk of coastal erosion and storm surges.

Ireland’s response to climate change is informed by national predictive capability. Met Éireann’s key role in meeting the challenge of climate change has been the development of national climate modelling capability. Table No. 1 in the annexe to my submission shows the development of this predictive capacity over the past 15 years. This strategic national resource has supported the formulation of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in Ireland over that period.

As members will see in the table, our climate modelling effort began in 2003 with C4i, a joint project between Met Éireann and UCD funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI. In 2008 Met Éireann joined the international EC-EARTH climate modelling consortium working with leading experts from 12 European countries to develop and run state-of-the-art climate projections which were then accepted and used in the IPCC fifth assessment report. Between 2009 and 2015 Met Éireann, with the Irish Centre for High-End Computing, ICHEC, developed the most recent model projection for Ireland’s projected climate change. Currently, Met Éireann is engaged in the next phase of EC-EARTH global model projections and regional climate model projections for Ireland, the outputs of which will be available for use by the wider climate change research community. Met Éireann’s analysis of the EC-EARTH global model output will be available during 2020, the findings of which are expected to be used by the IPCC in its sixth assessment report.

How do we unlock all of this scientific information and use it to promote climate action? As part of "Making Ireland Weather and Climate Prepared", Met Éireann is expanding its range of operational, high quality, user oriented climate information and prediction services. This is to support understanding and decision making in managing climate dependent risks for Ireland. This enhanced service will build on Met Éireann’s existing climate services. They include: the management of Ireland's national climate archive of quality controlled reference climate observations; the dissemination of climate products based on historical and current climate data; publication of synthesis reports on climate projections for Ireland; the development and dissemination of the award winning MÉRA re-analysis of the Irish climate and also other sector specific climate products, for example, for the agriculture sector.

The enhanced climate information and prediction services will involve providing climate information for citizens, decision makers and policy makers via an interactive, integrated national climate information hub equipped with interpretative tools to contextualise expected states of Ireland’s future climate and to enable understanding of climate risks at local level. The information provided will be user driven and support decision making for specific sectors such as agriculture, health, transport and energy to help further develop the understanding of climate dependent risks. Met Éireann is also building capacity in event attribution and actively involved in the development of a state-of-the-art, pilot event attribution service as part the EUPHEME European research project. To support adaptation, Met Éireann is also developing flood forecasting capability in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, OPW. Leveraging the latest developments in meteorological science, Met Éireann is developing local scale services extending from monthly forecasts and seasonal projections through to climate projections and analysis, based on state-of-the art ECMWF, Copernicus and EC-EARTH projections.

Turning to communication of climate information to the citizen, Met Éireann’s primary motivation when communicating with the people is to help to protect life and property and to promote economic and social well-being on the basis of the best available, evidence based information. Met Éireann’s existing communication channels include its work with RTÉ and other TV and radio broadcasters; its new website and app and extensive social media reach; its public outreach via its citizen-science climate observer network; seminars; workshops; conferences and through its partnership with the Irish Meteorological Society; its work with print media; its educational resources; its participation in the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition; the National Ploughing Championships; science week; mathematics week and so forth.

Met Éireann is now building on its extensive experience of communication and engagement with the public to raise awareness and understanding of how the Irish climate is changing. This work will include expanding our network of citizen scientists through the weather observations website, WOW, an interactive digital platform that will be launched during 2019. WOW will allow for more community involvement in directly contributing to our understanding of our changing climate and weather patterns. Met Éireann is also planning to expand its capacity for media engagement and to increase its contributions to scientific programming on the topic of weather and climate, primarily with the public broadcaster RTÉ but also through wider engagement with commercial broadcasters. This involves developing climate specific educational segments for TV, the web and social media. In particular, these segments will be used when educational opportunities arise such as in the aftermath of an extreme weather event or when weather or climate related news items occur.

While recognising the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment's responsibility for climate action and its overall national co-ordination role in the communication of climate change information, these communication initiatives by Met Éireann are intended to support the wider national climate action agenda through enhanced public awareness and understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, founded on evidence based scientific information. This information will support Ireland’s national adaptation and mitigation plans by aiding citizens in making informed choices regarding the realities of climate change impacts.

I again thank the committee for giving me this opportunity to provide evidence. I am happy to provide further clarification, as required.


I thank Mr. Moran. We are a little tied for time as we have another session at 4 p.m. The lead speakers have ten minutes each. To get the benefit of that time they should keep their contributions to questions. They will get more answers when staying within that timeframe.

I thank the delegates for attending to discuss what is an important part of the work we have been doing. We spend much time with experts discussing the challenges of the issue, but - it is clear from its presentation that Met Éireann is aware of this - the other key part is how to try to bring people with us because we know that we must bring about significant behavioural change. We must do that and take personal responsibility for doing it, but how do we try to bring people with us? Our experience in the past has been that when we get these things wrong, not only is there political fallout as a result but the environment also loses. That is something we have to avoid. In some ways, it is a job of work to bring people with us on that journey of behavioural change. Some citizens are ahead of us, particularly the younger generation which probably has much to teach us. I was struck by this at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and it was very refreshing to see it.

I wish to raise some points with the representatives of RTÉ and Met Éireann about the programmes they run on news and general current affairs and the opportunities they have each day, given that their reach is phenomenal, to present abnormal weather events and plant the seed in people's heads that this is not normal. My first question is for Ms Forbes.

The BBC recently updated its editorial policy for journalists on how to report climate change. As part of it, the BBC has indicated that since the science is now clearer and climate change is accepted as happening, climate change deniers are not required on panels for balance, as they would have been. It has also invited editorial staff to sign up for a training course on reporting climate change. Does RTÉ have a policy on the inclusion or non-inclusion of climate change deniers in shows that are discussing this issue at length? Has RTÉ changed the way it reports on climate change as the science has become more clear? Has its staff received any training in reporting on climate change?

With regard to the need for balance, how does RTÉ try to ensure it balances its coverage between reporting on the need for Government policies to address both climate and behavioural change and the potential negative responses from certain groups that might oppose it? While I was driving my car last week, I heard a report on a news bulletin about a protest in Dublin.

It went into detail about the protest and at the end of the report there was mention of there being about a dozen or more people involved. The mental picture in my head was thousands of people out on the street protesting, until I heard the last bit of the report. The balance needs to be right with regard to the element of proportionality and in reporting on legitimate protests or in nearly inciting people to go out and making them feel bad if they are not out protesting. I would like to hear the RTÉ witnesses' views on that.

Is RTÉ seeing an increased demand from viewers and listeners for material that addresses climate change in programmes such as "Eco Eye" or special "Prime Time" segments? If so, is RTÉ ramping up its coverage or does it plan to increase its coverage on that?

I have some brief questions for Met Éireann. As the national weather service what does it see as its role and responsibility around communicating the reality of climate change to Irish people? I acknowledge again, along with RTÉ, the progress Met Éireann has made in recent months on its website and improvements in different areas. From the presentation I take it there is a very high level of elements and policies but I still believe that primarily, first and foremost Met Éireann's strongest reach is after the "Six One News" and at the "Nine O'Clock News" onwards with the weather bulletins - and I acknowledge the presence of Ms Evelyn Cusack here today. I am a farmer and always turn on the television for that bulletin, especially on a Sunday. I am very struck that some of my constituents have commented positively to me that it is lovely to see the daffodils out in January before the snowdrops, and that the cherry blossoms are starting to blossom. Personally that frightens the life out of me. I am really worried that it has been such a mild January if this is to be part of a bigger picture. Plenty of people have said to me that it is lovely to get a bit of snow again in the winter and to have a really warm summer. I can understand all of that but I believe there is a fear inherent in this if we think this is all just fine and if we do not see it as part of the four warmest years in 125,000 years. It is frightening. We should be a little bit scared if we want to bring people on the journey of very significant behavioural change that we need to bring them on. They need to understand that this is not normal, as the science is telling us. Does Met Éireann have a policy of infiltrating that? When Met Éireann is reporting on a very mild January is there a way it could subtly reference that by saying it is not normal, that it does not happen very often and that it is a worrying trend? They are my main points.


I thank Deputy Heydon. If anyone else would like to come in they can indicate to me and refer questions on to other colleagues. Would Ms Forbes like to start?

Ms Dee Forbes

I will address the last question first. The Deputy asked if we are seeing an increase in demand from viewers and listeners. It is fair to say that when a topic becomes more interesting and is more discussed, we see an increased need and appetite for more in that area. This particular area right now is in that place. We aired a programme on Monday night, for example, which was "One Day: How Ireland Cleans Up". It looked at how we are tackling waste in the State. That programme on Monday evening had more than one third of the country watching it. This tells us very quickly and easily that there is demand. A number of years ago that same programme would not have had that sense of engagement. Likewise across our radio shows, if one looks at the breadth of radio on a given week across RTÉ, one will see peppered across the schedule a lot of engagement from listeners on this topic. It is very fair to say that we are getting much more engagement, and as a result we will then aim to cover more and more. Following that Monday show, Claire Byrne had a segment on how we could reduce our waste. There is no doubt that it is a topic of our time and therefore we are addressing the topic in our news and current affairs programming and in other programming. I will ask my colleague, Mr. Jon Williams, in current affairs to address how we are treating the topic in news and current affairs. Mr. Jim Jennings, our director of content, will then outline how we cover the topic in our other content. It is the breadth of content across RTÉ that will reflect all of that.

Mr. Jon Williams

Perhaps I can deal with the issue raised by the Deputy about the BBC's guidelines. The context matters. The BBC produced its editorial guidance after it was found to be in breach of the UK communications' regulator Ofcom guidelines in reporting climate change. As part of the mitigation the BBC has issued guidance to its staff on how to report climate change. "The Today Programme" failed in its obligation to be fair and impartial by, essentially, equating and providing equivalence between the science and climate change sceptics.

RTÉ has not been found to be in breach of Broadcasting Authority of Ireland guidelines. We are very clear that we have guidance. Section 39 (1) of the Broadcasting Act requires RTÉ to be fair and impartial across a whole range of subject areas. The reporting of climate change is no different from the reporting of homelessness, Brexit, health or criminal justice. We are not obliged to provide balance and we do not balance different perspectives, but we are obliged to be fair and impartial. We strive to do that across all of the different subject areas we cover.

The director general has referenced the increasing engagement by audiences. We can always do more but during the recent climate change summit in Poland RTÉ did pieces pretty much every second day on climate change. We are responding to the increased interest we recognise from the audience. We are a responsive organisation and we live or die by the engagement we have with our audiences. We would be mad to not respond to the demands the audiences make through their engagement and their interest.


Does Mr. Jennings wish to come in on that?

Mr. Jim Jennings

I would add to that. We have seen an increase in our output over the last years. It is increasing as we go. "Drivetime" features pieces on climate change every two to three days. We also do other programming such as "Ireland's Deep Atlantic" in early 2018 and "Eco Eye", along with documentaries and science week - and as the director general has said we plan to do climate change as our big picture later this year. We are commissioning more documentaries as we speak. We have another two and possibly three landmark documentaries coming up within the next 12 months looking at this area. This is not just based on public demand for more information, it is also coming from our staff who are very engaged on this. They know that we do not have to go around programme teams asking them to do climate change; they are doing it of their own volition. We do not have to tell them to do it. As the Deputy said, we all have young kids and family members, and the younger generation is really engaged on this and is nearly driving the older generation on the issue. This will be reflected more and more in our programming as we go forward.


Does anyone from Met Éireann wish to come in on that? Would Mr. Moran or Ms Cusack like to come in on the questions? Do the witnesses have anything further to add?

Mr. Eoin Moran

I am sorry I misunderstood the Chairman.


Those questions were directed to Met Éireann.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I will address the questions directed to Met Éireann for which I thank the Deputy. There was a lot in those questions so I will pass over to Ms Evelyn Cusack and Mr. Séamus Walsh for a few of the issues.

The Deputy asked if there were subtle ways in which we can communicate climate information to the public. Part of the job of science is to explain and not just to provide facts, figures and do all the research. It is very important to be able to provide an explanation to the public. With regard to whether Met Éireann has a strategy in strengthening, improving and expanding our climate information proposition to the public we have our ten year strategy. This speaks a lot about ensuring that users, citizens, decision makers, policy makers and politicians are informed so as to be able to make the correct decisions and to achieve the best outcomes for society. This gets to the core of our approach to any services we provide, be they in weather or climate. We focus on providing the most relevant and salient information to allow the best decisions to be made for society. This is supporting impact-based decision making. We must understand the impacts people have to deal with around weather or climate, and then we must provide the most relevant and easily accessible information possible. That is at the core of the philosophy behind the strategy.

On communicating climate information, standing back and looking at where we have come from, our role is to provide the scientific bedrock for the scientific projections we have and to understand the future climate for Ireland over the coming few decades.

That is in place. What we are now doing is building on what we have called our climate services. I have outlined this in my statement. This is to allow people to have access to specialist information so that they can serve themselves and make their own decisions - ordinary citizens, policy makers and specialist users. On top of that layer, we are focusing on improving our communications - enhancing our existing communications so that we can enhance understanding.

In the context of improving citizens' or the Irish public's understanding in a subtle way and answering those questions about burnt grass during the drought in summer or phenological responses taking place as we speak relating to warm conditions, this is an event attribution exercise. For many years, Met Éireann has looked at developing and enhancing our capacity in event attribution. As I mentioned in my statement, we are involved in a state-of-the-art European research attribution service that will deliver on a semi-operational basis attribution information relating to weather events on a regular basis, be it seasonal or monthly. There may be an opportunity to provide a more rapid attribution service to the public, which would answer the type of questions raised by the Deputy. We have seen very useful examples of this during the drought in 2018. The science is now ready to provide that type of information. It is like a newly-developed drug for a particular disease. It is in research and we are moving towards transposing this highly-useful and very exciting and promising piece of information into an operational service, which is a different task entirely.


I am conscious of time because we have a number of other speakers. Does Mr. Moran wish to pass on to his colleagues?

Mr. Eoin Moran

I will pass over to Ms Cusack.

Ms Evelyn Cusack

With regard to featuring climate change on weather forecasts on television, which I had the privilege of presenting since 1988, I have worked through many severe weather events and in this two-minute slot, we are primarily concerned with the weather forecast. When I started in 1988, our weather forecasting was just about one day ahead - where we had confidence in our accuracy. I am very glad to say that since then, we have developed to the point where we are up to five to seven days ahead. As the Deputy mentioned, the farming forecast on RTÉ is of great importance. We concentrate on the weather forecast, warnings and advisories for the safety of the public during that slot. Very occasionally, we mention climate change. We have plans to bring it in in a more organised way - perhaps at the end of each season - and to bring in more WMR and IPCC reports. That slot is primarily for weather forecasts and warnings.


Does Mr. Walsh wish to come in briefly?

Mr. Séamus Walsh

On the question of attribution, I think Mr. Moran has covered most of it. He mentioned the latest research. The next challenge is to make that information available on an operational basis. One thing we can say and have been saying relatively recently in respect of severe weather events is that they are part of the general trend in global warming. For example, during the heatwave, we were able to say it was part of the trend in global warming. A rapid attribution study was carried out that said that the heatwave over Ireland last summer was twice as likely to have occurred because of human-induced climate change.

I will be brief because my predecessor covered a lot. The challenge facing us as an Oireachtas is to try to engage with the public to make the reality of climate change an acceptable phenomenon for it, to try to put in place a series of measures to change the behaviour of the public that the public will find acceptable and to do so in a way that the public does not feel it is being foisted on it for any reason other than improving the lives of members of the public and the lives of their children.

