Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 5 Nov 2019

Vol. 268 No. 1

Climate Action: Statements

I welcome the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to the House.

I will go through the developments since we last spoke. As Members are aware, we produced an ambitious climate action plan in June of this year. To illustrate the level of ambition, it is worth explaining to Senators that we must achieve very significant changes if this is to be developed. Over the next ten years, we need to have five times as much renewables as we have today. That will be a very significant expansion of infrastructure. We need to have ten times as much retrofitting expenditure as we have today. We need to have 25 times the level of new purchases of electric vehicles that we have today. We need to see 500,000 extra people using public transport or active transport. We need to see 250 million trees planted. We need to see five times the number of sustainable energy communities. We need to see zero non-recyclable plastic. At the moment, two thirds of our plastic is non-recyclable. That gives Members some impression of the really significant step up that we are asking people to make.

Senators will agree that we have built on solid foundations in having had the Citizens' Assembly on climate change followed by the Oireachtas work on climate and that has given a consensus around the legal framework that we need to put in place. There has been universal support for the report of the all-party Oireachtas committee. We have also embedded the action plan in an oversight process that I think has been proven. I worked on the Action Plan for Jobs, which was driven from the Taoiseach's office and which created a sense of momentum right across the Government to deliver on what was then the top national priority, namely, to get people back to work. Now our top national priority is to confront climate decay and, again, the same approach is at the heart of this model.

We can do great work here and design a wonderful model in Kildare Street, Merrion Street, Adelaide Road or whatever street one wishes to pick, where a lot of effort has gone into designing what it is we have to do but this will only happen if we can bring about a lot of deep-seated changes in the wider community, economic sectors and homes, among other areas. It does require us to start thinking about changing the habits of a lifetime in terms of how we travel, how we heat our homes and about the priorities we set, which is difficult for people. It also means we have to accept infrastructures that we have not been used to. In every town and village, people are quite used to having a flammable liquid buried in a hole in the ground and people do not bat an eyelid at that, but we find it hard to adjust to the idea that there will have to be wind farms, solar farms, infrastructure to build interconnection, and a strengthened grid. There is a significant infrastructural change that we have to get our heads around as a community. A big part of that will be community involvement in practical terms and in terms of an opportunity to share in the benefits and to see community gain at local level and for communities themselves to get into the renewable energy business.

There is also no mistaking that we have to mobilise a lot of capital. Internationally, it is judged that we need to mobilise about 1% of GDP, which is a lot of money every year, probably about €30 billion, to address the climate challenge. That will not all come from the Government. It is about helping businesses, farms, enterprises and homes to be able to fund the changes. The encouraging part is that most of the changes pay for themselves. They are right things to do if we were not having a climate challenge but, nonetheless, they often have significant upfront costs and we must devise models in particular for homeowners. We can have an aggregated model where people do not have to think it all out for themselves, get their own advice, get their own contractor and make their own decisions. It must be made easy for them and funding should be easy to get. We are working to do that sort of aggregation. Right throughout we will need to mobilise capital. The process must be seen to be fair. This transition is immense. We are moving completely away from fossil fuels over a relatively short period. We must make sure that those who are least equipped to make the change and those who are most exposed are helped through the transition. That is why it is so important that there is fairness in the transition, both in assisting those who are least equipped and helping those who are most exposed, such as, in immediate terms, workers in Bord na Móna. That is really crucial to getting this right.

We need leadership at every level, in every business, in every sector and at community level. The sustainable energy communities are a really effective way of getting that. A lot of people are getting involved, with 300 in place already. It builds the bridge between the Government policy - with all the good things we are trying to do - and people, so there is a sense of inclusion. We are very much aware of that.

We are also very much aware that we must have citizen engagement, in particular with young people. A whole day was devoted to young people at the UN conference I attended in New York. As someone said, young people are 25% of the present but they are 100% of the future, so the decisions we make are absolutely central to their future and we must include them. We need to think about how we do that. I have been doing roadshows myself since I launched the plan. I recently had one in a school devoted exclusively to students from schools in the locality. It was remarkable how well informed they were and what good suggestions were coming forward. It pays for us to listen.

Before I hear the views of Senators, the final point I wish to make is that I think significant progress has been made since we launched in June. We have joined the ambitious member states within the European Union that are pressing for carbon neutrality in Europe, a near-zero approach. Members are probably aware that a number of countries are holding out against that but the momentum is very clear that it is the direction of travel for the European Union for 2050. We have delivered 85% of the elements that were to be delivered in the first two quarters of the programme. It is not a perfect delivery but it represents good progress and real work is going in to make this a reality. We have seen adaptation plans in all nine of the critical areas where we have infrastructure exposed to the impacts of climate. We have seen 31 local authorities adopt their own climate charter, whereby every single local authority is now building into its own thinking how it impacts on climate and how it uses public procurement to influence suppliers, how it supports its clients, such as local authority householders, and how it integrates it into its planning decisions, among other areas. It is a really important part of making this happen at community level.

We have had the budget, in which for the first time we have seen a clear trajectory for carbon price, where the Government has announced we will move on a gradual basis to a carbon price of €80 per tonne. As Professor John FitzGerald, the chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council has said, no country, including Ireland, could have hoped to achieve the carbon targets we have set without using price because price is about asking people to pay for the damage they inadvertently do by their practices. Carbon price is an important part of it. The ESRI estimates that carbon pricing on its own would reduce our emissions by 15% by 2030. That represents nearly half of what we have to achieve. The way it impacts will be seen through the decisions people make in their homes, about their cars and about so many other things. It is important that everyone recognises that we have to price the damage. Just as the polluter pays principle has been at the heart of a lot of good policymaking, carbon pricing has to be at the heart of confronting the impact of carbon on our community.

The other essential element is that every cent of that is ploughed back into helping and empowering communities to make the changes they need to make. The way we structure that, as Senators probably know, is in three strands. First, we must help the people who are least equipped. These are people in fuel poverty and not only have we increased the fuel grant so there is an extra €2 per week during the winter months but we have doubled the expenditure on the warmer home scheme. The warmer home scheme is the 100% grant scheme in which we support people on low incomes with poor heating systems to make significant changes. Not only should we support them on the cost of their fuel today but we should put in place a system whereby on average they will save around €1,200 a year from a significant retrofit. It is really worthwhile.

