I welcome the Minister of State.
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015: Second Stage
Climate change, as we are all aware, is one of the defining challenges of our time, with increasing emissions of greenhouse gases contributing to increased air and ocean temperatures, drought, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, increased rainfall, flooding and other climatic influences. The urgent need for co-ordinated action is now very much to the fore as the global community converges in Paris in a matter of weeks to agree a new legally binding global agreement on climate change.
Ireland is very committed to playing its part both in terms of addressing the significant challenges of greenhouse gas mitigation and planning effectively for the future in adapting to the impacts of climate change. To underpin this commitment and respond to the challenges highlighted, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, has seen to it that the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 which sets out a comprehensive institutional framework for establishing, maintaining and reporting on both mitigation and adaptation policy measures up to 2050 is being brought before the House today.
Recent debate in the Lower House centred around the quantum of emissions reductions to be achieved, but there has been precious little discussion of the practical and achievable means of meeting these reductions. I cannot overemphasise how important having in place such an institutional superstructure is in meeting the climate change challenge. We already have a national climate policy position. In April 2014 the Government approved a national climate policy position which sets out a long-term vision of low-carbon transition that is ambitious in demanding real and meaningful change in how we, as a society, live, work and travel. Decarbonising the economy will unquestionably create significant challenges, but it will also bring about significant opportunities that many in the Irish business community are already embracing. Every day in my work as Minister of State with responsibility for business and employment, I see the opportunities emerging, with some significant research being carried out by Irish companies in this space.
I will now address one of the most significant and repeated criticisms of the Bill, that is, the absence of explicit greenhouse gas mitigation targets in the Bill. These criticisms are ill-founded for the following reasons. Ireland is already subject to legally binding greenhouse gas mitigation targets up to 2020 as a result of the European Union's effort-sharing decision of 2009. This EU agreement is explicitly referenced in section 2(a)(iv) of the Bill. Moreover, negotiations are in progress in Brussels to agree further legally binding mitigation targets up to 2030 for each member state, including Ireland, arising from EU political agreement on the 2030 framework for climate and energy. This process of mitigation target setting will likely continue up to 2050. In other words, Ireland is and will be subject to legally binding mitigation targets throughout the period up to 2050 as a result of successive agreements at EU level.
Putting in place our own separate mitigation targets would manifestly cut across and interfere with the European Union's target-setting process for its member states. There can only be one of two possible outcomes. Either our own targets would be less than those set at EU level, thereby rendering them redundant, or, alternatively, we go about setting higher targets than those that would be agreed as being fair and achievable under the 2030 package. If the latter proves to be the case, we must ask ourselves on what basis such a target could be proposed. We might also ask whether we are creating competitive disadvantages for ourselves compared with our EU partners. Accordingly, although I appreciate the motivations of those calling for explicit mitigation targets in the Bill, I do not believe these calls have been properly thought through. In summary, I do not accept that the approach taken with this Bill in regard to mitigation ambition errs in any fashion and I will not countenance the inclusion of separate national mitigation targets in the Bill divorced from EU deliberations. I recall, from when I was a member of the environment committee, that in the initial hearings this issue was subject to much debate and that was a couple of years ago.
Nonetheless, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, has paid close attention to the views of others on the Bill, both inside and outside the Oireachtas. In particular, where reasoned and reasonable arguments have been made as to how the Bill could be enhanced, particularly those made on Committee Stage in the Dáil, the Minister has taken them on board. In this regard, on Report Stage in the Dáil, he introduced eight sets of significant amendments to the Bill to enhance its functioning. These are: the inclusion of a reference to the policy of the Government on climate change; the inclusion of a reference to the principle of climate justice; the reduction in the timeframe for the production of the first national mitigation plan from 24 months to 18 months after enactment of the Bill; the inclusion of an explicit statement in the Bill that the climate change advisory council shall be independent in the performance of its functions; the reduction in the timeframe for the publication of the expert advisory council's periodic review reports from between 60 and 90 days after submission to the Minister to not more than 30 days after submission; the incorporation of the initiatives and experiences of local authorities in implementing greenhouse gas emission reduction measures when developing and approving national mitigation plans; the inclusion of a reference to the protection of public health when developing and approving national mitigation plans; and the change in the name of the "national expert advisory council on climate change" to the "climate change advisory council", mirroring the format used in respect of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.
These amendments which were passed by the Dáil last week serve to strengthen the Bill so as to make it even more responsive to the challenges posed by climate change. I am satisfied that the Bill is now fully fit for purpose and I would be very slow to acknowledge the need for further changes to it. I stress that it is now time for action. We cannot afford any further delay on this legislation. Much preparatory work is under way and significant momentum has been achieved on several fronts. To lose this opportunity of passing into enactment Ireland's first climate change legislation would not only undermine progress already made but could also effectively threaten the prospects of making any further progress in the short to medium term in the race to address the significant challenges we face.
The Bill contains 16 sections and although I do not intend to use the time allocated to me in listing these in detail, I will recall the more significant provisions of the Bill.
They are providing the institutional framework to ensure we make an effective transition to a low-carbon future through five-yearly national mitigation plans, putting in place plans which provide realistic and effective adaptation measures for the long term, giving the climate change advisory council an independent advisory role in this regard, and providing for an appropriate level of accountability of the Government in reporting progress on both mitigation and adaptation.
The Bill strikes the right balance between ambition and realism in terms of the institutional framework necessary to develop, approve and implement robust mitigation and adaptation policy measures. Our vision of Ireland is for a competitive, socially focused economy built on sustainability. The Bill will put in place the framework from a climate change perspective to ensure Ireland is well placed to deliver on that vision. The case for action in response to climate change is unanswerable. Despite this, no specific climate change legislation has ever been enacted in Ireland and the Government intends to rectify that now.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister of State. I also welcome his senior official.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State. We are all aware that climate change poses a serious threat to this island nation across a broad remit of areas ranging from agricultural infrastructure to massive coastal erosion. The Bill does not confront the scale of that threat. It is time the Government got serious about climate change and started to take real action to protect Ireland's long-term interests in global responsibility.
