I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(2) Section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 is amended by the insertion of "for its role in carbon sequestration, or in respect of pollination" after "features" where it firstly occurs.".
This relates to carbon sequestration. I am hopeful the Minister of State will be able to accept this amendment. I acknowledge that he has taken on board the concerns I raised with carbon sequestration in bog habitats and it is reflected to an extent in amendment No. 11, although there are other issues. Bogland covers 3% of the Earth's surface but it contains 33% of our carbon. It is one of the densest and most important areas of carbon sequestration. In the limited time we have to take meaningful action to reduce our carbon output in Ireland and collectively on the planet, one of the most important principles needs to be keeping carbon in the ground, where possible. As I said, land that is holding carbon is doing something of great value.
Aside from the environmental importance, it is also doing something of great value economically. We are looking at immense fines and economic costs. I am very sorry to miss the debate in the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which I joined recently, because it is happening at the exact time of this debate. I have said that I deeply regret that this Bill is being pushed forward before the climate committee has the opportunity to discuss the future of peatlands. In the debate taking place right now in the climate action committee, Fine Gael and other Government representatives will be talking about the importance of the value put on carbon. It is a significant cost and we must consider the importance of what some call a carbon tax but what I would call the pricing of carbon. Similarly, it is vital that in our other areas of policy, like this Bill, we put a value on carbon, its storage and how we ensure we are not facilitating unnecessary and dangerously excessive emission of carbon. I have spoken about a twin crisis many times, taking in the ecological and climate crises. They are deeply entwined. One relates to the storage of carbon and the other relates to pollination and the massive decline in our bird and insect population. Our pollinators are vital to every form of agriculture in the country.
I have made these arguments to the Minister of State and I have seen some reflection of them in the first part of Government amendment No. 11, which proposes to add a reference to carbon sequestration in section 18A. However, it does not look to add a reference to carbon sequestration to section 16(6) of the Act of 2000, which refers to the detailed scientific reference document the Minister of State and others will use to determine whether an area should be designated as a national heritage area. Section (6) states:
The Minister, in publishing or causing to be published a notice under subsection (1), shall have regard to whether, on the basis of the scientific advice available to the Minister at a particular time, the area is worthy of conservation by virtue of its special scientific interest for one or more species, communities, habitats, landforms or geological or geomorphological features, or for its diversity of natural attributes.
This is a very strong section but it was written in 2000 before we knew the importance of carbon sequestration and pollination and they had been widely accepted. It would simply bring section 16(6) up to date if the Minister of State were to accept the amendment and we were to add the phrase "or for its role in carbon sequestration, or in respect of pollination". The amendment would simply add these criteria to the scientific and environmental factors to be considered. Those factors sit very well alongside issues such as species preservation, landform and habitat.
Adding pollination and carbon sequestration to this list would be a substantial signal for the Minister of State to send and it would not affect in any way the rest of the operation of the Bill. The Minister of State has provided that in his decisions on specific natural heritage areas he plans to consider carbon sequestration. It will not affect the immediate practice of the Minister of State but it will bring the law up to date in this regard. I hope the Minister of State will be able to accept the amendment. We may part ways on amendment No. 11 but amendment No. 4 is very practical and well-intentioned.