Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Questions (51)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

51. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to revise the 2017 national mitigation plan under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 to take account of criticisms of the plan by the climate change advisory councils, environmental organisations and the European Commission in view of the fact that an all-of-government plan will not be on a statutory footing unless the national mitigation plan is formally updated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14203/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

This question relates to the national mitigation plan and the targets included therein. The Climate Change Advisory Council states they are totally deficient. What does the Government intend to do to ensure the targets will be met?

As I was indicating to Deputy Dooley, I am currently preparing an all-of-government climate plan that will set out the actions that must be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. I am working with colleagues across Government to develop new initiatives in electricity, transport, heat and agriculture, in addition to a range of other sectors. The new plan will have a strong focus on implementation, including actions with specific timelines and steps needed to achieve each action, assigning clear lines of responsibility. The plan will build on the policy framework, measures and actions set out in both the national mitigation plan and the national development plan.

Section 4 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 requires me to make a national mitigation plan and submit it to the Government for approval at least once every five years. Under section 3 of the Act, when considering approving a national mitigation plan, the Government must endeavour to achieve the 2050 national transition objective through the implementation of cost-effective measures that have regard to a range of factors, including Government policy on climate change. The national mitigation plan remains in place as a statutory plan required under the 2015 Act, and I propose to update this plan in due course in line with the schedule required by that Act. I also intend that the statutory requirements, in relation to reporting on the implementation of national climate policy to the Oireachtas through the annual transition statement, will include reporting on the implementation of the all-of-government climate plan.

Under European legislation, Ireland was obliged to submit a draft national energy and climate plan before the end of 2018 and a finalised one at the end of this year. The all-of-government plan will provide the basis for amending the draft plan to have a finalised one by the end of this year. There are two legal frameworks we have to work within.

We have a bit of a problem in that we can judge future performance only on the basis of what we have done in the past. What we have done in the past has really been non-existent. How can we be sure something will happen? The Secretary General of the United Nations recently said to governments that now is the time for climate action, not speeches. This is vital.

Our own body that measures our climate performance, the Environmental Protection Agency, shows we have been completely off course in meeting our targets for 2030. Therefore, how can we be sure the Government will be willing to meet future targets and that every Government will be willing to meet them, regardless of who is Minister? It is vital to ensure they are met.

The Deputy will know that, under the legal framework within which we operate, there are penalties for failing to achieve the targets. The penalties would be paid according to the carbon price of the day. Therefore, if we failed to deliver on the targets, we would be millions of tonnes off and the Exchequer would have to pay. That creates very significant pressure to change.

Significant change will be required. For example, we in the Oireachtas will have to agree a trajectory for carbon prices, which will be a significant element. We will have to agree to have more renewables on our grid, which will require significant investment in change. We will have to have a roadmap for rolling out electric vehicles, improving the fabric of our homes and improving the heating systems. The Government will be able to provide some support but it will require all citizens to become involved. This is not something that can be resolved from Adelaide Road; it will require action in every community in every country, adapting their lifestyles to the new climate obligations. The plan being produced will provide a framework but it will be a framework within which we work with the wider community.

It does require government. That is the key. The Government can lead by example. If it is committed to making these things happen, the citizens will follow suit. Unfortunately, what is happening in this country is that the citizens are expected to do everything on the basis that the Government will tag along afterwards. That is the problem. We have not met any of our targets because there has been no commitment at Government and national levels. That is where the Government will come in. It has to lead by example.

I take what the Minister is saying about carbon pricing and the potential fines but I wonder what decision will be made at political level on whether we can live with fines if we do not take action. Will this be a factor in the decision-making?

I absolutely agree that the Government needs to lead by example. We are going to do that. For example, we have already banned single-use plastics, we are requiring every public body to have a resource and waste plan in place, and we are requiring every public body to adopt green procurement. That will be a significant element in helping people. We also have grants. As the Deputy knows, there is a grant of 30% for improving the fabric of one's house or its heating system, €10,000 towards an electric vehicle, and 100% support for low-income families in moving towards more sustainable heating systems. There are 256 sustainable energy communities and they are getting very significant support to make sure they travel this journey. It will require communities working with the Government to achieve the objectives. It is really important that we recognise this is a national challenge that is not all about saying we should wait until the Government has done X or Y; this is something we need to act on now. We cannot say we will have nothing until there is public transport to some very high standard that is deemed necessary. We need to act now on all these fronts and act with the support of the wider community.