I welcome the opportunity to meet with the select committee to discuss the 2022 Estimates for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. I am accompanied by officials from the Department.
The total provision for the Department in 2022 is €858 million, comprising €700 million of capital, excluding capital carryover of €58 million, and €168 million for current spending. This represents a 19% increase over 2021 and reflects the significant scale of ambition in Ireland’s transition to a climate-neutral, circular and connected economy and society. Before I begin, I would like to bring to the committee’s attention the updated programme and subhead structure in the Revised Estimates. These changes better reflect the Department’s statement of strategy, Le Chéile 23, which sets out our vision for the three-year period from 2021 to 2023.
I will now highlight some key initiatives across the environment and climate action, energy transformation, and circular economy programme areas. The Estimates for programme D, the connectivity and communications programme, will be considered by the Select Committee on Transport and Communications tomorrow. Programme A covers climate action and environmental leadership, including licensing and enforcement; monitoring, analysis and reporting on the environment; research and development; and implementation of climate action measures. Programme A provides €41.6 million in operational and capital funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to deliver its range of functions to protect the environment. The EPA’s 2022 allocation includes funding for additional staff resources in the Climate Change Advisory Council secretariat. Some €16.8 million is being allocated for environmental and climate research, including €10 million for the EPA’s programme of research and €3.2 million for the climate action and modelling group to provide technical support for wider climate and environment policy development, as well as the implementation of the climate action plan.
A further €15 million is being allocated for contributions towards international climate commitments, which will contribute to Ireland’s goal to more than double the annual funding for developing countries to tackle climate change to €225 million by 2025. Some €11 million is being provided for the national just transition fund, as well as a further €21 million for expenditure associated with the EU just transition fund, including programme design, establishment of the programme authorities and initial programme expenditure once the programme has been finalised and approved by the European Commission.
Programme B, the energy transformation programme, supports Ireland’s ambition for a net-zero emissions future by delivering energy-efficient measures across the residential, public and business sectors and by enabling the deployment of renewable energy infrastructure. Some €21.47 million is being provided to cover the operational costs of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, including an extra €3.1 million for additional staff resources required to deliver its programmes. Some €46 million is being provided for improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy in businesses and across the public sector. Some €202 million in carbon tax revenue is being allocated to fund the SEAI residential and community retrofit schemes and €109 million of that allocation will be used to provide free energy efficiency upgrades to households that are in, or at risk of, energy poverty.
The 2021 climate action plan has set ambitious targets to retrofit 500,000 homes to a building energy rating of B2 or carbon equivalent and to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings by the end of 2030. The national retrofit plan sets out the policies and measures that will be implemented in order to deliver on these targets. The plan indicates that new and improved SEAI grants will be a central element of the Government’s strategy to encourage homeowners to upgrade their homes. In this regard, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications is today bringing proposals to Cabinet that will represent the most significant reform of the SEAI support schemes since they were first put in place. Subject to Government approval, the Minister will announce details of the changes later today. A new low-cost loan scheme for residential retrofitting will also be announced in mid-2022. This programme, funded in part by the Exchequer and in part by the EU, will enable credit institutions to offer loans at reduced interest rates, making energy upgrades more affordable.
In response to the exceptional rise in energy prices, the Electricity Costs (Domestic Electricity Accounts) Emergency Measures Bill 2022, which is currently going through the Houses, aims to establish a scheme for a once-off €100 electricity costs emergency benefit payment to each domestic electricity account. The scheme will apply to all domestic electricity accounts, including pay-as-you-go customers. Approximately 2.1 million domestic account holders will benefit from this exceptional payment. The cost of the scheme will be funded by the Department, with additional Exchequer funds to be made available by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Work is under way between both Departments to ensure that the necessary funding will be available when the scheme becomes operational.
Programme C, circular economy development, supports the transition to a circular economy, protecting and restoring our environment through sustainable resource use. Some €98 million is being allocated to the programme in 2022 to tackle environmental damage, manage waste, safeguard our natural resources and support the move to a circular economy. This includes €26 million of funding for the remediation of environmentally-degraded landfill sites. Within this allocation, €14 million is being allocated for the final phase of the remediation of the landfill at Kerdiffstown in County Kildare. The programme also includes expenditure of €2.5 million to target waste prevention, segregation and recycling and €7.7 million for waste enforcement activities by local authorities. Some €13 million is being provided for Geological Survey Ireland, GSI, services, including the Tellus and INFOMAR mapping projects. Geological mapping data from the Tellus project inform land planning and usage while INFOMAR is Ireland’s national seabed survey and provides data to underpin the Irish marine development plan, Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. Funding of €33.5 million is being allocated to Inland Fisheries for the conservation, management and regulation of Ireland’s inland fisheries resource. This includes an allocation of €2.9 million towards the Loughs Agency, a North-South body that is co-funded on a 50:50 basis by the Department and Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
Appropriations-in-aid are income receipts of the Department other than from the Exchequer and they total €10.5 million. Receipts mainly comprise mining and petroleum income of €5 million and also include €3 million in receipts from additional superannuation contributions on public service remuneration, and GSI income of €300,000.
I am very happy to take questions from the committee members on any details relating to the Estimates for programmes A to C within my Department.