Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Questions (58)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

58. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he will take to implement the decision of Dáil Éireann to declare a climate emergency following the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21343/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Our colleagues moved the motion to declare a climate emergency a couple of weeks ago based on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action which, the Minister will agree, was a fine effort and one of the achievements of this 32nd Dáil. The question now is what the Government is going to do to implement it. Fine Gael has had eight years of budgets, following five or six years of budgets from Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, and absolutely nothing was done. How is the Government going to decarbonise transport, agriculture, energy and housing? What steps will the Government take to implement the 42 priority recommendations? For example, will the Minister be proposing legislation to the House to take any emergency measures?

I was pleased both to open and close the debate to which the Deputy refers and I was here for the entirety of it. It was a worthwhile debate and I think everyone in this House recognises that the climate emergency is the greatest threat that faces humanity. We also realise it involves not only changes for Government but also for every home, worker, enterprise and farm. We need to change how we travel. All of these systems must change dramatically. It is welcome that there was unanimous Oireachtas support for the all-party report and the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency. That builds on the work of the Citizens' Assembly and provides a strong platform for an effective implementation plan. That is exactly what I am undertaking. Each Government Department has been asked to examine the referred recommendations that are relevant to it and to come back to me. I hope to integrate proposals from the Oireachtas into the plan we ultimately publish.

One can already see the direction of travel. I have committed that we will raise the proportion of renewables in our electricity system from 55% to 70% by 2030, a significant increase. I aim to roll out the infrastructure so that no non-zero emission cars can be purchased from 2030 onwards. We have ambition but we need to implement a wide-ranging plan and I will be working to implement as much as possible of what has been set out by the committee. I will be bringing legislation before the House to underpin the Oireachtas view.

The concern among constituents is that the most vulnerable households are affected. The report notes from its own research that 28% of households suffer energy poverty. How can we decarbonise energy if it is to be left to ordinary individuals? The Taoiseach has been flinging around figures such as €50 billion for what the decarbonisation effort will cost. Nobody seems to know.

Does the national energy and climate plan have to be agreed with the European Commission? Does that have to happen this year?

Has any work been done on the five-year carbon budget or the establishment of a carbon action council? The key figure which is cited each night in the debates for the European Parliament election is the proposed increase in the price of carbon from €20 per tonne to €80 per tonne. For example, what should the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and all other sectoral committees be doing now to get ready? Will the Minister bring forward proposals on carbon and the key areas of the economy we need to address like agriculture and transport?

I will not try and tell Oireachtas committees what they should be doing. I will be bringing forward an all-of-Government plan to look at agriculture, transport, the built environment, electricity and waste and it will have a strategy for each of those. We will seek to be ambitious. We will have sectoral targets based on what we believe can be achieved over a five-year plan to 2025 and 2030.

I recognise what is being sought by the Oireachtas by way of legislation. Of course, we will have to move to drafting when the Government adopts a plan. I recognise what is being spelled out there.

On the national energy and climate plan, we had to provide a draft at the end of last year and that was submitted. I do not believe it is ambitious enough. Our plan will factor into a finalisation of a proposed five-year plan at the end of this year. We are working to that deadline.

On legislation, will it be similar to the Brexit legislation in terms of the provisions for the various sectors in the case of a bad Brexit? The report refers to a review to be carried out this year on the area of fuel poverty and the potential impacts of an increase in carbon tax. Will that happen? The Department of Finance was asked to look at the possible impact of a carbon tax on the profits of fossil fuel corporations and businesses operating directly in the area of fossil fuels. Will that be addressed? I previously asked the Minister about the measures to be taken in areas such as agriculture and he could not give me a definitive answer. For example, the role played by hedgerows across our beautiful country does not seem to enter into the equation in terms of the exact levels of carbon in our economy. Is something being done regarding mitigation measures? I asked a colleague of the Minister about lower speed limits and the benefits that could accrue from them in terms of carbon mitigation. Will those kinds of areas be addressed?

On carbon tax, does the Minister envisage that any tax increase will be hypothecated, that is, referred back to constituents or organisations or treated as a full dividend? Will it be targeted?

It will be a matter for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to bring forward proposals on carbon pricing. The Oireachtas has clearly signalled that the money should not be used for revenue raising but rather as a dividend or to shoehorn additional work to decarbonise the economy. The Taoiseach has put on the record his support for that approach. On agriculture, the committee on climate action set out the need to adopt the Teagasc measures identified which would help to decarbonise agriculture. There is an agenda in that regard.

On legislation, the committee did not envisage separate sectoral legislation but rather legislation that would create a set of targets, namely, five-year budgets, as referred to by the Deputy, with the responsible Ministers to report back within those targets to the Oireachtas. A set of legislative measures in each sector is not envisaged; it is more about creating a framework and seeking that the players within those sectors act creatively to deliver on the targets. It will not all be regulation. I recognise that in certain areas we will need to look at regulations by way of statutory instrument or fresh legislation.