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Seanad Éireann debate -
Monday, 21 Jun 2021

Vol. 277 No. 4

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am honoured to be here to debate Second Stage of this Bill. This is hugely significant legislation that is central to our programme for Government and is one of our key legislative priorities. I am keen that we pass this Bill in a timely manner in order to allow us to play our part both within the European Union, which is looking to set higher and more ambitious climate targets, and as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will meet in Glasgow this November to commit to higher ambitions. That is what this Bill does, by building on the existing structures, the 2018 Citizens' Assembly report, the 2019 report from the Joint Committee on Climate Action and the climate action plan that came with that. It has been almost nine months since that plan was first introduced in October 2020.

I thank and commend the Senators who engaged in the pre-legislative scrutiny that the Joint Committee on Climate Action undertook on this Bill. I am very grateful for the committee's in-depth review. It was unusual in that the committee went through the draft text of the Bill line by line and word by word. It was not presented with only the heads of the Bill. Those 50 hours of discussion produced a detailed report with 78 recommendations. I was very pleased to be able to take on board the vast majority of those when further refining and developing the Bill, which took some time. That was hugely beneficial and the finalised text of the Bill was approved by the Government on 23 March.

As is right and appropriate on this Stage, I will set out the key provisions of the Bill to help shape the debate.

The Bill sets out a comprehensive and strengthened institutional framework for the governance of climate action by the State in order to realise our national, EU and international climate goals and obligations. The Bill commits us in law to pursuing and achieving a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by no later than 2050 and will drive implementation of a suite of policies to help us achieve that goal. It provides that the State must: prepare five-year carbon budgets covering all of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions; apportion each five-year carbon budget among key emitting sectors and establish emission ceilings for those sectors; define the key Ministers who will be responsible for achieving emission reductions in those sectors and makes them accountable for doing so; require us to prepare an annual climate action plan that describes the action that every Minister will take to achieve his or her sectoral emission ceilings; and require us to develop a national long-term climate action strategy at least every five years that describes the mitigation and adaptation policies that we put in place towards meeting the next national climate objective.

Recognising the need to accelerate our domestic climate action, the Bill ensures that our efforts are front-loaded and that the first two carbon budgets will provide a 51% reduction in the annual level of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to a baseline from 2018. This commitment is one of the most ambitious of any developed country, but it is appropriate for us to set that high-level goal because there will be opportunities for our country as well as challenges. The Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent statutory body established under the 2015 Act, will have a crucial role in developing carbon budgets. It is being given additional responsibility to propose such carbon budgets to the Minister.

In everything we do, we will have to ensure effective public participation in all key steps of the process. The Bill provides for extensive consultation on the development of carbon budgets as well as future plans and strategies. The Bill also provides for a greater level of oversight and accountability. The new section 14A provides that the Minister with responsibility for climate action must give a joint committee of the Oireachtas an annual account of compliance with the carbon budget and progress under the climate action plan. Other Ministers must account for progress in their own sectors, with the context of the adopted sectoral emission ceilings ensuring enhanced individual ministerial accountability.

In order to achieve this transformation, we must ensure that there are clear obligations that compel the Government, individual Ministers and public bodies to act. To this end, the Bill imposes specific obligations on the Government as distinct from any relevant body or Minister, all of which are justiciable. It imposes a specific obligation on the State to pursue and achieve the national climate objective and, in that context, obliges the Minister to make and submit to the Government for approval a carbon budget, a sectoral emission ceiling, a climate action plan, a national long-term climate action strategy and a national adaptation framework. Under the new section 3(3), the Minister and the Government will be bound to carry out their respective functions in a manner consistent with the ultimate objectives specified in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the Paris Agreement. These are specific and far more onerous obligations than were imposed on relevant bodies under section 15 of the 2015 Act.

To this end, the Bill requires Ministers and the Government to perform their functions in a manner consistent with, insofar as practical, the carbon budgets that are in effect. Each Minister is also required to comply in a similar manner with adopted sectoral emission ceilings and relevant plans and strategies. Consistent with this approach, public bodies will have a general obligation to perform their functions, insofar as practical, in a manner consistent with the requirements of the various plans and strategies under the legislation and with furthering the achievement of the national climate objective.

The urgency of addressing climate change, but in an equitable and sustainable way that is informed by science, is at the heart of the Bill. To this end, the Bill sets out key principles that will influence and guide the development of carbon budgets, sectoral emission ceilings and the underpinning plans and strategies so that we ensure that the transition is managed in as fair and just a way as possible and is informed by climate science.

As I mentioned, the new section 3(3) will provide that any function the Minister and Government undertake as part of the Bill must be consistent with the objectives of the UNFCCC and Paris climate agreement, which include the principles of climate justice taking account of more recent inventories and projections at their centre. These are treaties we have signed up to.

The new section 4(8) will provide a further extensive range of key matters to which the Minister and the Government must have regard when preparing and adopting sectoral emissions ceilings, a climate action plan, a national long-term plan of action strategy and a national adaptation framework. This includes the requirement for a just transition, maximising employment opportunities and supporting and protecting persons and communities that may be negatively impacted. It also acknowledges the need to continue to engage and support communities for a just transition.

The Bill provides for the annual update of the climate action plan, which includes measures to inform and promote dialogue with the public regarding the challenges and opportunities in the transition to a climate neutral economy. A new and enduring structure is also being established for the national dialogue on climate action, which will support implementation of these actions. It is important to outline specifically the just transition considerations in the Bill, which were a considerable focus of attention in the Dáil debate. I believe just transition is sufficiently captured in the Bill in its current form.

With regard to amendments agreed in Dáil Éireann, I paid close attention to the views of others inside and outside the Oireachtas following the Bill's publication on 23 March. In particular, I have taken on board how it could be improved to ensure its practical implementation and that it remains effectively robust.

To address concerns regarding possible ambiguity in the interpretation of section 6A(5) regarding the ambition of carbon budgets to 2030, the provision was amended to clarify that the annual emissions recorded for the end of the year 2030 should be 51% less than the annual emissions recorded for the end of the year 2018.

Section 12(1)(a) provides that the Climate Change Advisory Council will present its annual report by 30 October rather than 15 September each year. This is to ensure that reports are based on the final rather than draft version of the EPA emissions inventory for the preceding year.

I introduced amendments to the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1954 to increase the ESB's statutory borrowing limit from its current level of €6 billion to €12 billion. This will support the ESB group's efforts to decarbonise the energy sector in Ireland and support the achievement of the climate action plan and the associated 2030 targets. I also included amendments to the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act to ensure a statutory ban on future oil and gas exploration. Legislation to end the issuing of new authorisations for offshore petroleum exploration and extraction in Ireland underpin the programme for Government commitments on divestment from oil and gas. These are provided in the new sections 20 and 21.

The Bill strikes the right balance between ambition on our clear climate targets and obligations and a much stronger governance structure to support its delivery. More crucially, it also ensures our transition is managed in a way that is just, fair and leaves no one behind. It is inclusive with more opportunity for public participation. There is commitment for regular dialogue and engagement with the public and a significant role for both Houses of the Oireachtas.

While I am satisfied the Bill is fully fit for purpose, I look forward to actively listening to and discussing with Members their contributions over the coming days and weeks. My officials are available to meet with Senators to discuss any provision of the Bill in advance of Committee Stage. That said, I am equally struck by the need to advance the climate work we critically need to achieve. The Bill is just a starting point to drive a systemic change of direction in our country and will cement a gateway for new opportunities for citizens and local and national government towards delivering a more sustainable healthier planet and society. It will provide new jobs and businesses and will lead to the emergence of an entirely different economy over the next three decades, positioning Ireland to become a leader, rather than the laggard we have been, in the climate change story. Critical to this is recognition that every place and person matters. We should not, and I hope we will not, divide on this issue. It is one that could unite us and give us real strength.

I welcome the Minister and I also welcome the Bill to the Seanad, finally. Once this Bill passes all Stages the work truly begins to transform Ireland into a leader on climate action. For the first time in the history of the State targets will be put into law. It is a momentous time for us not just in the Green Party but across government and society. I could list all of the things that I have done as an activist over many decades but the fundamental point comes down to this because it is a point that unites us all. When I was in primary school we learned about greenhouse gas emissions and what products we should or should not buy to fix the problem, which even then seemed insurmountable. That is decades ago now and emissions continue to rise. It is five years since the Paris Agreement and still emissions rise, with slight reductions every so often along the way, including 6% last year, albeit in the middle of a pandemic.

What has been going wrong? It seems clear that a comprehensive plan that does not rely on individuals to step up to the plate alone but forces governments to step up with them and to put in place infrastructure and supports is what is required. That is what we are doing in government, and this Bill and support across the political spectrum is crucial. For decades now the climate crisis has been seen as being about building better consumers and that we should be cajoled and persuaded to buy better products, and Ireland has not been alone in this approach. However, the topic of which food and consumer goods help and hinder climate recovery is complicated for us as individuals. It is often about balancing and diversifying land use, which must be done at a macro level. The reality is that, especially in this country, many people just do not have all of the options available to them, namely, public and active transport, support in implementing energy efficiency or indeed the money to make the switch. That is where this Bill and political leadership comes in.

