Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Questions (24)

Bernard Durkan


24. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which he expects to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets as set by the EU and UN; if alternative energy sources have been sufficiently enhanced to meet the challenges ahead without damaging the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18017/18]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Communications)

My question is somewhat along the same lines. I am seeking to ascertain the extent to which it is anticipated that we can meet the targets to which we have already signed up in terms of emissions.

Meeting Ireland's EU targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2030 will be extremely challenging. The latest projections of greenhouse gas emissions, published by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in April 2017, indicate that emissions from those sectors of the economy covered by Ireland's 2020 targets could be between 4% and 6% below 2005 levels by 2020 in the context of a target that emissions should be 20% below their 2005 levels. The projected shortfall in our targets reflects both the constrained investment capacity over the past decade due to the economic crisis, and the extremely challenging nature of the target itself. In fact, it is now accepted that Ireland's 2020 target was not consistent with what would be achievable on an EU wide cost-effective basis. For 2030, the recently agreed EU effort sharing regulation sets out binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for each member state for the period from 2021 to 2030. Ireland’s target under this regulation will be for a 30% reduction in 2005 levels of emissions by 2030.

To meet these targets, Ireland's first statutory national mitigation plan, which I published in July last year, provides a framework to guide investment decisions by Government in domestic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of the plan is to specify the policy measures required in order to manage Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions at a level appropriate for making progress towards our long-term national transition objective as set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, as well as to take into account existing EU and international obligations on the State in relation to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although this first plan will not provide a complete roadmap to achieve the national transition objective to 2050, it begins the process of development of medium and long-term options to ensure that we are well positioned to take the necessary actions in the next and future decades.

Building on the national mitigation plan, the publication in February of the national development plan will lead to a significant step change in funding available for climate action over the next decade. Almost €22 billion will be directed, between Exchequer and non-Exchequer resources, which is €1 in every €5 of all the funding set out in the national development plan.

Will the Minister consider a multifaceted accelerated programme, each facet of which would make a major contribution in its turn to a reduction in greenhouse gases? I refer, for example, to a greater encouragement of and reliance on electric cars, a greater reliance on forestry which can utilise marginal land such as bogland that only needs to be harvested once every 30 or 40 years, and greater use of existing solar and wind energy where possible. Solar energy can and should be generated on marginal land to a far greater extent. We must also consider the plantation of species more readily capable of sequestering carbon such as the ones that are well known like Sitka spruce and western red cedar, which have the capacity to absorb something like four times the level of carbon as ash, sycamore or other such species of tree.

Exactly - where to begin? Biodiversity is also an issue to be considered in this regard. Right across my own part of the country there is effectively a monoculture in relation to forestry. The investment that we make today in terms of forestry will really only have an impact on our climate targets post 2030. The investment that we made 15 or 20 years ago is having an impact today and for the next decade. That is already counted in. Part of the problem is investing today to get a long-term dividend.

Deputy Durkan raised other issues such as biodiversity and land use management. There is a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report due out at the end of next year which will look at land use and land use change, which I think will drive a lot of the discussion in that regard.

We are now rolling out a programme across the country for electric vehicles. A substantial number of motor dealers now provide test drives. A roadshow will be rolled out at agricultural shows, shopping centres and at various events with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, over the summer months so that people get the opportunity to test drive electric vehicles.

There is no doubt that an electric vehicle is the solution for the vast majority of commuters today.

I thank the Minister. From my own information, I believe that there are a number of options, including forestry, that will have a greater effect than is anticipated, and much earlier than anticipated, because some of the species grow rapidly and, in so doing, absorb a great deal of the gases that we are so concerned about. I do not think biomass is viable as a long-term solution. It would not be a good idea to become dependent on it since the entire country would need to be planted in biomass, and half the neighbouring island too, and I am not sure it would agree to that. It would be hugely beneficial if the Minister were to set a new campaign in motion to identify those issues that are most likely to have a considerable impact with the least impact on the environment other than a beneficial one, and, more importantly, less of an impact on agrifood businesses on which this country depends greatly for a living.

I need more than a minute to answer that question.

With regard to biomass, in the long term, biomass is an effective feedstock for heat. In the short term, we are looking at it with regard to power generation but it is far more effective for heat. As we start harvesting our forestry crops, the leftover residues will be the main bulk to provide that feedstock. Biomass crops can complement that to ensure that we are not importing biomass from halfway around the world. The Deputy is right that there needs to be a far broader debate. It comes back to the conversation I had with Deputy Stanley earlier about some of the resources that we have on farms. One of the biggest challenges I have relates to air quality in the short term, meeting our ammonia targets, and the better management by farmers of the use of slurry, not just from an environmental and water quality perspective. Also, this year, because of the financial constraints on farmers, we need to use slurry as a fertiliser rather than it being perceived by farmers as a waste.

I propose to move on to Question No. 27. Would Deputy Durkan be free to take the chair for about four minutes to cover my question?

I can manage for four minutes if it is coming up quickly because I have questions at a committee too.

It is coming up immediately. We will take Deputy Stanley's question No. 27 first and then come back to mine.

Question No. 25 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 26 taken after Question No. 30.