I thank Senator Kitt for allowing me to contribute at this stage. I particularly want to participate in this debate but I am also obliged to go to the Lower House to deal with some business there.
This is a timely debate. I wish to take up a point raised by Senator Ryan. There is a great denial that we face an extraordinary global challenge. Every logical and sound-thinking person accepts that it will be the biggest challenge with which we will be obliged to deal in the years ahead. The Senator is correct to state there are two contradictory lobbies, the first of which is the nuclear lobby which is trying to capture the climate change debate for its own purposes, while the second is the lobby that denies climate change. The reality is that there is climate change. Whether this is partly, predominantly or entirely due to human activity, there is no doubt that human activity is a large part of the problem and it is the only part that we can address. It is, therefore, incumbent on every government to play its part and this Administration is certainly doing so.
Our Kyoto Protocol target is to remove, on average, 15.2 million tonnes of carbon each year during the period from 2008 to 2012. With respect to those who moved the motion, to suggest, ahead of the period, that we have failed abjectly to meet the target is, to put it mildly, somewhat odd. Our aim is to achieve a position where our emissions will be 13% above 1990 levels. We will achieve our targets by a combination of the emission reduction measures being implemented across the economy, including by our heaviest emitting installations — of which there are 109 — under the EU emissions trading scheme.
There is no silver bullet to help us deal with this problem. The concept that the introduction of a carbon tax would address the matter in its entirety is undoubtedly sincere but it is also misguided. It will take measures that will cut across a range of policy areas to achieve our targets.
Ireland's first national climate strategy was published in 2000. It has, by any objective standard, been enormously successful. The facts in this regard stand up to scrutiny. Our greenhouse gas emissions had increased by approximately 25% over 1990 levels up to 2005. It would be great if the figure in this regard was smaller but during the period in question the economy grew by 150%, the number of people in work and the number of cars on our roads both increased by almost 100% and the number of new houses being built went up dramatically. As an economy expands, it is logical that the level of emissions will rise. To create a situation where emissions in this country grew by only one sixth of the growth rate of the economy is a mark of a successful policy. The success we have achieved will put us in a good position when we enter the post-2012 period.
Tackling greenhouse gas emissions does not have to imperil economic growth. If ever there was a country which exemplified that fact it is Ireland. In his report Sir Nicholas Stern makes the point that we must recognise that dealing with greenhouse gas emissions is not in any way inimical to economic growth. We should stop knocking ourselves. Ireland has achieved more than any other country in the OECD group in this area. We have grown the economy by 150% and our emissions have increased by 25%, an extraordinary example of decoupling. The challenge we face is to maintain strong economic performance, while continuing to lower our emissions. It is imperative that we should do that. Doing so creates an economic advantage because if we achieve a carbon-lean or carbon-neutral economy at the same time as economic growth, we all will benefit. It is a classic win-win scenario. Policies proposed by the Opposition, in particular by Labour and the Green Party, might achieve a greenhouse gas reduction — I listened in particular in the other House — but the problem would be that they do not achieve the balance that will allow our economy to continue to grow.
The national climate change strategy measures in place are projected to deliver 8 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions savings. These measures include the following. On the energy side, the European Union has set a target of generating 13.2% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. We will meet and surpass that target. We have already set more ambitious targets of 15% by 2010 and 33% by 2020. The White Paper, Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland, sets out precisely how that will be done. It sets it out in a way which measures the carbon savings we will achieve by moving to sustainable energy.
Senator McDowell is quite correct to state that we use coal to produce a high proportion of our energy needs, but it is imperative that we, having decided not to go the nuclear route, use a mix of energy sources. His colleagues in the other House criticised our move to turf, but one cannot have it every way. One cannot rule out coal, turf and nuclear. What would we be left with? There is a need for a more balanced approach to this and one will find that in the White Paper.
Senator Ryan was quite correct that the role of agriculture has not been adequately recognised. On the changes arising from the Common Agricultural Policy reform, the fact that 48,000 farmers are signing up for the REPS and that the farming organisations have signed up for the nitrates programme should be recognised. The saving in emissions from both changes will amount to 2.4 million tonnes per year. In addition, the forestry programme will deliver a further 2.08 million tonnes per year. Agriculture is playing its part and this should be recognised and celebrated.