Second is just transition. We have devoted significant moneys in this first round to just transition. Significantly, that is made up of €5 million for restoring bogs that are not in Bord na Móna ownership, €6 million for a just transition fund and €20 million to create an aggregated retrofitting model in the midlands. This will be aimed at mobilising the sort of work we need to do on an area basis in the midlands, looking at particular areas and starting with the social homes to ensure that those who are living in social homes and are on low incomes get an opportunity to upgrade. Also, off the shoulder of that we must include other families that can engage in an upgraded system. We are designing that plan and want to roll it out as quickly as possible. Third, we must increase our expenditure on all the various schemes, such as sustaining the electric vehicle subsidy, doubling the amount of public chargers for electric vehicles, increasing the amount of money devoted to all the adaptation grants that are available for retrofitting homes and so on. Every cent of that money is being ploughed back to ensure we get that mobilisation.

I am reporting progress almost six months in to say the train has moved from the station. We have real momentum and support in the wider community. People will be worried about the impact it may have on their sector and we have to work through that but there is a genuine willingness for people to get involved in this. It strikes me as similar to many of the big constitutional changes we have managed to make in this country. The reason older people like myself, although I do not feel like I am in that category, have changed their minds on a lot of these big constitutional issues is because younger people have changed and influenced the way we think about them. This is very much true in the case of the climate debate and the challenges we have here. Younger people are influencing our generation and rightly pointing the finger at us that we are the generation who will pass on this globe in a worse condition than we found it. We will be the first generation to have done that and we have huge responsibility to build the momentum around this plan and to deliver it for our children and for the generations after them.

I welcome the Minister to the House. He is maturing with age and he is prepared to listen, hear, understand and hopefully, implement. Fianna Fáil fully recognises the climate crisis is the defining global challenge of our time and we are committed to ensuring Ireland does its collective fair share and meets legally binding commitments at European Union and United Nations levels. It is only right that this House has the opportunity to address all aspects of this Government's climate response, or to be more accurate, the opportunity to address the Government's knowing indecision and to delay anything approaching a co-ordinated and satisfactory climate response.

Ireland's climate laggard status relates back to the 2012 Fine Gael decision to abandon climate action legislation proposed by the Green Party and Fianna Fáil and the subsequent knowing failure to introduce any sort of coherent climate plan until this year. The new climate plan may result in some concrete action, following the Trojan work of the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. The Oireachtas committee was absolutely clear that both Houses of the Oireachtas have an important role to play in terms of instilling discipline and ending years of Government inaction.

However, there are notable gaps between committee recommendations and Government commitments in its climate plan. I want to address four issues if I have the opportunity and it would be helpful if the Minister could respond to each issue in due course or at least consider them. First are the Taoiseach's comments. Last week, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and Ministers were throwing around pumpkins at a press launch of their quarterly report on actions implemented by Departments. I will not be calling it a progress report as it is far from clear emissions are being reduced. In contrast with the serious and respectful approach of the Oireachtas joint committee, it was shocking that the Government continues to treat the climate emergency in such a trivial way. In terms of this published quarterly report, Departments are to be commended on transparently reporting on their commitments, as well as on their work on adaptation plans but how does such a ridiculous photo opportunity appear to the peat workers who stand the loss of the only jobs they have ever known, to the farmer whose potato crop has been destroyed by the extreme rainfall of recent weeks, or to those with respiratory problems made worse by air pollution? There are those in government who wonder why we have children striking about these matters. To top it all, the Taoiseach made the incredible assertion that climate change will have benefits, essentially as there will be a warmer winter. His comments beggar belief when we have the EPA and the HSE confirming a clear link between poor quality air in Dublin and rises in hospital admissions. How can we be sure this Government will protect citizens from climate impacts when the Taoiseach seems to think the climate emergency is a bed of roses? It beggars belief and I ask the Minister to reject the Taoiseach's insensitive and ridiculous statement now in this House. It seems the Taoiseach has not read the advice published by climate experts, such as the advice on the likelihood of devastating flooding in our coastal towns and cities, as reported in The Irish Times yesterday. Can the Minister clarify if the Cabinet has ever sat down with the Environmental Protection Agency, which regularly produces detailed reports on climate risks? I mention the dangers of climate change with the flooding of towns and the raising of the sea levels. It is extraordinary. I do not know what the Minister thinks or what happened the Taoiseach on the day or what he was taking but it was certainly quite-----

A lot of it is down to bad planning as well.

-----extraordinary. This brings me on to my next point on the announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency last week.

The EPA noted that we will probably miss the EU 2020 climate commitment by more than 90%, a staggering margin which shows that the State is nowhere near to being on track to meeting Paris Agreement obligations. This will hurt citizens most, resulting in penalties running to the hundreds of millions. I am sure that the Minister will respond that these figures do not take into account commitments in the Government's climate plan. We have to remember that the EPA announcement is just the latest in a decade-long list of warnings that Ireland's emissions are hurtling in the wrong direction. Can we expect any sort of immediate response from the Government, when all previous EPA reports seem to have been consistently ignored? I appeal to the Minister to meet the EPA to discuss these issues with it, because it is vitally important. Will the Minister set out precisely how his Department is responding to information from the EPA? How does EPA expertise inform policy-making? Will the Minister provide information on how the national energy and climate plan required by the EU will be updated in light of the EPA's announcement?

Ireland has been left with a climate laggard status primarily since key Ministers and Departments have not been held to account. The Government has taken one necessary step with the organisation of a new climate delivery board. However, we have not seen any of the other measures to improve accountability and governance, despite commitments to the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Will the Minister set out specifically when we will see a Bill introduced with a net zero target and carbon budgets? When will Cabinet procedures be updated to ensure that Government memorandums align with climate obligations? When will budgetary rules be changed so that Votes of Departments take account of the cost to the Exchequer of purchasing emissions allowances? When will the repeatedly delayed national clean air strategy be published? Those are all issues which the Minister should look at and respond to. It would be useful if the Minister could refer to the specific month that these measures will be introduced and not merely the year. These actions may not sound exciting but without them the Government's climate plan is more like a climate promise than climate progress.

Regarding the severe impact of climate change, about which the Minister appears to be largely ignorant, I would also like to add that we cannot leave a generation of workers behind or expect those already struggling to shoulder the challenge. This is the responsibility of Government. A just transition needs to reach across every part of the country into every household, particularly the most vulnerable and those at risk of fuel poverty, which the Minister has mentioned in his speech. The Minister has finally taken the welcome step of partially responding to recommendations of the committee by appointing a just transition commissioner with €6 million now dedicated to a just transition fund to support the midlands and other relevant areas. This is certainly a step in the right direction. However, the Government is presiding over a decarbonisation programme in the midlands that is happening much quicker than any investment in the region despite years of warnings. There are still many outstanding questions which we are seeking answers to. Will the Minister inform the House when the appointment of the commission will take place? How will the independence of the chair be ensured and when will all relevant stakeholders be involved?