Notwithstanding the widespread acceptance of climate change, because the basis of it is scientific and, consequently, academic, much of the debate has taken place in that forum. We have all busied ourselves to some extent looking at targets, percentage movements, a percent here or there and a degree here or there. We know the buzzwords and acronyms and those of us on all sides who must engage with it are comfortable to some extent. However, the eyes of the public glaze over when faced with that kind of communication. It is all about communication. Let us forget about trying to fight the battle on whether climate change is a reality. That fight is over because climate change is a given. Of course, Met Éireann will involve itself very specifically in the science so that it provides the evidence base for the future. As Ms Cusack identified, most people tune into the weather forecast to find out what tomorrow will be like. They are now doing so on apps.

The difficulty we will face is communicating what needs to happen next, the actions that must be taken and the policy decisions that must be made. We need to move away from the academic debate and the scientific basis for it and speak the common language. Mr. Moran spoke about the burning of grass because of the sun. People understand that. Farmers understand that. Everybody understands that.

RTÉ does a very good job with the news. George Lee's appointment was an excellent decision and I think he has done exceptionally well in marrying the two sometimes conflicting roles of environment and agriculture. When I saw it initially, I wondered how it would work out but it has worked really well from my perspective because I see his capacity to explain in very clear language and to tell the story in a non-scientific way. He has the language. Perhaps he benefitted to some extent from being a Member of the Oireachtas for a period in terms of enabling him to communicate with the public at large. That is good.

It is about how we move this issue from news and current affairs and into everyday life. Even the fact that RTÉ has brought in people from both sides of its house is welcome. The ratings show that "Room to Improve", which is presented by Dermot Bannon, is a hugely successful programme. He tells really good stories. One of the major issues has been the loss of heat and how we are heating homes unnecessarily. If this was overlaid with the climate change agenda, carbon footprint, the loss of heat and ensuring that room is made for electric vehicles, looking to the future would be very much part of that and telling that story. There is work and potential there.

There is also potential in RTÉ's soaps. I am not a regular viewer but sometimes I am subjected to one such programme at home if I am there at a particular time. I have watched over the years how "Fair City" deals with important social issues such as violence against women and migration. The scriptwriters handle these issues very successfully and blend them in without setting them apart so they are inculcated into everyday life. There are opportunities there. If we are to be successful, we must make this issue mainstream and get away from it being just climate change. It has to be part of life, which is the challenge for us. RTÉ can play an important role in that regard.

My only question concerns what the witnesses are looking for from us. Is Met Éireann funded adequately to gear up in the manner in which it is gearing up? Does it require additional funding? Does that need to be factored into our budgetary provisions? I address the same question to RTÉ. We previously discussed the funding of public service broadcasting in the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. RTÉ gets additional funding from the sound and vision fund.

Should we look into ring-fencing some of the fund for items other than current affairs public service content? Should we consider requiring some or all of it to be used in reporting on climate change issues? The answer is probably that RTÉ will not refuse any money it is offered. Have the delegates given consideration to proposals that ring-fenced funds play a greater role in supporting such communication?

Ms Forbes mentioned public information broadcasting. I welcome ideas she has to provide good quality public information. People tend to find ways to scroll or move beyond public information notices in adopting a somewhat similar approach to that taken to advertising on the RTÉ player; therefore, such information would have to be presented in a very clever manner that would engage citizens.

Ms Dee Forbes

Deputy Dooley has made a very strong and clear point about telling the story. We always endeavour to tell the story to the best of our ability across multiple genres. There is no doubt that climate change is a complex issue to understand and that we have work to do in that respect. We are constantly investigating and evaluating programme ideas in this space and always welcome ideas for new programming. It has been widely recognised that the "Operation Transformation" programme has been of great benefit to health. Ten or 15 years ago that might have seemed impossible. We are looking at and encouraging ideas from a broad spectrum of programme makers. As I mentioned in my opening statement, we are looking at lifestyle programming to see if we can come up with a programme as effective as "Operation Transformation". It is early days, but we are investigating the matter. My colleague, Mr. Jennings, may wish to elaborate in that regard.

We must be very careful that this issue is not brought into programming in a manner that could be interpreted as preachy or finger wagging. We are very conscious of this, which is why children are having a significant impact in this space, particularly in children's programming. As a previous speaker mentioned, we are learning a lot from children in this space. We are working on ideas for how we can use children's programming to help everybody in this space. It is fair to say we are investigating across a wide range of genres. This is not just about news and current affairs, which are very important. The topic will be brought into more and more genres of programming.

On Deputy Dooley's point about information and public service, it is not the role of RTÉ to come up with such ideas, but we are very happy to engage and be part of that discussion because a public service campaign becomes truly impactful when citizens know what they can do to make a change. As I mentioned, in areas such as road safety and health people knew what they were required to do and there was the public service area of communication to back it up.


Does Mr. Jennings wish to add anything?

Mr. Jim Jennings

I will do so quickly because I know that the committee is under time pressure.

We work very closely with Met Éireann and have done so for several years. We will work very closely with it on the content, other than weather bulletins, which it proposes to create in this area in order to identify where it will sit, whether it will be available online, whether it will have a linear attribution and how to ensure the public will be able to find it. We will be working very closely with it in that regard.

The best drama reflects real life. As this issue is real life, one would expect to see it reflected in drama and I think we will.

I thank the delegates for their presentations. As I will have to leave to speak in the Dáil to the motion on nurses, I will not take too long.

RTÉ in its submission states the topic of climate change will be a thematic priority in its news and current affairs coverage. I ask the delegates to flesh out that point, although I do not expect them to present a thesis on the matter. There has been much discussion of children and young people and their awareness of this issue, which is greater than that of my generation or the generation after mine, and how they will play a leading role. Studies have shown the extent to which children influence adults, including a study of how the decision to buy a particular type of car is 60% attributable to what one's children say about cars. That is a very well-known fact. Therefore, the more we do to encourage children, the more it will impact on their parents, other relations and the older generation.

A protest by children against climate change will take place next Saturday outside Leinster House at 4 p.m. In spite of Deputy Heydon's comments on a protest being attended by 12 people and the RTÉ news report making it sound like it was an enormous protest, it would be a wonderful event for RTÉ to cover. Although I have not seen any coverage of it in the Irish media, there has been a strike by schoolchildren in Australia against coal mining and the coal being transported out of Australia through the Great Barrier Reef which has been seriously damaged. A young woman in Sweden has made amazing speeches on climate change. Such events should receive news coverage because they would have an impact on children and their parents.

I understand what Ms Forbes stated about the role of RTÉ, but in its written submission it points out that there is no substitute for bespoke public information campaigning. Although I agree to some extent, I disagree that it is just about changing public behaviour and individual behaviour, which is often the focus of this committee. There must be a far greater focus on changing corporate behaviour and the activities of oil companies and the coal and gas industries. I am not aware of any serious journalistic attempt by RTÉ to explore the issue of corporate behaviour in the context of climate change. That is a task it should take on.

In its submission RTÉ states broadcasting depends on the actions of the Oireachtas in making legislative change. The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 in my name is quite controversial and ended up in limbo following a vote of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment before Christmas. It is of great interest because it challenges the oil and fossil fuels industry and proposes that fossil fuels be kept in the ground and that there be no further extraction or issuing of licences to extract fossil fuels in coastal regions. However, it has been given very little coverage by RTÉ. When I have discussed it on news programmes such as the one presented by Cormac Ó hEadhra, I have been given very little time to explain it. I do not accept that it is all about academics and science. If children understand it, we can too, but we need to name it. If we do not do so, we are doing a disservice.

That brings me on to my questions for Met Éireann. I note that Mr. Moran is a permanent representative to the World Meteorological Organization. He knows that its recent report really nails the issue by identifying climate change as the problem in terms of extreme weather. Met Éireann could do far more in that regard. I was very pleased that it addressed human-induced climate change in a weather report in early January, but in its submission today it discusses weather and climate science. Is it reluctant to call it climate change science? I am sure Mr. Moran accepts the science because he is part of the scientific community. There should not be a reluctance to acknowledge it. A news report on the website before Christmas stated Met Éireann staff had been told not to link specific extreme weather events with climate change. Met Éireann has explained that one event does not necessarily result from climate change, that it must be a series of events in order to be so identified. However, at this stage we should state clearly that a series of extreme weather events is taking place because of climate change. That should be done because we are trying to educate the public. At the heart of what Met Éireann, RTÉ and the Oireachtas are trying to do are the raising of public awareness and pointing out to the system that this is not acceptable.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I thank the Deputy for her questions.

I want to make it very clear that Met Éireann takes the whole question of climate change very seriously and has underpinned the information available to Ireland to manage, adapt and put mitigation strategies in place. I mean this quite sincerely; Met Éireann is part of the international scientific community that since the 1900s has been monitoring and taking the pulse of the planet on a minute-by-minute, hourly and daily basis. It has contributed to the detection of climate change and on an ongoing basis it provides the definitive reference analysis of the state of the climate. It has initiated the national programme to provide climate projections for the country. It was the first scientific organisation to do that for the country. I will be brief on this. National meteorological services provide that strategic outlook on a scientific basis. They provide long-range plans to meet the requirements of the country from a scientific point of view. On that basis, Met Éireann has had the view that climate change is a great challenge for the last several decades. It is a huge challenge for this country, and Met Éireann has responded strategically to meet that challenge and to service the Irish public and Irish citizens in that manner.

In regard to some the articles that have been referred to and some of the questions that have been asked, of course it is true that for the last several years the public has been quite rightly seeking explanations for the increased frequency of extreme weather events we are all experiencing. I can tell the committee that these extreme weather events are putting us to the pin of our collar. In terms of communications, we are at the front line when it comes to climate change. The introduction of weather warnings and our storm naming mechanism were initiatives taken by Met Éireann. We are at the vanguard in communicating the impacts of extreme weather and the changes therein caused by climate change. There is no ambiguity. We have always had the position that the climate is changing. In regard to the communication that we provide for our forecasters, of course we have to give guidance on how to speak to journalists. This is because within the language of climate change there can often be some confusion.

I wish to clarify that our role is to provide climate information to the public. Again, this is to support users, decision-makers, policymakers and politicians to help them to make their decisions. I note that this is also to support the wider climate action agenda as co-ordinated and managed by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

I apologise to Mr. Moran because he seems to be a little bit defensive. The weather forecast is my favourite programme, both on the radio and on the telly. I absolutely love it. Met Éireann does a great job. I am talking about language, and I do not mean it to sound like a semantic argument. Instead of talking about climate, can we talk more about climate change and human-induced activity resulting in weather extremes? Only once have I heard about human-induced activity being responsible for weather events on the weather forecast. We could up our game on that as a way of shaping the argument in the country. Loads of people love the weather forecast, watch it all the time and learn loads from it. I do not mean to be objectionable to Mr. Moran's role, absolutely not.

Mr. Eoin Moran

My only objective is to clarify the situation. We have had a long-standing position on climate change.


Mr. Moran has expressed it pretty clearly.

Mr. Jon Williams

There I was thinking "Prime Time" was the Deputy's favourite programme. Let me deal with the thematic issue. The challenge for us, truthfully, is how we make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts. We have evidenced quite a lot of what we are doing. The challenge for us is to bring it all together. The director general talked about how we aim to do one of our "The Big Picture" weeks on this issue later this year. We began last year by addressing the issue of homelessness. Last spring we looked at mental health; just before Christmas we looked at the place of women in Ireland in 2018. The success of "The Big Picture" has been to reach out beyond the core news and current affairs programmes. For example, it has engaged 2FM on mental health. It engages with RTÉ drama and the orchestras. What we mean by the thematic issue is how we actually harness the resources of RTÉ together to make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts.

There has been reference to children. We are incredibly proud of "News2Day", our children's news programme. That programme has also done a lot in the realm of climate change. I would be happy to take on board the protest on Saturday which has been mentioned. I will talk to my colleagues in the newsroom about it for this weekend.

Mr. Séamus Walsh

I refer to the article on to which the Deputy drew attention. The World Meteorological Organization, WMO, guidance regarding attribution of weather events says that if we are asked a question like whether climate change caused a particular event, there is no simple "Yes" or "No" answer. The WMO says that is a poorly phrased question. If we try to tell a journalist that he or she has essentially asked the wrong question, we get nowhere, so we do not say "Yes" or "No". We place an event in the context of a warming planet and an increase in extremes. That is how we do it. If one is interviewed by a journalist and one cannot say "Yes" or "No", and the journalist chooses to write a headline saying that Met Éireann says "No", that is the headline. We do not write the headlines.

The issue is that Met Éireann's staff has been told not to link climate change to specific weather events.

Mr. Séamus Walsh

No, it uses the guidance from the WMO. The advice is that one cannot say "Yes" or "No", but one can place it in the context of a warming planet. One can say things like these type of events are what we are likely to see and they are part of the warming trend. One cannot specifically say in real time that a certain event was or was not due to climate change. One can talk about the probability of it occurring. It is like a loaded die. The probability of these events occurring has increased, but in real time one cannot say for sure that one was or was not caused by climate change. The journalist could just as easily have said that Met Éireann has been told to link events to climate change as that it has been told not to. We are told to do neither, but to place events in the context of a warming planet and the increased likelihood of these events.

Could I ask RTÉ to answer my question about the coverage of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018, ending the issuance of licences?

Mr. Jon Williams

We do not cover just one issue. We cover a range of issues. However I am happy to take that issue away with me . I will write back to the Deputy when I-----

RTÉ's submission states that its coverage of these issues depends on our legislative action here.

Mr. Jon Williams


That is quite serious legislation that was not covered. When we come to the conclusion of this committee, the big debate is going to be around carbon tax. I will probably be in a minority opposing it, but that does not mean that the people are not opposed to it. That should be reflected. We had the same problem in Parliament with water charges. There was hardly anyone in the Parliament against it, but the people were against it. We saw the same in France with carbon tax. I note that RTÉ's guidelines state that it must cover minority views. That is a very important one.

Following on the same theme, we are debating how the question of climate change, its effects and what we do about it is covered. There has been reference to legislative action and what happens here. I held this brief in the previous Dáil as Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment. I was part of the group that produced the committee report for the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 in 2013 and 2014. I acknowledge that this subject was not as big at that time. However, other committee members and I were trying to get it covered. It needed more attention. Deputy Smith mentioned one Bill. I have introduced numerous Bills here that never saw the light of day on any channel, including RTÉ. I refer to the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017, which is mainstream stuff in Germany and right across Europe. I introduced the Waste Reduction (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. I brought forward a policy for power in Ireland up to 2030 so that we can deal with the effects and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. That is where the debate needs to move to. We can all say that what is happening is terrible. We need to move the discussion on. We have identified a problem. What are we going to do about it? I notice that other Bills belonging to other people do get coverage.

However, a number of the environmental Bills that I introduced did not see the light of day in the mainstream print or electronic media. The witnesses might respond to that point, given that they have said that RTÉ's coverage depends on legislative action, what is happening in the Oireachtas and what the political parties are doing. We can account for ourselves in this regard and have done a substantial amount of work that has never been covered by anyone regardless of our significant efforts.