When we in the Green Party went into coalition negotiations, an average reduction of 7% a year in emissions was the biggest factor in persuading me to go into government. When one looks into how to do that, which we are currently doing on the climate action committee, it is clear that there are choices but only by putting that reduction into law will we ensure everyone is serious about that ambitious target. This Bill is the key to locking that reduction in. It was a mammoth task to get this Bill to where it is today. I sit on the climate action committee, which carried out the work of scrutinising this legislation, chaired by my colleague, Deputy Leddin, along with Senators Dooley, Higgins, McGahon and Boylan, and I commend all 14 members of that committee. There has been some amount of rubbish spouted in the Dáil about people not being involved. It was open to everyone to come to the committee to question witnesses and many of those who tabled amendments on Committee Stage in the Lower House did not even show up to speak to them.

There were times in this process when I was worried we would be out of government before we got it over the line. Many people, including politicians, underestimate what goes into producing a Bill such as this. There are negotiations before entering into government, there are negotiations after entering into government, there are hours and weeks of work by advisers and researchers, there is legal advice and in this case there was the longest period of pre-legislative scrutiny by Deputies and Senators ever with months of scrutiny. We heard from national and international witnesses on climate law and we spent week after week, day after day drafting and redrafting a report with our recommendations. I put in many myself and stuck to my guns but we also needed to compromise. Then the Bill had to be redrafted based on those 78 recommendations, the majority of which are in the Bill before the House. Again, legal advice was sought and the Bill went to the Dáil and back to the climate committee and now on to us here in the Upper House, and it will be another couple of weeks before it comes out of the Seanad. We thought it would be done and dusted by Christmas. However, this careful scrutiny worked well for this Bill because we must bring everybody with us. It is important for a sustainable, climate-neutral future to allay fears, to put in place supports and to consider action from everyone’s perspective.

We need climate and intergenerational justice and I believe the strength of this Government but more particularly of this legislation is that it is one of the most ambitious climate Bills in the world and yet it was overwhelmingly supported by public representatives who represent diverse interests across the State. We must bring people with us into this green future and that is what this Bill does.

The actions we can take for climate change are the actions that will make all our lives better. We need to prepare rural Ireland for a future based on climate action. Small farmers in the west have been let down by the actions that have been taken but they can benefit from the supports we put in place. It was announced today that some 170 schools will be given funding to ensure that they have active transport at their doorstep. These actions are what will make the difference and they will build on this Bill.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Is fear gnóthach é lena lán rudaí le déanamh, go háirithe leis an by-election, agus aviation agus gach rud eile. Níl mé ag cur moille air.

This Bill is something I have dreamt of for 30 years. It is a time to thank people. The people I want to thank most are the children. It is the children who inspire us. When I hold babies I say to myself that we should keep going. They give us conviction and remind us of what we must do. We know most of us will not live to see the real repercussions of climate change. I first and foremost want to thank all the children who have taken part in the Green Schools committees, which have been in place for more than 20 years, and who have gone home and pestered their parents about turning off lights, recycling and walking to school. We owe them a massive debt of gratitude. Those committees normalised and spread environmental education. Such education was not in place when we were young. The NGOs also have done great work in educating people. Much of it has been done through the schools but we must acknowledge and be grateful the ripple effect the children have had. They have vision and focus and believe that if there is a problem, we simply should be solving it. Many children have asked me down the years why are we doing that and not doing this? The solutions are all there. This planet Bill, when it finally gets enacted, will see a much better country and more positive, hopeful children. Currently, they are not hopeful but this Bill can give children hope. When we get this Bill passed, every Department will have to take climate change seriously.

This debate takes me back about 25 years ago when I met a lad from Longford called John Crossan who decided he would recycle hundreds of thousands of cans and use the money from recycling aluminium to buy native Irish trees. We would walk around Ireland planting trees with schoolchildren. He had that vision long before anybody else had it. At the time we felt like outliers or misfits. This Bill normalises and brings into the centre all those environmental issues we have been harking on about in the Green Party and in the NGOs for many years. Now every party has policies around biodiversity and climate change. It is a day of hope for me, as a person who has been a worrier and has lost sleep over climate issues for many years. We have all seen the documentaries. Now everybody wants to do the right thing but we cannot leave it to the individuals any more. We need to govern. We are the State and we need to make the choices easier. We need to make it really easy for people. Every civil servant at every level of every Department and local authority has to take this seriously. We have clear targets that will be in place for the next three Governments. It will not make any difference who is in or is not in government. Everybody will have to play ball and finally take climate change seriously.

The Bill will normalise climate change. For too long the approach was to give a pat on the head to the green people and the ecowarriors and to say it is lovely what they were doing that little green project over there somewhere on the left field. It is great now that every party has caught up. The NGOs worked very hard for years. Then we had the Citizens' Assembly on climate change involving 99 randomly picked people, which was amazing. One cannot say they were biased in any way but they came up much of the basis and roots of this Bill. That is important, as this Bill represents everybody. It is not just a green issue that we made up. This is something that needed to happen for many years. It is important we acknowledge the work of that assembly. The climate committee, as my colleague Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, brought members of all parties and none together and heard from experts and NGOs. There has been much listening, debate and involvement in this Bill. It is probably the Bill that has involved the most people in any Bill in my lifetime It was not rushed. It has taken years. The assembly was established in 2016. It is a great day now that we are moving on to the next stage. I want to thank the Green Party and in particular the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for staying focused and having this vision for so long, which is what inspired environmental activists like myself to get involved in politics to see what I could do to ensure this issue was taken seriously.

I call the father of the House, Senator Norris.

I thank an Cathaoirleach. I will be sharing time with my friend and colleague, Senator McDowell.

I will first turn to South America, to Brazil under the thug Bolsonaro. There are 200,000 acres of Brazilian rainforest burned each day. This is 150 acres lost every minute of every day, which is 78 million acres destroyed every year. Why is the European Union still buying this Brazilian beef? We have farmers and beef producers in this country. We are told it is not our business and that it is in Brazil. It is our business. We are all part of the same planet. We are told Europe did this in the old days. Yes they did, but they did not know or understand the implications of it. This is our planet, we are all involved in it and we are all in it together. Nobody is immune. Is a burger worth buggering up the environment for? I do not believe for one second that it is. There is also the threat to biodiversity, which is very important. We are destroying species of plants and insects throughout the rainforest, including unknown species that have yet to be discovered that may very well have medical applications. Is it worth buggering up our environment for the sake of a burger?

Hear, hear. Follow that.

It is welcome that a Bill of this kind has come before the House. I recognise the uncontrolled joy of some of the Green Party members of this House and the other House, that they have had the patience to implement a central plank of their party's policy. I admire their tenacity in doing that. I will say a few things, if I may, about some of the language that is being used about Ireland and Ireland's role in the whole question of environmental sustainability.

The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and his colleagues have spoken in this House about Ireland having a leadership role and about Ireland having the most ambitious legislation on this. I want to temper this with realism. What Ireland does one way or the other, apart from moral example, is probably infinitesimally insignificant. We must temper our ambitions in climate change with the actual economic consequences for our society. It is not just a matter of a purist ideological approach; we must be pragmatic. We must look at every single step and ask ourselves, "Is this step one that we can sustain?", bearing in mind that in one afternoon China would do more to affect CO2 emissions with its coal-fired power stations than we would do in five years. We have to be practical in not making ourselves the sacrificial victims for other people's failure to face up to the international climate challenge. Whereas I agree with the Minister's enthusiasm and I share the Minister's pride, I do not want it to be an overweening pride. It must be remembered that Ireland has to survive also.

The Minister has made the point that complying with climate change targets can be a positive rather than a negative, a point which I accept in many respects, but it cannot become an absolute religion. We cannot turn ourselves into some kind of green equivalent of an Islamic republic in pursuit of some purist ideal. I will instance one example. In the previous Seanad I was a member of the climate committee. We spent a lot of time talking about the roll-out of Internet access across the State. One of the things I raised constantly over the three years was the whole question of data centres. I constantly got the same message back from the Department there represented, which was, in effect, flannel. It never actually faced up to the proposition that the Irish State's industrial policy was to attract into Ireland data centres that were going to gobble up 30% or 35% of our electricity output.

It is in that context I make the following point. There is a lack of reality in regard to our energy policies. I do not want to comment on any individual case, but the wind farms are being knocked this way and that in the Four Courts. I do not see how we are going to comply with a policy that is designed to electrify the whole country. If all power depends on electricity and transport is, in the major part in urban areas at the very least, electric I do not see how we are pursuing a strategy in regard to electric power that will keep us functioning as an economy. I want that on the record. We are speaking with forked tongue in some respects in saying that we want sustainable energy generation. I welcome offshore wind farms, but God only knows what group will emerge to try to stop them. It will not be the fishermen, but some other group that will take the view they are dangerous to sea birds, swans or migrating birds and so on. I would like to see some reality in that regard.

