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Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action debate -
Tuesday, 19 Oct 2021

Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and COP26: Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, and his officials, Ms Emer Griffin and Mr. Niall McLoughlin, and I thank them for coming before us. The purpose of this meeting is to have an engagement on the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the forthcoming COP26 which will take place in Glasgow in two weeks. This is a very important session. As the Minister knows, four members of this committee travelled to the pre-COP26 meeting in Rome the weekend before last and many more members will travel to Glasgow in two weeks. Senators O'Reilly, Higgins and McGahon made a strong impression in Rome. Delegates from around the world and especially those from the developing world who approached us afterwards were keen to discuss themes we had raised, which had not been broached by other nations, especially the issue of trust between our developed societies, those with greatest responsibility for climate change and those societies that have least responsibility but are bearing its worst effects.

We talk about climate impact here. It is a mild October with more or heavier rain, but the impact in many of these other countries is already far more severe. In fact, it is quite grim in many cases. There are droughts, famines and people are starving. Commitments made to these developing countries more than ten years ago in Copenhagen have not been met. It is totally understandable there is an issue of trust and we should seek to rebuild that.

Another point members of our delegation made in Rome was that, as a country, we are leading on ambition in reducing carbon emissions. We are able to say we, as a small nation, have made an iron-clad commitment to reduce emissions by more than 50% within a decade. The aggregate of small nations will have a greater positive impact on the climate agenda than any one superpower and we should know that and understand Ireland's influence internationally. I know the Minister only has approximately one hour to be with us and we are very interested in the committee, as we lead on Ireland's interparliamentary efforts on international climate action, to hear how he and the rest of the Government plans to lead on Ireland's intergovernmental efforts on international climate action.

Before we begin, I will read out a note on privilege. I remind the Minister, as our guest, of the long-standing parliamentary practice that he 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 or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If his statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, I will direct him to discontinue and it is imperative he complies with such direction.

Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice 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. I also remind members they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. I ask that all members, prior to making their contribution to the meeting, confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House complex.

I thank the Chair.

At the start of my opening statement, I was drawn to recollect that a former Member of the Houses, Senator Jim Dooge, was seminally involved in the establishment of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, the structures of which we will be discussing today. He was one of the founding fathers of modern hydrology. The connection between the impact of climate change on water systems inspired him to undertake a huge diplomatic role in the founding of the IPCC and the UNFCCC structures. To bear out the point made by the Chair, while small as a nation, we can have an influence and we should use whatever influence we can.

The latest IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, reconfirms the limited window in which there is to act to prevent more devastating impacts of climate change and underlines the increasing urgency needed to tackle the climate crisis. The report, based on the latest climate science, has observed unprecedented changes in the climatic system. Every region of the world, across the entire climate system, has already been impacted by climate extremes. There is ever greater certainty about climate change and ever greater urgency about the need to tackle it. The role of human influence is unequivocal and undisputed and has resulted in the warming of the atmosphere, ocean and land. The report reinforces and builds on existing evidence, which links extreme weather events to climate change. Some changes, such as the rise in sea level, are irreversible, leaving low-lying lands and coastal communities extremely vulnerable.

The report also dispels any notion that the effects of the climate crisis are abstract or distant. For Ireland and Europe, the report predicts more intense heatwaves and increased flooding as temperatures rise. If global temperatures rise by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, there will be critical consequences for agriculture and health. With every additional fraction of a degree increase in global warming, changes in extreme events, such as heatwaves, floods and droughts, become more pronounced.

The most serious conclusion is that the window of time to stabilise our climate is closing. We recently passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which commits us to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest and a cut of 51% by 2030, compared to 2018 levels. We will very shortly publish the climate action plan 2021. This will set out the measures we need to take to reach our 2030 targets, including more renewable energy, decreased transport emissions, changes in how we heat our homes and how we grow our food and look after our land. These steps will be challenging, but they will also create new opportunities.

Each of the IPCC's assessment reports is a remarkable undertaking, drawing on thousands of experts from around the world to provide the most complete, scientific assessment of our climate. The work of the IPCC relies on information and analysis provided by research and sustained systemic observations of the climate system and I wish to acknowledge the contributions by authors and scientists from Ireland to the report. Previous IPCC assessments have been the catalysts for unprecedented international responses, including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. I am ambitious that this sixth assessment will similarly provoke the reaction required at COP26 in Glasgow next month to set the world on a safe and sustainable trajectory and to support the most vulnerable.

It is clear that international co-operation and co-ordination is a prerequisite to limit global temperature rises. In this context, I am proud to lead Ireland’s climate delegation for COP26. We will have a significant presence and extensive engagement at the conference of parties, COP, through an increased national climate delegation, which has identified a number of key areas of focus for the negotiations that will feed into global decarbonisation efforts.

It is critical that despite the challenges that Covid presents to a global gathering of this nature, that COP26 be seen both as inclusive and as transparent as possible. This is reflected in the make-up of our own national delegation, which reflects our citizen participatory approach to climate action, and the promotion and participation of women, young people and NGOs in the negotiations and observer groups.

It is also reflected in our national negotiation priorities. A primary objective is the finalisation of the Paris rulebook, which will allow for the full operationalisation of the Paris Agreement. This includes consensus on matters such as carbon markets under Article 6, transparency, climate finance and adaptation, as called for by developing countries. Agreement on a way forward for future finance discussions, solutions on forward approaches to address loss and damage and the scaling up of support to enhance action on adaptation are also key deliverables. In summary, we are committed to realising the goals of the Paris Agreement, championing progressive action and ensuring the most vulnerable are at the heart of all our engagement.

Ireland has a strong commitment and track record on providing balanced share of climate finance going to adaptation and to the inclusion of grant-based finance for least developed countries, LDCs, and small island developing states, SIDS. At the UN General Assembly in September, Ireland launched the champions group on adaptation finance, together with the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the UK. This group plans to advocate to other donor countries on increasing the quality, quantity and accessibility of climate adaptation finance, specifically meeting the $100 billion goal.

Climate finance has enabled us to support people in LDCs and SIDS. It has enabled us to amplify the voices of these countries in climate change decision-making. Ireland will support LDCs and SIDS at COP26 and in preparing for a climate-resilient future, will stand in solidarity with countries that have done the least to contribute to the problem of climate change, and yet face the harshest impacts.

In doing so, we are striving to illustrate the coherency between our international climate co-operation agenda and our domestic climate action ambition. One of the most effective ways to influence others is when our actions at home are consistent with our advocacy abroad. Ireland’s increased domestic climate ambition demonstrates our commitment to provide support and leadership for international efforts on climate action and gives us a credible voice at the negotiating table.