I only saw parts of the waste programme because I arrived in late before being called out again. It was good and I compliment RTÉ on broadcasting it. Doing so was a good idea, as people could relate to what they were doing themselves. Doing the same in this context would be useful. Waste is adding to greenhouse gas emissions, but our lifestyles mean we produce 60% to 70% more greenhouse gas emissions than the average European, so a similar highlighting of certain practices, for example, long commutes in Dublin, and what can be done about them would be good. Does RTÉ have plans in this regard?

My final question is on advertising. Half of RTÉ's revenue comes from the licence fee, and rightly so, but it depends a great deal on commercial revenue. Companies involved in practices and industries that are anything but climate friendly supply it with advertising material to broadcast. From an ethical point of view, has RTÉ a policy on this? There could be a conflict.

Met Éireann's communication of weather warnings is good and its forecasting has improved in recent years. We are on the edge of the north Atlantic, which makes forecasting difficult. I have often watched Ms Cusack trying to give people an honest picture. I always find the forecast good. People say it is not accurate, but they are not listening to it properly. If they listened to the full forecast, they would find it to be accurate, particularly for those who work outdoors.

Met Éireann has issued warnings about extreme weather events only for those events not to affect particular locations. Just before Christmas, Dublin traders complained that because Met Éireann had issued a red or orange alert that day and told people not to go outdoors, the shops were empty. Forecasting can be difficult, but is there a need for further refinement on a regional basis? Met Éireann makes an effort to say where, for example, heavy rain, flooding or extreme winds are likely, but could it try to nuance its orange and red warnings?

Regarding attribution, a memo was cited. I understand that Met Éireann cannot say that an event was caused by global warming. There are few certainties in reading the science involved, given that weather changes, but in terms of developing Met Éireann's policy on what it communicates to the public, is it shifting in the direction of telling them that, for example, the four serious weather events in Ireland in the past 12 months were the effects of global warming? I would appreciate brief answers to these questions.

Mr. Jon Williams

Regarding the Deputy's Bill-----

Mr. Jon Williams

Bills. On any one day, the RTÉ news and current affairs section is trying to balance a variety of stories, be they terrorist attacks in Kenya, the fallout of a Brexit vote, the inquest into the Carrickmines fire or the trolley crisis. There is a limited amount of airtime and our editors make editorial judgments.

I would be concerned if, across the full range of output, we were not reflecting that. What the Deputy referenced was before my time, so I will take his points back and investigate them, but I would find it difficult to believe that "Oireachtas Report", for example, did not cover Bills that had been introduced. One of the reasons for us transitioning our Oireachtas coverage away from broadcasting in the middle of the night to real-time digital-first reporting is to allow us to carry out more reporting about what is happening in the Chambers, both the Dáil and the Seanad.

We are committed to reporting what happens in the Oireachtas and what legislators are doing. That is why we have as many people based here as we do. That reporting of what the Deputy and his colleagues do is a major investment.


Does Mr. Moran wish to reply to the questions on Met Éireann?

Mr. Eoin Moran

Two were asked, the first of which was on weather warnings and the second was on attribution. Regarding the latter, there are three phases to the developments in which we are engaging. One is the scientific and technical development to improve the attribution so that we can understand and identify the climate change fingerprint that may or may not be present in any particular weather event or sequence of weather events. This is a complex scientific task, as the atmosphere is chaotic, and it involves cutting-edge science in terms of mathematical simulations. We are at the vanguard in that regard and working with leading scientists internationally.

The second phase is about turning that work into an operational service that will provide routine updates, perhaps on a seasonal basis or, depending on the scale of the relevant weather pattern, rapidly afterwards. It depends on the type of weather pattern. If it is a large heatwave or a drought scenario, it is more suitable for attribution studies whereas something that is highly energetic, such as a convective event, is more difficult to attribute in terms of hard science.

The key issue, which has already been touched on in this discussion, is the understanding of that information and its communication to the public. When one communicates any item of information relating to weather or climate to the public, the two challenges are confusion and give mixed messages. The main exercise in our research with colleagues in Europe is about ensuring a single, consistent and coherent approach so that just one message is provided using the very best attribution assessments of past weather events, be they recent or in the past season. We are working on the matter the Deputy raised, namely, improving communication so that the public understands and gets the maximum impact of any information we are providing. I will ask Mr. Walsh to discuss this matter shortly.

On weather forecasting, there has been a silent revolution in the accuracy of forecasts in recent times. This reflects developments in mathematical science, physics and the supercomputing facilities available to us internationally within the scientific community.

Regarding the specific question on weather warnings, I might hand over to Ms Cusack to comment.

Ms Evelyn Cusack

Generally, we warn by county. In the particular incident cited, we have examined the warning. It was justified for Dublin. There was a south-easterly gale for six hours, accompanied by heavy rain. I cannot imagine how anyone could have described it as a good day. To the best of our ability, our warnings are specifically temporal and spatial. That is by county, but even within counties we sometimes refer to eastern parts and so on.


Does Mr. Walsh wish to contribute?

Mr. Séamus Walsh

On the question on attribution, the Deputy asked about events in recent years. While a specific attribution study has not been done on an event, we can fall back on the body of work that is being carried out globally on event attribution. It shows that the likelihood of many events, particularly high-temperature ones, has been increased because of human-induced activity in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. According to that body of evidence, when extreme events occur, human fingerprints are on them.

Regarding some of the extreme weather events we have had, for example, Storm Desmond in the winter of 2015-16 and the heatwave last summer, scientific attribution studies show that the likelihood of such events has increased.

If there is a specific event, we can fall back on the global body of work on extreme weather events and say that these are part of a trend of increasing severe weather events because of climate change in a global context.

I had asked RTÉ about advertising.


It was on ethical issues around advertising.

Ms Dee Forbes

All advertising is subject to very strict guidelines, both to Irish and global standards. To my knowledge, there is nothing specific relating to climate but I will look into that. It certainly has not come to our attention to date. The rules around advertising and what can and cannot be advertised are very strict.


We have moved into our five-minute slot and, at the outset, I call Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.

I thank RTÉ and Met Éireann for coming before the meeting to help us with our deliberations. I will focus on ancillary recommendation I of the Citizens' Assembly, which is that "Greater emphasis should be placed on providing positive information to the public which encourages people to make changes to the aspects of their behaviour which impact on climate change."

Everyone has a role to play on that. We have a sense that a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach will be required to deal with this most urgent issue facing humanity. Both of the organisations represented here have an incredible responsibility in this. First, they are trusted, particularly Met Éireann because people tune in to hear its reports every day. In an extreme weather event we are all glued watching Ms Evelyn Cusack and all the others who tell us that it is not safe to go out, and we trust them. That is the reality. We see Met Éireann as being incredibly important in this. I was amused at the part of RTÉ's opening statement stating "A cursory review of coverage over the past six months on this issue demonstrates that RTÉ is making genuine efforts". That period happens to coincide with the length of time this committee has been holding its hearings. I wonder are they related? Over the previous six years, I have been a little disappointed at RTÉ's balanced coverage, for instance, when planning issues were being discussed and the reasons people were considering renewable infrastructure. Insufficient accurate information was sought to establish why in heaven's name we were doing this, because the climate was changing and we have responsibilities. Therefore I welcome what RTÉ said about looking at something along the lines of "Operation Transformation". There is great merit in that because people will tune in if they are getting accurate information on this. Will RTÉ require funding from a specific Department to follow up on such a project?

As for its relationship with Met Éireann, the representatives from RTÉ should tell us if there is anything in the contract between the two that inhibits Met Éireann from expanding on its remit to share information to citizens on climate action and climate change? Does anything need to be reconsidered in this area?

I have been very interested in some recent broadcast scheduling that I have observed. John Creedon made an excellent three-part documentary called "Creedon's Weather: Four Seasons In One Day". While I looked forward to watching it, it was scheduled in August, on a Sunday at 6.30 p.m. On most fine evenings I am out. Very few people would be inside then. I am curious as to why such as valuable programme would be scheduled at such a time. I should note this was in 2014 and I appreciate it was before Ms Forbes's time, but I felt that more people should have seen it then. It would have been incredibly helpful for the public's understanding.

Met Éireann presented to the Citizens' Assembly and will have noted the assembly's further recommendations, including the one to which I made specific reference earlier. Did it take the opportunity to raise with RTÉ the recommendation that further communication would be required to get the information out to the public?


Whosoever wishes to respond first may do so.

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Deputy for her questions. On the issue of funding, it is well known that we have issues around funding.

It is a problem for us at RTÉ to really invest in content. It is something we will continue to debate and discuss both here and externally.

As for Operation Transformation, funding comes from the Department of Health for that programme, for instance. It has been a supporter of that programme from the early days. As there are ways we can work with Departments to make programmes in that vein, we can certainly look at things like that.

The relationship with Met Éireann is hugely important to us and is one that is evolving. The role to date has been very much around the weather forecast, and we have discussed among ourselves how we need to evolve that relationship into providing and working with Met Éireann as to how together we can bring more information to the public, particularly on climate change. This is something that we are currently working on and the members will begin to see its outcomes.

We must be very mindful of weather forecasts and information around climate change. Both groups here probably believe that the weather forecast is not the place to have detailed information on climate change. We are working on how we can create a slot or place, whether it is seasonal or monthly, to put more information out on this. People will see more of this coming from us.

Over recent months we have developed a partnership with several universities that has enabled us to put together an online forum called Brainstorm, which is at, which features a whole range of articles put together by various academics. Many of those articles relate to and discuss climate change. There are ways other than television that we need to explore, whether with third parties such as academic institutions or with Met Éireann where we can provide information. This is an area on which we are actively working.

Mr. Eoin Moran

The RTÉ director general has given an excellent summary on providing positive information. It is encompassed in the approach that we have taken since we put our strategy in place. Our job is to provide to the Irish people with what we refer to as the authoritative voice on weather and climate information. This must be founded on evidence-based scientific information. I am taken by comments on how sometimes science is not as interesting to the public as some of us may think. We are aware of this and that it is something that can turn people off. It is all about storytelling, plain language and ensuring that people understand. We must transpose the scientific information and transmit it to the public in creative ways. I am quite happy with the summary so far.

I had asked a question about scheduling.

Mr. Jim Jennings

On the point which was just made, RTÉ also has a deep partnership with Science Foundation Ireland and it works with us on much of our programming, such as Science Week, and on things such as "Weather Live", on which the three bodies worked together. We are constantly looking at new ways to fund and undertake these projects.

Scheduling is always contentious, even within RTÉ. As an ex-programme maker myself, I always want my programmes to go out in the best possible slot. We are always fighting with one another about which programmes go out in which slots. There is a whole scheduling area for the independent producers and our own producers. They look at the available audience, its profile, and who might be there to watch programmes. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong but what time our programmes go out is a contentious matter for everyone in broadcasting. We all want our programmes to go out to the largest available audience.

Something that is particularly important on foot of the advent of our new player is that our audience is accessing our programmes in different ways now and it is not merely the linear broadcast. On the recently launched RTÉ Player, we can see the number of people accessing our programmes in playback, non-live, and in a non-linear way is growing hugely, even over the past couple of months.

We have a job to do to make people aware of the player and how they can access programmes. We are lucky that we have a back catalogue of programmes and an archive that is very rich. It can even be seen in some of the programmes that appear on our player at the moment that some of the most successful programmes were made five or ten years ago. There are different ways now to view programmes.

Mr. Jon Williams

Just do not skip the adverts like Deputy Dooley does. That would be very unfortunate.

I will make one quick point. Met Éireann has made major changes to its website. I was looking at the websites of some other meteorological services and they use infographics and animations, which is very innovative and appealing to adults and children alike.

Mr. Eoin Moran

There has certainly been much innovative work done in communicating climate change concepts and boosting the understanding of climate change and extreme weather events using infographics. This is something that is encompassed in the type of collaboration that Ms Forbes mentioned and these are issues that we are already considering. We are moving from the scientific layer to the climate services layer to the communications layer. It is within that communications layer and we are working on that and building the resources to produce that.

I intended asking a question on the Citizens' Assembly.


RTÉjr did an excellent feature explaining Brexit. It was done brilliantly.

We should get that on the BBC.

I will not delay the meeting because all of my questions were answered.

I will flash back to 20 years ago and congratulate Ms Cusack and her colleague, Mr. Fleming, on fighting back against the jazzing up and dumbing down of the weather forecast and ensuring the role of professional meteorologists was maintained. Where would we be today without serious science behind weather forecasts? A few of the questions I wanted to ask were on the public perception and the socio-economic impacts of climate change and trying to get that across on RTÉ to the ordinary person. The terminology that we use in here can be quite off-putting. I know the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, has a sound and vision scheme where it puts up certain titles or topics. Will RTÉ prioritise broadcasts from independent producers and programmes on climate action, climate change or climate information when people are submitting applications in competitions under the scheme?

Mr. Jim Jennings

I will speak to the sound and vision because Deputy Dooley suggested that a section of sound and vision could be allocated if this committee was looking for recommendations. We would be in favour of that. It would be a good idea, not only for ourselves but for Virgin Media One. Independent radio broadcasters would also be interested in that. Local radio and independent broadcasters sometimes do not have sufficient funding to deal with some of these issues. I believe a general consensus would be found within the broadcasting landscape for something such as that. However, people would say the same about other particular issues but it is up to the committee to decide what its priorities are.

On the genres and how that is applied by the BAI, that is a matter for the BAI to decide.

I want to ask RTÉ about its coverage of environmental issues. A study published recently by Gluaiseacht analysed two weeks of broadcasts from "Morning Ireland", the most popular radio show in the country, as the witnesses will know. It found that just 0.92% of the show was dedicated to environmental matters.

That says a lot.

I also want to ask RTÉ about the recent programme that was on RTÉ television which was sponsored by Bord na Móna but about which it was not pointed out that it was sponsored by Bord na Móna. How did that happen in that way and how do we know that, for example, an oil company would not sponsor a programme about offshore resources? RTÉ did not make it known that the programme was sponsored, so how do we know that it will not happen again?

Somebody from Met Éireann was on the radio recently and he or she said that we have no way of knowing what effects climate change in Ireland will have. Surely Met Éireann would know about the effects that climate change would have. I cannot remember exactly what programme it was on but are the witnesses saying that it did not happen? If they would like to say that did not happen that would also be interesting. I am nearly certain it was somebody from Met Éireann who was on RTÉ and made that statement. If the witnesses are saying that it was not, then they can do so and we will see what happens.

Mr. Eoin Moran

This is the attribution question. That is what this is about. There are three elements to this, as I have said already. First, the science is in formation so we are working with the best international research networks and the leading centres in event attribution to put in place a reliable, consistent and authoritative system to be able to describe whether we can detect the fingerprint of climate change for any particular event. That is what is happening. Second, we also want to ensure that is an operational system in terms of science, so that is being built as well. Third is the way we develop the understanding and how we communicate attribution information to the public, and this relates to what the Deputy was saying. Attribution information is slightly different from the normal weather information that we get. We all live in a straightforward deterministic world and we do not live in a probabilistic world. We cannot deal with probabilities because that is no use to us in reality if we want to decide whether we will have a picnic or put our sandbags out. Attribution provides us with likelihoods and percentages. For example, we could say that it is more likely that a particular event such as an intense downpour is due to a warming world. That is a general comment but to focus specifically on a particular event in that manner is quite powerful information and is a wonderful way of being able to communicate the impact of climate change to the public.