The Government's climate Bill continues to lack real teeth and has no clear targets. The input from the exhaustive hearings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and its subsequent consensus recommendations in effect have been ignored by the Government, contrary to what the Minister of State said. The Bill is a regressive move that steps back from the ambitious framework of targets up to 2050 contained in previous legislation such as the all-party 2010 Bill and the Labour Party 2009 Bill. The Bill delays action on climate change for a further two years, which means the Government is kicking the can down the road on this issue.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, is following hard on his predecessor's footsteps, the former Minister and now Commissioner Phil Hogan, in his failure to include a strategic target for 2050 and this exposes the failure to rise to the pressing challenge of climate change. To remove responsibility for the targets and instead leave it to the European Union is an abrogation of duty. Environmental groups have roundly criticised the heads of the Bill for the lack of vision contained in them. The Bill in no way sets out a meaningful strategic framework to address climate change. It does not, for example, include the Government's own definition of low carbon, guarantee the independence of the climate change advisory council nor provide for the principle of climate justice.
The failure to include specific 2050 targets will give rise to the potential of sectoral interests hijacking the process and depriving the Bill of its long-term impact in shaping policy formation. Attaching targets to EU and international agreements alone is a cop-out. This was previously the Labour Party's position before it performed a U-turn on the issue on coming into government. The Bill is in effect toothless.
An expert advisory council is a welcome idea, but it must be given real resources and clear powers if it is to have any real impact on climate change policy. The council proposed in the Bill lacks any real independence. The Oireachtas must debate the advice and reports of the council and, unlike in the current Bill, the Government must consult the body when developing a carbon strategy.
Fianna Fáil is committed to an ambitious environmental programme which includes tackling climate change. We published the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 on 23 December 2010, which was on Second Stage in the Seanad when the Dáil was dissolved. Ireland should be consistent with EU targets and we have consistently supported the international process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
A major change in our approach to climate change policy is a new national priority on carbon transition. While they are important indicators of progress, we must also have a longer term and wider vision for creating a prosperous, sustainable Ireland. We support the broad thrust of the findings and recommendations of the NESC report entitled, the Five Guiding Principles for Climate Action. These are economic prosperity, recovery and social development; incremental and permanent decarbonisation; responsibility, integrity and leadership; reform of public institutions and governance; and social engagement.
In terms of the impact of climate change, the fifth International Panel on Climate Change report revealed the massive scale of the challenge facing the world in respect of climate change. It is a serious wake-up call in terms of the need for us to recognise the overwhelming scientific evidence and impact that climate change will have. It must give fresh impetus to the need for an international climate change framework to be agreed in Paris by the end of 2015 following the failure of the Copenhagen talks. The European Union and within that framework the Government must take the lead in these matters. Every country must do its bit. To date, the Government has delayed on the issue and has now produced a toothless Bill which can do little to deal with the central issues involved.
The seminal and comprehensive 2006 UK Stern report points out the massive threats that climate change represents and the pressing need for decisive action. It highlighted that all countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most; average temperatures could rise by 5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels if climate change goes unchecked; a warming of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius will result in many millions more people being flooded and by the middle of the century as many as 200 million people may be permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and drought; a warming of 4 degrees Celsius or more is likely to affect global food production seriously; a warming of 2 degrees Celsius could leave between 15% and 40% of species facing extinction; and before the Industrial Revolution the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million and the current level is 430 parts per million but the level should be limited to between 450 to 550 parts per million of CO2. Anything higher would substantially increase risks of very harmful impacts and anything lower would impose very high adjustment costs in the near term and might not even be feasible.
Climate change is the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reiterated the thrust of the Stern report when it issued its damming fifth report which declared that the evidence of a global warming trend is unequivocal and that human activity has very likely been the driving force in that change. The fifth report built on the previous publications and I highlighted the deepening impact of climate change. It is crunch time in terms of climate change. Former President Mary Robinson, as a leader in the world, has highlighted the serious challenges facing us. I am pessimistic about the state of our planet unless we do something dramatic.
I welcome the Minister of State and, in particular, this debate on one of the most important pieces of legislation that we as a country will bring forward. It is important not alone for us here on the planet but also for our children who have not yet been born. Therefore, I welcome the legislation.
It was mentioned in the House that eight years had elapsed since a Bill in this area was debated in the Seanad. We have had a change of Government since but nothing has been done about climate change. In 2007 the Friends of the Earth organisation put forward that something should be done about the matter. Therefore, I welcome this legislation.
Since the 1950s the scientific community has become increasingly aware of global climate change and increasingly united in stating that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. The reality of climate change affects everyone on this planet and those not yet born. Current rates of change would mean a very clear and forced shift in the lifestyles of those who live in developed countries such as ours. There is massive risk to human life and the progress of our nations in the near future. It is urgent that we do something now and I welcome the steps being taken today.
In the more immediate present, climate change affects the lives of millions of the world's most vulnerable people in the developing world. Many of our countries have too easily sidelined climate change as something academic and of no relevance to the lives of ordinary people today, which is not the case.
I welcome the addition of climate justice as a factor for consideration when the plans and framework are developed. Senator Mary White claimed that climate justice was not mentioned in the legislation.
It is included in the Bill as an amendment, which I welcome. It was included on the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. This addition recognises the catastrophic effects of climate change on the planet's most vulnerable people and our responsibility as a developed nation to support them in protecting themselves against the adverse effects of climate change. Ireland participates in the green climate fund for this purpose, but new approaches such as the use of funds from emissions trading could be explored to support those in the developing world more. Legislation on climate change is the basis on which we will be judged by future generations. Our job in this and the other House is to take care of the future.
With all of this as background, it is great progress that we are debating the Bill, the purpose of which is to establish a framework of structures to lower public and private carbon emissions and monitor its transition. Monitoring is very important and an eye will have to be kept on that aspect. That is what the advisory council will be doing. It also aims to facilitate the development of a more environmentally sustainable economy. This is to ensure our responsibility to engage with environmental realities does not harm our economic and social progress. We have to keep an eye on that aspect also. We can have high aims and objectives, but we also have to live in the real world.
Since ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, our approach to climate change has been firmly in the context of best international science and a collective global response to what is a global concern. As a European nation, we have recognised that our role in climate action is best served as part of the greater European action. As part of the European Union, we have committed to reducing emissions by 20% by 2020 in line with EU targets, as the Minister of State said. The Bill recognises these and other international environmental commitments in the development of a national mitigation plan. It would be great to go much further, but we have to take into consideration where we are today and have the targets defined. The Minister of State has outlined the problems and possibilities that hinder us in doing that.