As my colleague, Deputy Cowen, stated, it is also important that people are aware that this new just transition fund was not created exclusively for Bord na Móna. It is for the communities and the local economies which will undoubtedly suffer from the closures. It is only right that the configuration of how the transition fund is rolled out is decided by people on the ground. Will the Minister provide information on decision-making in relation to the just transition fund and confirm that supports and funding will be made available to both workers and communities before further job losses occur?

Regarding budget 2020, it is also essential that additional funding for the warmer homes scheme and the fuel allowance reaches the most vulnerable in rural areas. It is especially disappointing that the Government has failed to undertake the necessary examination of fuel poverty across the country despite previous commitments. The Minister has previously stated that the expanded warmer homes scheme will be delivered to householders through an aggregated model and co-ordinated by a new task force chaired by his Department. How will this approach ensure that retrofitting of social housing is prioritised? A recommendation from Fianna Fáil in the Joint Committee on Climate Action was the establishment of a one-stop shop in each local authority to engage in outreach and to act as a repository for information for local communities. Fianna Fáil, on returning to government, will give climate action priority in the next Administration.

I welcome the Minister and his contribution to this important debate. Climate change is one of the key issues that we deal with. We have heard the political analyst from the Fianna Fáil press office make that statement here this morning. It is disappointing that Fianna Fáil is playing politics with such an important issue that we are trying to grapple with and on which we have made such progress in the last six months. We have to go back further than that. I compliment the Senators here who sat on the Joint Committee on Climate Action, as I did. Some of us spent months working on that framework. Some Members in this Chamber put their hearts and souls into that. I compliment those who turned up and participated. Others did not but that is an issue for them. When I was a member of that committee, I worked closely with all parties to bring forward a fair and comprehensive report which then became the blueprint the Minister announced. That has been a successful process. In the past six months, we have seen a major change in how Irish society views climate change. We have been trying to bring people with us and that has been a positive step.

The Minister has brought forward measures relating to just transition, retrofitting and other key issues such as transportation. I heard my colleague mention air pollution. We saw mistakes in the past related to air pollution. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party produced an air pollution policy with taxation implications for transportation, which had an awful effect on the air quality in Dublin in particular. We have learned from those mistakes, which is why this is so important, and are moving forward. I compliment the Minister on the roadshows he has brought forward and for the engagement at grassroots level, which we sought at the committee, to bring the people with us. In places such as Kinsale and Clonakilty, students came out and marched because it is their community, society and planet. They want change and I think that every Senator in this room is aware that unless we provide the change, we are letting our society down.

The train has left the station and there is major change, and we have to take people with us. Just transition is important. In my part of the world, we have both very urban and rural areas. How can one marry both of those with regard to the issue of climate change and take people along on this journey? That is the real challenge for the next ten years. How can we get rural residents and maybe older people in society to change their ways? I think the younger generation is moving rapidly but bringing the older generation with us will be a challenge. Transportation and a person's ability to access it, whether in rural Ireland or urban Ireland, is becoming a major part of that. I got a statistic from Bus Éireann last week about school bus services, that one school bus produces the same emissions as two dirty diesel cars. If there are 52 children on the bus, substantial savings are made with regard to emissions. That is the kind of thinking that we need to talk about to ensure that we work with the transportation links that we have to provide school transportation, especially in rural areas, so that there is a knock-on effect of reducing emissions.

Six months on from when the Minister announced his action plan, we have seen major positive change in society, which is what we need. We need to build on it and on that momentum. I am confident that the Minister has the necessary experience from the action plan for jobs and the ability and energy to deliver this important project, which is unique because it comes from central Government. If we do not have that drive and leadership, there will not be real change.

At meetings of the committee on which I sat, the key issue was that the Secretaries General had no ambition in so many areas. That is why there has to be a whole-of-government project. The level of ambition of the Secretaries General who turned up and gave evidence was absolutely frightening. It was everyone else's fault bar theirs. They were not going to come up with the solutions. The civil servant attitude must change if we are to have genuine governmental change in delivery on the ground. We have started on that process, but it must continue. The momentum must build. If we can continue to build it, we will get what society wants - a reduction in emissions and a move towards a carbon neutral society by 2050. These are important issues for society. Anyone who has been knocking on doors in the past two or three weeks will have encountered these issues at every third or fourth door. These are the issues people are talking about. That is why it is so important that we show leadership and deliver on this key issue. If we do not, we will let down society and the societies that will come after us. This is the ultimate challenge and we need to ensure we deliver on it.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Bruton. I welcome the opportunity to address him directly on the climate action plan quarterly progress report. It is with dismay that all those who have worked so hard to influence the Government to take climate change seriously in the past year note what is happening. I am a bit downhearted to have to open my statement with an unapologetic condemnation of the Taoiseach's outrageous comments on the benefits of climate change. How can the Minister defend a plan that seeks to mitigate global warming when his leader implicitly posits it as beneficial? How can he stay here and expect us and the public to take seriously the commitments to tackle climate change? There is no possible justification for a trained scientist such as the Taoiseach in putting forward such damaging, ignorant commentary. Let us be clear: warmer winters bring heavier rain and flooding, not ambient indoor temperatures. Warmer winters mean people being evacuated from their homes because flood defences have been breached. Warmer winters do not mean sitting at home and turning down the heat dial. Warmer winters mean more landslides and deaths in road traffic accidents and by drowning. They mean more premature deaths and demands on public health services, not people sitting at home in their bikinis and counting their energy savings. Our winters have been getting warmer for decades, yet neither home energy costs nor carbon dioxide emissions have reduced. Is this not the reason the Government increased the carbon tax? Last year the Society of St. Vincent de Paul spent €3 million in heating the homes of those who have not yet felt the Taoiseach's so-called benefits of global warming. No doubt, the society will spend the same amount, if not more, this year. Perhaps the Minister might tell those concerned how they are doing global warming all wrong.

I could go on in that vein, but I want to address other issues that bring the climate action plan into grave question. An internal audit of the Minister's Department found that the State systems for monitoring whether Ireland was meeting key climate change targets were unsatisfactory. The audit found a significant number of failings in how progress in meeting climate targets was recorded and reported to the Government and senior departmental officials. While Ireland is set to fall short of EU climate targets next year and is also on course to miss significant targets for 2030, the internal audit found that the Minister was not informed on a systematic basis of performance gaps in Department policies to hit climate targets and that, as a result, he was unable to advise the Government on the need for corrective action. The audit found there were no procedural arrangements for reporting progress to senior civil servants and that their subsequent decisions might not have been informed by the most recent information. In addition, the audit found that there was a lack of formal reporting on overall climate change targets to the Government and the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister has no way of finding out what is going on, no evidence with which to advise the Government and has no way of reporting to this House. In essence, this renders the progress report null and void because the means by which evidence is harnessed is wholly compromised, yet it is the taxpayer who will be raided to pay exorbitant target failure fines and bear the burden of the Government's failures.

