Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Questions (58)

Bríd Smith

Question:

58. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the issuing of further licences for exploration will be halted in view of the worsening climate crisis evidenced by the catastrophic monsoon in south-western Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14194/19]

View answer

Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I would like the Minister of State to make a statement on whether the issuing of further exploration licences will be halted in view of the worsening climate crisis, as evidenced by the recent catastrophic monsoon in south-west Africa.

Much of what I have to say in response to this question involves repeating what I said in response to Question No. 57. The challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is well understood by the Government. We are fully committed to moving away from the use of fossil fuels in electricity, heat and transport. We are making progress. In 2017, 30% of our electricity came from renewable sources. We are considering how to increase that to at least 55% by 2030. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is focusing on an all-of-Government climate action plan that will tackle Ireland’s emissions while ensuring Ireland has secure and affordable energy supplies. It is accepted that as part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, Ireland will continue to require some, but significantly reduced, fossil fuels to meet business needs. Banning exploration, as proposed in a Bill that is before the Oireachtas at present, would not reduce our emissions. I repeat that such a ban would make Ireland 100% dependent on importing gas and oil instead of using our own natural resources. I think that is important as well.

This question relates specifically to the impact of climate change and the refusal of this Government and other Governments to recognise that we have to leave over 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground. Those are the known ones, never mind going searching for unknown ones. The impact is horrendous. In response to the previous question, the Minister of State mentioned the Citizens' Assembly and the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I am a member of the committee, which will issue its report tomorrow. The committee has been advised by Professor Peter Thorne, who recently wrote about the cyclone in Africa. He said "we can be pretty confident that rainfall associated with such systems has become greater due to human-induced climate change". He pointed out that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water and that if the ocean surface is warmer, there is more moisture going up than coming down. On average, the citizens of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, who suffer from terrible extreme weather events, are responsible for a tiny fraction of emissions compared with their counterparts in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. I will ask the Minister of State a question. How do we take responsibility for what is happening in the developing world as a consequence of our actions in the developed world?

I remind the House of the actions the Government is taking in respect of climate change. It is important to say at the very start that I do not disagree with the Deputy's assertion that we need to change. It is a question of how we change and how we transition. That is the key to this issue. The Minister is working on the preparation of an all-of-Government climate action plan, which will make us a leader in responding. We are working with our colleagues across the Government to develop new initiatives in electricity, transport, heat, agriculture and a range of other sectors where we have to make changes. Some of the changes we have to make might not be palatable, but they will have to be made nonetheless. We have to make sure they are made in a way that supports businesses and farms. If we do not do that, I do not know what we are doing. The plan will have a strong focus on implementation, including actions with specific timelines and steps needed to achieve each action. Clear lines of responsibility will be assigned. The Government is preparing an action plan with action dates and timelines to be fulfilled. The plan will build on previous actions taken by the Government, including the national mitigation plan and the national development plan. It is the intention of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, that the new plan which is being drawn up will address any recommendations contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action.

It is remarkable to listen to the Minister speaking about farms, families and businesses as if somehow I do not give a damn about those things, or indeed as if the tens of thousands of children who left school and marched to demand that the Government keep fossil fuels in the ground do not give a damn about their families, their farms or the businesses that surround them.

They do, of course. Some of what is being done at the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which will report back tomorrow, is very good stuff but it is not nearly radical enough. When we read the stories of what happened in Mozambique and appreciate the suffering of half of the planet, we will realise that this report is not nearly radical enough. One radical measure concerns keeping fossil fuels in the ground. The committee refuses even to listen to another positive and radical measure regarding aiming towards delivering free public transport all around the country. It will not even listen to the suggestion. The committee also refuses to listen to how we might go about transitioning from the type of farming we are doing at the moment to a much more ecological and sustainable type of farming. Forestry has also not been examined. It is entirely insufficient so I ask the Minister of State not to pretend that stuff is being done for farms, families and businesses.

Deputy Bríd Smith has had a fair airing of this matter. I call the Minister of State for a final response.

First, the children who marched last week were marching in support of the recommendations and proposals of the Citizens' Assembly and not just in respect of the Bill to which Deputy Smith referred.

They did not shout, "We support the Citizens' Assembly recommendations."

I ask that the Minister of State be allowed to continue without interruption. Let us be somewhat orderly.

My last point is that meeting our goals will require a revolution in how we live and work. That is going to cost money. Deputy Smith should not pretend that there is a set of easy choices which the Government can adopt that will have no impact on how people live.

Tax ExxonMobil.

I ask Deputy Smith to allow the Minister of State to finish. We must be orderly.

If Deputies are serious about tackling climate disruption, then they should put forward suggestions that will actually have an impact and reduce emissions.

How does the Deputy propose to fund the decarbonisation of our energy system? Will she outline a plan to increase the use of renewals in heat? When she spoke of free public transport, how is that going to be funded?

I will produce a report tomorrow.