I have mentioned Friends of the Earth and its campaign of seven years ago. I kindly acknowledge my own contribution at the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the work of Oisín Coghlan also. The Government has included the definition of low carbon in national policy. The duty of the Government is to follow national policy, but it would be nice to see the definition of that policy included in the Bill if it were at all possible. That it is national policy and the Government has to follow national policy is at least an advance on this.
The national mitigation plan and the national climate change adaptation framework will be established by the Minister. Its purpose is to achieve the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by the end of 2050. The Bill also establishes a national expert advisory council on climate change. The Bill and the structures it establishes are very welcome and I make clear my total support for the Bill. We would like to go much further, but we have to walk before we run.
The timeframe in the Bill has been reduced from 24 months to 18, but I would like it to go down to 12 because we have a very short timeframe. In the first draft of the Bill it was six months and I do not know how it went up to two years. I would like to see it brought down to 12 months. It was changed in the Dáil, but we should bring it down and try to have a national plan in place before the end of 2016. It is a priority and we have a whole year to do it. If everyone put their wheels in motion, as it were, it would be possible to do it within a year and I would like to see that if at all possible.
Section 7(2)(a) reads, "For the purposes of performing their functions under sections 5 and 6, the Government may consult with the Expert Advisory Council". Then section 7(2)(b) reads they "shall consult" with the advisory council. I was a little confused looking at that. I suggest that in both instances it should be "shall consult".
Section 9 stipulates the make-up of the advisory council and there is no mention of gender balance there. It should be included because quotas have been introduced for politics and I think they should be introduced for all councils and advisory bodies. It is not the most important part of the Bill, but it is important. Different minds think in different ways - right and left brains and all that.
Section 9(11) reads that if elected to State representative bodies or as a public representative, one would resign from the advisory council. That is only right if one is elected to the Dáil or the Seanad, because one is in a decision-making capacity there. I do not think it is wise to exclude local councillors because they do not make policy decisions. They would be very influential in bringing it from the top down to the local community through local leadership and by instigating at local level the sort of change necessary for significant action on climate change. We will depend on local authorities to implement much of this at local level. Deputies, Senators and elected representatives should be excluded but for local leadership, instigation and action, perhaps the Minister of State would look at some role for or link to local authorities because we will depend on councillors to do this at local level.
Section 12(1) details the annual review and report by the advisory council, which is very welcome. There should be a scientific methodology for doing this and as we have the computers to do it now, we will be able to go back and compare one year's analysis with another and see how it is scientifically measured.
Section 15(1) reads that a relevant body shall "have regard to" the plans. Section 15(4) reads that it should "comply with" the relevant plans. I would use the words "comply with" because I know from the days I spent on the council that we had to have regard to the regional authority plans and some people just read them and said that they had regard to them and threw them out the window, as it were. If it has to be complied with, it is a different ball game altogether.
I again acknowledge Friends of the Earth because it has had such input into this legislation, particularly at the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, and it is good when somebody else-----
The Senator is over time.
Friends of the Earth states that despite the weakness of the Bill on the targets set, it will make climate policy-making more transparent and more evidence-based. In addition, thanks to the advisory council, it establishes a strong pattern of parliamentary accountability, with four Ministers required to make annual statements to the Dáil. I would like to see annual statements to the Seanad also and they should be adopted by the Dáil and the Seanad by way of resolution. I ask that this be done.
I thank the Senator.
It is a small change but a necessary one.
The Senator is over time by one minute and 32 seconds.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, and Oisín Coghlan and Eimear Hannon to the Visitors Gallery. I am honoured to speak on behalf of my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, who regrets that he is unable to attend this debate, but he has worked extensively on the climate action issue, with his colleagues on the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I fully support his work in this area and the statement that I will make.
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Never at any point in history has the reality of climate change been so clearly measured and articulated by science. Any person who suggests the effects are not yet being realised has lost touch with the nature that surrounds us. The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the most exhaustive and widely accepted research to be presented on this issue to date, indicated that many of the observed climate changes since the 1950s are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The discussion now is not about if climate change is occurring but about building on what we know to combat it. Climate change can be viewed from many angles and I acknowledge that it is a complex issue. Ultimately, however, we have been provided with enough concrete information at this stage that there is no excuse not to act.
In September 2014 at the UN Climate Change Summit the Taoiseach was unequivocal in his support for action when he said, "Leaders, governments and corporations have a responsibility to define objectives, make policy decisions and take action to preserve our planet and secure a prosperous future for its inhabitants." To do this we need an action plan. I note in the Bill that the proposed national mitigation plan will only take effect 18 months after it is enacted. On this point I concur with Senator Cáit Keane in proposing that it be a maximum of 12 months because we need to ensure we have sufficient time. The current 18 month period will take us into 2017, only three years shy of our 2020 targets. It is not sufficient time to initiate the level of change required.
For this reason, I would support a maximum period of 12 months before the advisory council presented its plan to the Taoiseach to obtain Government approval. When finalised, the national mitigation plan should be adopted by a resolution of both Houses so as to ensure commitments to objectives are solidified and can survive if there is a change of Government.
The natural carbon cycle of our planet has become skewed to the point that we are endangering the very atmosphere that is necessary for the long-term survival and quality of life of the human race. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has stated that, even if greenhouse gas emissions immediately ceased, many of the climate change impacts that we are experiencing would continue for centuries. Our path sets us up for myriad climate-related disasters. We are flirting with catastrophic events such as the extensive melting of the Greenland ice sheet, rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and droughts. Long periods without rainfall can devastate families that are dependent on agriculture for their food and incomes. As climate change makes weather patterns less predictable, it is our poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most. In a cruel twist of fate, climate change is being driven by the industrialisation of the developed world and significant greenhouse gas emissions from the richest countries, yet the impact is felt most acutely by the poor and developing countries that are least equipped to deal with it. The IPCC believes that, by the end of this century, sea levels will increase in more than 95% of ocean areas. This endangers low-lying coastal areas, contributes to flooding, erosion and the destruction of essential agricultural land and heightens the spread of disease. Human health will be impacted, as projected climate changes exacerbate existing health problems. Diminished food production will contribute to undernutrition and there will be an increased risk from water and vector-borne diseases. IPCC working group III notes the agricultural sector accounts for approximately one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions globally and plays a central role in food sustainability and security. While acknowledging the central role that agriculture plays in the economy and our society, we must focus on how to lower emission rates within the sector and support farmers and workers so that we can remain ahead of the curve.