My second point is in regard to infrastructure, on which I have previously had a discussed with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The proposed electrification of our road transport is not an excuse to stop building roads. The Green Party needs to take on board the point that roads are important. Improving our road infrastructure is important. People give out about the Government of which I was a member. It made mistakes; I have no doubt about that, but there is one thing it stuck at. Prior to my membership of that Government, I was the Attorney General. The then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, set up a Cabinet committee on road transport and the motorways were built in a way that they had not been built before. The five-mile stretches that were being built by local authorities were suddenly converted into a real motorway network. We need to connect Sligo to Dublin by motorway and the Derry-Donegal road must be built. People may speak, as the Minister does on occasion, about a preference for rail transport. I understand the Minister's preference for rail transport in certain circumstances, but, again, let us be real. We can build a fair few hundred kilometres of railway in Ireland, but it will not have a significant affect on the demands for road transport. I want that on the record. It is sometimes easy for people to say, "We aren't in favour of road transport; we prefer rail transport." It is possible to build the light railway system in Galway but will it significantly affect the transport needs of the north-western region getting to Dublin or the Cork-Limerick motorway and so on? These projects must go ahead.

If trucks and cars are powered by hydrogen so be it; they have to travel some way. The journey to Donegal, Derry or Letterkenny should not take five or six hours. It should be possible to do it in four hours. That is the type of progress that makes Ireland a better place in which to do business and it brings regional balance in this country as well. I ask the enthusiastic Green Party members here today to bear in mind that road infrastructure is important and that rail infrastructure is not the answer to everything. In fact, it is an odds-against answer for most purposes. It may be good for commuting into the city of Dublin and for particular main trunk routes, and the Dublin-Belfast rail route might benefit from further investment, but we must proceed with our road infrastructure too.

I believe in the afforestation process. We have had a pretty unfortunate last couple of years in regard to afforestation in terms of the delays in licensing and so on. It has been pretty shameful that the Irish State has collapsed on this issue. The sooner it gets back up and running on it the better. Having spent a few weekends in Roscommon, I can see all of this.

Reafforestation in places like the Wicklow Mountains will mean that a lot of the beautiful scenery there will be less visible to those on bicycles and in cars travelling through. I am in favour of reafforestation but as a society, we must face up to what it will mean. It is necessary and a good thing but it cannot be all about conifers for timber. I accept all of that but in the last analysis, I do not think this Government is taking afforestation sufficiently seriously.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and thank the Minister for coming to the House today. I have had an input into this debate over the last five or six years. Senator Garvey spoke earlier about the work of the Citizens' Assembly in July 2018 and the establishment of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. That committee was chaired by the current Minister of State at the Departments of the Environment, Climate and Communications and Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who did an immense amount of work across both Houses of the Oireachtas to bring together the diverse views, opinions and ideas of Members. Under her stewardship, a lot of good work was done that acted as a precursor to the Bill before us today and that work continued at committee over the last number of months, as the Minister said.

We are now at a point where we have moved the debate on. Back in 2016, prior to the Citizens' Assembly, quite a few members of these Houses would have taken a more negative view and might have accepted the label of climate change denier. There is less of that around now but while people may begin their speeches in the House by saying they accept the reality of climate change, I am not so convinced they are prepared to accept the actions that are required to meet our climate change commitments. I have seen that, to some extent, at some of the committees I have served on over the years. We have tried to move the debate along so that it is no longer just the preserve of academics or environmentalists who might have been referred to affectionately a decade or two ago as tree huggers. The reality is that the debate is now accepted by all in society as being important. However, we cannot sit on our laurels in the belief that because people now accept the principle of climate change and are saying they want to embrace all that is involved, we can take it for granted that they are prepared to accept the actions required. No matter what group or sector in society one talks about, the one thing they all have in common is that they believe the burden of responsibility lies somewhere else and at somebody else's door. That is the challenge as we try to build on the framework that this legislation provides. There will be very difficult debates in the years ahead when sectoral caps are put on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted through the carbon budgeting process. There will be some very difficult conversations and debates in the process of reaching agreement on them.

Of course, people respect and recognise that there is potential for real improvements in quality of life and for job creation. The Minister has grasped for quite some time the potential for job creation and for a different way of life but we are not seeing the kind of action we need to see. I agree with a lot of what Senator McDowell said with regard to caution. That should not restrain us but should spur us on to identify the weaknesses that exist. I share his real concern about the electricity grid and our capacity to provide the level of electricity that will be required to meet our energy needs over the next ten to 15 years. I have great regard for the ESB as a company. It employs some of the finest engineers in the world and that has been the case for many generations, with ESB International leading the way. However, I have some reservations about the rate at which the ESB has moved. It has been somewhat slow in embracing offshore technology, for example.

In recent weeks and months it has set out a very ambitious plan for the Moneypoint plant and for the capture of wind on the Atlantic, but it is at the back end of the next ten years. It is eight to ten years away. I realise there are impediments, but both the Government and the ESB should work together to come forward with an action plan that is far more aggressive about capturing wind energy offshore.

I meet groups every weekend who are dead set against the presence of wind turbines in their communities. As somebody who believes very much in the necessity to address climate change, it is hard to not agree with their position. Up to now, many of the areas that have been developed had wind turbines a very good distance from homes, but all those sites are now developed. What we are left with are sites that are quite contentious and, as Senator McDowell and others have said, they are finding their way into the courts. Those communities are finding it hard to accept. Senator Garvey and I are aware of a particular one not far from where the Senator lives. The community in Cahermurphy is very annoyed about the next imposition, as it sees it, of Cahermurphy II Wind Farm, as the project is known, at a time when everybody is talking about putting wind turbines offshore. I wish to harness the ambition here today and ask for a far more aggressive approach to developing the offshore potential that will generate jobs in County Clare and renew much of west Clare in terms of job creation and employment, as well as the benefit that will have for schools, GAA clubs and so forth. However, it must be done much more quickly, so we need not have the other onshore developments that are now coming to fruition. We have to advance the potential offshore to a much greater degree.

Others have talked about the necessity to continue the roads programme. I support that because bottlenecks continue to exist. I recognise the efforts the Minister has made in his short time in office in terms of investment in public transport. That is very good, and we must maintain it. However, we must examine the methods to power those buses. I believe there is real potential with green hydrogen. It ties in with the potential for offshore wind development off the west coast of Ireland, so let us see movement in those areas.

Undoubtedly, there are concerns in the agriculture sector. It is no harm to have that debate on an ongoing basis to give some level of comfort to the effect that it is not about cutting the national herd. There are some, perhaps in the cities and urban areas, who believe that because agriculture is such a significant emitter of CO2 equivalent, that is where city folk will see the problems resolved. It is outside their bailiwick, as it were. They forget that the quality food produced in rural areas is produced by farmers who have a far lower carbon intensity, if one looks at carbon equivalent intensity, than those anywhere else in the world. That is where we must be strong in identifying long-term solutions, without reducing the capacity of people who live and work in rural Ireland to continue to do so.

Every sector must accept that it has to change. It is not just transport, energy generation or agriculture. I have spoken to the various farming bodies and organisations, as well as farmers I know. They understand it better than most. They see the impact of climate change on their day-to-day lives. They see the issues with flooding and the changed seasons, and the impact they are having on the collection of fodder for feeding their cattle. They understand it better, quite frankly, than some who live in a city, drive very large vehicles and who do not need a 3 l or 4 l engine to potter around from school to school.

Collectively, we should not be trying to divide society. We must stand by each other. All of us must do our bit within our own area of responsibility. If we achieve anything as politicians, it should not be blaming one side more than another. There has been quite robust debate both in the committee and in the Dáil. I do not believe that helps at all.

We must all accept, from our vantage point or the point of view of the panel from which we are elected, that this is a shared responsibility and challenge that we face, and that if we do it collectively that this generation and future generations will benefit. This does not have to be at a loss to the economy immediately. Over the past ten years I have worked on these committees and seen real potential. For some time the Minister, when he was both a Deputy and an unelected advocate, has always talked about the potential for the green economy. It is now within his grasp to drive that really hard and he needs to start with the ESB. He must demand more from the company in regard to what can be done with the capture of offshore wind more quickly and effectively.

As many speakers have said, and it is quite clear that this legislation is one of the most transformative climate action Bills. It is important to recognise that this is also probably one of the most transformative Bills to that has gone through the Oireachtas in the past couple of years as well.

I wish to pay tribute to the Chairperson of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, Deputy Brian Leddin. He has done a very important job in steering the legislation through the committee over the past couple of months to get it to where it is today. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Pauline O'Reilly. She has been extremely helpful in assisting Deputy Leddin with that, and assisting other Government members of the committee. She made sure that members were present for votes when people, like myself, arrived late.

The introduction of this legislation today is a great day for the Green Party and its involvement in the Government. It shows how important it is that every politician in any functioning democracy should strive to get into government because it is an opportunity to implement and advocate for the policies, and manifestos, on which people have campaigned for decades. We have seen that come from this Government in recent months and there are not just green fingerprints on legislation. The Government has issued green policies left, right and centre because of the involvement of the Green Party and we have seen that today with the announcement of safe cycle routes to schools.