On the residential side, by living in homes we generate heat and all our activity uses energy. I have already announced a planned further increase of 40% in the energy efficiency standards for homes as part of the climate change strategy.
The highly successful green homes grant scheme has persuaded at least 10,000 or 11,000 homes to switch to renewable energy sources. The scheme was extended in the 2007 budget and a further €20 million has been added to it. Under that scheme we have already achieved a saving of 37.000 tonnes per annum in those homes that have switched. This emphasises that there is no single silver bullet solution to this and that a multiplicity of approaches will resolve it.
On the issue of encouraging people to switch, I have introduced planning exemptions for micro-renewables in domestic dwellings and also introduced the change which will encourage more homes to switch to solar energy by removing the planning costs concerned.
Senator McDowell is quite correct that transport accounts for a considerable emissions tonnage. The 140% growth in transport has arisen from economic growth and development and is owing to the fact that there are 2 million people at work whereas there were 1 million people at work 15 years ago. It is a reality that people choose a particular lifestyle.
On whether we are behind, today's British budget is interesting. I read that one of the headline figures Gordon Brown introduced today is that the drivers of the most polluting vehicles are to see their car tax almost double to £400. Compare the top rates in Britain to those in Ireland and one will see who is serious about dealing with the issue.
On the transport initiatives, more than €200 million was set aside in the 2006 budget for tax relief for bio-fuels, and Senator McDowell did not mention this. That initiative will deliver a further 250,000 tonnes of emissions savings. It is an important initiative that is doubly beneficial. On the one hand, bio-fuels produce less emissions and on the other, they cut our import bills, as the Senator fully appreciates. More importantly, however, they give a cash crop to farmers who were denied one because of the silly decisions taken by the sugar company. Rather than suggest that there is no joined-up thinking, a complete holistic approach is being adopted. In addition, a bio-fuels obligation will be introduced to ensure that bio-fuels represent 5.75% of Ireland's transport fuel market by 2010 and 10% by 2020.
Transport 21 is a document which Senator McDowell has not recognised. Some €16 billion of Transport 21 has been put aside specifically to improve public transport. One cannot decide in a Stalinist way to impose on people a requirement that they travel by public transport without making public transport better. For generations, we in this country failed to invest in public transport. The first Government in the history of the State to invest significant funds in public transport is this one. In fact, the modal shift from implementation of Transport 21 is calculated to save of the order of 500,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
The figures are impressive. Luas, whatever one says about it, carried 26 million passengers in its first year of operation. It now has capacity to handle 80,000 people per day. The DART extension, which was achieved in the lifetime of this Government, can now carry 90,000 people per day. As I use it occasionally, I can tell the House that it is packed and the extensions, which are long overdue, are welcome.
A combination of tax concessions for lower emission cars and an updating of labelling for cars introducing, as Senator McDowell stated, the change for hybrid cars, fuel-efficient cars and dual-fuel cars will produce savings. It is not true to state that nothing is being done. I referred to British Government's budget today. The British Government is light years behind Ireland, not just this Government but a series of Governments, in terms of the way we tax motor vehicles.
One matter Senator McDowell did not mention, and which is left out of the debate from time to time, is waste management. Waste management is one area where we can make phenomenal changes if only we are honest with ourselves. I agree with Senator Ryan that there is a need to be honest and open in this debate. He is quite right that the hard decisions must be made. One of the major decisions that has been made in the lifetime of this Government in the past ten years is to divert phenomenally increased percentages away from landfill. Only ten years ago approximately 10% of our waste was diverted from landfill. This year the percentage diverted exceeds 35%. We have passed the target set for 2013. We must increase that percentage diverted and move ever more material away from landfill because landfill produces methane, which, as the House will be aware, is one of the worst forms of greenhouse gas emissions.
We have saved 1.2 million tonnes through waste management and waste diversion, and that is before we get into the area of incineration. Combined heat and power, CHP, which Senator McDowell mentioned, is a matter about which we must be honest with the people. We cannot argue for zero waste. While in Toronto at the weekend, I asked about the Guelph method, as mentioned by the Greens from time to time, and people looked at me with mystification and pointed out that they have their own problems. There are further domestic policies which we will announce as part of the climate change strategy document.