Understandably, concerns about the immediate to short-term financial costs of climate change action are unappealing to governments that are trying to balance their budget books. However, I argue that the future and long-term financial implications of climate change will be astronomical. Furthermore, economic prosperity and tackling climate change are not mutually exclusive aims. We must shift our mindset and consider the opportunities that adaptation can offer. A report published last September by the Irish Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change referenced Ireland's significant potential for export growth and the creation of new jobs. It recommended that the Government articulate a coherent vision and strategy as a necessary first step.
I would look to the progress made by the Scottish Government since passing its far-reaching climate Act in 2009. An analysis by the independent trade body Scottish Renewables last November showed that renewable energy had for the first time in Scottish history overtaken nuclear, coal and gas as the main energy provider for the country. We need to look forward and devise plans to harness our resources. By getting the Bill to the point that we have reached today, the Government has demonstrated the political will needed to play our part in the global effort to combat and mitigate climate change. It is imperative that we lay the right foundations on which to build our future actions and responses. I concur that now is the time for action. However, I am sure the Minister of State does not intend to restrict the role of the Seanad in ensuring the Bill is fit for purpose. On this note, my colleague, Senator Mac Fiach Conghail, has particular concerns about the need for a definition of "low carbon". He intends to address this and other issues through a number of amendments on Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State. I commend him for his response earlier today on the commencement of the Construction Contracts Act 2013. I have an interest in the matter and the Minister of State's response was full and emphatic. I am sure progress will be made shortly.
I welcome the representatives of Friends of the Earth to the Chamber for this debate. The Labour Party recognised early that we had a problem with climate change. We published a Bill in 2009. As part of the negotiations on the programme for Government, we ensured our legislation would be included. Thus, the Bill was published at the start of 2015. It is welcome. I recognise the hard work that was done by the environment committee in the lead up to the Bill. The committee is chaired by our colleague, Deputy Michael McCarthy. There was a great deal of discussion and many experts appeared before the committee, feeding strongly into the Bill that is now before us.
We all recognise that climate change is happening. There have been major international conferences on the matter in recent years. Key issues need to be addressed at global level. We have witnessed an increase in global temperatures by 1.4o Fahrenheit in the past 100 years. Sea levels are rising, which has detrimental effects across the world. Nationally and internationally, we must take action to deal with the consequences of unpredictable weather. I just commented to my colleague, Senator Cáit Keane, that we saw nothing but rain in the month of August, while we have seen nothing but sunshine, growing grass and warm temperatures in the month of October. The weather is unpredictable.
Although I will raise a number of concerns about the Bill, I welcome it and its intent generally. It has identified what needs to be done. It contains many of the environment committee's recommendations, including the key one of establishing an expert advisory committee to oversee the tackling of climate change and the requirement on each Minister to collate information from his or her Department and report annually so as to provide a full picture of what is happening. The Bill also contains the recommendation on the low-carbon roadmap, although it will be produced every five years instead of the every seven years originally recommended.
It is not all bad news. There are opportunities within the legislation for improvements to the country as well as for job creation. The Minister of State attended the National Ploughing championships two or three weeks ago. At that event, we saw the entrepreneurial spirit of Irish people who, realising that climate change would not happen by accident, but by actions, had come up with novel ideas across the sphere from food production and agriculture to tourism and the marine - in this regard, one of our most outstanding attributes is the methodology of our beef production - to tackle the climate problem, create employment and ensure sustainability in our society.
A number of Senators referred to the timescale for the mitigation plan. It was reduced in the Dáil by way of an amendment that the Minister of State tabled from 24 months to 18. Before we conclude, the Minister of State might explain why the timescale cannot be reduced further. This issue has been raised by two other Senators and I am also concerned that the lead-in time is too long.
I welcome the inclusion, by way of an amendment, of the explicit statement that the climate advisory council shall be independent in the performance of its functions. This is critical if the Bill is to have credibility and for it to work to the full.
Although it is welcome, the Minister of State might explain why we cannot go further with the matter raised by Senator Cait Keane, namely, incorporating the initiatives and experiences of local authorities in implementing greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
The language around that is critical for the inclusion of local authorities not as entities but as bodies of democratically elected councillors. The Minister of State was a councillor for 11 or 12 years. I was a councillor for twice that period and know that in the main it is councillors who drive these initiatives at local authority level. However, I recognise that sometimes the executive puts together the finished product. Councillors, as representatives of communities who have concerns about climate change, drive the change and the initiatives that councils undertake. There are many fine initiatives in place already throughout the country. If we gathered up those before actually putting the plan in place, we could start from there as a reference point. That would be good.
I welcome the inclusion of a reference to the protection of public health, something that could easily be glossed over. It is important in respect of seeing how far we can go without affecting health issues. Overall, we have done a good job in bringing this legislation forward. I am proud to say the Government has published the Bill and is now bringing it through both Houses of the Oireachtas. There has been much talk on the issue in the past 20 years but little action. As with many other things, we are seeing action from the Government, which I welcome.
I welcome the Minister of State who was here earlier for a Commencement debate. As Senator Denis Landy said, the Labour Party produced a climate change Bill in 2009. Our official briefing document refers to how in 2010 the then Minister, Mr. John Gormley, stated his Bill would provide a strong legislative framework to support the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy. I have worked off the version of the Bill as passed by the Dáil. It is still too long. I appreciate the statement of the Minister of State to the effect that he has reduced many of the delays. The title of the latest book from Nicholas Sterns is Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change. We have known about this for such a long time. I accept what the Minister of State has done to reduce time delays, but the Bill is replete with delay. Page 9 refers to a 24-month delay. I am unsure exactly what that incorporates. For what they are worth, my amendments would set down a six-month period in which to set in train the national climate change adaptation framework. This is not exactly news. The Labour Party knew about this in 2009 and the Green Party knew about it in 2010. There are also delays when reports come out, as they sit on the Minister's desk. I imagine the Minister of State will tackle those, as per his contribution.