I am not aware of the specific interview the Deputy was referring to, but the general communication that we would provide on any particular event would be to describe the general modification that has taken place in the dynamics of the atmosphere due to climate change and then to relate that to a particular event in the way that Mr. Walsh has pointed out. In the absence of any specific attribution study on a particular event, it is very difficult to say that the particular event in question was due to climate change. We tend to rely on the general commentary that describes how climate change can affect any particular weather event in a general way.

So what Mr. Moran is saying is that in general the weather is affected by climate change but if it is a particular event, Met Éireann cannot say that it has been affected by climate change?

Mr. Séamus Walsh

It can be done in certain circumstances if a specific study is conducted into a particular event. Mr. Moran has mentioned several times the moving of attribution from a scientific footing to getting the information across to the public in a way it understands. There is much debate in the scientific community on the best way to do that. One of the best ways I have heard it described is that we are basically loading the dice. We have had weather patterns before and they have occurred randomly, but with human-induced activities, such as injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we are loading the dice and the chances of particular extreme events are increasing everywhere. In some cases we can say a particular event has been made 50%, 100% or 400% more likely, depending on the statistics and models. It is more understandable to people that way. Our activity has loaded the dice and made these events more likely.


There was a question on advertising.

Mr. Jon Williams

I can answer about "Morning Ireland". "Morning Ireland" produces 250 programmes per year, and although my maths are not great, ten programmes from 250 programmes do not strike me as being terribly representative. In the past month we have had the Minister with responsibility for climate action on to speak about the end of the COP summit in Katowice and we have had Ms Mary Robinson on to talk about her foundation and climate change. Of course we could always do more but climate change and climate action form one of the subjects that "Morning Ireland" tackles. I am afraid that without knowing the period in which the sample was taken, it is very difficult to be specific. From my perspective, if we reported on a ten-day sample from 250 programmes, we would rightly be called out for it.

Why does Mr. Williams not put the facts out there? He should have the times and days when there were reports so he could put them out there to dispute this idea.

Mr. Jon Williams

The great advantage of "Morning Ireland" is that 400,000 people every morning listen to it and they can judge for themselves.

That is not good enough.

Mr. Jim Jennings

"Turf Life" was a lifestyle programme that involved some funding from Bord na Móna. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, did an investigation into it and found that it should have been stated at the end of the programme that it had been part-funded by Bord na Móna. That was a mistake on our part and we put our hands up and said it should not have happened. Quite honestly, we were pretty annoyed that it got through in the way that it did. We instigated a review in RTÉ of how it happened. The production unit involved is very clear on the procedures for this type of programming. I assure the Deputy it will not happen again.

I thank the guests. I apologise as I have not heard everything that has been said. I was attending a meeting of the Committee on Justice and Equality, and witnesses might know it is busy in here on Wednesdays. I have read the opening statements.

My questions relate to some of the difficulties around the weather warnings, and I know this has been discussed. There is confusion around the colour coding. There is an RTÉ remit and a broader remit for the State and its Departments. People cannot properly differentiate between red, yellow or orange warnings and do not know what would be the proper behavioural response to them. On the first day of the snow last year, everybody went to work despite there being a red warning. There had been a change from orange to red but everybody was out doing what they do every day. On the following day the warning continued to be red and nobody moved. There was confusion around the proper behavioural response. I know with weather patterns the situation is fluid and is based on the possible predictions.

Have we considered European norms in perhaps localising weather patterns or trying to integrate this with technology in a greater way? Part of the problem is that if people overestimate a particular warning, they will underestimate the following one, even if it should be taken seriously. It has definitely been the case with some people who have been injured and reckless, not only here but elsewhere.

Could anything be done from a public broadcasting perspective to alleviate such confusion so we could see an appropriate behavioural response? It also lends itself to clickbait with some digital platforms, with weather warnings becoming sensational for media purposes. I am not saying this is the fault of those present but it is a general and international concern with weather. People like to know what is coming. Is Met Éireann examining the colour format it currently employs as people do not know and understand the proper behavioural response.

Mr. Eoin Moran

There is much in those excellent questions and I thank the Deputy for them. The warning system we apply is part of a co-ordinated European effort. It is co-ordinated by EUMETNET through the MeteoAlarm system. It is in line with the World Meteorological Organization guidelines and it is very much in line with the European norm. The forecasting system underpinning that in terms of the numerical weather prediction modelling systems is based on the very best forecasting system worldwide. It is the ECMWF forecasting system. Our short-range forecasting system is subject to ongoing scientific development and is again the very best forecasting system on a very high resolution nationally. We consider it our mission to ensure the systems are like that.

Red warnings are very serious and attention must be paid to them. It is the same with orange and yellow warnings. It is quite a serious matter, especially when we are dealing with high-impact weather events during extreme weather. Our focus is on avoiding confusion and the mixing of messages. We focus on this especially in the 48 hours leading into a severe weather event. That authoritative source is important.

There were specific questions on any confusion that might arise with weather warnings. Such warnings are advice. They herald the possibility of a particular high-impact weather event in the meteorological sense. We are of course at the interface between high-impact weather and societal response. International best practice has identified weather warnings as the best mechanism to reach into the information universe in which we all tend to exist and grab attention or raise the awareness of citizens and decision makers so they can take appropriate action.

Ms Evelyn Cusack

We relay those warnings and advise through the national emergency and co-ordination group, of which Met Éireann is a major part. The Deputy mentioned confusion about warnings and clickbait. Spurious warnings have been issued before but, unfortunately, Met Éireann has no control over those. We are very worried about that and we study them. I have personally contacted various agencies issuing these warnings without any meteorological background. We are very concerned about that.

Ms Dee Forbes

There was a severe weather warning last year that involved the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre. We worked hand in hand with Met Éireann and the emergency centre at the time. We were ensuring that we got the information out to the public as quickly as possible, whether through live broadcasts or information being dispensed on radio, on television or online.

We worked hand in hand so that the information that was being given to the public was when and where we were getting it. We all learned a lot from that situation and there have been various follow-up sessions. Certainly, from our point of view, we endeavoured to ensure that the public was as warned and as aware of what was happening as we were, and we got information out there.

Where there is no weather alert, is RTÉ considering ways to communicate better, from a public broadcasting perspective? I refer to what Ms Cusack mentioned about the miscommunication that can occur. Perhaps we should centralise people's information towards Met Éireann. It would be a worthwhile exercise because I honestly believe there is huge confusion. As I have said, an overestimation leads to an underestimation, which can be fatal. Confusion abounds because people will say a red warning issued but there were no consequences or they believed a red warning was issued when it might not have been issued by Met Éireann. As a consequence, people underestimate what is coming and that is a big issue. I do not think that the public fully understands and obviously weather events will occur at greater frequency and force due to climate change.

Ms Evelyn Cusack

RTÉ exclusively uses Met Éireann warnings.

My comment was not aimed at RTÉ. I just made a general point.

Ms Evelyn Cusack

Met Éireann has an office. We work with RTÉ and have a meteorologist on site every day of the year. We work hand in hand with RTÉ to convey the Met Éireann warnings to the public. Met Éireann staff and RTÉ reporters were camped out for the best part of a week during Storm Emma.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I reassure Deputy Chambers that the whole communications mechanism around warnings is subject to ongoing refinement and evolution. We continually seek to improve and refine the mechanism. I echo the comment made by the director general of RTÉ. The agility, flexibility and effectiveness that both units engaged in during the extreme weather events of the past 18 months have been an enormous learning exercise and show just how well the two organisations work together.

I have a question for Met Éireann. Professor Ray Bates is a former head of research in Met Éireann. I wish to refer to what he said in an article published in the Irish Farmers' Journal on 22 December about a recent alarming report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, on the difference between a 1.5° and 2° Celsius increase in global warming. He said "the IPCC SR1.5 report does not merit being regarded as a scientifically rigorous document". Do the witnesses agree?

Mr. Eoin Moran

I might ask our head of research to comment in a minute. The main purpose for us being here today is to work on how we can improve the climate information we give to the public, and ensure that we convey a clear, consistent message to the public so we can support the wider agenda of climate action. In Met Éireann we focus on communicating the advice that we get from the WMO and the IPCC. That is the bedrock upon which we build the information and advice we provide to the users, decision-makers, policymakers, politicians, and so on and so forth.

Having said that, in any discussion it is important that all views, and all evidence-based views and rationale, are taken into account. This is an important aspect of the scientific debate that can take place on any scientific matter. The findings are on how the climate is changing, how the world is warming and how all of that impacts on our weather. The increase in frequency of extreme weather is very clear and unequivocal. It should be taken as an unambiguous statement from Met Éireann that the occurrence of extreme weather is on the rise, that the world is warming and that climate change is a reality.

Is that a "Yes" or "No" answer to my question?

That is a "Yes".

Professor Bates stated in the same article: "As a practising professional in the area of climate science, I do not see the current scientific evidence as indicating we are in a state of planetary emergency." Do the scientists present, who know the science, think that we are in "a state of planetary emergency"?

Mr. Eoin Moran

Certainly, climate change has quite rightly been described as one of the greatest challenges that is facing us as a society both internationally and nationally. Climate change is a global problem. It is a huge challenge to us scientifically, socially, economically and so on and so forth. Certainly, climate change is an enormous challenge that we must address at a societal level. I hope my response answers the question.

Professor Bates insisted in his article that the Citizens' Assembly had not received impartial scientific advice on the climate change issue. Do the witnesses agree or disagree with his assertion?

Mr. Eoin Moran

The Citizens' Assembly, as far as I understand, certainly did receive impartial scientific advice. As I mentioned earlier, we found it a great honour to have the opportunity to provide the advice that we did at the Citizens' Assembly.

In the very short amount of time that we have available to us here it is very hard to go into the science. It would be very interesting to really delve into the science. A friend of mine who is very interested in this area claims there is a concern that forecasting programmes or modelling, even with supercomputer systems, in the five to ten-day forecasting range find it really difficult to cope with the change in weather patterns caused by climate change. In other words, the system is changing so much at the moment that some modelling systems are unable to measure some of the five and ten-day weather forecasts that we would expect to be able to do.

Mr. Eoin Moran

The Deputy has ventured into a major area of technicality but I will give him an answer. Part of the task of a weather forecaster is to try to provide information on what the weather may look like in the next five days, ten days, a two-week period or even a month. Sometimes one could look at a weather forecaster and decide that in actual fact he or she is predicting the predictability of the atmosphere, which is a chaotic system and is referred to as a dynamical system. The predictive capability and skill that we have, which is increasing at pace scientifically, is remarkable now compared with the past ten years. Every year we acquire another one day's predictive capability by using the very best forecasting capability in the world called an ensemble system. I will not go into the technicalities of the system. Suffice to say, instead of using one forecast we run 51 simultaneous forecasts on a super computer thus allowing us to capture the chaotic dynamical nature of the atmosphere, and all possible thermodynamic outcomes that could possibly occur in the next one to two weeks. This work is subject to continual refinement and tuning to capture all possible outcomes. The ECMWF model, which is the leading forecasting model in the world, is a leader in this area.

As we trend into the future and move into a warmer world the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere are going to change. The nature of extreme weather is something that we are going to have to work on quantifying, and we refer to this as the future weather challenge. Let us remember that there is a difference between climate and weather and I invoke the phrase that climate is what one expects and weather is what one gets. This is because, as we move into the warmer world scenarios, in the coming decades, we will see the chaotic face of weather and atmospheric dynamics emerging in that period. The science of meteorology and what we are learning from climate models are merging to encompass the capability, that we are learning from, climate models and forecasting models to improve our forecasting capability.

It is true that RTÉ did not have what the BBC had with the Nigel Lawson judgment. To be honest, the representation of people from the environmental community has changed recently. However, for many years, the dominant framing narrative in RTÉ was always sceptic versus advocate to the point that really respected and decent people in the scientific, climate and environment community boycotted RTÉ because we were only ever included to be pitched against the sceptic, which was fodder for a good story but unenlightening.

That was the reality and I would love to go back over the archive. From personal experience, I was always up against a sceptic.

Mr. Jon Williams

I hope I have been able to reassure the Deputy that we do not seek to balance climate change deniers and scientists. We aim to be fair and impartial. We would be failing in our responsibility if we did not reflect that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is man made. I cannot answer for what happened previously and I am grateful to the Deputy for acknowledging that things have improved recently.

On the issue of funding, can I say to the director general that I would be sceptical or wary about going down a road of seeking funding from particular areas or the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment? It is better for RTÉ to keep its editorial independence rather than go down the line whereby the Department funds programming. The job of RTÉ is to provide sceptical, critical, analytical storytelling and once there is funding for specific categories, or even areas of programming, or listening to any of us here saying that any Bill should get coverage, that is the ruin of our public service broadcasting. Mr. Williams should go to the Department and get a licence fee increase, as some of us on this committee have recommended, and then use the funding.

As the head of Met Éireann said, this is the biggest story to be told. It is the biggest ecological, social, economic and environmental story of our times. Surely Mr. Williams's journalistic skills help him to realise that and that this story must be told in increasingly difficult and interesting ways. Get the funding separately. If the funding is tied to the story, the story will not be told well.

Most of the questions I had in mind have been asked. This is a more scientific and hypothetical question. We have already ascertained that climate change is a reality whereas we cannot say if weather events are caused or orientated by climate change. Why is there no consistency in the change in the weather? In 2010, we had a damnable winter freeze and the word on the street, not scientifically backed up, was that this was going to be every winter from now on because of climate change. We have hardly had a night's frost since then. We have had mild winters. Last year we had a drought for the first time in ten years. It is probably not possible to answer the question but we all know there are changes. Our weather is changing because of climate change but why is there such diversity in the change? How come there is no consistency in the change?

Mr. Eoin Moran

This is the $16 million question. Largely speaking, when the atmosphere is warming, there is, on a very large scale, a fundamental change in the gradient between the tropics and the Arctic, to look at the hemisphere in a simplistic way. One impact of that is it alters the dynamics of the upper part of the atmosphere, halfway up through the atmosphere to the jet stream. The jet stream is normally kept in a strong, east to west zonal pattern but, when the gradient between the tropics and the Arctic is loosened or weakened, a lax or meandering pattern is created which can then produce this inconsistency in the weather. One manifestation of this could be the fact that we are experiencing a polar solar stratospheric warming event at the moment, which is the second polar stratospheric warming event in the past ten months. It is a manifestation of the same effect where the polar vortex is in a lax, meandering mode, producing the effects the northern hemisphere is experiencing at the moment. This is producing an inconsistency, to use the language the Senator has chosen there.

I would be glad to discuss the issue with the Senator. With the other committee members, he is very welcome to come and visit us when we can elaborate on the issue further.

Most of the questions have been answered. It is interesting because I come from a part of the country where the only safe topic for discussion is the weather. It is the one non-political issue about which someone can talk with a stranger.

I would like to pick up on one point with the director general of RTÉ. I was interested when she said RTÉ had a 94% penetration rate, which is fantastic. RTÉ has fantastic access to the public. She also went on to say there was no substitute for public information campaigns. Millions were put into informing the public in the United Kingdom about our impact on the climate and the environment and Sir David Attenborough's programme "The Blue Planet" had more of an impact than anything that had gone before. Is it time to look at the issue differently? We are judged thoroughly in the court of public opinion, by populist opinion and especially by what comes out of the mouths of those regarded as popular. I hate to use the word "celebrity". Is there a better way to communicate with the general public to tell them what individuals could do differently to have an impact and make a difference in dealing with climate change? Sir David Attenborough did that and we now all look differently at our use of plastics. People aged eight years to 80 have changed their behaviour after the broadcasting of "The Blue Planet".