I want to deal with the issue of emissions trading. As the House will be aware, 109 Irish firms are in the EU emissions trading scheme, ETS. Those firms will achieve a cut of 3 million tonnes because it pays them to achieve that. They are well under way. There are impressive examples of it being done. It is a key element in the climate change strategy, not only here in Ireland but as part of the national allocations plans in every European country.
Senator McDowell has not made the point in the Seanad, but it has been made from time to time in the Dáil, that somehow the entire imposition should be placed on Irish industry. I will deal with that tomorrow in any event. If one looks at this issue of carbon trading, which is so misrepresented in this country, Sir. Nicholas Stern, the European Commission and progressive environmentalists from around the world are of the view that putting a cost on carbon through carbon trading is the way forward. In fact, Stern has suggested that it should become part of a global response.
There is a second part of carbon trading which is incredibly misrepresented in this country, that is, the issue of using the flexible mechanism under the Kyoto Agreement. That agreement allows countries to buy a certain amount of carbon from other countries which have carbon to spare.
In my view, the contributor to the recent Paris conference who stood out was the executive secretary of the UN Conference on Climate Change, Mr. Yvo de Boers. He argued strongly that the purchase of carbon credits by member states allows developed countries such as Ireland to be progressive and demanding in terms of accepting ambitious targets for carbon attenuation and cutting greenhouse gas emissions while also supporting the developing world without fear of undermining economic growth. Kofi Annan made the same point at the Nairobi conference. Carbon trading has been misrepresented to an astonishing degree in this country. Carbon trading allows a country such as Ireland to meet challenging and difficult targets. I acknowledge that difficult and politically unpopular decisions will have to be made but if we explain the position honestly and truthfully, the people will accept that one of the ways to make the transition is by making use of carbon trading.
We are to cut 15.2 million tonnes and have decided to purchase in the order of 3 million tonnes per year. These purchases allow us to make the transition while assisting the developing world because the danger arises that the latter will be left behind. To find examples of real poverty and challenges resulting from climate change, one only needs to consider what is happening in Sub-Saharan Africa, where people face desertification and women have to spend half their waking hours walking for miles to pick up bits of timber and deplete their forests to provide energy. The great benefit of using the carbon trading mechanisms available under Kyoto, including in particular the mechanisms governed by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is that they allow us to be ambitious about cutting carbon emissions while also providing countries with support in meeting their energy needs in a way that prevents them from falling victim to second-hand technologies passed on by the developed world. It is entirely virtuous and positive to operate in such a manner. It is not a matter, as people in this country have claimed, of buying ourselves out of trouble or looking for the easy way out. That is a fatuous approach to this issue.
All the signatories to the Kyoto Agreement accepted this arrangement. Mr. Nicholas Stern agrees with the arrangement and spoke about it at length. The United Nations Secretary General spoke about it in his Nairobi initiative. The UN commission speaks about it, as does the secretary to the UNFCCC and a variety of progressive environmentalists. The positive benefits of the arrangement were even mentioned in the Al Gore documentary. For some reason, however, it is not acceptable to people in this country. Talk about the world being out of step with my Johnny. We live in a world which faces the reality that we have very little time in which to act. We have to be ambitious and impose penalties and strictures if we are to continue to enjoy our current standards. Mr. Stern has pointed out with crystal clarity that if we do not deal with the problem now, we will pay a much higher price later.
I take issue with Senator McDowell regarding the benefits of carbon taxes. Over the past two years, the price of fuel spiked in this country and the cost of petrol and diesel went through the roof but there was no major reduction in consumption. We need to consider that debate very carefully.
We will be debating these issues at length tomorrow in the context of the Carbon Fund Bill 2006, but I wish to make a point regarding the post-2012 period. We are currently discussing the Kyoto period, which runs from 2008 to 2012, but it is imperative for a variety of reasons that we start focussing our minds and policies on the period beyond 2012. The decisions we have to make on energy will have long-term implications.