The British Prime Minister, in typically colourful fashion, has summarised the ambition of the UK presidency as action on "coal, cars, cash and trees". However, this should not underplay their stated commitment to making progress in a transparent and inclusive way and in solidarity with all countries. My Department continues to work closely with UK counterparts in preparing for and framing the nature of the debate, and shares the ambition of bringing countries together to agree a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced outcome that takes forward co-ordinated climate action, while remaining true to the Paris Agreement and keeping alive the prospect of an overall 1.5°C increase in temperature.

I thank the Minister for his opening statement. As the Minister will only be in attendance for the first hour of the meeting, I propose that each member is allotted two minutes to address their questions to the Minister. Is that agreed? Agreed. I ask members to indicate they wish to contribute be raising their hands. I will bring them in the order in which requests are received.

I thank the Minister. Everyone on this committee realises the importance of this year's conference of parties. I thank the Minister for coming here today to provide us with an update. I would like to bring things home in terms of what we are doing here in Ireland. I, for one, want to commend the Minister's leadership so far in respect of the direction that this Government has taken since coming into office and our achievements to date. The obvious one is the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, in which this entire committee played an important role. We will provide unprecedented funding for active travel and we are starting the pre-legislative scrutiny of the circular economy Bill. Certainly, it is safe to say that more than any Government, we have really started to tackle the issue, but there is so much more to do. That is what I will focus my questions on today.

As I said, this committee has done fantastic sessions on agriculture and on how to decarbonise transport, but having been in Government for the length of time we have, we need to start seeing these actions on the ground. I will be brief because I realise the clock is running down faster than I thought it was.

In relation to transport, there is a carbon tax, which I believe will help us move to a more sustainable economy. However, in rural areas like the constituency I represent, Cork South-West, it is a bit of a harder sell. You can obviously see why, when the alternatives that we talk about, in public transport, in particular, are not there. In the fantastic body of work that the committee has done on public transport, the concept of having public transport available in every village and every hour was talked about. I would like to be able to go back to my constituents in those rural parts of west Cork and tell them we will roll out public transport for every village, community and area, every hour, in the near future. I would like an update on that.

I firmly believe we can see decarbonisation of transport taking place in our urban areas. There is talk of light rail for Cork city and Galway, like Dublin, but from a rural perspective we also need that concept rolled out. I am way over my time but I have more questions so I might come back with them later.

I suggest you continue with them now as the Minister will only be with us for an hour. We will probably not have a second round of questions.

Thank you. I appreciate that. There are two other matters after the public transport element in rural Ireland. Farmers are still being penalised for having bits of biodiversity, habitat and wetland areas on their farms. Farmers are getting rid of those bits of habitat or biodiversity because they are being incentivised to do so. We must flip that on its head. That transformation plays a really important decarbonisation role and it is not happening fast enough. I would love to know if the Government has a plan to accelerate that.

There are steps and procedures that can happen at a really fast pace and which we can implement straight away, particularly for solar power in our education facilities and schools. We could roll out solar in our schools overnight. The schools are high energy users in many respects. Some type of emergency legislation could in some way circumvent the planning procedure so we could see the immediate roll-out of solar to schools. That would be fantastic. We really need to see change on the ground. I will leave it there and I thank the Chairman for his indulgence.

Climate change is such a global matter that we believe we need to think big but we have to bring it back home. The Deputy spoke about rural areas and I was thinking about rural areas I know. I was thinking we could bring it back to the Mizen Peninsula, including Goleen and Schull. I could speak to my colleague, Ms Griffin, as she comes from Schull and would have a direct interest in it. We could all speak about it locally. I was trying to remember whether it was PJ Sheehan's famous quote that the land west of Schull was good for nothing but briars, bullocks and bachelors. I cannot recall exactly but I think it is the Bus Éireann 243 bus that goes once a day in Goleen. That does not really work and we need something more frequent to connect Schull to Ballydehob, Skibbereen, Bantry and elsewhere.

There is the prospect of this coming. Connecting Ireland is a new strategy being organised by the National Transport Authority to look at exactly how we can service areas like the Mizen Peninsula, the Beara, the Sheep's Head or any of the peninsulas. We are going to have to be innovative and creative in that. We have committed to 81 new buses in next year's budget for rural bus services and Local Link. We must achieve efficiencies so the likes of Goleen and Schull can benefit with increased patronage and connection to medical and health systems. We should not be paying for two or three different transport needs when we can amalgamate them and start to get efficiencies and really good rural public transport that way.

The National Transport Authority is developing a new strategy in Connecting Ireland that is designed to address exactly what the Deputy speaks about and, to my mind, it will serve places like Goleen, which has 400 or 500 people, on a fitting and regular basis. It should fit into the wider development of the area.

I am very impressed with the Minister's knowledge of the geography in west Cork.

I know the area well. There is also the question of the land there. There is tension in the debate around climate change and those bachelor farmers - they are not all bachelor farmers - with bullocks on the side of a hill often get all the blame. These suckler farmers are seen as the worst offenders when it comes to climate change but they are not. We will need cattle grazing some of that land because some of it is peaty wetland with poor soil. If we let it go, we would see a range of birch, ash, holly and others draining the peatlands. Some of that type of land and peaty soil has value in the storage of carbon.

The Deputy is right in saying the current EU Common Agricultural Policy system is saying farmers must improve land and get rid of wetlands and hedges. They cannot have underutilised land. The opposite is what is required, and we must start paying our farmers for the natural services they can provide by maintaining some of that marginal land, including grazing it. That would lead us to managing those peaty soils in the best and most efficient way possible.

I am convinced the sort of co-operatives we have in west Cork are good at this marketing. If we really start to pay farmers and we measure or monitor those peaty and marginal soils, there should be a premium for the cattle or sheep grazing it. They would be part of a climate solution rather than a climate problem. That is what we must do right across the country. We must adjust to paying farmers for managing and protecting water quality, the storage of carbon and the restoration of diversity. It should not just be about food production. That is where the Common Agricultural Policy is going and where an additional €1.5 billion of the carbon tax revenue will go in the next decade.

We need to go further and get other systems for paying. We need a new generation of young people to take on those roles managing our land and looking after it, particularly with the more marginal soils and areas where, traditionally, it was not a first focus. It should and will be with many of the new funding mechanisms we will try to introduce.

Could I get a brief comment on solar for schools?

We are quite caught for time so I will move to our next member, Senator Higgins.

It is a pity we do not have longer but I am sure the Minister would be willing to come back to the committee after COP26 and we could discuss everything that happened there. That might be useful.

With regard to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Minister mentioned the 1.5°C figure at the end of his contribution but at the beginning he mentioned 2°C. It would be useful to have confirmation that Ireland will press for ambition that is 1.5°C and be consistent on that in our participation in COP26. We should press for nationally determined contributions that deliver and are consistent with 1.5°C as the cut-off rather than 2°C.