I have been a member of the Oireachtas committee for the past year. It has been quite a steep learning curve because I joined as a first-time member of the Oireachtas and worked with people on the committee who have spent a lifetime of work dedicated to climate action. These are people who were talking about the process of climate change long before I was born. As a new member of the Oireachtas, participation on the committee has been a challenge but it has also been a great learning curve and a joy.

Today's legislation is similar to the Scottish legislation, which the committee discussed in detail. I believe that this legislation can be the gold standard of climate action legislation and that other countries will be able to look to Ireland as a shining example of the type of legislation they need to introduce.

I accept the point that Senator McDowell made earlier but just because other countries are not pulling their weight is not a good enough excuse for Ireland not to have some of the most ambitious climate action legislation. Let us be a shining example and guilt trip or bring other democracies along with us, which is why this statutory framework is so important.

Perhaps one of the best examples of an amendment was the one asking for the language in the legislation to be much more specific. It is key that accountability runs through every sentence and every paragraph of this legislation. I want to take the opportunity to outline a couple of points on accountability that are important.

First, there is the introduction of the legal requirement for the Government to adopt a series of three successive economy-wide five-year plans for each sector, which is a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. We are setting very clear and achievable targets and we are showing people how to achieve them.

Second, the Climate Action Advisory Council will be strengthened by increasing the number of members from 11 to 14, thus getting a wider range of experience. The fact that the council will be able to propose budgets to the Minister is another good example of how we are putting accountability into the legislation.

Third is the accountability that we are going to give to local authorities, which is important.

Within 18 months of the enactment of this Bill, every local authority in the country will have to produce a climate action plan. It is wonderful that in a year or two, or in four years’ time, county councillors - who have always had directors of services for housing, transport and planning - will sit on council meetings with directors of services for climate action, who will be directly accountable to councillors in local authorities. That will be very impressive.

In my last year as chair of the special policy committee on planning, we introduced a climate action plan for Louth County Council, including a whole approach towards the local authority. The Minister’s colleague in Dundalk, Councillor Marianne Butler, now chairs a dedicated special policy committee on climate action in Louth County Council. Local authorities should be going forward in this way. We are introducing accountability in this area.

The final aspect of our approach is the provision that ensures all Ministers will be held accountable before Oireachtas committees each year. They will be dragged in front of an Oireachtas committee, held to account and required to answer questions about their performance on targets that have been set. That level of accountability is good because it puts pressure on a Minister to achieve targets and ensures those targets will not be put on the long finger or left to sit by the wayside. I have given four good examples of how accountability is a cornerstone of this Bill.

Another key cornerstone of this Bill is in the realm of climate justice and just transition. The urgency to address climate change in a sustainable, equitable and fair way is a very important part of this Bill. It is informed and, most importantly, guided by science and it goes to the core of this Bill. The definition of climate justice in this Bill mirrors closely the definition provided by Mary Robinson. The idea of a just transition also runs throughout this Bill. It is of critical importance that we make it as easy as possible for sectors that need to make the required system changes. We must support the communities where there may be a perceived negative impact to make the changes that are required.

There are new employment opportunities in this Bill as well, coupled with an acknowledgement that there must be continuous engagement with communities to support the system changes that I refer to. That ongoing communication is a key part of the legislation. Many Senators have spoken about how we will have to bring people along with us to ensure they are not divided. Over the next 30 years, as we head towards 2030 and 2050, the ongoing communication that is part of this Bill will go a long way in combating misinformation, and politicians who may want to kick up a fuss about anything for their political gain. Ongoing communication will reduce the occurrences of that happening. It is greatly important that we communicate our policies and that we bring people along with us. Once the way we are going to do this is explained in a simple manner, people will want to buy into this and will do so.

The agricultural community is a good example of the communities we talk about that will be negatively impacted, or where there is the perception of being negatively impacted. I will be clear; I believe those communities have nothing to fear from this Bill. They will be at the forefront of this legislation, if I am being honest. We will all need their advice, guidance and expertise in making this just transition work. I have had good engagement from members of the Louth IFA during the year about this Bill and climate action in general. Senator Dooley mentioned that people involved in agriculture have a far better understanding of the task that we face, because every day they are on their land where they see erosion and flooding happening. They realise what is happening and they want to play a substantial role in this effort. They want to be at the forefront, with the rest of us, in trying to make changes. They are committed to achieving climate improvement by reducing emissions and contributing to carbon removal, which can be done through forestry and the management of soils, etc. The distinct characteristics of biogenic methane need to be fully considered by the climate advisory council. The pace of the reduction in the agricultural sector needs to be balanced and underpinned by emerging scientific options and views with regard to methane. It must follow the same reduction trajectory as carbon dioxide.

The point has been made clearly that this Bill is transformative.

It is really ambitious and sets an example that other countries need to follow. The most important feature running through it is accountability. There is no point in having all these really great ideas if we do not make people accountable. Accountability seeps through this legislation in the same way as climate justice and moving towards a just transition. We are making sure we are bringing people with us and not leaving anybody behind. I am convinced that in years to come, future generations will look back to this Government and this legislation and say it got it right on climate action. They will say it stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done and they will be reaping the benefits of this legislation 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 years into the future.

I welcome this Bill and the opportunity to speak on this important topic. As we know, a climate emergency was declared by the Dáil in 2019 so all of us are very aware of the pressing urgency of tackling the climate emergency at national and international level. We have all seen the impact of the increasing number of extreme weather events on people across the world, including our own communities. We know we need to act in solidarity with other countries and communities but also to be mindful of the impact on our doorstep. Dublin City Council has calculated that over the past 15 years, the average annual sea level has risen by 6 or 7 mm per year compared with a projected rise of between 3 or 4 mm. This means that our own coastal communities in places like Ringsend, which is right on our doorstep, will face increased vulnerability if we do not act.

Aside from mitigating the significant risk of climate change, as others have said, taking positive climate action also means there will be positive benefits for us in terms of an upskilled workforce and climate-related funding from elsewhere, for example, the EU. Most importantly, we need to preserve our temperate climate and biodiversity and help our population live safer and healthier lives. The commitments in the Bill, particularly those relating to just transition and climate justice, are hugely important for all of us on many levels, including on environmental, social and economic levels. However, we are nowhere near there yet.

While the Labour Party welcomes this Bill, we must be mindful that Ireland is ranked very poorly in global terms. I am looking at the climate change performance index, which ranked us 39th out of 60 states this year and described us as a laggard. I know the Minister said he could not disagree with that ranking or our EU ranking of 19th position, which, again, is a very poor level. Major deficiencies have been identified, particularly in the way in which we are tackling emissions reduction. We are all mindful that our performance has not been strong despite previous legislation in this area. This Bill is not the principal legislation. The principal Act, as referred to in the Bill, is the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, a Labour Party initiative in government that was ground-breaking in its time and in respect of which this Bill will bring in important amendments and clearly strengthen. I very much welcome that.

I also welcome the cross-party process that has brought about the provisions in this Bill, namely, the 2019 recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, to which others have referred. It is unfortunate that we have seen debate curtailed in the other House and a Government approach to amendments that was not welcoming. I know that, as with any coalition Government, the provisions in the Bill are undoubtedly the result of a detailed series of compromises but it would be good to see a more open approach to amendments taken in this House.

I should say that I have a long track record of working on climate legislation. In 2007, when I was first elected to the Seanad having been a founding member of Friends of the Earth Ireland and a member of its first board, I brought forward a climate protection Bill drafted in conjunction with that very proactive NGO that would have imposed legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That was at a time when we could say that climate action was not seen as such a mainstream concern. It was long before the school climate strikes took place.

I was amused to hear Senator Dooley refer to "tree huggers" as an affectionate term.

Even as recently as the early noughties, the term "tree hugger" was not used in an affectionate way and climate action was not seen as a pressing concern for legislators or all political parties. I commend the Minister and his colleagues in the Green Party, and others on a cross-party basis, who really pushed to change that perception of climate action and climate justice. Senator Pauline O'Reilly has been such a champion of climate action in this House.

I am of the view that an ideal Government is one that is able to combine what we might call red and green environmental protection values alongside social solidarity values from the political left. We need to see more of that in our legislation. In that regard, I very much welcome some of the core elements in this Bill that will put our long-term 2050 target into law by providing for regular targets requiring the Minister to produce an action plan, and providing for more robust accountability mechanisms. All of us are conscious that accountability is a key issue. As we know from our experience with the 2015 Act, it is not enough simply to bring in legislation. It is also is essential we see robust accountability and effective targets being set and met.

We will table amendments in respect of the definitions in the Bill, particularly those relating to climate justice. I want to refer to that aspect and to section 3. If there is one aspect of the Bill we can change and improve upon, then this is it. The definition of climate justice refers to "the requirement that decisions and actions taken to reduce ... emissions ... shall, in so far as it is practicable to do so, safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable persons". For many of us, that definition may weaken obligations in practice, in particular, by omitting reference to the need for global climate justice and having regard to matters of global solidarity. It is a concept made salient by Mary Robinson's recent book on climate justice and by her Mothers of Invention podcast. At one of the last events I attended before Covid-19 hit and we had the first lockdown, there was an absolutely inspiring speech by Mary Robinson on the global aspects and considerations for climate justice. That speech took place in Trinity College Dublin in March 2020.