There are many other issues I could raise, including electric vehicles, retrofitting and the warmer homes scheme, but I want to concentrate on the pressing issue of the Shannon liquefied natural gas project and the Government's persistence in defending its retention on the list of projects of common interest, despite Ireland's unequivocal opposition to using fracked gas in its energy mix. The Climate Change Advisory Council has not given consideration to non-territorial emissions, although the issue is within its remit. At a committee meeting Professor John FitzGerald, whom the Minister quoted, described gas emissions as a distraction. On TV3 Deputy Naughton described discussions on fracked gas as a sideshow. There are grave concerns that the Government is seeking to row back on Ireland's anti-fracking commitments. As the Minister is proposing to commission a report on the security and sustainability of Ireland's energy supplies, it is imperative that he understand the report will be meaningless if it does not include an assessment of non-territorial emissions. As Professor Barry McMullin put it in his evidence to the climate action committee on 9 October:

We currently delegate responsibility for those emissions to the US. However, if it withdraws from the Paris Agreement [bearing in mind its continuous threats to do so and its frequent tantrums], all bets are off and we will have to look at our own responsibility much more closely.

We have co-responsibility in our climate change obligations to do no harm to others and no further harm to our planet in pursuit of our own mitigation targets. There is no circumstance whatsoever in which fracked gas can be a component of Ireland's future energy mix. I ask the Minister to prevail on the Taoiseach to stop trolling the citizens of the country and start taking the climate change obligations seriously. The Taoiseach has done a great disservice to the science and declaring evidence of climate chaos, while giving comfort to those who are unable to see the wood from the trees.

I welcome the Minister. It is very clear that we need a radical, joined-up approach to climate action. As discussed in this House, we face multiple crises. We are facing an ecological crisis, given that 200 species become extinct each day across the world. There is a huge loss of habitat biodiversity. There is an interlinked crisis with climate change and its devastating impact. We also need a joined-up approach that reflects how our climate actions intersect with the sustainable development goals and development models that are sustainable socially, environmentally and economically.

I wish to focus on a couple of specific issues, beginning with scale. We are aware that Ireland is not simply a laggard. It is not about name-calling or a gold star badge of approbation or criticism we might express; it is literally about the work not being done. Ireland has fallen horribly behind. Given that we were meant to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, which is just a couple of months away, we are looking instead at a figure of 1%, or slightly more. By any book, it is an extraordinary level of failure. Let us be clear that while the protests on the streets may be accelerating, we have known about this issue. The science has been available for a very long time. Our performance has simply been inadequate and we face fines of hundreds of millions of euro.

While the language is shifting and small actions are being taken, the required scale of action is not there. Surely, we should be vastly increasing the resources we allocate to mitigate the damage being done and deal with its impacts, rather than spending hundreds of millions of euro on fines for failing to meet our targets. A reserve fund of €650 million was earmarked in the budget for a potential no-deal Brexit, in addition to the hundreds of million already appropriately earmarked for a transition under Brexit, because it was recognised that a no-deal Brexit would be an emergency and a catastrophe requiring urgent action. I note €500 million of the fund had been due to go into the rainy day fund but did not. If we do not face a no-deal Brexit, can we ensure that there is a similar scale of action on climate change and on the climate emergency which the Government has, at least, theoretically acknowledged?

The Minister spoke about the cost of carbon and carbon pricing. I supported an increase in carbon pricing because the price of carbon should reflect the cost of carbon. I do not believe that these measures are about incentivising good behaviour or discouraging bad behaviour. We are way past the point of gold stars or negative ticks. As the Minister will be very aware, the simple economic rationale for an increase in carbon pricing is that of economic externalities. Society has been bearing the costs associated with fossil fuels in terms of environmental, social and other damage. Those costs should instead be reflected in the price. That is the economic rationale used when carbon tax was originally being pushed forward. If that is the rationale, surely, every penny of carbon tax - not just the increase - should go to mitigation or adaptation to address the cost and damage of climate change. The Minister mentioned that every cent is ploughed back, but that is not the case. Only the €6 increase has been pushed back, a total of €90 million, which is a paltry sum given the scale of the crisis we face. I ask the Minister to commit to ensuring that all of those funds would be routed not to the general Exchequer, but to climate action and, perhaps, an intensification of the schemes set out in the budget.

We must also look to the budget. We must stop making small exceptions. A tax relief for diesel purchase for hauliers was introduced. On one side, a carbon tax was brought in, while on the other, a special tax relief for hauliers was introduced, in addition to possible tax reliefs on agricultural diesel. We need to be consistent. We need to join up what we do. Some weeks ago, Professor John FitzGerald acknowledged to the Joint Committee on Climate Action that the logic behind a carbon tax is that of economic externalities and that, as such, all of that funding should probably be designated to action.

I wish to focus on liquified natural gas, LNG, and the proposed LNG terminal. It is fundamentally at odds with our climate action plan and the decisions to ban fracking in Ireland and to divest from fossil fuels. We must be clear that fracked gas is a fossil fuel. The climate action committee considered the proposed terminal and heard very strong testimony from Professor Robert Howarth, who has been cited thousands of times, on the impact of methane, which emerges during the process of fracking and its transportation. A tonne of methane has 34 times the impact of a tonne of carbon. What is crucial is that the methane acts faster. We have been told that gas is a transition fuel that will somehow give us the space to do what is required but the fact is that fracked gas and the methane associated with its production are accelerants. As a result of the impacts of methane production, the terminal will not give us space to act but, rather, shorten the time we have to so do. One third of all of methane being emitted into the atmosphere comes from fracking in the United States, a business which we would be supporting if we went ahead with the LNG terminal. It leads to higher temperatures, higher rates of climatic absorption and a shortening of the time to introduce the kinds of massive cultural shifts that are required.