On the financial aspects, the $100 billion was promised initially in Copenhagen and promised again in Paris but it still has not been delivered. It is, of course, important but it is also important to consider how that will be delivered. The Minister mentioned climate financing and sometimes there is a blurring between financing and funding, so it would be very useful to have a sense of the commitment has to funding as well as financing. There is also the question of how we count our contribution. One of the principles is that the contribution should be new and additional but I believe Ireland has argued within the conference negotiations that because every year's budget is different, climate financing should always be considered new and additional. Other countries have argued there is a baseline year against which financing should be considered new and additional. Will Ireland drop that non-constructive position of rebranding the same again as new and additional each year? That is important.

With financing, there is a question of whether with a loan, the entire loan should be counted as climate financing when there is a position that a favourable interest rate should be counted towards the $100 billion financing target. These are the practical aspects that mean we are contributing to the process.

The Minister mentions small island developing countries and other countries feeling the worst impact of climate change. Will Ireland support loss and damage funding and progress on the same, including recognition of loss and damage funding as a standing item as part of the talks?

Will Ireland support or sign in advance of COP26 the declaration on children, youth and climate action? This is really fundamental. We talk much about young people and this is something to do about them and, ideally, to have youth become a standing item under Article 6 in terms of climate action. These are concrete actions that Ireland could take. Will the Minister address them?

A concern raised by civil society is the potential exclusion of civil society from the blue zone and actual negotiations.

We know this has been an issue in the past. Can the Minister tell us Ireland will support civil society's full participation in the COP in Glasgow?

I know the Minister is with us until about 4.15 p.m. Are his officials, Ms Griffin and Mr. McLoughlin, staying with us? We may want to have a second round of questions. The officials will stay beyond 4.15 p.m.

I will ask Ms Griffin to come in on the loss and damage issue from the Department's perspective. Senator Higgins is right that we need to strive for 1.5°C keeping it alive, which is the slogan of this conference. In all these targets, we are looking at probabilities. I think net zero by 2050 gives us a 50% chance of keeping the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C. There is a higher probability, I think 60%, of staying under 2°C with that level of emission reductions. There is nothing certain in this. We do not know where some of the tipping points might be in the climate science. We will only know after the fact if we cross one of them as to whether we will be able to maintain the temperature increase below a certain level.

We are getting some good warnings.

Yes. Everything is done to minimise the risk and reduce the probabilities. With regard to climate finance, the Senator is right that the $100 billion pledge goes back over ten years to the COP. I hope it will be possible to get the developed world and Annex I countries to make the contribution and build trust. We will do everything we can to support that.

There was a World Resources Institute assessment of climate finance in recent months. It demonstrates there is a huge range. Some countries provide huge climate finance, but it is through loan facilities. We are not at the highest end but we are one of the highest in terms of, typically, grant funding. Like a lot of the Irish aid programme, it is high quality and not connected to trade or conditional. We have a good reputation, to my mind, in terms of how we provide such funding. Particularly in the climate finance area, there is a recognition in the Department of Foreign Affairs, my Department and the State in general that adaptation financing is key. That is one of the reasons we have been involved as champions of climate finance for adaptation. It is an unusual budget item in that it tends to be somewhat retrospective. You only know at the end of the year what has been spent and how much of overseas development assistance, ODA, projects can and should be defined as climate finance.

We are at roughly €100 million in respect of our climate finance contribution this year and the programme for Government commits to a doubling by 2030, if I recall correctly, in our percentage of ODA directed towards climate finance. It is not just the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my Department and the Department of Finance contribute to the figure. The Department of Foreign Affairs budget is about €70 million per year but we are committed to increasing that as part of an international effort to build confidence and a recognition that investment in adaptation and resilience, particularly for small farming in Africa and elsewhere, is an area where we want to try to work best.

I should flag there is a lot of concern about this being a redirecting of ODA. It is meant to be new and additional funding, rather than a redirection of our ODA, which does extraordinary and important work around the world.

I agree. My recollection of that programme for Government commitment is that it is climate finance doubling within the ODA budget, not taking from other areas of overseas assistance, be it fighting hunger, education or the other range of initiatives we do. That is why I mention our Department and the Departments of Finance and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is not just coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs budget. It needs to come from a variety of sources and cannot be at the expense of other ODA projects. It has to be new and additional.

On civil society negotiations, as I said in my opening contribution, this is the largest delegation we have sent to COP. I do not know the exact number but it is something like 30 people going under accreditation of the State, including NGOs, academics, young campaigners, officials and members of this committee. That is probably because of our proximity to Glasgow. It makes sense. It is also a reflection of the real interest. We are keen to get as much participation as possible by civil society and NGOs in the process. We will not restrict that. How exactly access to negotiations is done will be managed by the UNFCCC but my recommendation would be to follow through on the transparency ambition in this COP and make sure it is transparent to everyone as to what is happening.

And on the Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action?

Within that diverse contribution, they have a critical role and the UK presidency is conscious of that and is looking to include a lot of youth participation in both mainstream and sideline events----

My time is constrained. Will Ireland sign the declaration?

I am conscious time is slipping away. Sorry, Senator Higgins.

I ask Ms Griffin to come in on the loss and damage issue

I am conscious time is slipping away and I want to be fair to all members. I will let Ms Griffin come in and then move to Deputy Whitmore.

Ms Emer Griffin

We see loss and damages as a critical issue at COP. We expect it to be an important agenda item this year. We know from the IPCC report that the impacts of climate are here and now. Ireland has always championed voices of SIDS and LDCs and will continue to try to do that in these negotiations. We hear their calls for greater support for adaptation and the majority of Ireland's climate finance has focused on adaptation supports. This can be helpful in terms of the slow onset impacts of loss and damage. There are also more immediate impacts climate change can have and we provide support through the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction, including up to €35 million in bilateral funding in 2019. That work is ongoing to support loss and damage.

In terms of the negotiations at COP, there needs to be greater emphasis on effective co-ordination on this issue. Many partners are working to address it through humanitarian and development responses. It is about bringing these people together. At COP25, a decision was made for a Santiago network. The call is to operationalise this. We will support and listen to the voices of the countries that want to do this slowly and ensure the right system and network is set up. We see this as the way forward to have a decision at COP to operationalise the network and work through that over the next year in terms of giving technical assistance to loss and damage.

Can I get a written note on the accounting issues I mentioned? The accounting rule book in terms of loans versus interest-----

Thank you, Senator Higgins.

-----and the new and additional definition.

We would appreciate if officials could forward a written note and the secretariat will circulate it to members.