I have believed for many years with every fibre in my body that we as a people have made the right moral decision to reject the nuclear route. Nuclear energy is an immoral answer to the problem. However, we have to commit ourselves to the post-2012 period. The White Paper on energy is a progressive document in that regard. It explores areas where Ireland could make an impact, save ourselves and contribute a lot to the debate on climate change.
We are sometimes excessively fearful in this country of making decisions. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is committing us to making decisions on issues such as wave and tidal energy and to ambitious targets for biofuels. I would much prefer to be part of a Government that commits Ireland to ambition than one which snivels and looks the other way. If we do not meet the target or only go three quarters of the way, at least we will have aimed high. I believe we can meet our targets on biofuels and alternative energy. We can achieve great results in areas such as tidal energy if we have the courage to commit. We have a moral responsibility to argue the non-nuclear case because the powerful and sinister nuclear lobby is trying to take over this debate. The other night, I listened to that well-known environmentalist, Mr. Bernard Ingham, argue the case for nuclear power and he convinced me more than ever that I was right all along.
It is unfair to continuously castigate ourselves or say we have not achieved anything. We can always do better or be more ambitious but it is not true to say that an economy which has grown by 150% since 1990 while keeping emissions growth to 25% is going nowhere. I accept that hard work remains to be done. We will have to work harder to reach our Kyoto target of 13% above 1990 levels but I believe we can be successful. However, we will not meet the target by suggesting silver bullet solutions because these do not exist.
I want to avoid making political points because too many political shots have already been fired in this debate. Two years ago, I decided to act on waste electrical products, which are the most environmentally polluting of all products going to landfill. Everybody said my initiative would fall flat on its face and quite a few people were hopeful that would be the case. However, because we set an ambitious target, we have passed it. Instead of meeting the EU target for 2008 of 4 kg per person of recycled products per year, we are already recycling 6.7 kg. That demonstrates, as did the smoking and plastic bags initiatives, that when we set our minds to a problem, we can solve it.
When I say "we", I do not refer to the Government of the day but to the people. We are meeting the ambitious targets we have set ourselves for recycling. It is not a political point to say we lack self-confidence in our capacity to deliver. This Government has made the decision to support the EU in persuading the international community to sign up to ambitious reductions of 30% by the year 2020. If this is not accepted, we have agreed that Europe should impose on itself a 20% cut. That is the way to show leadership.
Meeting the challenge of global climate change will be difficult, particularly for small countries such as Ireland. I regularly listen to the demands of Members in the other House that we lead the world on this issue but if we closed our entire economy, switched off all the lights, destroyed our herds and returned to the time when we did not have fire, we would save 2.75 minutes in terms of global warming. We could take the view that we are too small to have an effect but it would be immoral to do so.
We are making change. We can all be ambitious and impatient and they are good qualities whereas self-delusion is not. It is wrong to suggest we have not done our bit in Ireland and it runs counter to the facts. We have achieved a great deal but we still have work to do. I outlined a number of policies earlier and I will outline further policies tomorrow. On 2 April, I will announce another set of ambitious policies under the climate change strategy. I am prepared to listen because I am not one of those people who comes into the House and arrogantly believes all wisdom is on the Government side. That is never the case, as there is wisdom on all sides in all debates. If we listen more, we will find solutions.
It is untrue, unfair and inaccurate to say we have achieved nothing. We have achieved a great deal but we still face a major task. Rather than spend time scoring silly points off each other, we should examine each other's policies honestly, give them a fair appraisal and support them. If a good policy is put forward by the Opposition, I would be willing to take it on. I was criticised elsewhere today about an announcement I made last week to eliminate the use of incandescent bulbs. Somebody said I was shooting for the moon and that my proposal was "a bit of a nonsense". If this results in a 10% reduction in our energy output while, at the same time, saving every householder money, it will not be a bit of nonsense.
Senator Quinn knows plenty about a good long-term bargain. Rather than scoring points off each others, if we examine policies honestly and openly and adopt a more holistic, cross party approach on his issue, we will achieve our Kyoto targets in a way that will result in all of us winning because Ireland will become the most efficient and progressive country in terms of energy production. We have achieved a huge amount but we still have challenges to meet, which will be met.