There was reference to the idea that extraterritorial emissions do not count. We are on one planet and facing the same crisis. It is simply unacceptable that upstream costs would somehow be disappeared from a clean ledger that we manufacture. That is also important on a global level. For example, Japan and Europe have signed a trade agreement which contains climate targets, but in the meantime, Japan is funding coal-fired plants in Bangladesh. We cannot simply move the problem offshore and hope that it will not blow back and hit us. In a week when the United States is making clear and definitive moves indicating it plans to pull out of the climate accord, we must not do anything to reward climate vandalism or irresponsible action in terms of fracking. The Minister and his colleagues, including the Taoiseach, were very eloquent about Mercosur and their concerns that actions not be taken in that regard which would encourage violation of our climate targets. We need to be consistent. I urge the Minister to reconsider this issue. There is a certain sense that we are waiting to see what happens and that this is a decision by a private industry. It is not. Let us be clear that its inclusion on the projects of common interest list means that it shall become an integral part of the relevant regional investment plans under article 12 and the relevant national ten-year network development plans under article 22. We are saying that we want to make this a priority if we go ahead with it. We are placing it at the centre of our national plan. It is certainly not a private enterprise that is happening separately. I urge the Minister to take any action he can on this issue.

On funding, I wish to highlight an example of the joined-up approach. Cycling is recognised as having multiple benefits in terms of air quality, health and congestion in cities, as well as in terms of climate. However, the funding for cycling in the budget was almost entirely allocated to greenways, which are a tourist product. There was no indication of how much of the €384 million additional funding for transport will go towards climate action. The emphasis on electric vehicles is a concern. It is positive to an extent but public transport will be key if we are to take action. I urge the Minister to take action on low-hanging fruit and put resources in place such that we see not an incremental plan of retrofitting over ten years, but full retrofitting over the next two or three years, along with a massive increase in public transport. These are issues which people support and to which there is no opposition. These are the easily-converted actions.

I will speak at length on peatlands and the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill tomorrow. Please, let us not take backwards steps. We cannot afford for bogs which may have been degraded in terms of habitat to become further degraded and a liability by drying out and contributing to our carbon emissions. In addition to the small-scale €5 million that is currently allocated, we need a massive acceleration in peatland rewetting and restoration.

I join colleagues in welcoming the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to the House. He is bringing the same commitment and competence to this role as he did to transforming our unemployment figures. He brought about effective full employment over a couple of years in a similar planned way.

I am confident the same will happen in this case.

A few aspects are clear. As noted by my colleague, Senator Lombard, the science is no longer questioned. There is a general societal acceptance that something has to be done. Everything has been aided by some noticeable weather events in recent years that have given it a reality. There is a general acceptance and buy-in, which is a good place in which to be. There was also the recent climate action plan, to which the Minister, the committee and the Citizens' Assembly contributed. I will address some of the specifics because it will be helpful to the Minister to get a sense of what we think. There is no logic in going back over what is fully accepted in respect of science and ambition.

On electric vehicles, I take Senator Higgins's point that the ideal is to work primarily on public transport, although I have no doubt that will happen, as it should. The increase in the use of electric vehicles is part of the strategy and I am happy there is an additional allocation in the budget for that. I refer, in particular, to charging points because they are a bone of contention. I have advocated on a few occasions in public places that there is a logic in seeking, perhaps in next year's budget or in the interim, the introduction of a special incentive for first-time drivers to buy an electric car. If they did so, it would give them ownership of the climate action agenda and a feeling that they are part of change. If they drove an electric car as their first car, it is highly probable they would continue to use one. I commend such a measure to the Minister because it is logical in a number of ways.

I am delighted that there is an allocation to upgrade 24,000 homes and businesses, which is progressive, as well as large groups of houses. I am happy with that proposal. There is great potential in covering a number of houses as a group, and in examining interesting payback models over time. Given the economies of scale and other factors, doing a swathe of houses or an estate is very logical in the case of social housing and, if it can be done, the private sector. There is certainly a strong case for continuing with the process of retrofitting.

Solar panels are interesting. My neighbour, who is a farmer as well as a private homeowner, recently installed them and anticipates that he will have paid for them in seven years. There will also be a saving in his fuel bill. It would be interesting to see the up-to-date figures on the use of solar panels, whose support is important. The Minister is committed to harnessing Ireland's ocean resources. It is believed that we have great potential in that regard and it would be interesting if he elaborated on it in his final remarks. While I may not hear them, I will read them later and would be interested to hear his response on the potential of wave power.

Energy poverty is a big issue, which is why it is important to retrofit and channel money into helping people for whom it will be difficult to get their house in order. With that in mind, it is good that €2 per week is added to the fuel allowance scheme. Contrary to some people, including our good friend Professor John FitzGerald, I believe that it is better that we started with a €6 per tonne increase in carbon tax. It is better to be incremental in order that people will come with us. Coming from a rural constituency, I know that greater increases would lead to a nightmare scenario, given the absence of public transport and because in many cases a car, often diesel fuelled, is the only mode of transport to work for people in low-paid jobs. It is unthinkable that such people would be put at a severe disadvantage. There needs to be a culture change, which will happen over time, in order that greater increases can become a realistic possibility.

Although it may not be as common in County Meath, where the Minister originally comes from, where I come from, as well as in the west and most of Ireland, there are non-arable pockets on every farm. They have no great viability for anything. I ask the Minister to collaborate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who has raised the issue previously, to consider how we could incentivise farmers to plant the 8 acres or 10 acres of non-arable land on most farms. When I was a child growing up in rural Ireland, there was always a curtain or canvas of trees around houses. People in those days planted trees around houses for shelter, heating and whatever and they were a regular feature. There should be more small-scale planting of trees. While there is reasonable societal objection to large plantations and there are issues in that regard, as the Minister will be aware, there is no issue with having small amounts on every farm. I commend that to the Minister because it needs to be considered.

Microgeneration is so important. I would like the Minister to consider co-operative microgeneration, such as a wind turbine in a community with buy-in from the community. It would have the advantage of providing energy for the community, perhaps with some surplus that could be sold for income. Everyone with a microgenerator could feed into the grid and be paid.

They are some of the practical issues, which are most helpful in this case. There is no point in restating our commitment to the project.

The Minister is welcome and I do not question his personal commitment to the project. As he knows and as we now realise, climate change will affect our children's lives in the future. We have to look back and remember our mistakes. It is not that there were not warnings at the time when those mistakes were being made, such as when there was development on floodplains throughout the country. I recently listened to Senator Lombard's contribution and I welcome his late conversion to climate action. Senator Higgins and I, along with the former Senator, Grace O'Sullivan, fought line by line on the Heritage Act, which sought to allow the cutting down of hedgerows on a pilot scheme. Thankfully, the legislation was never commenced, which is a great recommendation to all the Senators who opposed it line by line. Nevertheless, that was only a few years ago. Nine months ago, we watched as all the Ministers lined up in this Chamber, gave their five-minute statement on climate change and left the room without listening to the debate, before repeating the process the following week in the Dáil Chamber. It showed to the public the lack of seriousness of the Government on the issue of climate change. The uproar, the arguments in both Houses and the campaign led by the young people of the country have made the Government realise that it is a real issue and that people care.