Ms Dee Forbes

It is a combination of factors. The first thing we are hearing from the public is that they would like to know what could be done. There is a need for clarity on the mitigating factors available to the public. The use of plastic has been well discussed. This country banned plastic bags a number of years ago and it has had a real impact. There is a need for clarity on what can be done. Thereafter it is not for me, or the people in this room, to decide what form that should take. Once the mitigating factors in what can and needs to be done are made clear, we can put heads together to decide who should communicate the information and how. I referenced road safety. It was a good example of a collective coming together and making a real priority of ensuring the public knew what to do to ensure their cars were safer, that driving conditions were better and safety belts were being worn. There was a combination of things to make that campaign work. The first objective is to identify the things that can be done and how we communicate the information can be sorted out afterwards.

To pick up on Deputy Dooley's point, climate change is a reality, but the challenge is to make it a reality for the general public. Considering Met Éireann's positioning within RTÉ's scheduling, is there an opportunity to use sound bites to highlight the behavioural changes people could make that would make a difference? Rather than having a big advertising campaign, there would be a continual drip, a daily feed, of information through short, sharp sound bites about the need for behavioural change. Is that a possibility?

Ms Dee Forbes

What is important is establishing what the information should be. We have collectively committed to figuring out what information needs to made avilable and how we communicate it. As I mentioned, the weather forecast after the news, for example, is hugely popular. It is a very important slot and people watch in big numbers. It is probably not the time for sound bites, but we need to consider how we use our websites, radio programmes, voices and faces. We are working on this and need to find an answer. We also need to be careful when we use the words "sound bite". It needs to be based on fact and part of an overall communication campaign which is clear to the public that by doing X, Y or Z, we would make an impact.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I agree with Ms Forbes. By way of clarification, there is space for innovation. As the director general said, we are actively working on that issue.

I would point out that our function is to provide climate information. It is the hard scientific evidence-based information, which also supports the wider climate action agenda. Any information we provide would have to be in support of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment's overall broader national climate action and communications approach and initiatives.

Somebody once said we should not knock the weather because if it was not for the weather, nine out of ten conversations would never start. The hearings we are having today show a clear obsession with the weather. If one follows that logically, the weather seems to be the mechanism by which one can communicate so much because Irish people are obsessed with it and one can use it as a tool with which to disseminate information to those who may not have a conceptional understanding of what climate change might be. Therein lies an opportunity.

I am conscious that we cannot put too much of an onus on RTÉ. The organisation has such a wide remit and only collects so much from the broadcasting fee. It would be easy for us to say RTÉ needs to do more. I note there is an audience council report from 2014 - I do not know whether there has been one subsequently - which showed clearly the need for greater messaging around climate change. We must take in good faith what has been stated here today in respect of the various initiatives in which RTÉ is involved through programming, through Science Foundation Ireland and in inculcating more stories through current affairs programmes such as "Morning Ireland".

The witnesses will correct me if I am misinterpreting the late Professor Marshall McLuhan's assertion that "the medium is the message". I accept that the medium of television and the television schedule are limited. I also accept the point made in respect of the weather slots and whether they present an opportunity to communicate a message. I would contend that is probably not the case. However, if Met Éireann and RTÉ are partnering through the RTÉ Player, they have an infinite opportunity to message to countless numbers of people and therein lies the opportunity. We are all now dependent on the player. I cannot be at home at 9 p.m. or 10 a.m. but I can watch programmes afterwards. The player is a major resource.

If we have meteorologists who are talking about the attributional effect - in that regard, we need to do more to use language that ordinary people can understand - and if we have Met Éireann partnering with RTÉ on the player to disseminate bespoke simple messages around the effects of weather patterns in three, four or five minute segments, it would become as popular as a YouTube clip. There is no reason Met Éireann could not use YouTube as a medium as well to get that message out. We have an opportunity here. This meeting has been informative.

My question arises from my lack of understanding of how Met Éireann sees its remit. While I understand the partnership with RTÉ and the element of disseminating information, does Met Éireann see its role as being an advocate for messaging around the dire impacts of climate change? In its statement, Met Éireann used the word "unequivocal" in relation to the evidence base that exists around climate change. To take that one step further, does Met Éireann see its role as being an interpreter of the science and a disseminator of a message in respect of that? I sense some reticence - the witnesses will correct me if I am wrong - from Met Éireann about its role. I understand the partnership and the dynamic between Met Éireann and RTÉ. We have all come to depend on the weather reports, which are part and parcel of our lives, but I sense some reticence on the part of Met Éireann about where it sees itself in terms of the dissemination of the message to the wider populace. I ask Mr. Moran to correct me if I am wrong.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I thank Deputy Sherlock. That was an excellent question.

When one works in Met Éireann, one of the key elements is to understand where the line is drawn. This is an issue when one is forecasting the weather. Our job is - this is the language we use - to support impact based decision-making. We are providing weather forecasts but it is to support the Deputy's decision-making, the public's decision-making, the decision-makers' decision-making. We do not just issue a forecast and walk away from it. It is important to understand what decisions a person makes, what thresholds affect him or her regarding weather, and to take those into consideration when we parcel the information and form our messages. How we interact with the audience is then flavoured by our understanding of how one makes one's decisions.

The same approach applies to climate change. We are supporting impact based decision-making on climate change and that involves understanding at a community level, at an individual level and at a societal level what the thresholds are, what will affect one's planning and what affects one's decision-making, and then packaging the information in a manner that meets the person's requirements. Some of those packages must be specialised. Some of them and this scientific information need to be transposed, as the Deputy stated quite rightly, into plain language. I quote words that have been used here today - "into the vernacular". It needs to be part of everyday life. This is important. This is part of our role as scientists to be able to provide an explanation in the language that everybody uses.

I am sorry if the Deputy detected reticence but the key point is us struggling to try to explain what we do. Part of the purpose of our statement is to explain clearly what we do. We provide climate information conscious of what that information is to be used for. We have to maximise the impact and the usefulness of that information. It is a considerable asset but we do not tell the recipient what to do with it. As scientists, we should not cross that line. That is an important line that should not be crossed but we should inform ourselves as to what impact the weather or climate will have on the recipient.

Deputy Sherlock raised the issue of attribution. In terms of plain language, I agree "attribution" is not a great word and we will work on that. However, in terms of the expectations that have arisen regarding attribution, part of what we will be doing is explaining yet again that the attribution is not a cure all. It is a valuable source of information but the way it is communicated and the understanding of that information is complex in itself also.

The key point on the attribution is that we are all policy-makers around this table and we are of a certain age range. There are those who are much younger than us who are ahead of us. There are also those who are in our age range and maybe older, who are voters. They are consumers. There is the causal link between weather patterns, the effects of climate change and the heating of the planet which is attributable to human behaviour. If such link were more widely understood it could influence how they make decisions about such matters as how they consume energy and the type of car they drive. Somewhere there is a role for Met Éireann to link the two, for example, where the weather is changing as a result of planet heating that were we to do X it would have a bearing.

Deputy Heydon made the point about the daffodils in bloom in January. We were going into the Christmas period at 12°. I asked people older than myself if they ever remembered Christmases of 12° in their living memory. The answer was "No". These were people in their 70s. That is not to say it has not happened in the past. That is as a result of the heating of the planet. It has to be, if the science is to be believed. How one links behavioural change with that fact is where Met Éireann has a role to play. The Chairman will forgive me, if I have gone on too long.


It was beautifully expressed. Does Mr. Moran want to come back in on it? It would help. Met Éireann is often mentioned here by members of the committee.

We want to work with Mr. Moran, should he want us to do so. It is nuanced, but perhaps there is a solution somewhere.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I think we are getting to a key point, which is why we are glad to come before the committee. The people who work in Met Éireann are mathematicians, physicists, meteorologists, engineers, scientists and so on. These are the core competencies of our staff which define the type of people we are and what we do. When one looks at our mission, one will see that we really do not have a role in effecting behavioural change, monitoring emissions or dealing with policy issues in respect of climate action, but we do support the overall wider climate action agenda by providing climate information. The overall message in initiating actions by society, communities, individual citizens or decision makers is that their actions will have to be motivated by the information provided. We can contribute to the motivation in taking those actions by providing the information, but it is important to understand we are not competent to advise on what individuals should do on the basis of that information. We work on the science and provide the projections and information. There is a distinction. At this stage that is our role and it is important that the public understand this.


Is that the role of meteorological services internationally? Is there an overlap in the messaging, or is that specific to the mission and role of Met Éireann?

Mr. Eoin Moran

From an organisational perspective, the composition of met services is different. Some meteorological services interface directly with these activities. The organisational set-ups are diverse, even in Europe.

If one looks at what the met office in the United Kingdom and other countries has done, it has been and is stronger in highlighting the issue of climate change.


While I ask Deputy Sherlock to be brief, I want to allow him to continue, as he was in the middle of expressing a good train of thought.

I appreciate that I have exceeded my time. For Ms Forbes there is the question of the audience council. I do not understand how it works and do not expect her to answer that question. Was 2014 the last year in which there was an audience council or was there another in the intervening period? If there has been another report in the intervening period, is she getting the same feedback on the need for messaging on climate change? She can revert to me at some other stage on the issue, if she so wishes.

Ms Dee Forbes

I will happily answer the Deputy's question. For the benefit of members, the audience council is overseen by the board of RTÉ. It is one of a number of councils under the auspices of the board. The board puts out a call for voluntary members to be part of the council which in a given year fulfils a number of duties, as determined by the board. It is important to say the council is not the only way we receive feedback from the public. The report to which the Deputy referred was produced in 2014. As far as I am aware, we have not used the audience council for something like it in recent times, but I will certainly check. However, what we now have and may not have had in 2014 is much greater engagement with the public, members of which are quick and happy to engage via email. We have an audience panel which we use regularly in considering topics such as editorial policy and various surveys. We have used the panel to gauge what is important and what the audience would like to see more of on RTÉ. That is how we make temperature checks to assess what is relevant to the audience. We also regularly have focus groups with our audience throughout the country. That is where we hear from the public. There are many radio shows which members of the audience ring to talk about a topic and one hears what is said loud and clear. Therefore, the audience council is not the only forum in which we get the reaction of the audience.

I think if Met Éireann did something such as set up a focus group on the dissemination of the message of climate change, it would yield some wonderful information.

To end on a positive note, there is an inherent trust in Met Éireann, which is a key point and that public trust in Met Éireann is its greatest asset - even though we do not always like the weather reports.


I will now bring in Senator O'Sullivan, as I am sure her questions will be related, and then Mr. Moran can respond to both.

Mr. Eoin Moran

Okay. Some excellent points have been made.

It is my understanding that Met Éireann provides a public service. I understand from Mr. Moran that the competencies of the Met Éireann personnel are in the science area, their expertise is in the STEM professions. We then have the problem of communication. Met Éireann has this superb resource, the trust of the public and yet it does not have the competency in communications to get the message across. That concerns me. Is this something that Met Éireann could do? Should the Government be resourcing Met Éireann to enable it to communicate the message? This could be the critical link. This is what is missing. Met Éireann enjoys public trust, and has all the competencies and expertise in science, but all that knowledge is not being communicated to the public.

My second point is on attribution and impact-based decision-making. I wish to raise the precautionary principle. What I am hearing from Mr. Moran's response is that Met Éireann is taking a very conservative approach to climate change. However, there is the mechanism of the precautionary principle. I wonder whether Met Éireann uses or could advance that principle? We all recognise here that climate change is happening. As Mr. Séamus Walsh stated, there is a recognition of global warming and of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. It is critical that the message is coming across to the public. My sense is that Mr. Moran's conservative approach is erring on the side of caution. Could the precautionary principle be used to move the issue of messaging forward in a more proactive way in order that the listener and those dependent on Met Éireann's message are forearmed by that message, thereby getting the warning?

I now have a question for Ms Forbes. My interpretation of Ms Forbes's contribution is that climate change is so complex that RTÉ had better not do anything and not take action. As Senator Marshall suggested, which I would support 100%, RTÉ as a service provider instead could be doing lots of little actions, small sized messaging on how the consumer can take action. That can happen through a whole array of programmes. For instance, if we want to decrease the amount of emissions going into the atmosphere, we can drive our cars more slowly. That reduction in speed will have an immediate effect. If one takes a glass of water from the tap, one does not need to buy plastic bottles of water that have been stored for indeterminate periods.

Can RTÉ move away from the complexity and recognise the problem? Can it grasp the nettle and embrace it and decide that as the service provider, it will start to use every opportunity to inform the public as to what actions they can start taking right away? Instead of just talking, RTÉ can show the way to take action. Could that be done?

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Senator for her questions and her observations. It is important to state that we are not sitting here and saying the issue is so complex that we are going to do nothing. I really hope that idea has not come across, because that is not the intention at all. In fact it is quite the opposite. I think what I said was that some of the areas around emissions and carbon are complex subjects and we have to figure out how we can best get that message across to the public.

That is what we are working on right now. Going back to the Senator's point about how we can get actions out to the public, I mentioned that on Monday evening there was a very practical segment on "Claire Byrne Live". There were four contributors talking about how to reduce waste. They all gave examples. That is just one example from Monday night just gone. We are making much bigger efforts in that space but to go back to the point I raised earlier, there needs to be clarity. We all need to be better informed. We need to know that doing X will result in Y. That is where more discussion is needed. What is the message we want to get out there? What are the five things that we can do as a society that will make an impact? How do we communicate that? That is the piece that is missing at the moment.

We all have some bits of information. We know that, as the Senator says, by driving more slowly we can reduce emissions but that is only one topic. There is a lot of talk among kids about animals and what is happening to their habitats. We need clarity around actions we can take to make an impact. We can then get behind them and communicate them. That is where there is a gap at the moment. That is what we are hearing from our viewers and listeners. They are asking to be told what they can do. When we put out programmes around waste management or like that segment on "Claire Byrne Live" we get a huge reaction. The public wants to know what it can practically do that will make an impact. We therefore get behind that.

Mr. Jon Williams

To add to what the director general has said, just last week Philip Boucher-Hayes did an entire piece on "Drivetime" about how individuals can make their own contributions towards climate action. RTÉ is organised in a very devolved way. The individual programme teams take these challenges on for themselves rather than being directed from the top. As we evidenced earlier on, members of staff themselves are very engaged in this. They are looking for ways to tell this story. Whether on "Claire Byrne Live" on Monday or on "Drivetime" on RTÉ Radio 1 last week, the evidence is there.


I am going to bring in Mr. Moran to wrap up this whole section.

Mr. Eoin Moran

I completely agree with what has been said here. I note that this is in line with the approach of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It is about a bottom-up approach. This national dialogue on climate action is meant to engage at a local, regional and community level to ensure that the kind of transformation agenda that will be essential over the coming decades is implemented in a very effective way. That is a key thing.

I want to very quickly touch on a few questions that have been raised. Focus groups are an excellent idea. This is at the heart of the impact-based decision-making approach. Although it may not be visible, we have a serious number of seminars and various conferences with the public on an ongoing basis. During these conferences and seminars we consciously bring in a diverse set of experts from the policy area, the political area and the scientific area. We end up having discussions very similar to the discussion we are having today. Our key communication goal is for the public and for those who are attending to have a real understanding of the weather that can achieve a personal attachment to how climate is changing and how it is expected to change. That is a very powerful message and a very powerful communication goal to achieve. That is the contribution we make. It is a negative way to put it but the line stops at climate information. We have a very significant role to play there. This is part of a structured national climate change communications strategy. It has to be part of that approach.