I thank the Minister for coming in today. I hope he has a successful COP. We need this COP to change the narrative and move from climate talk to climate action. Equally important, it needs to be a just climate action and that is primarily what I will talk about. The Irish Times published a poll recently on Government actions and what was described as a scepticism among the public on climate initiatives. For me, that poll showed that people are not seeing a just transition when it comes to climate action. They are seeing the policy stick being applied with carbon taxes and higher prices but they are not seeing the carrot being used. They are not seeing support coming from the Government to help them make the changes that are required.

I know initiatives are in place but they are not being felt on the ground.

I am concerned about just transition. I received a response from the Minister, which stated that the climate action plan would set out the specific commitments of just transition rather than applying just transition through a statutory stand-alone commission. This would appear to go against the programme for Government commitment, which said the Government would establish a just transition commissioner as a statutory office with appropriate staffing and resources. Could the Minister comment on that? When he introduced his just transition Bill, which established a just transition commission as a statutory office, he said it was a critical piece of the architecture for the climate action plan. If he will not have a stand-alone office, how can the climate action plan work if this critical piece of infrastructure architecture regarding a stand-alone commission is not in place via legislation? I would like the Minister's input on that.

Before the Minister replies, I remind members that the agenda of this meeting is the report of the IPCC published in August and COP26, which is approaching. Obviously, these issues are related but we have limited time with the Minister and I encourage them to speak to the agenda.

Regarding the comment about the opinion poll, it is true and interesting. It is not unusual. Over the years, typically if people are asked in opinion polls about the issues they are concerned about and the environment is included, it would be lucky to come in at the bottom of the list. People are understandably more concerned about how to get to the end of the month rather than the end of the world. However, when someone sits down with people and explains the complex issues we face, as happened in our citizens' assembly, it is remarkable how in those circumstances an ordinary bunch of 100 Irish people come back and say almost unanimously they want these sort of measures, including carbon taxation and the redistribution of it in a fair way. Having considered the issue rather than taking a short quick look at it in an opinion poll, it is important to them and they are keen that we take the actions we need to take.

Regarding the just transition commissioner, we will continue to develop and evolve. One of the benefits I had coming in was the fact that we had a just transition commissioner in place - Kieran Mulvey. The critical thing was to make sure that his good work in the midlands was successful and that we carried through the wide range of local projects to support community development in that area, which we have done, and started the massive investment in bog rehabilitation, which we have done and which has created employment for the same workers with the same skills who were previously involved in peat extraction. It was critical that we focused on the immediate turning of Bord na Móna from a brown company into a green one and we see the significant success it is starting to experience now in developing renewable power and looking at a range of new enterprise opportunities. My focus in delivering the just transition was first and foremost making it a success in the midlands. In the climate action plan and beyond, we will look to other mechanisms and ways in which we evolve this. The Bill we put through in the Dáil four or five years ago was critical because it created the sort of facilities we have been putting in place in the past year or two. It was a mediation service. It was an ability to work flexibly with local communities. The structures we need could be statutory, within the Department or existing structures. For example, in the midlands, we are looking at the regional authorities having a role or Offaly County Council having a much greater role as we learn by doing. The climate action plan will set out those measures. It will be an iterative process. Learning by doing in this just transition is one of the most important factors.

I do not know if we have much time left to be learning by doing and doing so incrementally. The fact that the just transition commission was a promise in the programme for Government was a positive move. It is disappointing that the Minister seems to be moving away from it. The just transition commissioner is focused on a small area. It needs to be a national commission.

As the Chairman has pointed out, we are talking about COP26 and the IPCC today so I will limit my comments. For the first time, the IPCC report looked at the projections on a regional basis. What is quite clear is that when we are looking at Ireland and northern Europe, we are looking at flooding and increased rainfall. A lot of the conversation has been around mitigation. What do we need to do in respect of adaptation? I am thinking in particular of our coastal areas as I come from the west of Ireland. Obviously, the Minister knows that we have motion in the Seanad today on flooding. What role do other Departments play in that adaptation, particularly the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage? The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications has an increased budget with core funding of 11.2% while the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has in the region of 9%. More is going into these Departments. What do we need to do as part of an all-of-government approach to this?

Regarding COP26, having come from pre-COP, it is clear that trust needs to be built. COP26 is an opportunity to do that. Part of it is climate finance. We have nowhere near reached the target of €100 billion as a developed world. What does the Minister see as the selling points in respect of trying to get everyone on board with that? We cannot expect countries in the developing world to play their part if the developed world does not, although the recent budget shows that Ireland is stepping up to the mark. We have our seat on the UN Security Council and have some influence. What will we do with that at COP26?

We can have all the funding we want but how do we ensure we see action on the ground? For example, we got a motion over the line regarding temporary cycle lanes in Salthill. How do we progress it? We have money and councillors are on board. What is the next step when it comes to progressing some of these initiatives so that we see action on the ground?

Regarding the impact of climate change, it seems that Ireland will be wetter and stormier in the north and west in particular. We could also have drier conditions in the south and east. We could have flooding and drought problems. Critical to the work the Government must do is the land use plan we committed to in the programme for Government. This involves looking not just at how we can mitigate emissions through land use but how we can develop forms of new forestry where we move away from those uplands I mentioned earlier where there might be monoculture clearfell forestry on peatland upland soils and bring forestry down. We probably need much more continuous cover close to nature and forest systems that help us manage floods. Such forests slow release water rather than have it running off quickly.

I mentioned the management of bogs and wetlands. This is going to be difficult because for 60 years, we have been telling farmers to drain the land and now we are going to tell them to block the drains and re-wet the land and we will have to pay farmers for that re-wetting. However, it can also have a benefit in terms of managing that flood system.

Critically, the advantage of switching our grassland management system away from single grass - typically perennial rye grass - using heavy quantities of fertiliser to a mixed-sward with clover and a range of different species is that there will be much lower nitrogen use, far lower greenhouse gas emissions, much deeper-rooted grass systems and much stronger and healthier microbial conditions in the soil. In addition, deep-rooted grass systems will survive and manage better in both heavy rain and drought conditions. There is a range of examples where nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change will help on the adaptation side.

I am nervous when I see some of the flood defence systems we are building at the moment, including on the River Dodder, which is a stunning river, full of wildlife. The flood management measures being used to date, to my mind, are missing the opportunity in terms of the use of natural systems as opposed to funnelling, culverting and building up. We have to protect local communities because there is nothing worse than a local community getting flooded. We have to design in protections against that. I do not wish to be critical of any individual or any individual project but what is happening now is over-engineering and overly expensive. We are missing some of the opportunities we would get from more naturally flood-based management systems. That would be very much site-specific, but it is my personal view.