Let us get this out in the open. I am influenced in this regard by my experience as a member of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis. The crisis was so obvious for so long, but all of the directly involved bureaucrats and interest groups simply sat around. Left to themselves, they will do that in the case of climate change as well. I want the Oireachtas involved far more. I will table several amendments on the next Stage. There are numerous references to cases in which the Minister or the Department must consider something. I am keen for the entire Oireachtas to be involved. We have seen the disasters that followed when we left things to quangos, agencies and bureaucrats in the banking sector. They are not naturally lively, activated, self-starting bodies. They seem to slumber into torpor. I want this to be actively pursued. I will offer the Minister of State some good news. The Paris conference begins at the end of November and will go into early December. Let us do this.
Section 6 states the Government may vary a sectoral adaptation plan. I would have thought any variations in sectoral adaptation plans should be considered by the Oireachtas.
There is detail on the advisory council. Why can we not have independent people on the council from environmental departments in the universities, such as UCC, Trinity College Dublin and UCD? Teagasc represents the agriculture sector, a major polluter in this country. Therefore, the director of Teagasc is compromised on any environment committee. At the least there should be a balance among those directly involved.
What about the Economic and Social Research Institute? The minutes of the banking inquiry recorded that if officials in the Department of Finance did not like what the ESRI stated about the economy, they would telephone the institute and complain. "Nervous Nelly" is what Mr. John FitzGerald, our distinguished friend, called the Department of Finance. We cannot allow that to happen with regard to the environment. If someone in the Custom House does not like what an independent body is doing, that is tough cheese - we will come to the House and debate it. The independent articles that the ESRI used to publish on economic matters were cancelled and became solely in-house. I want to see the Royal Irish Academy, the Irish Universities Association and professors of environmental science participating. I want to see the Oireachtas participating. I want far fewer delays.
Section 9 states the Environmental Protection Agency shall provide the advisory council with secretarial and bureaucratic services, premises and so on. I want independence in this area. Unfortunately, regulatory capture is a feature of the way Governments operate. We had contrarians in the banking sector, but the consensus was artificially contrived by ignoring contrarians such as Mr. Morgan Kelly who had studied 40 bank collapses. If there are people with different views on environmental matters, that is great news. I am keen for them to be inside, participating in these policy discussions.
Section 12 refers to a 30-day delay in respect of the publication of reports. I want no intervals. Section 14 refers to a 12-month delay in bringing the annual transition statements to Dáil Éireann. There is a reference to a deadline in respect of the work of the advisory council being not later than 30 days. We should speed up all these operations. We have been waiting long enough on these matters.
I am an optimist. We have reduced the consumption of plastic bags per head in Ireland by 95%. One part of the United Kingdom, England, got around to doing that last week. That was a success, as were the smoky coal restraints we put in place. We can do this.
Like other Senators, I am concerned about rising sea levels. Mr. Mark Carney is an Irish passport holder and the current governor of the Bank of England. He had a distinguished record in Canada beforehand. He has pointed out that approximately 30% more damage was caused by super storm Sandy in New York because of rising sea levels. We should monitor that as a matter of priority.
Is there scope for carbon capture as we try to decarbonise the economy? On the optimistic side, the Montreal Protocol of 1987 phased out harmful substances which led to ozone layer depletion. We can do this; there is no doubt about it. There is much to be optimistic about. As with plastic bags, let us get rid of plastic cups and cutlery too.
Let us consider the Volkswagen scandal. We need a climate disclosure task force. Let us have the whistleblowers ring up and state Volkswagen has technology that tells lies about the amount of carbon and poisonous substances that those cars are emitting. That should be one of the Paris items. That a major corporation engaged in that level of deceit is no good for the future of the planet.
The Minister should involve the financial sector. Let us consider issues such as the flooding of Cork city. The insurance sector has a great deal of work to do as rain increases, sea levels rise and so on. As Mr. Carney has said, the financial services sector is addressing these problems and developing the intellectual capacity to help governments to deal with matters of climate change.
I would have preferred if the Bill was more radical, but I trust that the Minister of State will consider my comments before the next stage. Mr. Nicholas Stern has referred to how the current generation of fridges use 75% less electricity than those from the 1950s. I imagine the Minister of State's fellow county man, Mr. Martin Naughton, deserves some of the credit for this. The current generation of aircraft is far more fuel-efficient than those in the past. We can make progress and there are many good ideas. We should bring in more of the contrarians, including those in the Seanad - we would be delighted to assist the Minister of State in progressing the measures. I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage to speed up the process. We have dilly-dallied around this issue for the best part of six years.
I welcome the Minister of State to discuss this issue of grave international concern that affects the developing and developed world. It is now being addressed in Ireland. The legislation is long overdue. I agree with Senator Sean D. Barrett's analysis of the need to implement this much quicker. Kicking the can down the road a further year or two without implementing the legislative changes that are being introduced here is not wise. Given the international problem of greenhouse gas emissions, or carbon dioxide emissions, in various jurisdictions, this issue must be dealt with on a global platform. The Minister of State will agree with this.
Ireland's greenhouse gas emission level is approximately 0.1% of the global total. Therefore, we are a very small player in the overall scheme of things. Our influence can best be exerted at European level by feeding into European co-operation between member states. Over the past 30 years, Europe has actually reduced its carbon dioxide emission level. Interestingly, the EU 27 emission level in 1990 stood at approximately 4.3 billion tonnes, or 19% of the global output, and it was down to 11.2% in 2011. Starkly on the other side, China is going in the opposite direction. Its proportion of the global total increased from approximately 11% in 1990 to approximately 28.5% in 2011. Therefore, there is a lot of work to be done. Ireland on its own cannot do it, but this Bill represents a massive step in the right direction. There are shortcomings in it that we will have an opportunity to debate on Committee and Report Stages.
The Minister of State outlined the issue of targets which was debated in the other House and at committee level. Very often, Government policy lacks specific targets. Various Departments are trying to improve internal performance and there is an effort to improve the work of the committee structure in the Oireachtas to try to obtain more specific performance-based targets. This legislation does not have such specific targets. If there is no target or primary objective, it is very difficult to drive performance in any organisation or under any policy programme. While it might be argued it is difficult to set targets, given that national targets in some of the areas overlap with European targets, nonetheless, in order to achieve the objectives of the Bill one must realise targets are important.