It is co-ordinated very ably by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. On the question that Senator Grace O'Sullivan had on the scientific approach we take, that can be described as providing the very best explanation out of the set of all competing explanations. In a loose way, that is a description of how the science of meteorology and climatology works. Largely speaking, it focuses on the consilience of evidence to arrive at the most reasonable explanation, the best competing explanation possible. Broadly speaking, I would not see this as a precautionary principle. It is identifying the most plausible and best explanation. I hope that answers that question.

On communication, again I am repeating myself a little bit. It is analogous to the way that we provide weather forecasts. We do that by having an authoritative voice and a trusted familiar source, and that is greatly enabled by our colleagues in RTÉ. We then provide timely, accurate, actionable information that is understandable so that people can take actions. We do not tell people what actions they should take but we design the information so that it will actually provoke the action and then lead to the best societal outcomes. That is analogous to how we are moving towards communicating climate change. We are working on providing the most relevant, salient, understandable climate information to support the wider climate action agenda. That is again, quite rightly and ably, being co-ordinated and driven by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I hope that I have answered all of those questions.


Mr. Moran has answered very comprehensively. It has been a long session. I thank all of the witnesses from RTÉ and Met Éireann for coming before us today. It was very important and helpful. They are among the last of our witnesses in our deliberations. We have Macra na Feirme coming before us next. This is the last day of witnesses coming before us. We are going to suspend the meeting to allow those witnesses from Macra na Feirme to take their seats.

Sitting suspended at 5.22 p.m. and resumed at 5.27 p.m.


I welcome Mr. James Healy, president of Macra na Feirme, who is accompanied by Mr. Derrie Dillon, also from Macra na Feirme. I thank them both for waiting for this session. They are the final witnesses to come before the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Before we commence I will read out some formalities.

I wish to 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 it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 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.

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 Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Mr. James Healy

I thank the Chair and wish Deputies and Senators a good evening. Macra na Feirme welcomes the opportunity to present the views of young trained farmers on this complex issue of climate change and to provide our perspective on the recommendations made by the Citizens' Assembly to the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I am the national president of Macra na Feirme. I am joined here today by Mr. Derrie Dillon, Macra na Feirme's agricultural affairs manager. This year Macra na Feirme celebrates 75 years of representing, supporting and developing young farmers to help them overcome the challenges they and their communities face. Environment and climate change are a challenge but are also an opportunity, and young farmers are willing to play their part by embracing new science, technologies and management practices that will help make us climate leaders.

Today young farmers are establishing their businesses in the context of Ireland being a world leader in the area of sustainable auditing and carbon footprinting under the Origin Green programme. The targets set out in both Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 shape the future of agriculture in respect of production levels and the environment. The multifunctional role and multiplier effect of farming means that along with the production of food, the EPA environment assessment in 2016 states that farmers and farming can provide valuable ecosystem services to society, such as safe clean water, regulation of nutrient cycles and enhancement of biodiversity.

When discussing agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, it should be remembered that Ireland has a small cohort of heavy industrial contributors of greenhouse gases when compared to the rest of Europe. This exaggerates agriculture’s output of greenhouse gases relative to our European colleagues and is often used to portray the industry in a negative light. Telling the full story on climate change is very important. Irish dairy emissions, for example, are the lowest in the EU at just over 1 kg of carbon per kg of milk solids produced and our emissions are continually declining on units of food our farmers produce. From a carbon credit perspective, agriculture does not always receive its fair share of credit. Grassland, for example, is an acceptable carbon sink from a scientific point of view and recognised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, but is not currently an accepted mode of carbon sequestration for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. Ireland is making decisions on greenhouse gas policy for agriculture in the absence of this key abatement resource.

Macra na Feirme appreciates the complexity of developing policies and strategies to address climate change. The short timeframe in which the Citizens' Assembly considered and made recommendations on this critical issue is a cause for concern. Time does not permit me to go through all of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. However, I would like to elaborate on recommendations Nos. 5 and 6. Macra na Feirme has highlighted in its pre-budget submissions the need for action on developing positive policies on planning permission and REFIT tariffs for renewable energy. These, along with financial tools, are required to help stimulate greater uptake of on-farm renewable energy projects including biogas from anaerobic digestion and the installation of solar panels on farm buildings. To achieve greater investment in the sector, farmers who want to join together in collaborative projects should be facilitated to apply collectively under grant aid schemes to allow them to achieve economies of scale. All feed sources for biomass production should be indigenous to encourage development of the supply chain.

On abatement measures at farm level, the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, includes a range of scientific advancements and measures around grassland management, the inclusion of clover in swards, nutrient management planning and sexed semen, to name just a few. The three fundamental requirements for achieving the aforementioned measures are education and advice, policy and CAP supports to help gain traction among farmers. According to Teagasc, widespread uptake of nutrient management planning could achieve a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 15% reduction in ammonia emissions. The key to unlocking this potential is understanding how farmers digest, use and process scientific information. However, environmental sustainability cannot be taken in isolation. It is also linked to farmers' economic sustainability and equally important is farmers' social and mental sustainability.

We are sometimes led to believe that emissions reduction can only be achieved by reducing farming activity. This type of messaging is incorrect and must stop. The farm advisory service and various schemes, including the knowledge transfer scheme, the beef data genomics programme, BDGP, and the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, have all helped to engage farmers in a positive way and have led to emissions reductions. Education, training and innovative industry projects have also played a significant role. Macra na Feirme's Young Farmer Skillnet, for example, runs a successful young beef farmer sustainability programme that focuses on many of the farm practices that contribute positively to addressing climate change.

Macra na Feirme disagrees with recommendation No. 11 of the Citizens' Assembly report on a carbon tax on Irish agriculture. It would be a blunt, counterproductive instrument, which would divert output to places where carbon emissions and costs per unit of food are higher. Climate change is a global issue and must be considered in such a context. Irish agriculture is exploring and developing proactive approaches to decreasing climate change impacts such as feeding strategies that maximise the efficiency of grass-based production systems, ICT in agriculture to aid delivery of sustainable intensification, improvements to animal health and welfare, sustainable land management that contributes to climate change mitigation and sustainable management of soil and forest carbon sinks.

Regarding the reform of the CAP, Macra na Feirme favours a move towards a combination of results based and management based payments as part of environmental and climate measures. Results-based payments have many advantages, including directly linking payments to outcomes, achieving more specific goals, creating a common goal between farmers and conservationists and providing coherence in policy instruments at national and European level. Future CAP measures must focus more on outcomes rather than being input driven and they must reward productive and less greenhouse gas intensive farming.

Macra na Feirme has commissioned research into the development of a framework for continuing professional development, CPD, in the agriculture sector. Upskilling and developing human capital on climate change in the sector could return significant dividends. Also, from an industry perspective, a significant number of solutions are possible. Encouraging further research into the manufacturing process of fertilisers, for example, could yield significant improvements similar to those possible with the use of protected urea.

Young farmers are the new environmentalists, reducing their carbon emission through a range of scientific, technological and management advancements per unit of food produced. Most importantly, whatever route is chosen, young farmers need a just transition period. Ensuring that farmers have adequate time and funding to reduce their emissions without sacrificing the rural population and rural economy is vital and should be the focus of this committee. To that end, a tax on agricultural production would actively draw funds and resources from those who need to be supported to reduce their emissions intensity. Support, engagement and encouragement of our farming community to address climate change will deliver greater dividends for the environment and the people who live in our communities.


I thank Mr. Healy for his opening statement and now invite Deputy Deering to pose questions.

I welcome the representatives from Macra na Feirme. At the outset, I must say that it is disappointing that there are so few committee members here given that agriculture plays such a significant role in the context of climate change. Agriculture is also the largest indigenous industry in the country.

We have had a long meeting today and the session before this was mainly focused on communication. How should Macra na Feirme and similar organisations go about communicating the message on climate change within the sector? In my opinion, the BDGP is one of the best initiatives in the context of climate change but only 50% of farmers joined that scheme. How could we improve communications in the agriculture sector in order to increase the take up of schemes such as the BDGP?


I ask Mr. Healy to answer the questions as they are posed. We will go over and back, if that is okay.

Mr. James Healy

I thank Deputy Deering for his question. We must ensure that the information that is available to farmers, which is plentiful and comes from a multitude of sources, is presented in a way that farmers can digest and understand. A good example in the area of clean water is the asset programme that is currently under way. Under that programme, 190 catchments have been chosen and various State bodies are coming together to consider possible sources of water pollution and are working with farmers on a one-to-one basis. They are advising them and providing them with information but are presenting that information in an understandable fashion. Farmers then have a choice as to whether to use that information. I also referred earlier to our young beef farmers sustainability programme. This is a 15-module programme delivered through Skillnet that has been running for the last two years. Each year we have taken 15 of the best young beef farmers in the country and have tried to broaden their horizons and open their eyes to many of the advancements that are possible within the beef sector, including the genetic merit of herds, soil fertilisation, grass management and other measures that can play a positive role in reducing the carbon footprint of beef. The Irish beef sector is the fifth lowest in Europe in terms of carbon intensity. These two programmes are examples of how we could roll out some of the messages that we need to roll out to farmers.

Generational renewal also plays into this.

Deputy Sherlock referred to a cohort of young farmers who are more willing to take on the available advances in technology and advice. It is about giving those young farmers the opportunity to get onto the first step of the ladder and make the most of this advice and advancements.

Mr. Healy said in his opening statement that young farmers are the environmentalists of tomorrow. They are also the farmers of tomorrow. We are locked into a carbon compliance regime over the next decade or so. Currently, we are way off target according to some recent reports, even though some of our sectors are the most efficient in Europe, such as dairying and beef which is the fifth most efficient.

How does Mr. Healy believe the rise in emissions should be addressed? A year ago, the Oireachtas agriculture committee produced a report on climate change to which Macra na Feirme contributed. One of its recommendations was that Food Wise 2025 targets should be reviewed. In view of increasing emissions and the Food Wise 2025 targets, how does Mr. Healy believe these could be balanced to get a reasonable and suitable future?

Mr. James Healy

Young farmers are the future environmentalists because farmers and environmentalists have more in common. Farmers are dependent on the environment to give them the tools to produce foodstuffs. There are many advances which could be used to address the rise in the emissions without necessarily changing the targets in Food Wise 2025. Many of the mitigation tools, such as the Teagasc MACC, offer significant advances which can be made without necessarily hindering the increased intensification of Irish agriculture.

Are the Food Wise 2025 targets achievable or are they overly ambitious?

Mr. James Healy

Considering we are well ahead of the targets, they are achievable. We need to step up what we are doing on the other side to ensure we are meeting our environmental targets. While the production targets are not a problem, we need to ensure Irish farmers make the most of all the abatement tools available. For example, changing the type of fertiliser used can bring about significant savings. I referred to the use of protected urea in my opening statement. Farmers continue to use calcium ammonium nitrate, CAN, instead of changing to protected urea, which is a more effective way of spreading nitrogen on soil, for some reason.

There are 14 suggestions as to how farmers can improve their carbon intensification in the Teagasc MACC. We need to go down each of these roads before considering changing the targets in Food Wise 2025.

With regard to renewables, incentivisation is the key. There needs to be more carrot than stick. As the environmentalists of the future, how can farmers be incentivised to construct wind and solar farms, as well as become more involved in the development of anaerobic digesters?

Mr. James Healy

The first step is to make them economically viable. It has to be worthwhile for farmers, as well as for a community, which wants to go down the route of taking up the renewable energy challenge. Wind farms are providing a return for those investing in them. Several years ago, our national conference visited a farmer in Limerick who had set up two anaerobic digesters when there was a special grant available for investing in them. He told us that if he did not have that grant in the initial stages, his anaerobic digesters would not have provided a return. Considering this grant is no longer available and there is no adequate tariff for selling electricity back to the grid, anaerobic digesters will not provide a return on investment.

One recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly concerns selling electricity back to the grid. If there were an economic return from renewable energy, community-based projects would have a much stronger chance of succeeding rather than one-off investors. If our local communities feel they have ownership of a project, they are much more likely to succeed. The way policy is shaped, however, does not make it easy for groups to establish renewable energy projects.

In some parts of the country, forestry has become a dirty word. After dairying, it is the most profitable agricultural sector. Will agroforestry have a part to play in the future? How could it be sold as being mutually beneficial to some farmers in the east? There has been much negativity towards agroforestry in the west. In order for that balance to be created, should farmers in the east be able to buy into planting a certain amount of forestry in order to gain from an income and sequestration point of view?

Mr. James Healy

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine regularly suggests every farmer has a wet patch of land that could be planted. Macra na Feirme is in favour of agroforestry. It has become a dirty word in some parts of the country. One wants to avoid agroforestry being accused of destroying communities.

Agroforestry is attractive to young farmers and would deal with the large spruce plantations which some argue have taken over parts of the country. Agroforestry involves planting native hardwoods, which should be encouraged. As part of a survey for our CAP 2020 proposals, we found 56% of respondents indicated they would be willing to assign 1 ha of their farm towards agroforestry. It comes back again to ensuring there is a sustainable return beyond the first 15 years.

CAP reform is coming down the line at 100 miles per hour. Mr. Healy referred briefly to this in his opening statement. Could he tease it out a little more and put a little more flesh on the bones? How does he think CAP reform could play a significant role going forward in making not alone agriculture but also climate change sustainable?

Mr. Healy mentioned carbon tax in his opening statement. My final question is what would Macra na Feirme's response be to the fee-and-dividend model, whereby revenue from the carbon tax is recycled to householders, with the potential for greater payments for rural communities? He mentioned a few minutes ago rural communities from the point of view of renewable energy. What attitude would Macra na Feirme have in this regard?

Mr. James Healy

I might answer the Deputy's first question and then get some clarification on the second. Regarding the Common Agricultural Policy, the eco schemes related to the greening element of the payment are not very applicable to this country. We would say there should be an advancement on the requirements within that element of the payment, but it needs to go down the road of being results-based rather than being a list of actions that a farmer needs to take. Taking this from the point of view of climate action, we are the only country in the world that records carbon footprint on a farm-by-farm basis, which gives us a great starting point to show the improvement that can be made on individual farms. If one tracks the initiatives being led in the IFA smart farming project that it does in conjunction with the EPA, it shows that major improvements can be made on farms. From a Macra na Feirme point of view, therefore, whatever the scheme might be, it needs to be results-based and more targeted on the results we want to achieve.

To respond to the Deputy's second question, he referred to carbon tax. That is just the carbon tax that is currently there. As I mentioned, we need to support people to make the changes that need to be made in whatever section, be it residential or industry. We need to ensure we do not prevent people from making the changes that need to be made to improve our greenhouse gas emissions. From a farming point of view, this means a big carrot and a small stick, rather than a big stick and a small carrot. When the Deputy mentions residential and rural communities, the same applies. If we are to increase carbon taxes, we need to provide incentives. This may go down the route of advice. I know there was a lot of discussion on the last panel about communication with society. More being put back into helping people to take the right steps and move in the right direction can only be seen as positive.