With regard to climate finance and the various reasons for it, upfront is the climate just reason that those countries affected most should not have to pay the most. There are other reasons this makes real sense for us. The European economic plan, Fit for 55, is focussed on the green economy and going green. The US is doing something similar, and so too is China. All three are stating that they are matching their international investments with what they want to do in their domestic economies because that becomes self-reinforcing. This economic model is the one that develops and really takes off. That is a long-term and subjective reason, but it is a self-interest reason. If everyone is doing this transition, it will be easier for all of us to do it. There are protections that come with some of the added investment, particularly in climate finance and adaptation. It is a much better way of investing in terms of providing security for all concerned. Europe could build huge defence systems and military investment. In a world where climate events could see mass migration and real challenges and difficulties, it is far better to invest in the much more safe system such that we make it safe for people to stay in their own homes and to protect their own homes. That is a better investment in the long-term than is building a fortress-type Europe or USA in a climate changing world.

I thank the Minister and Senator Pauline O'Reilly. I understand Senator McGahon needs to leave soon. Would he like to come in now?

I thank the Chairman. I am due to speak in the Seanad soon. I will return to the meeting after that. I thank the Minister for engaging with us today. I attended the pre-COP conference in Rome a few weeks ago. It annoys me when I hear people, including in both Houses of the Oireachtas, asking what is the point of Ireland introducing such strong climate action legislation when there are so many polluters all around the world who are not playing their part. The fact that we are a small country is not a reason we should not be extremely ambitious. In his speech, the Minister said it gives us a credible voice at the negotiating table. That is why it is so important. With that in mind, I would welcome the Minister's views on the type of support and leadership we can provide to the international community and to small countries like Ireland to introduce really ambitious climate action legislation? I am speaking not about sound bites or solidarity but about meaningful supports we, as a country, can provide to help encourage other small countries to introduce progressive climate action legislation such as we are introducing.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan mentioned solar farms. If we want to encourage high uptake of solar in agricultural communities we need to ease some of the barriers for farmers. Due to the changes in the capital acquisitions tax in 2017 farmers lose particular agricultural tax reliefs if more than 50% of their land is leased out for solar panels. Given the required scale for solar panels in this country and the desire that more than 50% of land would be leased out we have to be able to enable farmers to get into this renewable energy transition. What can the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications do in collaboration with other Departments to reduce that tax burden such that farmers can use more than 50% of their land while at the same time not lose out on the capital acquisitions tax?

I agree with the Senator that those who question why we should do this when other countries, some of them larger than Ireland, are not doing it miss the understanding that this new economy, in which Europe, the US and China are investing, is a better economy. Those who want to opt out and stick with the old system risk missing out in terms of the jobs and much more secure economic opportunities that come from this alternative economy.

With regard to how we position ourselves or help other countries, one of the things we should do is come with a little bit of humility. Listening is the first thing you do. Likewise, admitting that we do not know everything. Our emissions reduction record is not exactly stellar to date. We would not be bragging or pontificating to any other country. We need to bring to other countries practical measures that will help them to come to the solutions that will suit them. We are doing that within the negotiations process for COP in terms of the need for transparency around how countries are to meet their national determined contributions, NDCs, and account for their systems. Providing assistance by way of relatively small amounts of money to allow them to deliver that transparency would be a significant change. As mentioned earlier by Senator Higgins we do not want to completely conflate this with ODA, which it is not. We have skills in this area that would make us good at this. There are particular countries with which we have relationships through our ODA process on which we should focus and concentrate. We should use those relationships which we have built over time to show best case examples. To my mind, the focus should be on the food systems, such as that presented at the UN Food Systems Summit earlier this summer. It is about practical measures to protect and help small farming systems in some of the key aid countries we work with. This is the sort of practical work that we do well and we should continue to do it.

With regard to solar farms, it is a real challenge. Some of the farms were successful within the first renewable energy scheme, RES, agreed last year. I note from an article in today's newspapers that they are still having challenges in terms of grid connections. At a meeting I attended yesterday I heard about some of the obstacles we need to overcome to make sure we are not ticking every box and still having challenges because it is slow or difficult to get a grid connection, which is often the reason solar farms run into problems. The grid connection is key.

I was not aware of the details in terms of the capital acquisitions tax grant support and the reason it is set at 50%. I will have a look at that. My sense is the real challenge to connect renewables is on the distribution and transmission grid. That is sometimes not very glamorous or high profile, but increasingly when it comes to the development of renewables the grid connection is key.

I thank Senator McGahon. The next speaker is Deputy Bríd Smith.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. I want to start with the big picture. The Minister stated that the IPCC report is based on the latest climate science and it has observed unprecedented changes in the climate system. We would all agree with that. Late last year, Professor Kevin Anderson gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Climate Action that what we really need is an average cut of 12% in emissions, not the 7% provided for in our legislation. We need to listen to the science.

I met the Minister at COP23 in Bonn. The number of COPs says it all. We are now having COP26 and things have never been worse on the planet in terms of the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and the overheating of the planet. The evidence is there in terms of the fires, droughts, famines and sea levels rising, etc. The Minister and I met several NGOs on the issue of banning exploration for fossil fuels. That was in the lead-up to a bill that was being prepared by the Minister and one I had submitted. The Minister has done that and stopped the issuance of further licences. I welcome that. Is it not the problem here that the planet suffers from the top 100 multinational companies being responsible for over 70% of the emissions and that they are untouchable even by something like COP in Bonn, Paris or Glasgow? I would like the Minister to comment on that.

The Minister spoke about bringing it back home. He said that one of the most effective ways to influence others is to ensure our actions at home are consistent with our advocacy abroad.

I will bring something to the Minister's attention. In 2019, I asked at the then Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment for a comprehensive review of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant scheme to ensure that it enabled the maximum number of low- and ordinary-income households to undertake retrofitting of their homes and pursue maximum energy efficiencies. This would have helped ordinary people to reduce emissions. I do not know about other members, but at my clinics on Mondays and Fridays, I have queues of people who have been turned down by the SEAI because of its rules. They are on low or medium incomes but have been turned down in their attempts to get their attics lagged or their homes retrofitted in any way because some form of retrofitting was done in the past. That past could have been five or ten years ago. We are leaving the poorest behind. If we want to transform the debate around climate science, surely these are the people we should be looking after.

I am again requesting a complete review of the rules and regulations of the SEAI grant scheme, how the grant moneys are doled out and how the rules are blocking the poorest from being able to be energy efficient at home. That is what is happening. I have plenty of cases that I can bring to the Minister's attention, if he wishes to look at them.

