Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Questions (55)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

55. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position taken by Ireland at the recent EU Energy and Environment Councils on 4 and 5 March 2019 on the European Commission's proposal to increase ambition by 2020 in order to reach climate neutrality by mid-century; if an increase in the EU nationally determined contribution to at least 55% will be supported in view of the long-term strategy taken by the European Council at a meeting on 22 March 2019; and if not, the grounds for not supporting same. [14172/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Communications)

In 2018 the European Commission produced a long-term strategy which set out a pathway for the European Union to reach climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and to align its response with the Paris Agreement. It is now necessary for the European Union to increase its current pledge, principally its 2030 target, taking into account the Commission's strategy and the latest worrying projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. Just last week we saw the terrible effects of the climate crisis in Mozambique. The Government should ensure Ireland's support for increasing the European Union's ambition. Will the Minister to provide an update on the State's position at the recent Environment Council, as well as at last week's European Council, at which this issue has been discussed in recent weeks?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Following a mandate provided by the European Council in March 2018, the European Commission published a communication, A Clean Planet for All, in November 2018, which will provide essential analytical underpinning for the preparation by the European Union of a long-term strategy for submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, by 2020. I welcomed the Commission's publication when it was presented to the Environment Council. It sets out a range of scenarios through which the European Union can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing in realistic technological solutions, developing the circular economy and promoting sustainable lifestyles. The Commission's communication has since been examined at expert level and in a number of Council formations, including the Environment and Energy Councils, at which I represent Ireland.

The communication presents a clear vision, supported by a detailed analysis, of how the European Union could work towards climate neutrality by mid-century in line with the Paris Agreement objectives, while at the same time contributing to positive economic transformation of the European economy. In the context of the Energy Council on 4 March, Ireland and a number of other member states have also invited the Commission to work towards developing a scenario of 100% renewable energy by 2050. At its meeting on 21 and 22 March 2019 the European Council requested the Council to continue its examination of the proposals ahead of further discussions later in the year.

Ireland fully supports the first commitment made by the European Union under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. With the ambitious 2030 targets agreed to at EU level recently for renewable energy and energy efficiency, coupled with a strong ambition in respect of emissions standards for both light and heavy duty vehicles, the European Union may exceed its agreed targets for 2030. There is currently no formal proposal from the European Commission for the European Union to increase its targets for this period.

In order to meet Ireland's target for 2030 that we reduce emissions in the non-emissions trading scheme, non-ETS, sector by 30% and building on the framework set out in the mitigation plan and the national development plan, I am developing an all-of-government climate plan which will set out the actions to achieve it.

I thank the Minister for his response, but it was recently reported that at the European Council meeting a group of progressive, mainly western, EU member states had backed the Eurpean Commission's strategy for climate neutrality by linking it specifically with the Paris Agreement objective of keeping the increase in global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, other member states refused to specifically link EU climate action with the 1.5 degrees Celsius objective and rejected a reference to 2050 in reaching the climate neutrality goal. Will the Minister confirm that Ireland supported the progressive member states in linking increased EU ambition to 2050 with the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degrees Celsius objective?

Yes, Ireland supports the ambition of the European Commission. At this point it is working on the various scenarios that could be set out to achieve it. As mentioned in the Deputy's question, there has been talk of a higher target for 2030, but no such proposal has been brought forward at this point. The proposals for the 2021-30 period were only agreed to comparatively recently and, from an Irish perspective, we have a lot of work to do to deliver them. There is no doubt that the longer term need is to aim for climate neutrality by 2050, but it will be on a whole-of-EU basis. We need to have an evaluation of the technologies and the roadmap that will bring us there. That is the work the Commission is undertaking.

I draw the Minister's attention to the European Parliament's position that in order to reach the European Commission's proposal of climate neutrality by 2050 in a cost-effective manner, the European Union will need to increase its 2030 climate target to at least 55% compared with 1990 levels. Whereas the European Parliament took this position, we learned just before the school strike on climate change last week that all Fine Gael MEPs had voted against the relevant wording.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government will end this contradictory and regressive approach to EU climate action and support the concept of greater EU ambition for 2030 at the June Council meeting?

I am not going to comment on any decision of Fine Gael Members or any other Members of the European Parliament but let it be said that no proposal has been put forward by the European Commission to change the relatively recently agreed target of 40%. From everyone's perspective, an increase in ambition of the level indicated would require quite significant changes to be made. What the European Commission is doing is exploring how we could achieve climate neutrality by 2050. It has not indicated that it intends to change the relatively recently agreed targets towards which national governments are working. Decisions on this will have to be taken when the roadmap is properly evaluated. As the Deputy will know, it took a number of years to negotiate the various member states' obligations within the previous roadmap in respect of the 40%. It is widely believed that Europe can build on its 2030 targets and still deliver a roadmap for climate neutrality by 2050.

With the House's permission, I propose to take Question No. 51, in the name of Deputy Pringle, who got delayed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and thank the House for its indulgence. I apologise for my absence.