Agriculture represents approximately 44% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland. The sector is a very important force to drive our economic recovery and meet the objectives of Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025. Interestingly, however, Food Wise 2025, with the removal of dairy quotas, does not have any projection or platform in regard to environmental standards within agriculture. Such standards would actually benefit the agriculture sector in general, particularly smaller operators. Areas of natural beauty in the west, particularly commonage areas and uplands, would benefit. In this regard, there was a missed opportunity. This needs to be addressed and I hope we will get an opportunity to delve further into it during the course of the debate on other Stages.
Without question, improvements have been made. There are opportunities to drive research and development in this area, bringing on board the interested stakeholders in the business community. Families play an important role, as do farmers, civic society, the university sector and Government agencies. Through the universities, we have a platform in conjunction with Teagasc. Interestingly, I recently attended a briefing in which Teagasc was outlining its own plans. It outlined clearly that it has some of the finest scientific researchers in the world, based in Moorepark. We can use them as a resource in a cautionary manner to add to the objectives of the Bill.
The other key national sectoral stakeholders, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, have key responsibilities in this area. There should be a mechanism built into the reporting and collaboration structures to allow the Oireachtas committee to engage with the advisory group and the reports. Instead of just submitting reports to the Oireachtas Library, there should be engagement thereon, particularly involving the departmental committees within the Oireachtas setting. I am sure we will have an opportunity to explore this further on the next Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, in the place of the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. I welcome the introduction of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill to the Seanad on Second Stage. I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of Mr. Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth. I acknowledge the enormous role Friends of the Earth has played in advocating climate protection legislation. As Friends of the Earth stated, Senators and the Seanad have played a major role in seeking to ensure cross-party consensus on the need to bring forth climate legislation. I said earlier on the Order of Business that in 2007 I introduced a Private Members' Bill on climate protection, which we debated on Second Stage. Other such legislation has been debated in this House, but it has never gone beyond that point. We should recall that the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht previously produced a cross-party consensus document on climate protection. This legislation has had a long genesis, as acknowledged by the Minister of State and other speakers.
It is very welcome that we see today this Bill setting out a comprehensive institutional framework for establishing, maintaining and reporting on both mitigation and adaptation policy measures up to 2050. I acknowledge the important amendments made to this Bill in the Dáil on Committee and Report Stages, particularly the latter, during which the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, introduced eight significant sets of amendments. These have been broadly welcomed by commentators on the Bill. I refer, in particular, to the fact that the independence of the Climate Advisory Council is now explicitly stated. The council can now publish its own reports. I refer also to the inclusion of a reference to the principle of climate justice. This was sought by many groups, not least development groups such as Trócaire and Oxfam, which have also been campaigning for a Bill of this type, but from a rather different but nonetheless very important perspective based on their work on development and developing countries.
The Minister of State referred to other very important amendments, including that on the requirement to produce a national mitigation plan every five years, rather than every seven years as previously envisaged. As the Minister of State said, there is a reduction in the timeframe for the production of the first national mitigation plan from 24 months to 18 after the enactment of the Bill. There are also further important reporting requirements. The expert advisory council must publish periodic reports not more than 30 days after submission to the Minister. Previously, however, the timeframe was between 60 and 90 days. Therefore, we have seen quite a number of significant changes that will make the reporting and monitoring requirements in the Bill more robust and in tune with what we all wish to see.
All of those who spoke on the Bill and were involved in the campaign for this sort of legislation share a recognition that this is perhaps the most pressing international issue that confronts us across the world, in developing and developed societies. While the economic crisis since 2008 has perhaps taken the focus off climate change, for some decades now it has been acknowledged that substantive and positive action measures need to be adopted on an urgent basis in order to ensure we address climate change and try to curb the dreadful and devastating effects of global warming across developing countries, in particular.
I will not say more at this stage because I will participate on Committee and Report Stages. I apologise that I could not be here for the full debate. We have a busy schedule in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I am a member. I wanted to welcome the introduction of the Bill to the Seanad, to speak on its role in putting forward climate change legislation and to say we look forward to the very swift commencement of the Bill. When is it proposed to commence it following its enactment?
I look forward to the bedding down of the robust framework that the Bill will introduce to ensure we meet targets on climate change. There has been much debate on the issue and I have lobbied on binding targets, but if we can see a robust institutional framework bedding down and working to achieve change, then clearly the Bill will serve its purpose. I look forward to the debate in the House and thank the Minister for bringing it here.
The issue of climate change is the biggest challenge facing our generation and we have a responsibility to take action. Unfortunately, Ireland's five year action plan on climate change expired in 2012 and we are now in 2015. The Bill is weak and very much the work of Mr. Phil Hogan and Fine Gael. I cannot commend a Bill which has so many shortcomings because it would not do justice to the issue of climate change. It will or will not make a real tangible difference and we have to be honest in our assessment. It is a big disappointment in terms of what it seeks to achieve and the lack of targets, something which is glaringly obvious.
It is disappointing that is no definition of a "low carbon economy" in the Bill, which is vague in terms of sectoral allocations and targets. The Bill is not adequate in terms of following on from the action plan on climate change which ended in 2012. It had specific targets based on the Kyoto Protocol. There is no excuse, particularly in the light of the fact that the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht had all-party support to make sure that targets were set. The Bill could have been a lot better. In the committee there seemed to be support from all parties for a much more substantial Bill, yet it falls short. I do not know why that is the case.
It is worthwhile comparing the report of the committee with the Bill in order to highlight the deficiencies. The main fault, as I said, is that it does not include setting targets. The report also recommends that the annual emission limits for the period from 2020 to 2050 should be the same as those agreed by member states under the European Union roadmap 2050, with this embedded in the legislation.
There has been some debate about the likely implications of the climate change strategy for the agricultural sector, rightly so. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, referred to the need to take account of the particular importance of the food sector. The committee report also recognised the strategic national importance of the agricultural sector and that we must also recognise that climate change has an adverse effect on the community and farming incomes.
One of the weaknesses in the Bill is that local authorities and development are not included, something I find odd. Local authorities should have been given a significant role with regard to a mitigation plan. Within those mitigation plans there should be a large role for local governance. As somebody who sat on an SPC in Waterford City Council which examined climate change, I found local authorities are very limited in what they can do because they lack powers in some areas. When I read the Bill, it struck me that the fact we have not taken the opportunity to give more powers to local government to strengthen its role in setting and realising targets for climate change is a glaring omission.