We have to learn lessons from the past. It is not so long ago that people welcomed the initiative in respect of dirty diesel that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party proposed. It was in line with the research at the time but due diligence was not done to ensure that it would not encourage the use of dirty diesel. As Senator Lombard noted clearly, it has had an impact in Dublin in particular but Cork, Limerick and Galway also experience the harmful effects of dirty diesel.

We need to keep the public on board and to keep moving forward. One thing that really concerns me is whether due diligence is being practised with regard to what we are proposing. I will concentrate on electric cars because we are talking about spending €11 billion on them between now and 2030. One must question whether this is the right way to go. Electric vehicles will have a role to play in the future and with regard to how we tackle climate change but Senator Higgins was right. We must ask how we spend this money. Is it better spent on public transport? Do we get more bang for our euro by spending it in the right area? The Government is talking about having 840,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2030. In principle, this is correct. We should encourage electric cars. However, if we are going to replace cars powered by petrol and diesel with 840,000 electric cars, it will not do anything about congestion. If we replace a conventional car with an electric car, we will still have congestion on our roads. Go out in this city on any evening during rush hour and one can see that we have far too many people commuting by private vehicles carrying one person so that will not resolve that problem. What has the Government said? It has said that it has set aside €200 million in Project Ireland 2040. The only problem is that the funding only runs to 2021. We are talking about 100,000 electric cars at a cost of €1.4 billion over the next five years. There are problems with this. We must look at what has been promised. We want 1,100 charging stations to be provided over the next five years by local authorities and the Minister has provided funding for that. If we get to the Minister's target, which is 180,000 electric cars operating within five years with 1,100 additional charging points bringing us up to 2,100 charging points with approximately 70 fast-charging stations, what will happen elsewhere? Many people talk about Scandinavian countries such as Norway being ahead of the curve on this, as indeed they are. There are 200,000 electric cars in Norway with 12,000 charging points yet there are queues. We are talking about 2,200 charging points for 180,000 electric cars in five years' time. Norway has 12,000 charging points for 200,000 electric cars, 2,800 of which are fast-charging points, yet it has queues. Where are we going with regard to the planning of this? There is one charging point for every 100 km of Irish road. There is one charging point for every 23 km of road in Norway yet there are queues. Do we really want to see Irish owners of electric cars having arguments over charging points or will we plan this properly and carry out due diligence? Will we work out how we get the best results for our euro?

We must be honest with people. The carbon tax receipts in 2018 were just over €400 million while fuel excise receipts for 2017 were nearly €2 billion. As the growth in electric vehicles will result in a loss of up to €1.5 billion in motor tax, VAT and fuel tax between now and 2030, how do we make up the difference? I would be delighted to see a drop-off in raising taxes because it would mean that we are starting to move towards a reduction in our carbon emissions but we must be honest with people about how this shortfall will be made up. The Minister mentioned the just transition. We must make sure that it is not the weakest people who are affected to make up for this drop in taxation. We need to be honest and to tell people exactly where this shortfall will be made up because we need to keep the public on board and to keep moving forward. We need real progress where people see real benefits in Ireland starting to take climate change seriously.

Senator Reilly has previously celebrated the new charging point that was installed on the grounds of the Houses of the Oireachtas. He said there were significant incentives, that the Government would give people thousands of euro to buy a new electric car and that there is no reason not to buy one. He said it was a win-win situation for everyone. How many people who are struggling on the average industrial wage can afford to buy a new electric car and get the €5,000 grant? If we want to benefit the many and not the few, would it not be much more prudent, and Fine Gael champions itself as the prudent party, to invest the money in public transport?

Recently, the Cabinet sanctioned 40 new rail carriages at a cost of €150 million. A figure of €35 million would produce an extra €250 in fuel allowance for vulnerable and older people, while €54 million would lead to a 10% reduction in public transport fees and would encourage more people to use public transport. A sum of €30 million could extend the city bikes schemes to five new towns, while for €600 million per year, we could have free public transport nationwide. Do we want 840,000 electric cars clogging up our roads and making us queue at charging stations or would we rather have free rail and bus travel to work for 20 years because these are the choices we need to make and they need to be that honest and rational about how we can encourage people to use public transport? People will say that this is fine and grand if someone lives in a city like Cork, Dublin or Limerick. What would I say about electric vehicles and grants for electric vehicles? They must be targeted. They cannot be done in an aggressive manner, in that people in rural Ireland will never have a bus stop at the end of their road so we need targeted grants for rural Ireland to ensure people can move around their communities. Should we give grants to everyone who has access to public transport to enable them to buy electric cars and create congestion in our cities and towns or should we put that money into public transport?

The Minister's party has come late to the party. Fine Gael has not always believed in tackling climate change and dealing with it in a serious manner. We must now do so in a collaborative manner. I will certainly pull my weight but I believe the way forward is serious investment in good public transport.

I also want to address the Minister today because climate action is needed. It is so important that we talk about change and awareness. I know the Minister spoke about electric cars, which are very important, and upgrading our houses in the report but plastic is a serious issue and it is urgent we work on that because we need some sort of action. What is the Minister's overall plan with regard to this?

I do not know if the Minister has heard of John Tyndall, a scientist born in Carlow in 1820.

He was one of the first scientists to explore what was called the environmental phenomena, answering the question as to why the sky was blue. He was talking about the environment in the 1820s and how it affected us. It is nearly 2020 and there is an environmental emergency. He was ahead of his time.

We listen to Greta Thunberg and we see and hear how young people are affected by this. Young people walked out of their schools and protested because they know that climate action is so important. We should issue an official invitation to Greta Thunberg to address the Upper and Lower Houses, because she is also ahead of her time. She can guide us and certainly can help us with issues we need to address.

Young people are so firm on this and they know we need change but we are not making this change and this is the problem. I believe they feel we are not listening to them. They are our future and we need to make sure we work on the future. I would ask the Minister to look at this.

Previous speakers raised issues about cars and housing but I would like to ask about funding. Everything boils down to funding. Reports are done and funding for this and that is promised but are we going to deliver on this? I know the Minister is trying his best to make sure we deliver, but is he going to guarantee that what is in that report will be funded and that going forward we will listen to young people? We need to listen to them. That is the one thing that I would ask of the Minister today, that we make sure that we listen and that we work through the schools, because sometimes communication and awareness raising is a huge problem. Sometimes there is a bubble and once we go outside that bubble people feel they are not being listened to. We need to address young people and those in schools and all the areas in which we feel we can make the change. I believe the Minister will do that. I ask that he listen to my concerns and come back to me with some answers.