I welcome the two members of Macra na Feirme. There has been much comment in the committee, in particular earlier today, on the knowledge and the role of youth regarding this topic. The idea of Macra na Feirme's membership is the youth of a sector that is very heavily involved in it. It is a great advantage and very important to the committee that Macra na Feirme has come before it. It is said that the best wine is kept until last. The witnesses are the last contributors, and when we sit down to write a report, often what one hears last is what is most prominent in one's mind.

I have a few questions. Macra na Feirme is a national organisation representing the agriculture sector but more so the youth and the younger generations. Mr. Healy mentioned in his statement that we did not have an industrial revolution as such and that this perhaps exaggerates somewhat the percentage of agriculture's inputs to climate change. I have read and heard this in every contribution that has been made by a farming body to both this committee and the agriculture committee but I do not think I have ever heard it or witnessed it being highlighted outside of this forum, this bubble.

Are farmers, farming bodies and farmer organisations communicating well enough with society in general? I am not trying to portray a regime of making excuses, but I do not think the message, that is, the positives that have been done, is being communicated. Mr. Healy made the point that we did not have an industrial revolution and that our agricultural emissions will therefore always constitute a higher percentage. Other sectors point the finger at agriculture, and the agriculture sector then goes onto the back foot, into denial and into defence. Could a better communication system within the sector be a start - as I said, not an excuse or a get-out - to working our way towards achieving a solution collectively? With this in mind, Macra na Feirme represents the young, educated farmers. Within this education system and the achievement of the green cert, is the scientific backup efficient? Is there the knowledge within the agricultural education sector that needs to be passed on to young farmers when they receive their green certs when they are in that education system? Is the scientific know-how there afterwards, be it in an advisory capacity or whatever else? The solutions to these farming problems are through science. Is the know-how and the technical backup for Macra na Feirme's young members available?

Macra represents the entire country. Within discussions among its members, what kind of diversification is evident geographically? What is ahead of a farmer in the Golden Vale and what is ahead of a farmer in the north west, north midlands or west are different. They are two completely different planets, let alone two different sections of the country, and their problems and the potential solutions to those problems are miles apart. How are Macra na Feirme's members interacting in this regard? Is there unison or does the fellow in the north west, whenever forestry is mentioned, say he will not be the solution to the problems of the big dairy farmer in the Golden Vale? Mr. Healy knows where I am coming from.


Mr. Healy may respond to those questions in any order he wishes.

Mr. James Healy

Regarding communication, I would not like to cast any aspersions but I think all the farm organisations would accept we probably were behind the curve in getting our message across and ensuring we tell the full truth of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions, whether the issue is production or whatever else. As farm organisations, we probably were behind the curve when it came to ensuring that our message got out there. We are improving on this. I was listening to the radio earlier today, around lunchtime, and there was a discussion about climate change. One of our members dialled in to the radio show and gave a very eloquent and understandable explanation of the farming side of things. It is about making spokespersons and advocates of all our members, not just me or Mr. Dillon. It must be all farmers. Taking society as a whole, all young people, no matter what they choose to be, can advocate for the environment, animal welfare or clean water. They can support whatever has taken their hearts as something they wish to do, whether over social media or through written or various other methods. We as a farm organisation need to get ahead again and ensure that our members are armed with the information and the ability to get the farming message across. This comes back to better use of all the technologies that are out there.

Regarding the green cert, and having gone through the process myself only recently, the content is certainly there and contained within it. Moreover, there has been a recent curriculum change to advance it even further.

The people educating our young farmers in our Teagasc colleges certainly have a love of agriculture but they also have an understanding of where it is going, the challenges facing it and the message they need to get across to our young farmers and what they need to instil in them.

I could not speak on the need for advisers on the ground once one leaves agricultural college but any of the Teagasc staff with whom Mr. Dillon or I interact have much scientific knowledge, be it the animal specialists, fertiliser specialists or any of the sector specialists. It comes back to what I said about getting it into a format a farmer can digest and use so they can take it at their own speed and break it down and then over time they can implement the actions that are included on it.

On the final question, we are going around the country doing more consultations on our CAP strategic plan proposal. Some of the divergence that has been mentioned between various parts of the country has come up in those consultations but young farmers in the eastern part of the country in particular have more of an understanding than those in other parts of the country such as the parts of the north west and parts of Cork that have a large number of trees planted that we need a more unified farming industry because, for example, dairy farmers cannot survive without beef farmers to rear their calves and they need tillage farmers to grow the grain that will feed their cows. The same goes for beef farmers and all farmers. All sectors need each other and there is more of an understanding there among young farmers on what could be considered the better land in the country that we cannot expect one area of the country to carry all of the weight when it comes to climate change.

I thank Macra na Feirme for its contribution. The contribution in response to questions has been much better than the written statement because much of the written statement is basically the same as what the IFA and everybody else has said and it is really depressing to read it to tell the truth because there is no acknowledgement of the facts or of the reality of the situation which the witnesses are getting to in their responses to questions, which is welcome.

I refer to Food Wise 2025. Meeting the requirements of Food Wise 2025 and meeting the climate change requirements are not compatible but I would like to see Macra na Feirme outline how it sees that they are compatible.

The witnesses mentioned the Teagasc report and how urea fertiliser and forestry can mitigate climate change but are any of those improvements being made? The tone of what the witnesses are saying is that they can help if we do it but we are not doing it. Why is that? Is it about payments or the Common Agricultural Policy?

I totally agree with what the witnesses said about renewables, that makes perfect sense.

Mr. James Healy

We can only fit so much into a five minute statement but I have often said that Ireland has never had an industrial revolution and does not have heavy industry and while agriculture currently accounts for 33% of Ireland's carbon emissions, if we do not take any further steps to improve that position then it will become 40% or 50% as other sectors improve their situation.

We certainly do not want to get to a point where agriculture is sticking out like a sore thumb as not having taken any steps forward. It would be false to say however, that nothing is being done at the moment. By way of comparison with the national mitigation action plan, the carbon emissions from agriculture peaked in 1998 and have been decreasing since until quite recently. When the quota was removed in particular, it started to go in the other direction but that has coincided with a recognition that steps need to be taken to improve the situation. Many of the actions I have mentioned are being carried out by certain farmers and the IFA smart farming programme has shown that they can work but I accept that we need to do more of what we are doing already and it needs to be implemented more widely with all farmers.

The Food Wise 2025 targets are not necessarily related to how much we are producing, it is the value of that product and I do not see why the value of the product we are producing cannot increase and account for much of the work in meeting those targets. Over the last two years we saw that there were large increases in the value of Irish exports, particularly in 2017. I saw earlier in the week that the value of Irish exports fell back in 2018 but that was almost solely based on the fact the foreign exchange rates led to a fall in the value of the Irish product which reversed the trend in the value of Irish exports. Much of the work in hitting the Food Wise 2025 targets will come from adding value to the produce, whether that is dairy, beef or tillage, and making sure that we are selling to export markets that put a premium on Irish produce.

I totally agreed with the contribution on renewable energy, that makes perfect sense. I return to the mitigation measures of forestry and urea that Mr. Healy was talking about. He said some of that is happening now but more of it needs to happen. What are the barriers to making more of that happen?

Mr. James Healy

If we take lime as an example, it is a fertiliser that is relatively cheap but up until three years ago we were only spreading 10% of the lime that we were spreading in 1990. Lime is a fertiliser that allows for better utilisation of all the other fertilisers, minerals and elements that are in the soil. That trend has reversed through an intense focus on the scientific value and the soil value for spreading lime so that instead of 10%, we now have 30% of soils at the correct pH for grass growth. We will not be able to cover all of these abatement improvements at the same time but it is about picking the low hanging fruit and the ones that will get us the greatest improvement in the shortest amount of time and putting a similar focus on those as we have done with the spreading of lime over recent years. That is how we create that culture change among farmers which is needed to get them to avail of those scientific advances.

Incentives could be put in place to take advantage of some of those. We have made a proposal on sexed semen in our pre-budget submission. Sexed semen is more expensive than conventional semen but if the use of same were incentivised in agriculture, it would mean that fewer cattle would have to be bred for dairy farmers to produce the replacement heifers they would need for their dairy herds. They would have to breed fewer animals and the other animals could be bred as bulls for the beef industry. It would amount to more efficient use of the animals that are already there.

Given last year's drought, we have probably seen a slight tail-off in the increase in animal numbers. It is about incentivising and the BDGP mentioned by Deputy Deering is an excellent example of this. It is about improving the genetic merit of the animals in our herds. The improvements made through the scheme are being mirrored through the availability of information from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, which is leading the way in giving information to farmers that will allow them to make the right choices.

Basically there is a lack of incentivisation.

Mr. James Healy

And focus.

It is about money. Must we wait for the new CAP before that money becomes available?

Mr. James Healy

There are things we can do through the next CAP but there are also things we can do in the meantime.

Mr. Derry Dillon

To add to the comments of Mr. Healy, it is definitely linked to behavioural change and, like anything, behavioural change takes time. None of us likes change. A large cohort of the farming population farmed in a different era with a different farming philosophy and a different focus. The 7% of our farmers who are under 35 have gone through an education and knowledge transfer system that focuses more on the environment and is more climate conscious. It links farming activity to the environment. We will see change but it will take time. It is difficult for farmers who are used to particular management practices on farms to change the habit of a lifetime. If we can link environmental change and environmental benefits to efficiencies on farms and profitability for the farmers, it will be a win-win. This will happen if we can show farmers there is a win for them in terms of profitability and sustainability as well as a win for the environment. They will see a positive correlation between management practice, the benefit to them and the benefit with regard to climate change from the perception of Irish agriculture but it will take time.

Macra na Feirme members avail of the schemes. Will Macra na Feirme do a study and publish statistics on the benefits for farmers availing of them? This would help the argument.


Is there a cost associated with an uptake of lime fertiliser?

Mr. James Healy

Lime is cheaper.


There is an incentive to use lime.

Mr. James Healy

It is about showing it in such a way that the farmers see the increase in profit. Some of the abatement incentives include a monetary value to the farmer but it is about showing this. Others cost the farmers money and perhaps they need to be incentivised. A chunk of them will save the farmers money and improve their profit. It is about showing this to the farmers. Certainly this is where the one-to-one advice I mentioned earlier might come into it, whereby a Teagasc or other agricultural adviser spells out the improvements that can be made.


On the point on knowledge transfer, Teagasc was mentioned. If it is economically more viable to do something and it seems like a win-win but it involves a culture change and knowledge transfer, and if the committee were to make recommendations, which is the group to best advise farmers? I do not want to pin the witnesses down but do they have any suggestions? They do not have to answer today. They can come back.

Mr. James Healy

We can certainly come back but all farm organisations have a role to play in various farm talks that may be organised. Those who deal with farmers on a day-to-day basis and on a one-to-one basis are in the best position to show them. It is about making sure the message is out there for farmers to see. We may certainly come back to the committee on this.

Apart from Macra na Feirme, the farming organisations that have come before the committee have certainly not said any of this can be done.


Teagasc has said it can be done.

Teagasc has said so but the farm representative organisations have not.


The IFA referenced it when it was before the committee. If there are gaps in putting in place what is already there to reduce our emissions we would like to know about them.

I very much welcome the presentation and I completely agree with the objective and the reality that young farmers are the new environmentalists. This has to be where we are going and for farming it is the only future. It is the only really viable future not just because we all rely on the environment, particularly farmers, but because of the prospect of reducing costs. It is about the prospect of having more diverse income streams, not just from a variety of crops and food income streams, which is one of the directions we need to go in, but also from agroforestry and tourism. I see it from the point of view of training a new generation of farmers coming in. Designing the new CAP around diverse and higher farming income and more environmentally sustainable farming is the only future for Irish farming. To be perfectly honest, the current system does not deliver. Do the witnesses believe the current system is working for young Irish farmers? There is terrible fear and people are told not to listen to the Green Party and not to change Irish farming, as if it is great, but only 7% of Irish farmers are under 35. It is a job where it helps to be young. Is the current system working?

Mr. James Healy

If we look simply at the age demographic of Irish farming there have been some small improvements in recent years. The most recent CAP, which provided a top-up for young farmers, was certainly a step in the right direction but there are more challenges than what is coming through the CAP. To be fair, in this country a value is definitely placed on young farmers and creating generational change. The biggest challenge that faces many young farmers is access to land. As Mr. Dillon mentioned, we have a huge cohort of farmers in their 60s, 70s and 80s who have known nothing else. There is a fear that if they hand over the farm, whether to a son, nephew, daughter, niece or complete stranger, they have nothing left and no security for themselves. As Mr. Dillon mentioned, there is a fear of change and the unknown. A step we have taken in this direction is the land mobility service. Older farmers who put themselves forward as people who want to take a step back or retire are matched with a suitable younger farmer with whom they can farm in partnership, lease the farm or work together. It creates a link, trust and transition. This is one measure we have taken to try to address access to land, which is the main issue for young farmers. The CAP has gone some way to helping. Something we have proposed for the next CAP is support for schemes such as this, which helped create the transition.

I agree fully with Mr. Healy. It is exactly the type of scheme and initiative we need to open up access to land and provide securities and other mechanisms to do so. John Gummer, Lord Deben, the former UK environment Minister, now chairman of its climate committee, and farmer speaks very authoritatively on farming. It is interesting to listen to him.

He said the UK opted for an industrialised, intensive farming system and is now rapidly retreating, not just because it realises that system does not work in terms of profitability. The banks and everyone else benefit but the farmer does not in the end. The farmers end up indentured to a very intensive system. The soil and environment are shot and the UK actually has to go back to where we are, which is to smaller, family-based, less-intensive farms. It is similar in New Zealand. It opted for mass intensification. It has land very similar to ours and has some similar social characteristics. It is rapidly retreating because its water is gone.

Reference was made to what we value. When I listen to Teagasc and, I hate to say, the farming organisations, and certainly the Department and the Minister, I realise they are all about intensification and rapidly trying to get to where England is and where New Zealand went. I am pulling my hair out in the belief we should not do this because those countries are coming back towards us. Why would we not stay where we are?

Let me outline why I asked whether the system is working. We have to look at this from a rural development perspective. I have always believed Macra na Feirme recognises the importance of community, getting farmers working together in a parish, working collectively and having a rural community. Not only is the intensification model destroying the water, wrecking the soil and creating a system of indentured farming that is good for big business but not for the small Irish family farm, it is also failing to protect rural communities. While we need to give young farmers access to land, do we not need to go a little further and shift away from the concept of achieving growth at all costs and having ever-greater intensification, which is all about the processors doing well and big industrial plcs calling all the shots and running things, which is where we are going? I do not want to name names here but we all know who we are talking about. Does Macra na Feirme, as a community organisation, not believe the shift needs to happen?

Mr. James Healy

May I address the first question and lead on to the second? The change in the farming demographic is much greater in dairy farming because it is a profitable sector. I mentioned earlier creating greater value for the produce Irish farmers produce. The beef sector might be producing a slim profit but, more than likely, 90% of beef farmers in Ireland are depending on the single farm payment to live. The tillage sector has been reasonably good this year but has experienced much lower yields because of the conditions last year. With regard to the horticulture sector, I cannot imagine what it would be like to see a kilogram of my carrots that I put my heart and soul into producing being sold for 49 cent in a shop. We need to place more value on the food we are producing. It is important that there be a secure food source for the populations of Ireland and the rest of Europe, which is why the Common Agricultural Policy exists, but we need to realise that, in 1970, consumers were spending 30% of their income on food and that this proportion is now down to 10%. This is with much improved production processes, improvements to animal welfare, etc. Scale is important for some farmers because it is the only way they can make a full-time living.