If we are to do as the Minister says and lead the way at home and be consistent, then curbing the proliferation of data centres, banning LNG, moving to free and frequent public transport and, most importantly, retrofitting people's homes so that they are not burning as much carbon to stay warm through the winter would be consistent with what we will be trying to do in Glasgow in the coming weeks. I am interested in hearing the Minister's comments on my first question and the specifics of the second. It is not Schull or Goleen, but it is Ballyfermot and Crumlin, and people are suffering greatly from it.

They are just as important. Every home matters.

I have met and listened to Professor Kevin Anderson, who is an eminent, articulate and compelling advocate for stronger climate action, and I would not ignore for even a moment the warnings and analysis that he presents. His analysis is scientific and fact based and deserves to be heeded. I believe I met him briefly at the Paris climate conference. In terms of where the world is today, the Paris Agreement is the legal construct within which we are best placed to try to achieve the protections Professor Anderson seeks. One can argue that matters are not moving quickly enough or that the targets need to be more ambitious, but the structure that was agreed when those 200 countries came together - Glasgow is glued into the five-year review structure, with a stock-take in 2023 - is our best chance of protecting the planet from runaway climate change. People can differ over what is the path to achieving the agreement's climate objectives, but it is the right international legal structure for us to follow.

The improvement of people's homes is a practical way of reducing emissions, improving health and addressing fuel poverty, which is increasingly an issue because fossil fuel prices are so volatile and expensive. We will be undertaking a review and an effective relaunch of the SEAI grant system in a new national retrofitting scheme, which I hope to announce and deliver shortly. It will build on good work. In the budget, I believe we agreed €109 million for the warmer homes scheme next year. That funding is 100% targeted at people on low incomes. There is an extensive report on it. There is a backlog and people are frustrated that it takes so long, but that is partly because it is such a successful and welcome scheme. It is not on its own. In the budget, we agreed something like €85 million for the retrofitting of social housing. That needs to ramp up because it will only upgrade approximately 2,500 houses to B2 grade or higher. We have committed within our Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act to reaching a 51% reduction by the end of this decade. That will require a figure of 500,000 homes, as this Oireachtas committee agreed collectively.

I spoke about learning by doing, changing and adapting. The SEAI will do that. We have approximately €5 billion in funding coming from the carbon tax to help pay for it. That is significant and welcome. We have additional loan facilities that will help to lower the cost by in or around a half for those who are borrowing to pay for their home improvements. That will be significant. We will increase the grants for others outside the warmer homes scheme and social housing scheme to ensure that some of the cost is covered by the State. The main constraint is not budgetary, but the work required to deliver projects. I believe it was Ms Patricia King of ICTU who stated that we would need something like 27,000 construction workers to move into this area this decade. Getting apprenticeships and workers in place is the key constraint. If we can do that, then we will be able to consider the various schemes and how they might best be rolled out.

Will the carbon budgets be published by COP26? What is their relationship with the climate action plan and when might the Dáil see and be able to debate them? Will they include sectoral ceilings and a roadmap?

Regarding the EU's Fit for 55 package and the national versus regional in a European sense as opposed to internationally, what is the Minister's sense of the direction of travel? The committee has had some discussions on Fit for 55, which contains a significant suite of proposals with potentially serious implications for Ireland, not least in terms of how we generate the carbon tax, where it goes and what is levied at a European level. Does the Minister envisage a trend towards increasing co-operation at that level and increasing European influence arising from the COP26 discussions?

Many innovation funds have been indicated as priority areas of focus at COP26. How does the Minister intend to position Ireland as a leader on this? In many respects, we are laggards because we have not grasped the opportunity, be it onshore or offshore wind energy technology or hydrogen. We do not have a hydrogen strategy while other countries do. Is that something that will be a priority for us at COP26?

My understanding is that the Climate Change Advisory Committee, CCAC, which is independent in how it does its work, may have a meeting next week. I expect the carbon budgets to come out of that, all going well, and the Government hopes to respond the following week with a new draft climate action plan. The Dáil will be away next week but will have returned by then. I hope to be able to go to Glasgow with a new draft climate action plan in place. This fits in with the wider scheme of things.

The EU's Fit for 55 package is as comprehensive a legislative package as I have ever seen from the Commission. Its breadth is remarkable, with five large policy areas. There is broad support for it at the European Council, on the Commission and, I believe, in the European Parliament. It will take a year and a half or so to go through the trilogue process, so it will take some time for many of the provisions to kick in, but the proposals are radical and transformative.

In areas like aviation, maritime and energy, it is hugely transformative. I have said publicly to the Commission that its proposals to extend, in effect, an EU carbon tax to transport and heating would not suit us. From where would we get the €5 billion we are going to use to retrofit people's homes? We would not have the same access to the funds. Other than that, by and large, I consider it a good legislative package. We will have specific issues of concern but, broadly, we are very supportive of it.

I have two further points to make. First, on the question of how we can lead on issues, I would say that we can discard the "laggard" tag. Our political system, including all parties, has shown a certain determination in the past three to five years, led previously by the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, working with the predecessor of this committee, and that work continues under the current committee. Our climate legislation is as good as any. We have ended fracking and oil and gas exploration. I will be going to COP meetings with representatives of the oil and gas sector and telling them we need to divest. We have made provision for that in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. There are many examples that what we are doing is right up there with anything being done elsewhere. As we start to deliver on some of the current budget lines, including on active travel, retrofitting and other areas, we will not be in a bad place, even if we cannot quite call ourselves leaders. We are well positioned to start showing real leadership.

Finally, the reason I have to leave soon is that I am going to Ostend for a meeting tonight and tomorrow morning on offshore renewable energy. If I were to pick one project that has huge potential, it is in our efforts, in co-operation with our European colleagues, to deliver the 35 GW of offshore renewables that this committee agreed three years ago, with the previous Minister, to deliver. It would transform our country and the story of our economy like no other project has ever done. If I were to choose one example of where we might show leadership, it is in this area. As I said to Senator McGahon, it is not about the very glamorous areas; it is about getting good grid policy and auction systems, for example, in place. The Maritime Area Planning Bill, which is currently before the housing committee, is probably the most important legislation being debated by the Oireachtas at this time. If we can get it through by Christmas, we can give real certainty in terms of the political support for transition in this country. The United States does not have that level of consensus on some of the large projects that are needed and nor do many other European countries. We are well placed to lead in this regard.

In the lived experience of many of the thousands of people who have availed of the warmer home scheme, its title is a misnomer because they do not have warmer homes as a result of it. Their homes are slightly less cold but they are a long way off being retrofitted, warm and less reliant on carbon. I appreciate the policy framework and political position to which the Minister referred but what people want to see is climate action. They want to see the expansion of public transport networks and increased retrofitting activity. At the moment, all we have are plans. What is happening falls short of what is needed.