The most serious defect in the Bill is that while the report recommended that legislation should contain mitigation plans to address emissions, the Bill only provides for the drawing up of such plans. That is not the role of the Bill. Legislation is about setting the statutory parameters for State action, rather than acting as a discussion document on paper or to establish a discussion forum, as the Bill appears to do. We have had enough discussion and debate - we had plenty of that over many years in the Dáil and the Seanad, as well as in the committee where it was agreed we would do something more substantial. The question of why we have not moved beyond that in this Bill is for the Government to answer.
A substantial body of work on what is needed has been drawn up and agreed across party lines, through the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Instead, we have a Bill that appears to be ticking boxes, perhaps to appear as if the issue is being dealt with, when in fact we are only creating new and vague substitutes for planning and implementing the measures that are required to address the global problem in our national context.
The Minister has followed his predecessor's attitude to climate change, which is represented in the Bill. The big disappointment for Sinn Féin is the fact that there is no definition of "low carbon economy" and it is vague on sectoral allocations and targets. We welcome the five year plans, but these must be debated and improved on by the Houses of the Oireachtas. As I said, we must get everybody on board on this issue. It is not only a matter for the Government. Rather, it must bring the Opposition and society with it on this issue, as well as industry, agriculture, construction, transport and local authorities. The Minister is responsible for local authorities and there will be no success-----
The Senator's time is up.
I am nearly finished. I ask for the indulgence of the Acting Chairman.
The Minister is responsible for local authorities and there will be no success without their being central to the implementation of any plan to create a low carbon society.
The Bill is welcome, but I have no doubt that if the Minister was standing in opposition today and it was presented to him, he would have the same critique because he said as much when he was in opposition. There is much more to do regarding this issue if we are to realise in any way the targets and goals with which all parties say they agree. When it comes to legislation, for whatever reason, we fall short and that is simply not good enough.
The Bill is not ideal, but I welcome it. It is good to see it going through the House. I would like to know whether it will be enacted during the Government's term. I understand in 2009 - Senator Ivana Bacik might be able to verify that the first Bill went through the House.
It was in 2007.
I understand it was the Senator's Bill.
Yes, it was.
I remember welcoming the Bill when I spoke on it on that occasion. That was eight years ago. This Bill is about our planet and environment.
In 1999 I was in a place called Tromsø, located inside the Arctic Circle in the north of Norway. I remember climbing a glacier and those who had climbed it previously had put down markers at points where it had reached two years previously. By the time I climbed it, it had melted substantially, by about 4 ft. That was an example of global warming being measured in a small way. We now see changing weather patterns and the severe flooding that has hit our shores and the effect on lifestyles.
In my statement on the budget I mentioned that I would have liked to have seen a little imagination in it on how to create a greater cultural awareness of our need to act in a more carbon friendly way.
There are ways to achieve this and I will refer to them briefly. Many previous speakers referred to other issues, but I will focus on this one. It is clear from reports that it will be a challenge to achieve the European Union targets on carbon reduction. The Taoiseach's approach is frequently to seek to have the targets reduced. Why does the Government not seek to offset our carbon emissions and incentivise companies, organisations and individuals to achieve our targets, rather than trying to get away with failing to reach them? I would like to raise awareness, affect outcomes and change culture.
The Bill presents us with an opportunity to tackle significant exhaust emissions in our car-dependent society. The lack of adequate public transport in urban and rural areas means that Galway, for example, from where I come, is choked with traffic because it does not have a school bus system. School transport would contribute significantly to improving the environment and reducing congestion in the city. When children are not at school, traffic flows rather well because large numbers of cars are taken off the roads. A school transport system would also significantly reduce our carbon footprint.
Section 4(8)(b) is concerned with obtaining input from members of the public and refers to feedback. When is this likely to occur? What is the general timeframe for the implementation of the legislation?
One step that could be taken would be to encourage businesses to consider how far their employees must travel to work and ascertain whether they are travelling by car. They could also work out what impact the business is having on emissions. This is another example of raising awareness.
Some exciting developments are taking place elsewhere in the context of offsetting a corporate carbon footprint. The most effective climate protection is to avoid emissions at source. However, measures to increase energy efficiency are useful and unavoidable emissions can be offset in a simple and cost-effective manner. The message to corporations is that they must position themselves as responsible companies by offsetting their carbon footprint. Let us call a spade a spade. What are the chances that corporations and companies will change their practices unless they are forced to do so? I am not necessarily arguing for using a stick because I believe we should also offer incentives. The budget should have been used to provide tax incentives for companies and organisations to reduce their carbon footprints. It would have been fantastic if companies in Galway, which is choked with congestion, had been offered an incentive to fund a school bus transport system. The reward would be a reduction in their carbon footprint which would benefit everyone.
There are many examples of good practice worldwide. For example, a climate neutral company label is available which allows companies to obtain a company carbon footprint that is certified and confirmed by myclimate.org. The United Kingdom's low emission buses are a good model for school transport. Why are we not adopting this model given that school buses operate throughout the country?
Some interesting submissions have been made in respect of 2020 Vision - Sustainable Travel and Transport. The National Disability Authority submission notes, for example, that mobility "is the key to equal citizenship in a society which sets a high value on personal independence and freedom to move around". The adequate provision of an accessible, sustainable public travel and transport service, it adds, is one of the significant services that impacts on the quality of all transport users, even to the most able-bodied, and issues relating to transport accessibility go far beyond the needs of people with disabilities. This, it states, is especially the case as people advance through the ageing process because there is a high correlation between age and disability. A major component of a strategy, therefore, must be the adequate provision of an integrated, accessible public transport service which enables older and ageing people and people with disabilities to fully participate in society.
My argument is that we face two challenges, namely, to reduce our carbon footprint and act positively on the issue of climate change. The lack of connectivity in our cities and rural areas is also a major challenge. I referred to rural areas of County Galway. With some joined-up thinking, for example, offering incentives for public transport and school transport schemes, we could favourably offset our carbon footprint. Companies may wish to invest in these areas.
As many speakers have noted on previous occasions, housing presents a significant challenge. Rural areas of County Galway have many empty houses but no connectivity. In other words, there is no way of travelling to them, which leads to rural isolation. The connectivity piece is missing. There are 10,000 people on the housing waiting list in Galway. If public transport were available, we could connect into communities and connect people with their place. This would also offset emissions and improve connectivity and quality of life for everyone.