We need to ensure that any definition of climate justice is strong enough that it shores up the commitments contained in the Bill. There remains a question as to whether the definition being too weak may undermine other provisions in the Bill. I know that there was discussion in the Lower House as to whether we should delete the definition if it has a weakening effect. We will need to take time on Committee Stage to consider that aspect.

In terms of other areas in respect of we should constructively work to improve the Bill, many of us would be mindful of concerns, following the recent High Court judgment in a case taken by Friends of the Irish Environment, as to the Government's status. The court found that the Government is not a relevant body under the 2015 Act. As a result, we need to look at whether an amendment is necessary to rectify the position in that regard. I know Friends of the Irish Environment and Friends of the Earth have both pushed on this issue.

Just transition is a concept that is absolutely central to a Labour and social solidarity understanding of climate protection measures. On just transition, we need to look how we can strengthen the commitments in the Bill. We need to ensure that investment to address our climate emissions and meet our targets also takes account of the need to bring people with us and to protect employment and communities. We need a flexible and accessible skills and education system to meet the needs of a net-zero economy and address inequalities where transitions are occurring. Improving energy efficiency of the housing stock is an opportunity to do this. We are all aware of that. Investment to restore peatlands, fund urban tree planting and for woodland management are all ways in which we can enjoy just transit transition and ensure that communities are not hit in terms of employment opportunities for all.

I want to finish by again welcoming the commitments within the Bill and the manner in which it strengthens and builds upon the principal Act of 2015. We need to strengthen the language in the Bill around global climate measures. We must ensure that bodies like the Climate Change Advisory Council are resourced and empowered to take meaningful action and that the Bill will be effective in delivering emissions reductions and an improvement in our record as a country on tackling climate. The goals in this Bill should also not be seen as a ceiling on or an upper limit to our aspirations.

There is always a tendency when there are targets in a Bill on any subject for them to become the height of our aspiration, which reduce or lower our aspirations and ambitions. We must ensure that is not the case with this important Bill.

I commend all those who attended the school strikes for climate. I was delighted to bring my daughter out on them before Covid hit. Those strikes, along with the actions of many people and the work of many activists over many years, helped to bring us to a position where this Bill is now seen as an urgent matter for all legislators and policymakers, whatever our political views and parties. I look forward to working with the Minister and his colleagues, as well as colleagues across the House, on a constructive basis to ensure meaningful and effective climate action legislation is brought into effect and that, going into the future, action is taken on foot of the legislation to meet our climate targets.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Everyone would admit that this is incredibly important legislation and is probably one of the most important Bills we will pass this year. It is long overdue and successive governments have been rightfully referred to as laggards. I take exception to Senator McDowell's point that Ireland's actions would be minuscule. He did not acknowledge that Ireland's climate emissions are 50% higher than the EU average and yet other EU countries have managed to successfully transition. The absence of concrete targets and a framework to achieve them is what has landed us in the situation we are in today, where we are going to have to climb a much steeper mountain than we would have if previous governments had done what was necessary.

I have become very familiar with this Bill since it underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Climate Action last autumn. The Bill was presented to us just after 100 days of government and it was in a sorry state. It did not compare well internationally. Professor John Sweeney referred to its weasel words and summed it up in football terms, stating that if the Bill were a team in the Premier League it would have been in the relegation zone. It is worth remembering that despite it being an incredibly weak Bill, the Minister himself still wanted to fast-track it and try to get it passed before Christmas. I commend my committee colleagues, who collectively worked very hard to halt that rush to pass the Bill. We are all beneficiaries of that.

I also commend my colleagues on the committee for the cross-party basis on which we approached that pre-legislative scrutiny. With that spirit in mind, it is all the more disappointing that the Minister has undermined that broad support by failing to accept even a single amendment from the Opposition as this Bill passed through the Dáil. I hope he will reconsider his approach and keep an open mind about the amendments from those of us in the Opposition who are genuinely seeking to improve the Bill and have engaged in this process over the last number of months.

Sinn Féin will be tabling amendments on several areas that need improving, especially with regard to just transition. Just transition has to be at the heart of climate action. The challenge we face to turn the tide on climate change nationally and internationally is enormous. We must leave no community behind but instead bring people with us on this transition to a decarbonised future. As it stands, the Bill leaves a lot to be desired in terms of a just transition. The first version of the Bill did not have any mention of it and the Bill before us now refers to it only once. Where it does mention the just transition, that is all it is – a mention. The words will not have any legal effect. That is a big red flag in the Government’s planned approach to climate action.

The Government needs to reassure communities that it has learned from its first attempts at a just transition. Workers deserve good quality, decent paying work to transition into. The Minister has promised stand-alone just transition legislation but I am afraid that is putting the cart before the horse. The just transition cannot just be an add-on; it has to be fundamental to tackling climate action. We will seek to introduce amendments based on the example of the Scottish Climate Act, which has a chapter of just transition principles and calls for impact assessments of the climate action plans. That would be a reasonable, practical, constructive and just approach to this Bill.

Several groups and individuals have concerns about this legislation, including the Climate Change Advisory Council.

I understand that it has sought independent legal advice and clarifications from the Department. It is concerning to the legislators in the Oireachtas that the council's concerns have not been made public in advance of the Bill's passage. We need to have all of the information before us when we consider the legislation.

The pandemic has given us as a society the opportunity to learn important lessons. Things that we were previously told were impossible are suddenly possible. More people were able to work from home, more cycle lanes and public spaces opened up, and we are spending less time in cars commuting and more time enjoying the outdoors. As we begin to reopen, it cannot be an opportunity to fall back into old habits. We need to redouble our efforts to make our cities more sustainable and more livable for everyone. That would be good for our health, our communities and the planet. We need more pedestrian spaces, good-quality cycle lanes and a public transport system that works for all communities, including those with disabilities and mobility issues. A number of disability organisations have raised concerns about the pedestrianisation of certain parts of our city as well as issues about BusConnects, which the National Transport Authority is working to address.

Housing policy must become climate policy as well. How can we ensure that people are less dependent on cars, particularly in our cities, if they are forced to live far away from where they work, play and send their children to school? Housing affordability, particularly in our city centres, is vital. The key to delivering affordable homes is tackling the large number of vacant homes, which are artificially reducing supply and inflating costs. Hundreds of luxury apartments owned by US vulture funds lie empty and many spaces above shops lie underutilised. To any right-thinking person, that is unconscionable during a housing crisis. We need to see these developments coming on stream and we need to free up those empty apartments.

We need to tackle the embedded carbon in our building products and embrace new technologies and new ways of developing construction, particularly residential construction, so that we do not just take into account the energy usage of new homes, but also all of the carbon involved in building them.

The transition is about more than just reducing greenhouse gases. It is about transforming our society and economy for a better life for everyone. This means leaving no people, communities or sectors behind as we transition away from fossil fuels. We need a new approach to climate issues. For too long, people have seen climate action as a form of punishment, as something being taken away from them or as an additional cost. We need to give people the opportunity to make sustainable choices. This means investing in a public transport system that is fit for purpose, providing affordable and efficient homes, and developing our natural resources for the benefit of our people. We need a Government that will take on the interests that benefit from the status quo.

The Tánaiste's strategy for more data centres is at odds with the State's climate strategy. At a time when we are supposed to be reducing emissions, the data centres of tech giants will add at least 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 to our carbon emissions in the coming decade. According to EirGrid, all of the new demand for electricity over the next ten years will come from data centres, not electric cars or increases in population. As usual, Fine Gael is thwarting real climate action to support its friends in industry. However, it will be the public that picks up the fines if we miss our EU targets and it will be the public dealing with ever-increasing energy costs. When Deputy Varadkar was Taoiseach, Ireland earned the mantle of "climate laggard". Now that he is Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for data centres, he is doing everything in his power to ensure we keep that title. We need a new strategy that develops renewable energy for the benefit of the population.

It is essential that our biodiversity does not become the sacrificial lamb to renewable energy or climate action. Climate change impacts on our biodiversity, but so does climate action. We need to get the balance right. We must have marine protected zones in parallel with the outworkings of the development of offshore wind energy. Likewise, it makes no sense to put wind farms on our peatland bogs, as is happening in the Mid-Shannon Wilderness Park. I wrote to the Minister about this matter last year, so I might get a response at some stage.

If the Government is serious about its climate commitments, it must call a halt to investor chapters in trade deals.