I am going to let the Deputy's colleague, an Teachta Cronin, in as I am aware that the Minister only has a few minutes left.

I read the Minister's opening statement last night and again this morning and what struck me is that not many people know what is meant by the acronym "COP". There is an idea out there that politicians are behaving in an elitist way and doing things over people's heads. We now have an acronym for least developed countries, LDCs, and for small island developing states, SIDS. To whom are such acronyms of use? If I were walking down the main street in Naas today, not many people would be able to tell me that "COP" stands for Conference of Parties. I very much worry that the important party in all of this, which is the public, cannot but feel excluded because of the language used around these conferences, which are supposedly held for their benefit. In the area of climate change, it seems like things are being done over people's heads. Carbon taxes are being imposed on the public without its say by people who are vastly more privileged than are the people who will pay those taxes. We must be more egalitarian and inclusive, and less reliant on jargon, when it comes to talking about and framing climate issues, especially at the upcoming global meeting. Will the Minister raise the point at the COP summit about the need for plain language usage, whether in English, French, German, Spanish or any other language?

We need to be more radical in our approach to youth transport. I spoke in the Dáil last week about the importance of making public transport a natural choice for young people.

As a small island on the edge of Europe, does the Minister think we are doing all we can to stand by people around the world who are already marginalised? I am thinking of people who have been driven off their lands by desertification - in Syria, for instance - because of overgrazing or lack of water. The debate on water and the right to water must be to the fore at the COP26 summit. Could we use our role on the UN Security Council to show people around the world that we are on their side in this area? Ireland really must up its game on the geopolitics around climate change. To reiterate, I ask the Minister to emphasise at the COP26 summit the importance of plain language and to focus on how Ireland can stand up for people already on the margins.

The Deputy is right about the importance of using plain language. One would only be warming up with the likes of LDCs and SIDS. There could be a half an hour's worth of acronyms at a COP meeting. There is a difficulty in that the structures are really complex. Much of the problem is that the subjects being discussed are very science-orientated. That is a good thing because science is the bedrock of understanding, but sometimes the language hits the head rather than the heart. I recall that some years ago, we were looking at simple words like "mitigation" and "adaptation" and what they mean. In the case of "mitigation", we considered alternatives like "preparation", "protection" or some other word people would more readily understand. I agree with the Deputy on the point around language.

In terms of winning the public over to the scale of change we need to make, five or six governments in a row will have to be engaged in that effort rather than taking a stop-start approach, which would be very expensive. We are all going to have to think about these issues in the coming decades. There are simple rules, as I see it, in terms of winning over the public. First, it is important to start by asking people to help rather than telling them what to do. We must start by listening and admitting uncertainties. We do not know what all the technological solutions will be and how they may evolve. Even in terms of how climate change will affect us, we will only learn some of that, unfortunately, as events hit us. We must continue to be flexible in how we adapt to those events.

I take the Deputy's point about things seeming to be done over people's heads. This is a global problem and it requires a global structure and system to address it. COP summits are a big circus with huge trappings around them and one sometimes wonders whether they are really working. How do we get global agreement among 200 countries, ranging from Russia and Saudi Arabia to Vanuatu or the islands in the Caribbean? It is an incredible challenge and we need structures to achieve it. Going back to what I said at the very start, the former Senator, Jim Dooge, was responsible for some of those structures. From memory, his area of expertise was in exactly what the Deputy is talking about. He became interested in these issues because his knowledge was in the area of water systems. I cannot remember whether his focus was initially on Afghanistan or somewhere else, but it was on the situation of people who were suffering from acute poverty because of changing hydrology systems. He and others were responsible for setting up this complex system. It is far from ideal but I do not see the alternative. As a country, what we try to do and be good at is working within UN systems. It suits Ireland well as a proud member of the UN for many years to give our efforts to that. For all its failings, it is the only show in town and we have to make it work.

I know the Minister is in a hurry to leave but Deputy Bruton has been waiting to contribute. Does he have time to take the Deputy's questions?

I thank the Minister and wish him every success at the COP26 summit.

He seemed to paint a reasonably optimistic view of the non-EU blocs and their approach to this session, particularly the US and China. I have heard from some European colleagues with whom I am still in contact that there is a slight lack of conviction at EU level about the commitment of some of those countries. Is that a potential fault line? Some of the US initiatives seem to be running into significant difficulties and one wonders about its ability to deliver.

My second question relates to something that underlies much of the conversation we have here. My view is that carbon dioxide is toxic. It may not smoke the way something toxic normally does but there is huge resistance, nonetheless, to applying the polluter pays principle to that toxic emission. I do not see a way of delivering the sort of change we need without pricing this pollutant and using that revenue, as the Minister has rightly said, in just transition to help us make the changes required. That seems to be an issue on which there is not a settled position. I am interested in the views of the Minister. Some parties have argued trenchantly that we should not have such charges.

I will also ask about how we assess the impact of carbon dioxide reductions as against methane reductions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, seems to be clear that if CO2 is cut, the pace of warming is reduced. The late Garret FitzGerald used to say the pace of acceleration slows down, or something similar. If methane is cut, the climate actually cools. There is a dramatic difference in the scale of impact that can be achieved through reductions in CO2 and reductions in methane, yet the EU measured them as if they were the same, albeit with a different ratio for each gas. Is that not a fundamental weakness in the EU approach? I have had the privilege of visiting Botswana, which is largely a livestock producing country that has very little income other than from its diamonds. How can we turn around and say Botswana must reduce its biogenic methane when that is all it has? Surely the measures used have to move in accordance with the science we now know about.

There were no small questions there. My sense from the European Council meeting last week was not that my colleagues were optimistic - I would not say that - but the outlook was not as bleak as it was three or four months ago. There have been a couple of initiatives. The US is to increase its declared climate finance contribution, although I do not know if it is all finalised and we have not necessarily got to the target of $100 billion yet. However, that gave cause for hope. The commitment by the Chinese Government not to fund coal-fired power stations outside China was critical. The EU has been able to deliver its Fit for 55 package. We are, as I said, going into the COP26 meeting with the clear indication that this green economic transition is where we are going. Those three large players all have reason to double down.

There are still a large number of other countries where it is less clear what their contribution will be and that is why the meeting in Glasgow will be diplomatically important. We will see how much collaboration is possible and hope that the rule book around transparency, carbon markets and so on is developed. I am not as pessimistic as I was a few months ago but there is no cause for mad optimism either. We will see what happens in the next two weeks.

