Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Questions (4)

Paul Murphy


4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the State playing a leadership role in addressing climate change; the structures in place with others sections of the Government to achieve this, in particular in the agriculture sector and public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41258/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I presume the Minister read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report from two days ago. The findings are absolutely devastating in what it means for humanity. In blunt terms, it spells out that we have 12 years to stop global warming going over 1.5°C. Another 0.5°C rise would significantly worsen the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Based on yesterday's budget, the Government's plan seems to be just to fiddle while the whole world burns. Is that the case or has the Minister a plan to do something about it?

The third report of the Citizens' Assembly, How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change, was submitted to the Oireachtas in April of this year. The Houses subsequently established the Joint Committee on Climate Action to further consider the assembly's recommendations and to report by the end of January 2019. I was pleased to note that many of the recommendations adopted by the Citizens' Assembly are being addressed through the implementation of the national development plan, the national mitigation plan and the energy White Paper.

The work of the Citizens' Assembly on the challenging topic of climate change, under the mandate of the Oireachtas, represents an excellent model of dialogue and engagement with citizens which I intend to develop further through the national dialogue on climate action.

Addressing climate change and our targets to 2030 and beyond is one key policy priority for the Government. Reflecting this priority, Ireland has established an ambitious, long-term decarbonisation objective through the national policy position on climate action and low carbon development for 2050. It has put in place robust governance arrangements to secure a strong co-ordinated approach to the delivery of our ambition on climate action across all relevant Departments and Government agencies.

Ireland is demonstrating public sector leadership in addressing climate change, including through our ambitious 33% energy efficiency target for 2020. By the end of 2016, the public sector had achieved a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, equating to €133 million in avoided energy spend and 520,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions mitigated. To ensure the public sector continues on this positive pathway, I have put in place the public sector energy efficiency strategy to drive the additional ambition necessary between now and 2020.

I published Ireland's first statutory national mitigation plan in July 2017 to make further progress on the ambition of our national position. The plan is a whole-of-Government plan reflecting in particular the central roles of Ministers responsible for the four key sectors with the most significant contribution to national emissions, electricity generation, the built environment, transport, and agriculture, forestry and land use, and draws on the perspectives of a range of other Departments.

I subsequently published Ireland’s first statutory national adaptation framework in January. Under the framework, seven Departments and agencies with responsibility for the 12 priority sectors identified in the framework are required to submit sectoral adaptation plans to Government for approval by 30 September 2019.

The Minister's title includes "Climate Action". We had a promise of inaction for another year from the Government yesterday in the budget announcement. Is the Minister disappointed with the budget, given his responsibility for climate action? Does he accept that it is criminal, on behalf of future generations, to do nothing, wash his hands of the situation and to make no effort to avoid Ireland being the second worst in the EU in meeting targets and to drive towards being a zero-carbon net emitter by 2035? The contrast between the attitude of his Government as seen in the budget and of ordinary people is great. That is illustrated by the Citizens' Assembly, with 100% voting for the State to take a lead in tackling climate change, 97% voting for a new independent body to ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making, and 92% voting that the State should prioritise investment in public transport over road infrastructure. Why were those priorities not reflected in the budget yesterday?

The Government has put its money where its mouth is. Earlier this year, we published the National Development Plan 2018-2027, which is committed to €22 billion being invested in climate-related measures over the next decade. On top of that, we are spending €8.6 billion on sustainable transport. If one looks anywhere across Europe, the level of public investment in this area is second to none for the next decade. We are using a €500 million fund, the climate action fund, to look at innovative solutions to deal with the challenges that we have in Ireland. Yesterday, because I physically could not be there, my officials were in Luxembourg, and Ireland led the group of ambitious countries looking for a significant reduction in overall emissions from cars and light transport vehicles. We took the lead along with the Netherlands, Slovenia and Luxembourg. Disappointingly, the agreement that was reached late last night was for just a 35% reduction, but colleagues are impressed that our objective is that, by 2030, we will have taken new fossil fuel cars off our roads. We are determined to put a trajectory in place to do that and to take coal out of our energy generation systems by 2025 and peat by 2030 at the latest.

The money allocated is completely inadequate to do what has to be done. This is a challenge for a generation. James Hansen, a former NASA scientist, said in response to the report two days ago, "1.5C gives young people and the next generation a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene", before the impact of humanity, or close to it, and continued, "That is probably necessary if we want to keep shorelines where they are and preserve our coastal cities." Business as usual has got Ireland at the bottom of the table in meeting its emissions targets and simply will not cut it. Radical action is needed to tackle emissions from the two big sectors, which are agriculture and transport. Everything that the Government is proposing about transport is just tinkering around the edges. The answer is not fundamentally hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles or gas-powered vehicles etc., but public transport. Will the Minister agree with that and outline how there can be a project for investment in proper, quality public transport, accessible to all? Does he further agree that a key way to get people out of private cars and on to public transport is to make public transport free, as happened in Estonia?

Public transport is the solution in our urban areas but, as the Deputy will be aware, 38% of our population lives on 96% of the land mass, and no matter how much public transport one puts in place, we will not be able to address that issue. We have unique challenges in Ireland and we need unique solutions to them. When speaking about the Revised Estimate yesterday, the Minister for Finance indicated that a Revised Estimate that outlines clearly where we are going with climate action is a significant and very welcome step forward. I expect there will be significant movement when we see that Revised Estimate.

The Deputy is correct that we have not put all the money in place to achieve our 2030 targets, and no Government can ever spend enough money on that. It requires taxation and regulatory changes and I fully accept that should happen. However, the price of oil has increased from approximately $50 a barrel this time last year to $84 or $85 a barrel now. Projections are that it will be $100 a barrel by the end of the year. Now is not the time to hike those taxes. We need to make sure that that type of level and trajectory is maintained into the future. I will take that up directly with members of the Oireachtas joint committee. I have taken it up directly with the World Bank and I think we can find a mechanism to do that.

Question No. 5 answered with Question No. 1.