We know the energy charter treaty is causing huge problems for countries as they try to transition to a decarbonised future. We know we are trying to railroad through CETA, which facilitates multinationals suing the Government and the Irish public for billions of euro in compensation if they do not like the regulations we introduced to deal with environmental problems. It allows them to bypass national courts in favour of a system in which the multinationals are five times more likely to win. CETA investor chapters must be rejected. We must make investor chapters a thing of the past if we truly want to tackle climate change on an international scale. It means taking on big business. The Irish public cannot be left on the hook for the stranded assets of multinationals, which lied and sowed doubt on the scale of climate change. I look forward to engaging on Committee and Report Stages to offer constructive solutions to improve the Bill. I hope the Minister will reconsider and work with Members of the Opposition in the House who are genuinely trying to improve the Bill.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the Bill. It is something for which campaigners of all ages have been waiting for many years and we are excited to see things moving forward. In being very positive about the Bill, it is also important that we temper what we say with a suitably sombre and humble note in recognising where Ireland is right now. As of last year, Ireland was the last of 15 EU countries on the environmental and climate aspects of the sustainable and development goals, which are not mentioned in the Bill, unfortunately.

With respect to my colleague who spoke earlier, it is important to recognise when we look at global emissions that China is well above the average per capita at 7.38 tonnes per person but Ireland is at 8.32 tonnes per person, which is more per capita. To put this in perspective, Malawi, which is a country I visited in 2008 with Trócaire to see the devastating impact climate change was already having then, a decade ago, has 0.11 tonnes per person versus 8.32 tonnes per person in Ireland. It is important, in response to the idea that we are small and cannot make a difference, to state we have a huge responsibility and relevance and we certainly need to do more.

It is also important to emphasise there is no status quo. For those who wonder about taking action and how fast we should take it, there is no status quo. We are facing a climate crisis where the situation is worsening. The ground is literally disappearing beneath the feet of people around the world. There is not an option to not do things. There is not an option to go slowly and keep what we like about how things are now because how things are now will change. Our only question is whether we take positive action to ensure we shape how things change and make sure they change in a way that is equitable, that is environmentally sustainable and that can actually lead to a decent quality of life for people throughout the world. This is the choice. The choice is not one of inaction or staying the same.

Ireland is very late to starting the transition needed but the fact we are late does not give us any excuse to lower our ambition. We need greater ambition and we need to move faster. This is why we cannot afford to have any more delays, loopholes or caveats that could stop us taking the action we need.

As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, I was glad to engage with experts who contributed extraordinary insight and important information, and to engage in the very long process of pre-legislative scrutiny addressing many of the crucial issues in the Bill. However, let us be very clear. Pre-legislative scrutiny is not a substitute for legislative scrutiny. It is there as an enhancement of our democratic process and not as a substitute for it. It is now, in the legislative process, that we need to fine tune the Bill so that it works. At present, the Bill lacks accountability, legal clarity and justice.

The good news is that many of the changes that would address these concerns are small changes in the text of the Bill that could and I hope will be made on Committee and Report Stages in the Seanad. I will be looking to the Minister to address these issues with us and make the necessary changes that ensure this Bill is fit for purpose. That is what is owed to all climate activists across the world and the people of the world.

On accountability, there is a concern in respect of the language which the Department used in a recent High Court case to argue that the Government was not a "relevant body" and did not have responsibilities. The language used in the 2015 Bill is still in this Bill, in section 15, specifically in relation to the duties of relevant bodies. The Government of Ireland is not listed in the section. I know the Government is mentioned in sections 3 and 5 but those references are simply to such duties as the Government has having regard to the UN climate targets. However, if the Government is not mentioned as a relevant body in section 15, I worry we will continue with a legal ambiguity that a future Government could exploit in a legal case, as this Government is doing. I hope we can address that issue and we must address it.

The Minister spoke repeatedly about complying but throughout this Bill compliance is often subject to the caveat, "so far as practicable". That phrase is wide open to interpretation and to dilution of action. In McEvoy v. Meath County Council, the court found that "have regard to" is not a form of language which creates legal obligations. It still features in many areas of this Bill. The Minister and I disagree on the number of recommendations made by the climate change committee that were taken on board and the extent to which they were taken on board. To be clear, the committee's recommendation on the interim targets was not taken on board because the committee looked for a target in the Bill for the Government, in line with Scottish legislation. Crucially, it was to be a minimum target. Concerns about the target, as suggested, have been raised by Dr. Andrew Jackson and others, including Climate Case Ireland. I am sure we will discuss them at length on Committee Stage. I am still not entirely satisfied with the language that came through in the Dáil from the Government. A crucial point for me is that this is not a minimum target. Why are we tying the hands of the next Government, in terms of increasing the ambition, by putting in legislation a target that is not minimum? It should be the minimum and should allow for greater ambition over the next ten years, as we see the urgency increase.

The limitation of liability is one of the most troubling clauses in the entire Bill. It is one the public will be very concerned about because it effectively washes the hands of the Government from the point of view of accountability in respect of financial or other compensation, supports or recompense to individuals or communities impacted by climate change if the Government chooses not to take action under any of the provisions of this Bill. We are limiting that liability at the same time as we are adding new liabilities. The Government wants to add a new liability that did not exist before for compensation to investors who may be affected by our climate action. We are creating a greater financial risk with these investors, which we do not need to create, while diminishing our compensation to individuals. That, too, may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I have two minutes left and there are many more issues to discuss, including data centres, biodiversity and liquefied natural gas, LNG. I am sure we will discuss them on Committee Stage. I will focus on the definition of "climate justice", which we spent hours discussing at the climate action committee, because it is possibly the most important issue to me. The definition in this Bill adds insult to injury for people in the developing world, including the people in Malawi I spoke about who have produced 0.11 tonnes per person.

It simply suggests, in so far as it is practicable to do so, we might safeguard their rights. Rights are optional now for those most vulnerable persons. We will endeavour to share the burdens and benefits. We will share the burdens further with them. That does not match the Mary Robinson Foundation definition, which was very clear on common and differentiated responsibilities, that is that those who have done the most to cause climate change have the greatest responsibility to reduce emissions, which is core to climate justice. It does not reflect that and it does not in any way reflect the definition we, as a committee, collectively put forward. Those are important points and this is something that needs to be addressed.

It has been pointed out there is no definition of just transition in the Bill. That is missing. That stands out as an area for repair. Very strong and good definitions are available in other legislation across the world on which we should be able to draw.

Lastly, I compliment a biodiversity measure, which has got better recognition in the Bill, as drafted. It is important we follow through on that by ensuring we protect biodiversity and proper environmental measures and policies in the round in the way that we take climate action. In terms of liquefied natural gas, LNG, I would like the Minister in his response to Second Stage to clarify exactly why there is not a ban on LNG infrastructure in the Bill. That would help us as we deal with Committee Stage. I do not know what the legal arguments are and I have not read any solid legal argument. If the arguments relate to the energy charter treaty, let us hear and know that. I would like the Minister to confirm whether that is or is not the case.

Our next speaker is Senator Chambers. I understand she is sharing her time with Senator Gallagher.

I will share time with Senator Gallagher and we will have three minutes each.

Is that agreed by the House? Agreed.

I will be taking a slightly a different tone from that taken by the previous speaker in that I am excited to be in the Seanad as a member of the Oireachtas and of a Government party that is bringing through the climate Bill. It is an exciting moment. It is a game changer and a pivotal point for Ireland as we continue on our climate action journey. I listened with intent in particular to Senators Pauline O'Reilly and Garvey. What Senator Garvey said really struck me. She referred to the green schools programme. In recent years I have certainly been very much educated by younger people on this issue, having visited schools and seen their enthusiasm and the effort they put in to reusing, recycling, educating themselves and having a biodiversity garden and spaces. It has been phenomenal to see the impact on the younger generation. When they get to our age and older, that will be the norm. It will not be a big change or ask; it will be what they will do. We will be protecting the environment and the planet for the generations coming after us and, as Senator Higgins said, the most vulnerable in other parts of the world who are already very much feeling the impact of climate change.

I want to specifically address a few aspects of the Bill. I am happy the Climate Change Advisory Council will be strengthened. We need only consider the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and the strength and influence its reporting has particularly for Opposition parties which hold the Government to account, as I can certainly attest to in the previous Dáil term. The Climate Change Advisory Council having greater powers and a greater diversity of membership will help to hold not only this Governments but future Governments to account. That is important. It is also important to have that independent body doing that significant work.

We must acknowledge the emissions reductions we are aiming for are substantial. They will be challenging. Speaking as somebody from a rural community, I know they will be difficult for rural communities. That is why it is important we have a just transition and support communities in making those changes. We must have an adequately and fully funded home retrofit programme and support farming communities to do what they are already doing in protecting the land, and at the core of it they are producing food. They are part of our agricultural sector, which is our largest sector. It is important they will be supported financially to make those changes, that nobody will be left poorer as a result of it and that nobody will be left behind.

We focus a good deal on agriculture but I would also mention transport. This Minister might have seen a good and conflicting report in The Irish Times on the western rail corridor that directly contradicts the work carried by Ernst and Young-DKM on that corridor.

I ask the Minister to consider seriously the findings of the new report, which really show that the cost of the project and the travel time is very different to that suggested by EY-DKM. With climate change and wanting to provide people with the opportunity to get out of their cars and use public transport, I ask the Minister not to leave the west of Ireland behind. There is already a massive deficit in public transport in the west and north west. I suggest that there might be a slight bias on the part of the Department in providing that infrastructure. I have run out of time and will now hand over to Senator Gallagher.