The Deputy asked about carbon taxation. I think he is right. What we are doing in this country is seen by other countries as an interesting model because we have hypothecated. Two budgets in a row have provided 30% of climate funding to social welfare protection, 55% to retrofitting and 15% to agriculture. The second and third percentages have significant just transition biases within them, as it were, aimed at small farming, sports schemes and the retrofitting of social housing. That means we are now an interesting case. Our ambition is stitched into law, goes up every year and gives certainty. It is a good working example but it is not the only tool available. We need a regulatory tool to commit to stopping the production of combustion engine vehicles by 2035, although I would rather commit to that by 2030. That is an example of other measures that can be devised.

Our planning system is critical in terms of how we allocate road space. That does not cost money in many instances but is a political planning decision that will help us reduce our transport emissions. It is not the only solution. There is a lot of international interest in what we are doing as an example of how a country can redistribute income from carbon taxation to give it a socially progressive outcome.

The Deputy also mentioned CO2 and methane, and he is right that methane is a particularly virulent greenhouse gas. As I think Professor Peter Thorne told this committee, backed up by the IPCC representatives who presented to the committee during the preceding Oireachtas, methane only has a life cycle of 12 to 14 years but it oxydises in the upper atmosphere. It converts to carbon dioxide in the very area we do not want greenhouse gases. That is a particularly difficult problem and in an effort to address it, the Deputy will know there has been a recent development in that the EU and US are to launch the global methane pledge which targets a 30% global reduction in methane by 2030. One of the interesting aspects of that is that, as part of the pledge, those countries are looking to use the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which was established under the Obama Administration, to manage methane and look at protocols around managing methane. The first area to be addressed is the issue of fossil methane, particularly that released by gas systems, fracked gas systems where there is significant leakage. There is an enormous amount of wasteful leakage of methane through our international gas system. That is the first and most immediate area in need of attention and one in which protocols are more advanced.

When it comes to land use, biogenic methane is much more complex because there is a range of different sources. It arises from rice paddies in a natural anaerobic system. How that is regulated is going to be one of the most important issues, not only for the upcoming COP meeting but also for the one in Egypt next year and at subsequent meetings. Our scientific community is going to have a key role. It is an opportunity for us to promote the necessary type of climate resilient agriculture at the same time. Irish family farming stands to gain from this because there are real differences in environmental outcomes. Let us say a system has a factory lot of 20,000 cattle, as some systems would have, and a pastoral, small farm system. It is not just the emissions protocols we are looking at. We should also be looking at air quality, water quality and the social outcomes of different types of systems. Those elements will have to make up part of the consideration of the methane protocols that will evolve in the coming few years.

I thank the Minister. I get the sense he is keen to stay with us all evening and we would be keen to have him, but I have received a message that he needs to leave. I thank him for his attendance. It has certainly helped us in our understanding of COP26 and the intergovernmental panel publication from last August. If members have remaining questions, the Minister's officials have agreed to stay with us.

May I ask for clarification on one matter?

Go ahead.

I am interested in the issue of biogenic methane versus carbon dioxide. It seems to me that there is a profound difference between a measure that actually cools the climate and a measure that slows down the pace of deterioration. That difference does not seem to be properly recognised in the way the EU measures things.

If we can achieve a reduction in biogenic or, indeed, any other source of methane, it is actually worth more to the climate than the EU inventory is attributing to it. The corollary of that is that if we can persuade farmers to farm in a way that has less methane emissions, we could actually afford to pay them more than we now reckon it. That is what causes me a little bit of concern.

One of the big issues we will have is bringing the farming sector on board with the changes that are coming. It seems to me, however, that if biogenic methane was measured in a different manner, its real value would be recognised and we could make a much better case to farmers for the economics of, if you like, farming biogenic methane to reduce it as well as to produce food. I would like to explore that a little bit with officials. We need to see some change in order that we can not only unleash some positive potential in agriculture but also reward farmers for doing it and get over what seems to me a sort of sense of rural Ireland farmers feeling that a finger is being pointed at them unfairly. I am interested to see whether there is a way of trying to find a solution in that new science that is now clear in the IPCC but is not yet expressed in the inventories used by the EU.

I thank the Deputy. The officials, Ms Griffin and Mr. McLoughlin, are still with us. I am conscious that the Minister, of course, sets policy but if the officials wish to try to answer Deputy Bruton's query, I will let them in. Does Ms Griffin wish to come in on that?

Ms Emer Griffin

Yes, I can try to make a few comments on this and explain it as best I can.

The IPCC report is agnostic in what metrics countries use. Obviously, the new report that came out indicates the clear message that depending on the metric used, it will have a different end time of when we achieve net zero. At EU level, therefore, we use the global warming potential, GWP, as listed in the IPCC AR5 report, which is the previous report to this. Those metrics will only come into force from 2021. The reporting requirement is up to 2030, which is the EU requirement. We are currently using it at EU level. When Ireland makes its reporting, therefore, it is AR4 up to 2020. Like Deputy Bruton said, there are different values for different gases under these different GWPs as they are in the report.

If we are trying to look at ways of changing the value of a certain gas such as methane, therefore, we are informed through the EU regulations and also what is agreed at the Conference of the Parties, COP. In these, for the Paris Agreement, it has been agreed that we will be using IPPC AR5 or I believe the language says something like unless a subsequent value that is determined by the IPCC. It is, therefore, really through that process that we would have to look at ways.

There will be more coming out in the working group 3 report, which is coming out in quarter 1 of next year. Three reports make up the full AR6 report. The working group 1 report has just come out, working group 2 is on adaptation and working group 3 then is on mitigation. There will be a bit more on these metrics and information in that report. I think that will tell us a lot in terms of how we consider them at an EU level and the implications.

I am sorry; is there not a profound difference between the two things? If the EU continues to measure it the way it is, we are locked into a system that does not recognise the very significant value, from an Ireland Inc. and global Inc. point of view, of managing to reduce methane, particularly in agriculture, which is the biggest generator of it. If we continue to undervalue that then it is not surprising that we will face resistance in trying to get change, whereas, as I understand it, if we value it in the way the IPCC is now recognising its profoundly different value, which is that a reduction in biogenic methane cools the planet, the best we could do if we even reduce transport to nil would be to stop it getting worse. Those are two profoundly different outcomes. Are we not missing a very real opportunity here to change the debate as well as deliver a better outcome?

I thank the Deputy. I believe that question is more appropriately directed to the Minister but in terms of adding to the debate, certainly, the Deputy's comment shall go on the record. I absolutely appreciate that it is a legitimate question to which we should return.

No other members are indicating, in which case I believe we are finished for today. I thank the officials and also members for their contributions. I will adjourn the meeting now until Thursday morning when we will meet at 9.30 a.m. for our final session on pre-legislative scrutiny of the circular economy Bill 2021.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.36 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 October 2021.