Will the Minister of State comment on my proposals on incentivising companies, organisations and, where possible, individuals to offset their carbon footprint, reduce inefficiencies at source and improve public transport to increase connectivity and quality of life? Is he open to that proposal?
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome any action the Government takes on climate change and low carbon development. As with everything, we must start at home if we are to address this issue. All institutions, whether primary schools in every parish and village, Garda stations, secondary schools or medical centres and primary care centres, should have a climate change plan for dealing with energy use in future. Queen's University Belfast will become the first third level institution to cease investing in carbon producing and non-renewable energies. The Minister of State may be aware of the movement towards withdrawing investment from such energy companies. We cannot expect third level institutions such as, for example, Trinity College Dublin which invests €6.1 million per annum in non-renewable energy sources to stop doing so without some form of incentive. One cannot threaten to cut funding. If anything, additional funding should be provided to institutions which have a green agenda.
I have raised concerns previously about the Environmental Protection Authority, EPA, including actions it has taken and its governance mechanism. The EPA cannot be trusted to do what it is supposed to do, namely, protect the environment. At times, its agenda appears to be to suit big business and give cover to known polluters. It has offered or awarded licences to known polluters without any form of bond to protect members of the public and the environment.
I note that the EPA will provide the expert advisory council with the appropriate administrative and secretarial staff. Will it be providing the expert advice, too? I am not too sure the EPA does exactly what it says on the tin, and experiences in my constituency have borne this out. I am referring specifically to no bond being in place for Aughinish Alumina and that fact should mean the company is in breach of any licensing agreement. There is no bond in place should an environmental catastrophe happen at the plant, which is a real fear among the people of the Shannon Estuary. I recently brought to the attention of the Ministers for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the monstrous gasification plant that was given the provisional go-ahead by the local authority in Limerick. This project has huge implications not only for County Limerick but for the entire region, if not the country as a whole. We are being treated as a nation that does not take climate change, pollution or the environment seriously. We are seen to be opening the door, with the consent, if not the tacit support, of the EPA, to so-called "clean energy" companies which are exploiting a gap. This is something that the communities adjoining the Gortnadroma landfill site will not stand for. This industry is very murky, to say the least. When I brought this issue to the attention of the aforementioned senior Ministers, they had not even heard of gasification. I do not see how this type of technology fits with the sentiment expressed in this Bill, which is why I am flagging it again.
To get back to the issue of the EPA, there are many people who have a difficulty with its granting of licences and how it treats ordinary citizens. However, they have nowhere to go to complain about the EPA. There is no body or agency that oversees how ot grants licences or goes about its work. The agency does not seem to be accountable to anybody. In fact, under the relevant legislation, it has carte blanche and immunity from prosecution. It is negligence on the part of the Government that this has been allowed to continue. The EPA, the body with responsibility for the protection of human and animal health and our flora and fauna as well as the environment, has immunity to prosecution should it be found to be in breach of its duty. I have not seen that issue dealt with and perhaps it might have been addressed in this legislation. I urge the Minister of State to seriously consider providing that the EPA be answerable to a third party or an outside body such as the Ombudsman commission. It is not opposed to that idea, which I put to it at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. This proposal should be seriously considered in order to facilitate the protection of citizens.
I thank all Senators for their contributions to this debate. A number of issues were raised to which I am not in a position to respond, but I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to respond to them at a future sitting as this legislation winds its way through the legislative process.
I remind the House that we have included a number of amendments to the Bill, which I outlined earlier. It is worth repeating that we have included a reference to the principle of climate justice. We have also provided for a reduction in the timeframe for the production of the first mitigation plan from 24 to 18 months after the enactment of the Bill and included a specific statement that the climate change advisory council shall be independent in the performance of its functions. The latter is absolutely critical and was raised as a major issue when we commenced this process with public hearings a few years ago. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht at the time.
I reassure Senator Ivana Bacik that once the Bill is enacted, the timeframes for both mitigation and adaptation will commence.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames spoke about the need to develop more awareness around climate change and I agree with her completely. Swift enactment of the Bill will help communities across the country to understand the importance of awareness raising, attitude change and cultural change at every level in our society. The work of the climate change advisory council will also help in that respect. Our objective of including local and regional participation will go to the root of helping to raise awareness and ensuring everybody understands his or her individual responsibility to take action in this regard.
The 18-month timeframe for the national mitigation plan is a maximum, of which we must be conscious. I reassure the House that all efforts will be made to prepare this plan earlier. At the same time, however, we must respect the statutory consultation process, because none of us in this House could stand over a situation in which that process was not respected and abided by. I do not think anyone here would like to be accused of ignoring a statutory consultation process. We must respect that process at all times.
Senators made reference to section 7(2)(a) and (b). The language is designed to respect the independence of the advisory council. I state very clearly that the climate change advisory council was announced back in June and is already operational, in advance of the enactment of this legislation.
The role of local authorities was also mentioned by Senators Denis Landy, Cáit Keane and others. I consider the role of the local authorities in this area to be hugely important, particularly from the adaptation and mitigation perspectives. Regarding mitigation, we intend to adopt a bottom-up approach to complement the top-down sectoral approach. We want to encourage local and regional participation in this, not necessarily to mandate a statutory contribution which would not necessarily achieve our objectives or aims.
Senators raised the issue of including a definition of low carbon, but I would be somewhat concerned about committing to such a definition in primary legislation for a number of reasons. We might end up, perversely, limiting the scope of what we can achieve into the future. I also remind the House, as I said earlier, that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has included a reference to the national climate change policy which needs to be considered in preparing our national mitigation plan.
It is fair to say it has taken a long time for this legislation to reach the floor of this House. This is a very important debate and one that has been happening outside the House for a long period. We now have a Bill that can be enacted shortly, our first on climate change. I am proud of the contribution I have made to it and that of everyone else in the Oireachtas. Now that we have the Bill before us, I would like to believe we could provide a collective mandate to get on with the task ahead without further delay. We all share an appreciation of the nature and extent of the challenges that are posed to our society by climate change. Although the Bill could never be regarded as a silver bullet or a panacea of any kind for the global problem that besets us, it does constitute a hugely important milestone. It is a landmark in this jurisdiction for the mitigation and adaptation efforts that will be required in coming decades.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?