I will vacate the Chair for a couple of minutes to make a contribution. I thank Senator Humphreys for taking the Chair.

Senator, I will be very strict on your time.

I thank Senator Humphreys for obliging me. It has been a very interesting debate, and I am going to confine myself to one particular aspect of it, which will not surprise anybody here, and that is the Shannon LNG project. I have been in the House 12 years and I think my maiden speech here asked the Government of the day to support that project and to put everything it could behind it. Here we are 12 years on and unfortunately we are still very beleaguered.

I compliment the Minister and I read closely what he said in the Dáil. He was under fierce pressure from environmentalists, the Green Party and, extraordinarily, people on the extreme left. I would say to the Green Party that it had better mind its clothes, because if it does not, the Trotskyites and the people on the left will take them. A new party, a Trotskyite-green party, has been formed.

Everybody now seems to know everything about liquified natural gas, LNG. When I talked about it six, eight, ten and 12 years ago, no one had a clue about it and no one had anything to say about it. The reason it did not get the go-ahead in those days was because one individual succeeded in delaying it, and he was entitled to go through the process. His fear at the time had nothing whatsoever to do with what we are talking about today, and perhaps Senator Higgins does not know this. The fear at the time was safety. Every kind of story was put out that this LNG would be explosive, volatile and dangerous but, in fact, empirical evidence showed that not to be true at all. Nevertheless, because of the process that was there at the time, the project was halted long enough for the principals behind it to get windy and nervous about their money and investment and to pull out.

Local people, local money and a local businessman persevered. They got new money and came up with a whole new project. I do not think any project in the history of this country has been subjected to such scrutiny and yet again, because they ran out of time, technically it was obliged to go back into the public domain, by which time Uncle Tom Cobley and others had got on the Shannon LNG bandwagon. It is the greatest bandwagon since the bandwagon against the Carnsore Point nuclear power station which was put forward many years ago by the great Des O'Malley.

I thank the Minister for holding his ground on projects of common interest. This project is essential in the long run to our energy security. The people who will be most affected by any downsides are the people of Kerry and Clare who are 99% in favour of it. We have Tarbert power station, which is oil-fired, Moneypoint, which is coal-fired, and Aughinish Alumina, and we welcomed them because we needed jobs. The world is about people. I cannot understand these people who care so much about humanity but who do not seem to be troubled about the problems of individual people.

I represent an area where there has been widespread immigration over decades. Towns and villages have been decimated. We cannot put a football team out, whereas before we would have had four teams competing with each other. I know the Minister is aware of this and, as he said, he will not approve of any project in Ballylongford, Tarbert or anywhere that does not stand up to scrutiny. He is right about that and we are prepared to accept all that, but it is essential that we have the option.

At the moment the focus is on fracked gas. We do not know what kind of gas will come in here eventually. There may be changes, improvements and new methodology, but it is important we have a terminal to receive clean gas if it comes into us in liquid form and is transmogrified back into gas, creating loads of jobs - 500 jobs in construction - and creating a new power station. No one seems to be looking at that. It is very frustrating for people.

I would love Members to listen to the people of north Kerry to hear how they view what is going on here. Now we have the Hulk and Cher against us. People are putting out a rumour now that the blooming Pope is against us. I say to the Minister to hang tough and to take on the Hulk, Cher and, if he has to, the Pope because this project is going to get over the line sooner or later and we will be damn glad of it.

I thank Senators for what has been a very interesting and, in many ways, an encouraging debate. I will try to deal with some of the points. Obviously, I cannot deal with all of them. Senator Leyden raised a few issues on which I am not sure he is 100% accurate. The climate Bill was a Fianna Fáil-Green Party one and it was not blocked. The situation is unfortunate in respect of the Bill - Senator Humphreys complained about it - with this transition statement. The Houses agreed the way it should be done last year and it was ludicrous, and I absolutely agree with the Senator in that regard. I hope we will agree to something better this year. That sort of came out of that Bill but that is not to criticise it. We just need to breathe life into these things.

There has been some criticism of us going to the Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens have been an icon of respecting our environment and the biodiversity we have, and I think was absolutely appropriate, especially as it is located in the shadow of Glasnevin Cemetery where some of our great national heroes are buried. It is appropriate that we should go somewhere like that to say that we have a new challenge. That was the symbolism of picking the Botanic Gardens. We have a new challenge and we need to live up to it as our forebears took on big challenges in the past.

Senators are right in saying the 2018 figure shows us well off the European targets. I acknowledged that when I came into this position a year ago and said we had to produce a climate plan that would get us back on track, and I recognise that getting back on track means targeting the 30% reduction by 2030. One does not click one's fingers and get changes in retrofitting, transport infrastructure or renewable energy infrastructure overnight. One has to plan and deliver them. That is what we now have in place. The 2018 figure is off-target, but we have been putting a new plan in place that I think will get us back on target.

I assure the Seanad that we are on track to have the new Bill which includes carbon budgeting before the committee before Christmas. That is the target I am working towards. My officials tell me that we will have the heads of the Bill before the committee. We can then have a meaningful debate about setting the targets. We will also implement climate-proofing, an issue raised by Senator Leyden. It will be part of Government procedure.

Senator Lombard, among others, rightly noted that the ambition of many in the leadership in Departments was lacking. However, the climate action plan has succeeded in lifting ambitions across government. Everyone has had to jump together. Everyone was reluctant to jump and be the one who would commit, but we have succeeded in getting every Department to jump together. It will mean tough standards for the agriculture industry. By and large, Teagasc's agenda has to be delivered by the agriculture industry without having an impact on other elements of the agricultural scene. Every Department has had to step up, particularly the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Senator Devine rightly referred to the criticism that featured in the 2018 auditor's report. I have rectified it. Climate monitoring is now in place. We are developing a dashboard to monitor not just greenhouse gas emissions in various sectors but also many indicators of impact. They will include the number of people switching to electric vehicles and the number of homes retrofitted, whether they are new or old homes. We are closely monitoring progress in achieving the targets we have set. For the first time, we will also have a carbon budget such that a failure by agriculture, transport or industry to meet its targets will become a drag on that sector's budget. There will be direct accountability within each sector. Not only will we be monitoring progress, there will be a knock-on effect on the sector concerned. We will see real accountability which the Senator is right to demand.

