I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the invitation to appear.
With regard to our background, NESC is a Government body that advises the Taoiseach on strategic policy issues. Its members are appointed by the Taoiseach and represent business, employers, trade unions, agricultural, community and voluntary organisations, and environmental organisations. We also have heads of Departments and independent experts on our council. The composition of the NESC means that it plays an important and unique role in bringing different perspectives from civil society together with Government. Dr. Jeanne Moore and I are here as members of the secretariat.
There is a strong and growing consensus across society, the Oireachtas and Government that ambitious and meaningful policy action is urgently required to address climate change. In the council's latest report, Climate-Change Policy: Getting the Process Right, we argue that what is required is a mission-oriented approach to climate that will help us to drive the development of actions and solutions that will decarbonise our economy. That would allow us to capture the full range of positive benefits from what we have seen must be a just transition to a low-carbon future in terms of our economy, health, well-being, air quality and enhanced biodiversity. However, the council points out that ambitious goals such as these without a rigorous and reflective policy will not be sufficient to deliver a transition to a low-carbon future.
What the council has focused on in its report is to ensure that growing ambition is matched by action. What is required is a process of policy development and continuous improvement, which over time can force emissions downwards at the scale and pace we require. The system we talk about uses target setting at a specific level, action and review that will ensure ambitious actions on climate, which would often encounter difficulties, costs and contested ideas, need to be grappled with and not glossed over. We accept that in many areas of climate change policy the precise details about how we will act are not yet fully worked out but progress has still to be achieved in the face of that uncertainty.
The council talks about continuous improvement in policy and I will focus on what that means for climate and specifically for transport. For climate policy, the council strongly supports the Government’s proposal to adopt a policy and implementation process modelled on the Action Plan for Jobs. The process it outlines in its report also bears close similarity to the proposal of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action to establish a climate action implementation board. Such a process and structure can provide the key mechanism that will allow for intensive reporting and monitoring of action. However, the existing range of known actions on climate policy, even if fully implemented, will not be sufficient. The council, therefore, recommends that along with the monitoring process in the Action Plan for Jobs, which rightly focuses on the need to check implementation and deliverables, it should in the case of climate change be enhanced to make sure that Government agencies actively explore, find, trial and cost new solutions for specific contexts. In doing so, the Government agencies will have to engage and collaborate with each other and with the non-Government actors in their respective networks. This Action Plan for Jobs plus process at the centre of Government will have a key role in trying to pool the learning from action on the front line in various sectors to prompt co-operation between Departments and sectors to find and exploit the co-benefits for health, well-being and the environment.
On transport, the council identifies three key additional activities and processes that would support future climate action. First, the council strongly supports the role of task forces in searching for appropriate solutions. The report by Dr. Torney and Dr. Devaney focuses on a low emissions vehicle task force in transport as something that seems to have the capacity to do the key element of grappling with the complexity and uncertainty that characterises some of the actions that are required in the transport sector. Running such task forces and learning from their work should form a core part of the climate policy and not only be tangential to it.
Second, the council highlights the role of departmental and agency-led processes that would support breakthroughs and innovation, and scale-up promising solutions. They would achieve this by using the full range of tools available, including regulation, acting as facilitator and convenor, and using the traditional instruments that shape behaviour such as taxes, charges and subsidies.
Third, the council recommends that an enhanced research and knowledge-generating capacity and capability are required in transport because they are lacking in transport compared to other sectors such as agriculture and energy where Teagasc and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, are key resources. What the council envisages is a research approach and capacity that are very close to practice and that help in finding new solutions and identifying obstacles and challenges to progress. Examples we cite are research trials on practical issues such as parking policy, cycling and safety, how we might prioritise pedestrians in urban areas and congestion charges. The second area is how we engage people and communities in trying to find and see the co-benefits of having a more sustainable mobility system. The third area is using our research to develop best-practice guidelines and standards, and advisory support where it is needed, for example, in creating safe walking routes in rural areas.
These three innovations-task forces, which would move specific issues forward, using more of the co-ordinating force and instruments of the State to increase the pace of change; and an enhanced practice orientated research programme would in the council’s view create the means of continuously improving the sustainability and quality of our mobility system and wider climate policy process.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present our work. My colleague, Dr. Jeanne Moore, and I are happy to answer any questions committee members have.