The Minster, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is very welcome to the House this afternoon. I thank Senator Chambers for sharing time.

There is no doubt but that the Bill has the potential to tackle climate change, which is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. This is a global crisis that I believe needs a global response if we are to save our climate. Climate policy on climate change needs to be foreign policy. I came across some quite startling statistics recently that show China's daily emissions are equivalent to a full year of emissions by Ireland, and that the US, China and the EU make up 55% of the world's emissions. This clearly shows that unless we get a global response to this emergency we will be, unfortunately, in trouble.

Change is never easy but we must listen and be sensitive. The burden needs to be fair across all sectors, be they urban or rural. Farmers have legitimate concerns. Farmers have always responded and have always done their bit. They will always do what needs to be done. It is not that long ago, and I remember it well, when good farming practice was to remove hedgerows, to drain wetlands, and to get rid of weeds from the land. Now we want to preserve and recreate hedgerows, we want to save wetlands, and we want to protect wildflowers, and rightly so. This indicates how policy has changed in a short period of time. Farmers will always do their bit, but if this legislation is going to be successful we need the farming community 100% behind it. To do that, the farmers need the financial supports, and without them we are going nowhere.

The Minister is very welcome. I congratulate him on progressing the Bill. I congratulate also my colleague Senator Pauline O'Reilly, and others who have led on this ambitious Bill, as well as all involved in the climate change committee.

The Minister will be aware that I too have served in his Department, on the natural resources side of things, and we have had back and forth debates on a number of things, including fracking and oil licensing. I will have to change my views, to a degree, in support of the Bill but that is important too. I have used the mantra that as we transition to a low-carbon society, we will still need to use oil, gas and, to a lesser extent, coal for a number of years or a number of decades. As we have seen in the case of peat being discontinued as a fuel for electricity generation, and the plans to transition from Moneypoint to pivot away to cleaner and more sustainable types of electricity generation, there are challenges. One of the challenges is security of supply. Plans for the Celtic interconnector project were progressing when I was in the Department, which is positive, albeit we would be importing nuclear generated fuel. While there may be a certain hypocrisy in that, it is part of the interconnection and security of supply.

In the context of wind generation in particular, there is an issue around planning. This area encompasses everything that I can see in this society at the moment, whereby there are concerns around planning whether it is in trying to build a greenway, a road, or houses. I note the ruling by the High Court last week that could impact on the development of new wind farms. I have been at a number of meetings over the years and have engaged with residents who have serious concerns about the development of wind farms. I have supported the need for them.

I have said on numerous occasions that all political parties, in particular the Green Party, have advocated for wind farms in their election manifestos dating back over many of years, but the objections to them continue. People's concerns in regard to noise and shadow flicker have to be taken on board. There have been constant delays in regard to the updated guidelines on setback distances from homes. I am concerned that the same issues will arise when we move to offshore development. I support such development but if the delays in regard to offshore are the same as we have seen in many cases with onshore development, then we face challenges in terms of meeting demands. When one considers that some of the more exclusive properties in the country are set on our coastlines, I can foresee challenges ahead.

I previously mentioned the meeting with I had with residents in Indreabhán, Connemara, County Galway, regarding proposals for the upgrade of an existing wind project involving pushing back a little from the homes into commonage land, which would invariably be a national heritage area, NHA, or special areas of conservation, SAC, land. I know that is totally anathema to policy but is there merit in looking at that proposal, considering there is so much of my area in Connemara that is designated? Would impacting on a small section of that area be beneficial in terms of gaining acceptance from a community in that case?

On agriculture, will farmers be credited for carbon sequestration in respect of their hedgerows, hedgerow trees and groves of trees? When driving or travelling by train or by bus along the countryside, one will see the quantity of such hedgerows, which do not form part of the State recognition with regard to carbon sequestration. Will the State be granted those carbon credits or will individual farmers be credited with them? How will that operate?

On biodiversity, which Senator Gallagher touched on, state aid was provided in the 1960s and 1970s to remove hedgerows, walls and ditches and install electric fencing, particularly for dairy farms and larger fields for tillage as well. That was a sign of the times. The State agency, Teagasc or rather, its predecessors, advocated for that. There has been a sea change for the past 20 years or more in terms of the rural environmental protection scheme, REPS, and its successor programmes in reversing that and in understanding the importance of landscape features of walls and hedgerows and trying to promote and grow them to recognise the benefit in terms of biodiversity. All of that is welcome.

Senator Boylan referenced data centres. We know Sinn Féin would prefer to keep its information and data stored in rather dubious circumstances abroad and operated from Serbia, but data centres are hugely important. We are living in an age where data and information has transformed our lives from education to health to transport and business. Those data must be stored and managed. Our climate is suited to that task and we have massive potential for growing our renewable energy resources. Data centres are required to store data created by all of us and must happen within the EU. All major IT companies that are based here have to store data as well. There are issues with regard to the energy supply. That is one of the main concerns with regard to data centres, but I know that interconnection and renewables will be important in that regard.

I could speak for a lot longer on this topic. It is important and the plan is ambitious. There is an old saying about buying a pig in a poke and I have concerns in regard to the specifics around sectoral targets. I know that is a concern for many people, particularly in regard to agriculture. We will see over the coming years how that is achieved.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to the House for this Second Stage debate on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021. I do not like having to do speak to people from behind and I would not like it to appear that I am speaking down on anybody because I am certainly not doing that. I am unable to change the lay-out of the Chamber or my allocated seat.

For obvious reasons, I will concentrate more on the agriculture aspects of this Bill than on the vast number of other areas it covers.

While I welcome the extended role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, and the additional numbers on the council, I would question its make-up from an agricultural perspective. It is well known that we did not have an industrial revolution and hence the agricultural sector, which is our largest indigenous industry, is our biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in percentage terms. The sector is very poorly represented on the CCAC and I urge the Minister to balance its representation if at all possible so that we can meet the targets that are to be set.

The previous speaker referred to his concerns about carbon budgets and sectoral emission ceilings, and I also have reservations. While I accept the necessity, importance and strength of this Bill in formulating a structure going forward, I am very much aware it will be the carbon budgets, the sectoral emissions ceilings and the climate change targets within each Department that will be the game changers in terms of enabling us to reach our targets. I am worried about how much input this Parliament will have into those targets and ceilings and I ask the Minister to elaborate on that. Will Ministers be answerable to the relevant Oireachtas joint committees? Will they put the recommendations from the CCAC on budgets and ceilings before the Parliament? I would like to hear a little more on that and would be a little fearful of Departments being given too much freedom in setting their targets and ambitions.

The Minister referred in his opening statement to front-loading some of the changes we are going to have to make, but I would strongly plead with him to consider back-ending a lot of what is needed in the agriculture sector. The development of technologies in agriculture and the scientific developments in that sector are way behind the curve in comparison with transport and energy production. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and when we have climate-related debates, all of the witnesses who come before us tell us they are now commencing the search for alternatives and are beginning to embrace the technologies in which there is great potential. They do not have the technological alternatives or the scientific solutions to hand at the moment and I am very fearful that we are putting the cart before the horse. We must maintain food security. While a lot of the discussion today has been about Ireland becoming a leader rather than a laggard vis-à-vis climate change, we are already a world leader in food production and we must be careful not to bite off our nose to spite our face. We have to get this right. The population is growing and food production will have to increase. If we dramatically reduce our food production and get it wrong because we did not wait for the science or did not embrace the evolving science, we will regret it.

I attended a forum recently where a member of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, made a very valid point. He said that if we could reduce the average age of slaughter of our cattle by one month, it would be the equivalent of reducing the overall herd by 100,000. That is something that needs to be embraced before we make any knee-jerk decisions. If food additives, different systems, genomics and better breeding are taken into account, it should be very achievable to reduce the average age of slaughter by one month, from 26 to 25 months or from 24 to 23 months. I would hate to see a decision being made that would not give us the opportunity to explore that possibility.

I would also like to agree with previous speakers who said the agriculture sector is meeting the challenges with open arms. We have seen the buy-in to the results-based environmental agri pilot, REAP, scheme. There were 10,000 applicants for a scheme designed for 2,000 participants. The agriculture sector is only too willing to meet the challenges and it has the solutions. Farmers are the custodians of the land.

With our grass-fed system, some scientists will say we are storing 90 times our annual output in our soil, but we are not getting recognition for that. We do not get recognition for our hedgerows.

The two other matters I will mention in concluding are climate justice and just transition. If we are to bring the agriculture sector with us, and it will come with us, we must stop farmer bashing and do what climate justice and just transition say. We must give the sector recognition. One example of where we have not done that is carbon tax. It has been loaded onto farm contractors. Carbon tax is an incentive to make people change their habits. If one drives a diesel car, one will buy an electric car. However, the farm contractor drives a diesel tractor as there is no alternative, and is now being crippled by carbon tax. That is just sullying and souring the people. It is making it harder to bring them with us. They are becoming regressive rather than progressive.