The issue that has generated the most heat is that of LNG. I must explain that LNG can be extracted through fracking or otherwise. This applies to the supplies imported from Scotland. Fracked gas can form part of any delivery. The Shannon LNG project has created such controversy because it is an American-sponsored project, which raises the issue of fracked gas. We need to look at the evidence cited. I am very conscious of this, which is why I announced that there would be a security and sustainability investigation. I will not support the provision of any funding for the project until I am satisfied on that front. The paper presented cites disputed evidence, with which not everyone agrees. The author advocates loading methane at a ratio of 86:1. The EPA requires a ratio of 25:1. As such, the paper argues that methane should be treated in a completely different way from the current consensus approach. It also argues that methane emissions from fracked and shale oil and gas are far higher than from natural gas, but that is debatable and the evidence must be examined. I raised this issue at a European level.

To be fair to Senator O'Sullivan, these projects have been on the list of projects of common interest because gas remains a transition fuel. Our ambition is to use five times as much renewable as non-renewable energy. Instead of 30% renewable energy we will use 70%. We need something to power the system when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. That source is gas. No other option is available to us. In time we may see the emergence of hydrogen, carbon capture and storage or other technologies that will allow this to change. There may be bigger batteries or more Turlough Hill-type projects, although the latter would be very expensive on the scale we would need. However, none of them is available to us. Gas is the transition fuel. Europe largely depends on imported gas, a lot of which comes from Russia; therefore, alternatives are desirable for reasons of security of supply. LNG terminals are one such alternative. That is why it has been on the list of projects of common interest in Europe for six years. The advantage of being included in that list is that the project could be eligible for state aid. We have made it very clear that we will not support the provision of such aid until we are satisfied about the robustness of the proposal.

We must also examine the role of gas in transition. Some Members, particularly in the Lower House, have been advocating stopping exploration for any fuel. When this question was tested scientifically by the climate advisory council, the advice ruled out oil exploration but advocated continued prospecting for gas because we need it in the transition. We have to make decisions based on the evidence, not just on the basis of an instinct that we do not want any more fossil fuel technology. We are in a challenging transition that will not happen overnight.

Many Senators have said we need bigger budgets. Of course, we need bigger budgets to support these changes. Carbon pricing represents a €6.5 billion commitment. It has been announced that we will raise €6.5 billion through carbon pricing and the money will exclusively be used for climate action measures. That is what climate pricing means. It was a significant budgetary commitment. I remind the House, as Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue, that there is more than one way to skin this cat. We cannot look to the Government and the taxpayer to fund all of it. Regulation will be important. We are already introducing a requirement by which anyone adding an extension to a house of more than 25% of the floor area will have to bring the building energy rating up to B2. That will not mean shelling out heaps of money. If someone has enough money to expand his or her home and do all of that work, he or she can also be expected to future-proof it.

It creates a cost for the person doing the building work.

The same is true in other areas. There is no doubt that regulation will be introduced for the use of nitrates and the management of different parts of the environment. I have no doubt that in time BusConnects will be pushed through, not by some big subsidy but because we are giving priority to buses and accepting that no matter how many cars there are, the space in which to drive them is limited.

The Minister might have trouble in selling that to some of his colleagues.

These are controversial measures, but if we want to be serious about tackling this issue, we will have to make these decisions. It is not about assuming the taxpayer's pockets are ever deeper. Some of it is about intelligent policymaking and putting a price on things. Congestion pricing has been introduced successfully. However, these are not popular measures. That is why Senator Lombard is right when he talks about the importance of engagement. We have to get people to understand the ground has shifted on some of the things we tend to think we have a right to do. We have to rethink some things.

Plastics are a very important gateway to changing behaviour. They will probably not have a huge impact on our carbon output in and of themselves. Their merit is that they are light; therefore, the aggregate weight is not that much. However, they are a really important symbol to show people that they have to change the way they behave. We cannot dispose of plastic on a single-use basis when it takes six tonnes of carbon to produce one tonne of plastic. We have to rethink our use of these materials. It is a really important signal of the direction in which we will be going. We have made decisions to start consultation on significant changes in our use of plastic.

The issue of microgeneration and solar energy was raised by Senator Joe O'Reilly. They definitely have a future. We are committed to developing a microgeneration policy. We only support solar energy projects for domestic and farm use. In time we will offer a payback price to those selling solar power supplies to the grid. However, the order of priority in any of these areas is to improve building and insulation first and then to look at the energy system.

Solar energy is used to modify and reduce one's dependence on the grid and then the surplus is sold to the grid. This is not about doing nothing about those first two steps and just hoping to sell power to the grid. That would be a very expensive way of generating power. Microgeneration is about helping to make people self-sufficient and become more energy conscious and careful about their community. The co-operative idea is good one. I do not want the idea to get out there, which some farmers would like to see, that this is a new enterprise where one can simply sell solar power from one's shed, which would be a new business. Solar energy must reduce one's dependence on energy and it then becomes a virtuous circle.

I wish to reassure Senator Humphreys about electric vehicles. Norway has 300,000 electric vehicles and 100,000 plug-in hybrids and that is the background to the 12,000 charging points in that country. The direction of travel here is that we will phase out grants for electric vehicles over time. Within three or four years, it will be a no-brainer to go for an electric vehicle rather than a diesel vehicle. It will be cheaper to run and, leaving taxes aside, it will be more efficient because the batteries will be able to provide for longer distances, will be more efficient and will be cheaper to buy. Diesel will become increasingly a thing of the past. That is why we have said there will be a ramp-up of electric vehicles. At the moment, 4% of new vehicles are electric and that will ramp up. If, by 2025, we have 180,000 electric vehicles on the road, that is still roughly 20% of purchases. It is only towards the end of the decade that we will see that 20% increase to 100% of the new cars going on the road being electric. By that time, a home charger will provide enough range for drivers and we will not have such a requirement for public chargers but we need to put in the public charger infrastructure to get the system off the ground. That is why we are doing what we are doing.

We will also require - by regulation as opposed to grant, to take up Senator Murnane O'Connor's point - anyone with 20 car parking spaces to provide a charger from 2025. It will not all be the taxpayer being asked to pay for this infrastructure. We must recognise that trying to persuade people to do the right thing will be a part of it.

There were many other points made and it would be unfair to try and summarise them or deal with them in turn. I thank Senators for their support. There will be cynicism and people will rightly say that this is a case of, "Make me virtuous, Lord, but not yet." There has been a serious shift of opinion in the Houses and among the electorate, driven largely by young people, to whom we must listen. There are plenty of young Irish people who can articulate the case just as well as any other person. I have spoken to many of them and they open one's eyes in how aware and conscious they are. I intend to have more systematic youth engagement as part of the engagement process that we are talking about.

I thank the Minister. That concludes the debate. When it is proposed to sit again?

We propose to sit again tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 November 2019.