In our organisation, we ask whether a farmer with 100 cows would be better off with that number and operating extremely well, perhaps working alone, which might involve a small bit of labour from time to time, or whether he would be better off with 200, thus having to bring in extra labour and all that comes with it. We are examining this. This relates to the question the Deputy asked. We certainly value the Irish family farm model but we must ask whether the Irish farmer is getting the correct reward for this.

With regard to climate action, 40% of the carbon attributed to food production, depending on the product, is associated with the waste of the product.

One could eliminate this. I am not a science expert, but the figure is based on a study carried out by a Dutch university that Mr. Dillon and I saw when in Brussels. The food waste element amounted to the equivalent of the production element of the food's lifecycle because we were throwing away so much. That is where it might come back-----

I firmly believe we should be setting limits in policy to cap the number of cows on dairy farms, for example, to a maximum of 100. The 400 cow farms we often see on arable land could switch the whole country over. What sort of countryside would it create? However, it is not just a matter of the limit. We cannot opt for a Food Wise strategy that sees an increase in emissions, which is where we are going. Environmentally, that is not on; we have to cut our emissions. Even with all of the changes concerning ammonia, urea and lime, Teagasc is still projecting increases in emissions. This has to change. In making the change the environmentalists are the delegates' best ally because there are no better people to say it is wrong that carrots are being sold for 49 cent per kilogramme and to help to create a culture in which farmers have a better income in an environment in which we are reducing our emissions.

Deputy Deering asked about the carbon tax. We have to be careful not to mix up the taxes. There is a carbon tax on the general economy, which is currently €20 per tonne, but that is a separate issue. As we raise that tax, I grant absolutely that we have to look after rural areas by retrofitting rural houses first and investing in public transport for rural areas and so on, but I understood the tax Professor Alan Matthews was considering in his presentation to the Citizens' Assembly was much more specific. It is a tax on the consumption of meat and cheese. I envisage great benefits in reducing waste and it would not be the farmer who would take the cut but the retailers, processors and consumers. If we could be certain that the carbon tax on the consumption of meat and dairy would not be taken from the farmers' share which needs to rise and that the revenue generated would go back into farm incomes, resulting in a net gain for the farming community, as proposed by Professor Matthews, and if we could devise a mechanism whereby the power relations in Irish agriculture changed in order that the farmer would not just be the price-taker taking the hit, would it not help rural development and farming?

Mr. James Healy

The Deputy has put me on the spot. If it could be guaranteed, it could very well have a positive impact but not being an economist, I do not know whether it is possible to have such a scheme. On the placing of a carbon tax on agriculture, Mr. Colm McCarthy had an interesting piece in last week's Irish Farmers Journal related to a point made in my presentation, namely, that climate action and climate change represented a global challenge. We are producing the most carbon-friendly dairy and pork and, to my surprise, tillage produce, certainly in Europe, if not the world. I cannot see the benefits of displacing production in Ireland-----

Bearing in mind what Deputy Pringle said at the start, I am slightly nervous about going back to that argument all the time.

Mr. James Healy

If we are serious about tackling climate change, does it not make sense to produce a food in the place where it is most-----

I listened to Professor John Sweeney on that issue at a meeting we had with the farmers' organisations, including Macra na Feirme. It was very useful. Mr. Healy will remember that when Professor Sweeney was asked the question, he said every country, no matter how efficient,had to face up to the scale of the change required and the challenges posed in that regard.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Australia will burn in a climate change world. It is as if we are just living in a world as it is, and it is a case of us being more efficient than someone else. Everyone will have to be engaged and everyone will have to reduce. To be perfectly honest, as an environmentalist I do not buy the idea that we can expand because we are more efficient.

I am a great fan of anaerobic digestion, but I am nervous about what I see in Food Wise 2025, namely, a significant increase in poultry and pork production. That was mentioned by the witnesses. In Northern Ireland there has been an incredible boom in pig numbers. They now have enough pigs to provide sewage equivalent to that from 12 million people. That is the level of industrial output that is planned in that sector. The anaerobic digestion systems come from America where there is an indentured agricultural system with the poor farmer who has a pig lot being on a minimal margin and often in a very precarious position. If there is an outbreak of flu or anything else happens, the pig farmers are the ones who get hit. Even though anaerobic digestion is green in the sense that one gets an energy crop, there are digestive problems and water problems. In parts of the North we are seeing the water and other systems being trashed under the guise of doing a good or green thing.

I fear that UCC, Teagasc and others are pitching this here as part of a more industrial expansionary approach to agriculture. They are putting a green label on it by saying anaerobic digestion is attached to it. I would love to see local farmers coming together on a collaborative basis, but I fear it would end up as big industry. Farmers would plough material into a big processing system that is the furthest from green. I wanted to flag that issue. We need to do research on that before we leap into an expansion of anaerobic digestion. It could be sold as a green thing but it would be an industrial farming system in the guise of a green approach from which farmers would not necessarily benefit.

We should encourage more research on carbon tax to guarantee protection for the farming community. We need to change the power relations, which is what the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and others are saying we need to do anyway. That might be something on which we will need to do further research.

Mr. Derry Dillon

Currently, we do not have a functioning food supply chain for farmers. I know the Commission is looking at it on a European level to try to address it, but before we do anything else we must address the position of farmers within the food supply chain, because any further taxation is just going to be passed back to the farmer. It is a fallacy to think that the consumer, processor or retailer will take that on. Unfortunately, it will be the farmer who will get hit.

I agree 100% with Mr. Dillon. The greatest allies farmers have in changing the power balance are the Greens.

Senator Paul Daly took the Chair.

I thank Mr. Healy and Mr. Dillon for attending. I appreciate their contribution. Mr. Healy said in his presentation that grassland is not a currently accepted mode of carbon sequestration for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control, IPCC. From my understanding, Ireland reports all emissions and sequestration to the IPCC, including from grassland. The emissions sequestration must be accounted for in our 2030 EU non-traded sector targets as part of the EU nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement. I would welcome a comment from him on that point.

The committee has heard from a range of sources about the importance of farmers getting the right incentives to reduce emissions. The submission referred to the same theme, namely, seeking to link payments to outcomes. What proposals do the witnesses have on how to make this happen in the overall sense?

Following on from what Deputy Eamon Ryan said about New Zealand, have the witnesses looked at what is happening there with regard to the inclusion of agriculture in their emissions trading scheme? Given the economic challenges faced by beef producers, what are the views of the witnesses on the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly that we should support diversification?

What is the view of the witnesses, as young farmers and, as they said themselves, as environmentalists, on diversification? What diversification mechanisms do they envisage for the young farmer in the future? How can we expand our range and do things better? Ireland is an island nation. It is a great country for growing crops. We should always look for a premium price because of the quality of what we can potentially produce. I would welcome some comments on what is envisaged in terms of diversification.

I will not be able to wait for the response as there is a vote in the Dáil, so I will leave the floor to Senator O'Sullivan. I apologise for having to leave.

Mr. James Healy

I thank Senator O'Sullivan for her questions. We will check the position on grassland sequestration. Things advance and changes may have happened since we first checked the position.

New Zealand was a topic of discussion at our recent committee meeting in terms of trading and the various things farmers could do to diversify such as renewable energy or solar panels. If farmers were able to sell electricity back into the grid, it would provide some opportunity for diversification. The credit for the reduction in carbon emissions would go to the energy sector as opposed to agriculture. I do not know enough about the situation in New Zealand to give a good response but the situation should be examined to ensure that agriculture receives the credit it deserves for any improvements that are made by farmers or the industry.

In terms of results-based schemes, we are the only country in the world that is measuring the carbon footprint of farms with the carbon navigator. That provides a fantastic basis for a results-based scheme where a benchmark can be set and the improvement coming from the steps a farmer has taken can be seen. That comes back to including farmers in the design of schemes. A Pillar 2 or rural development programme scheme that has been a great success is the Burren Beo scheme. Farmers were involved in the development of the scheme and their knowledge and experience was acknowledged, but the scheme also achieves the results. Benefits are provided for the farmer but the scheme also provides the benefits that were sought in other areas. It is about working together and making a collaborative effort that could point us in the right direction when it comes to some of the improvements that were mentioned.

Mr. Healy mentioned Burren Beo, the farming project which is a very good model that has had a tourism spin-off in that the farmers interact with tourists. Following on from what Deputy Eamon Ryan said, what we in the Green Party are saying is that in many cases we are very close and aligned. I come from a dairy farming background myself and I have always seen farmers as the custodians of the countryside. I am delighted to hear the witnesses are coming into the environmental arena. I very much welcome the opening up of that conversation.

I welcome the representatives from Macra na Feirme. I commend Mr. Healy on showing there is a positive aspect to farming for the younger generation and ensuring that we have a workforce going forward. We are all aware that labour is a scarce commodity in the agriculture sector. I have listened to the questions asked by other members and I heard an interesting point Mr. Healy made that was not picked up. I can see where he is coming from.

Outside of transport, agriculture seems to be the next sector hit in this country for carbon and climatic change issues. We are considered a non-industrialised nation. Britain had an industrial revolution in the 1800s and 1900s and there was growth in the likes of Germany. Are we now in a situation, as a country, whereby we have to carry an extra burden to clean up the damage that has been caused? Do we actually carry a heavier burden in cleaning up the air for the sake of other countries that created the problem, and continue to do so? That is a good point.

We are going down the road of imposing further conditions on farming practices and so forth. Are we being the extra good boys again in the EU family compared to the Dutch, Danish or French farmers? Are we once again leading the pack in putting in stringent conditions about going forward in our farming practices? That is where we are at the moment. Bigger penalties are coming on to us straight away, when other countries might not be carrying out the same guidelines as regards climatic change.

Would the witnesses further comment on their views on anaerobic digesters? I ask for further comment because I was disappointed to hear Deputy Eamon Ryan does not think they were a good solution for creating green energy. He is saying they are going to create more damage. My understanding about anaerobic digesters was that they were there to reduce the spillage of liquid manure into lands and produce green energy. I ask for further comment on that. Are the witnesses happy with the Government's plan? I know from people going abroad that, in Germany for example, nearly every farmer has his own anaerobic digester, no matter what size the farm. Half of those farmers' work day was keeping the thing going. I asked the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, what was his plan for Ireland and he said, in the grand system, it would not be viable to put an anaerobic digester in every farmer's yard. That is why the current Government has proposed regionalisation for anaerobic digestion. I do not know is it every parish or what catchment area applies. Is Macra na Feirme happy enough with the general policy as to the delivery of these projects?

Everyone is telling us what to do. The Chairman should also be aware that climate change means the climate is changing in the seasons. Should we not be reviewing practices as well? We had to wait until last Sunday before the tractor and tank could go back out in the field. Should we go back to the situation of giving trust back to the farmer? There was livestock out around me on Christmas Day because the grass was growing. Should we go back and let the farmers, who are the keepers of the land, know how to practise proper farming? Are there any areas we should be reviewing?

We spoke about young farmers getting involved and taking over land. What incentives would Macra na Feirme propose for older people? We do not want to push them off the land. There was a farm retirement scheme at one stage and I do not think it was attractive from a monetary point of view. I do not know if it worked. There are 50 year old farmers whose fathers are still the bosses on the farm, or if not the bosses, the deeds in the solicitor's office are in the father's name. I thank the witnesses for their time.

Mr. James Healy

The same targets are in place for every country and agriculture has to face the targets that are ahead of it.

We need to recognise that agriculture is sometimes unfairly tarnished in Ireland, relative to other European countries, and people do not understand the full story as to why in France or Germany, or elsewhere in mainland Europe, agriculture may only be 10% of the carbon emissions when it is 33% or 35% here. The targets are there, the percentage is the same and, because of the size of our industry, those targets are probably fair enough. We certainly need to get across the message that Ireland is not an agricultural carbon blackguard just because it is at 33%. We need to ensure that society at large understands the full context of the situation.

Deputy Eamon Ryan mentioned the point where anaerobic digesters have capacity far above and beyond what could possibly be used by the anaerobic digesters that are there and that is a situation we do not want. We do not want to have enough for 12 million people in an area with a population of 1.5 million or 2 million. That seems a step beyond what is required. Anaerobic digesters certainly have a role to play even in the positive impact they can have from an agricultural slurry point of view. They make the nitrogen in the effluent more usable and available for the soil afterwards. That is a positive I had not mentioned earlier. Irish farms do not have the scale to have an anaerobic digester on every farm but certainly, as we mentioned in our presentation, community based schemes and the set up of co-operatives within communities to allow them to share in the benefits of having an anaerobic digester in an area may help to overcome some of the planning objections and give the local community a sense of ownership of the project. Once there is a REFIT tariff that makes it economically viable for the farmer, it can be beneficial to all.

I agree with what was said about the issue of calendar farming. We had super weeks at the start of January but we could not spread slurry and maybe we need to change. There is a reason for calendar farming in that the scientific evidence shows that slurry does not need to be spread when the grass is not growing but, if the grass is growing at the end of December and the start of January, maybe we should be able to spread then. By the same token, if the scientific evidence shows that, if there is a cold spell at the beginning of March, as there was last year, then we can swap the three weeks of spreading in December and January because the grass was growing and agree not to spread in the three weeks of sub-zero temperatures in March. The scientific evidence is there to show that it will not be a positive for our water quality if we are spreading slurry at unsuitable times of the year but we can use that same scientific basis to have a bit of flexibility within the system to allow farmers spread more responsibly.

The farm retirement scheme worked for the number of years that it was in place. There was a considerable change in the average age of farmers and in the age of farmers who were actually farming the farm. A scheme that expected farmers to retire at the age of 55 was probably not going to work in the long term. From the point of view of Macra na Feirme, something that is coming out of our consultations on the next Common Agricultural Policy at the moment is a retirement scheme, not necessarily an early retirement scheme, but simply a retirement scheme that would provide some security for the older farmer once they have handed over the land and control of the farm to the younger farmer.

Certainly, that could be something positive to be included in the next Common Agricultural Policy.

To be fair to the older men, in other sectors we are extending the age limit. For example, public servants can now work until they are 70.

Mr. James Healy

My response to that is that a major point in favour of something like a retirement scheme is farm safety. While younger farmers are no less likely to be involved in a farm accident than older farmers, the fatality statistics show that if an older farmer is involved in a farm accident, he or she is much more likely to die. It is probably a result of the fact that a farmer at 30, 35 or 45, has that extra yard of pace and extra half second of reaction time that he or she may not have when he or she hits 70, 75 or 80, and a situation that the farmer could have got himself or herself out of when young, he or she is not able to get himself or herself out of anymore. Just as the middle of the day is not a suitable time to have children on the farm, I know of no builder at 70 carrying a hod or laying blocks. Farming is equally as manually intensive a profession as something like building. They do not have to retire, but certainly they should have the option. Farming, depending on the sector one is in, being more or less profitable, does not always give farmers the option of putting away a nice pension that they can rely on after the age of 65 or, as it will be by the time I get there, 70.

One cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

I thank the witnesses, Mr. Healy and Mr. Dillon. As I stated in my contribution, they are the last witnesses to the committee. I stated that we kept the best wine until last. They will note that we have the same philosophy when it comes to chairing the committee.

Mr. James Healy

I thank the committee for the opportunity to present to the committee. We appreciate the members giving their time to us.

As there is no further business, I declare the meeting adjourned until Wednesday next.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.52 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 January 2019.