I welcome the Minister. I had the pleasure of sitting beside him for nearly four years on the committee we worked on with regard to climate change. From my point of view, it was very informative. That work we began many years ago in 2016 has now come through. The Minister has a great knowledge of the issues at hand and I am sure he will do a very capable job. We see that in the legislation before us today. It is a significant legislative measure and one that society has been asking for and talking about for a long time. We have to deliver on this action plan to ensure we meet our targets up to 2030, if not all the way to 2050.

However, there are issues along the way. The Minister knows my form and where I am coming from, which is the agriculture base. It is about bringing the agricultural community with us. That will probably be one of the very significant challenges we will have with this legislation. There is great unrest in the agricultural community at present. People in that community believe there has been a lack of engagement so far. They fundamentally believe they have not been engaged with on the key issues in this climate action proposal, which is a significant legislative measure. They know this must happen, but they want to be involved in the process. That lack of involvement is a key issue for us. How we can now re-engage the agricultural community is a challenge for the Oireachtas and the Joint Committee on Climate Action. That committee has to invite members of the agricultural community in at some stage. They need to be a part of the process and involved in the system. It will also be an issue for the Minister and his Department to ensure that the agricultural organisations and community will be involved in this process.

I am 44 years old and when I trained to be a farmer it required 500 hours over three years or attendance at an agricultural college for a year. If one is training to be a farmer today, one does four and a half years in Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, or in a college setting and then one goes to agricultural college for another year. One spends five and a half years in college. We have the most educated farming students in the world coming through that process. No other place in the world produces a farming graduate like this country. These farmers are a resource which we must get on board. The younger generation of farmers, in particular, are far advanced regarding what is involved and what is needed. They know it themselves. Ten years ago one sold one's product on the basis of traceability. One had to have a traceable product. That is done and dusted now; we know we have a traceable product. Now, it is about sustainability. Farmers know that if they are going to compete in world markets, their product must be sustainable. That is the space in which they are at present.

Consider the announcement today of €2 million from Science Foundation Ireland for a project in Bandon, in my part of the world, to ensure that a farm, which is owned by four local co-operatives in west Cork, can become carbon neutral within five years. That is the type of technology, input and involvement the agricultural community is capable of delivering when it comes to this important process. We need to engage that community and ensure that it is involved, and that it is not outside the gate but inside the room. That will be a major cohort of work for us in the next few months, in particular, and into the future as we push forward with this plan.

The plan sets carbon targets and gives real power to the Climate Change Advisory Council. It requires many sectors to reach their targets. Agriculture has issues. It accounts for 35.3% of the emissions.

Farmers know they have issues in making sure they can become more carbon efficient and projects like the one announced in Bandon this morning will be part of the solution. That will be the body of work, in particular over a short space of time. If we have large protests outside Leinster House in the next few months then we will have started on the wrong foot in many ways. As we would be starting on the back foot, now is the time for us to engage with farming organisations, as well as the farming community itself because if we do that, we then can move forward together.

Many speakers have spoken about the real challenges. While there are challenges in delivering these targets, there is a great willingness to do so within urban and rural communities whether people are young or old. It is an issue that affects my mother down to my children and goes through the entire family dynamic, which is why we need to ensure this legislation is passed. We then need to deliver on the legislation and we can do so by informing society about the necessary changes and by bringing society with us. I will do my best to ensure that happens. I say to the Minister that in many ways, we are on the back foot when it comes to a third of emissions and we need to make sure that we bring everyone along this process.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and praise him personally. He is quite modest but he has fought for this legislation for a long time and deserves our congratulations for that. Like others have said, the Joint Committee on Climate Action has done enormous work. I also wish to praise the climate strikers over the years. Those young people drew all of our attention to the importance of being able to address climate action and shows that young people can make a meaningful impact on political life.

I welcome the fact that the Minister will take this legislation to UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, in Glasgow and it is important that Ireland can be a leader in this regard. I suggest that Ireland offers to hold a UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties meeting at some stage in the future.

Climate change needs a whole-of-government approach and tackling climate change must influence every single aspect of everything that we do. For example, as we seek to meet UN targets, sustainability elements must be built into our overseas aid. We should reward and encourage higher education institutions for investing in areas of research that will contribute towards sustainability within our communities and, indeed, towards tackling global climate change.

It is important in any discussion of carbon budgets, which colleagues have mentioned, that there is communication about what is going on and there is engagement of all of our citizens. It is essential that there is an effective communications campaign in operation as we go through the negotiation of the budgets. I emphasise to the Minister that it is important that we bring people with us.

Many colleagues have talked about the impact on the agricultural sector. Farmers are going to be our front-line workers in the battle against climate change and want to play their part. If we think about the fact that this planet will have a population of 11 billion people by 2100, then we must ensure that we have food for all, guaranteed food security and have a planet on which we can all live.

We must recognise the fact that farmers seek environmental and financial sustainability. Those who criticise the farming community need to understand the financial pressures that farmers are under. If supports are provided to farming communities then farmers will be climate change warriors and will address some of the challenges.

Earlier Senator Kyne talked about the planting of forestry. Why do we not allow farmers and landowners to own the carbon credits? Let farmers be able to trade the carbon credits that they can generate from their land and allow them to offset it against their other activities or, indeed, within the wider economy.

We must roll out technology and use big data, such as soil maps, to ensure the most effective yield from agriculture is achieved. We must use blockchain for the transparency of or supply chains. We must use technology in a very innovative way. We must have farming that is less resource intensive but more sustainable. I agree with everything my colleague, Senator Paul Daly, has said. We must ensure we bring farming communities with us. As Senator Lombard said, we should utilise the great experience young farmers have to tackle the largest existential problem we face.

Acting Chairperson (Senator O'Loughlin)

As we are running short on time, I will not contribute, as I had intended. We final two speakers, Senators Paddy Burke and Aisling Dolan, have two minutes each.

Two minutes is a short time to speak on anything.

Acting Chairperson (Senator O'Loughlin)

I agree. I am not taking my speaking time.

The Minister stated that every place and person matters. If he takes that sentiment with him, it will be a great place to start from with this Bill. If he meets the farming organisations, I have no doubt he will bring them with him and win the day. They know there is going to be change.

It is ironic that we are debating this on a day when two important reports came out. One is a report by Dr. John Bradley on the Atlantic rail corridor from Galway to Mayo, which is 50 km in length and would cost €154 million, including a 20% contingency. When I asked the Minister about the corridor from Athenry to Claremorris some months ago, he responded very positively. I hope he will look at this report.

The second report is about a farm in Bandon, west Cork, that has received a Science Foundation Ireland award. The ambition is to create a carbon neutral dairy farm by 2027. This is an example of the way forward. The Minister can bring it to the attention of the farming organisations and they can provide their input as to how this will play out going forward and we can become a carbon neutral community.

I have much to say about offshore renewable energy in the west, where there is no offshore plan. There are 5 GW proposed on the east coast but there is nothing provided for on the west coast. That requires a significant debate in this Chamber and the Minister should come back at the earliest opportunity to consider where we can go and how we can put a planning framework in place. There are many substantial investors who would like to get involved in this sector along the west coast. I am out of time. Hydrogen power could come into play with regard to those activities.

Acting Chairperson (Senator O'Loughlin)

Senator Burke did very well with his time.

We know that climate action and low carbon development are urgently required at a national and international level. I appreciate that the Minister has considered at least 78 amendments and I welcome this approach. He has a target of climate resilience and climate neutrality by 2050 with carbon budgets at five-year intervals. Ministers and Departments will be charged with sectoral emission ceilings and will report to the Oireachtas joint committee. This has to be practical. The Minister indicated there will be front-loading of more than 50% of the reductions in the first two five-year budgets, taking us to 2030. This will place severe pressure on a number of sectors over the next ten years.

The Minister has said we have to be fair and equitable, and that the voices of groups must be heard. We must live up to this element of public participation. I speak on behalf of communities in Roscommon and east Galway in the west and many of my Seanad colleagues have done the same. Just transition has had a major impact on Shannonbridge and Lanesborough in my area, with job losses in Bord na Móna and the ESB. We need job creation. The just transition fund is welcome in the area but we must get these projects off the ground and up and running. They are still in preparation and some are still not across the line.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland report on emissions for 2018 showed that transport accounted for 40% of the energy-related CO2 emissions. We also need to look at housing and retrofitting. We need to look at all of these areas, not solely agriculture. The Minister has set a major target for creating energy sustainable communities. My town, Ballinasloe, is part of this plan.

The IFA has raised concerns about why we are not counting hedgerows for carbon sequestration and referred to the value of our peatlands and callows areas. We have some excellent peatlands, particularly in the west, such as Carrownagappul bog in Mountbellew, and pristine lands, some owned by Bord na Móna, that have never been used. Our regional areas are delivering for the country in terms of sequestration.

As Fine Gael spokesperson on research and innovation, I would like to see a significant focus in this area. What funding will be allocated by the Department to support research by Teagasc or the putting in place of agricultural measures by Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, in the areas of agrifood and climate action? MaREI is a fantastic SFI research centre in UCC that works with those in many other areas.

Our farmers are also taking the lead in the context of carbon emissions.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 3.31 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.