Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Questions (59)

Peter Burke


59. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he is taking to ensure that a just transition is a key element of the forthcoming All of Government Plan on Climate Disruption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21476/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to take this question on behalf of Deputy Burke. What steps are being taken by the Minister to ensure that a just transition will be a key element of the all-of-Government plan that is being put together? When will the plan be produced?

The concept of just transition will form a key pillar of the climate action plan. It recognises that while every home, workplace and community will have to make far-reaching changes in our lifestyles to achieve climate resilience and protect our environment for future generations, the level of adjustment and options for adaptation risks imposing particular hardship for some. In that light, we need to ensure that policy is in place to support transition for those worst affected.

A range of measures will be considered in this context, including helping enterprises and workers in sectors particularly affected to adapt; ensuring that revenues from carbon prices are transferred back to help households cope and adapt; developing the economic opportunities that will come with the scaling up of renewables, retrofitting, managing resources in a sustainable way and smarter working and living; and, in particular, that regions particularly affected benefit from these economic opportunities. It will also involve building climate resilience into the framework for key funds for climate action, rural and urban regeneration and disruptive technologies in order that early movement can protect our communities.

The work we are undertaking in the midlands embracing a whole-of-Government approach and along with Bord na Móna, enterprise agencies, education institutions, social protection agencies and local stakeholders to commence planning and development of policy is providing a working model which can be developed.

As the Minister indicated, some sectors will be affected more than others. For example, figures for the cost involved of retrofitting of homes have recently been quoted in the media. This week, it was reported that it will cost €50 billion for every house in the country to be retrofitted to the required standard. To ensure no particular hardship is levied on those more directly affected, will a plan, possibly involving financial assistance and above what may be returned to them in carbon tax, be put in place to help those people directly? Will there be extra assistance for sectors that may be more directly affected, such as the agriculture sector? The Minister referred to the midlands, which will be particularly affected. What else can be done to ensure that they will not be left isolated by what may be coming down the line?

I agree with the points made by the Deputy. Last Friday, I attended a very useful session in Mount Lucas which brought together many companies operating in the new decarbonisation world and which offer many employment opportunities. Representatives of educational institutions were also in attendance to identify how the midlands could be a centre for developing some of the new retrofitting opportunities. Very practical examples were offered. Bord na Móna is leading the charge in moving from brown to green, as it describes it. It is looking at new ways in which it can develop as a renewables provider, become involved in resource recovery and look at new forms of delivery using its existing assets.

The Deputy is correct that some sectors and people will come under pressure. It is important to state that there is a positive payback from retrofitting and many other changes that must be made. The economy will benefit from the changes, although there may be an upfront cost. As part of the plan, we will examine the existing grant levels from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and determine whether there are other approaches that could improve the capacity of people to avail of its supports. We will have to look at smart finance and the scale of our undertakings. We will be looking at how to help people to make the transition. Interestingly, 256 sustainable energy communities are already lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps with State support.

Education is key as we move forward. Communicating exactly what is happening and what will happen is essential. We need to be able to bring people with us along the road. It may be a difficult road and there may be obstacles along the way, but educating people and communicating the message will be a key element of bringing people with us.

The Minister referred to smart finance. I may have seen reference recently to low-cost loans. Have such loans been considered as a way of helping to make the adjustment in areas such as retrofitting? There is no doubt that there will not be enough finance available within the country to make the transition from where we are to where we need to go. What other finance options may be available?

These are the things that are or will be in development. The plan which we will publish will only be the start of the roll-out. Smart finance will be a key part of it. Institutions such as the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, which is looking seriously at this sector, have a significant role to play.

I agree with the Deputy on the role of education. It is not by accident that it is young people who are leading the charge on this issue and telling our generation that we have failed to live up to our responsibilities. It is their world and future prospects for which we are responsible. The younger generation demanding action will be among the most powerful advocates in building momentum.

Much of the constitutional change we have experienced in this country came from younger people influencing older people to recognise that changes were required, and that will be true in this area as well.