Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions (4)

Brian Stanley

Question:

4. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans for a just transition review group as referenced in the Climate Action Plan 2019. [28664/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister of State to outline the Department's plans for a just transition review group as referenced in the climate action plan. We know we have a major transition to make and we obviously need to get moving with that. In some ways we need to play catch-up. What are the Department's plans to kick-start that?

The basis on which measures were selected in the climate action plan was to identify those which created least burden and most opportunity. It has also sought to ensure that all sections of our society would contribute and that those most exposed or least equipped to make changes will be supported. Just transition is thus at the heart of the plan.

Certain activities will be particularly exposed, such as the phase-out of coal and peat from power generation. These transitions will be carefully planned and monitored to ensure that those individuals and regions affected will be supported through many policy streams identified in the plan.

The plan also identifies the significant economic opportunities that will open up as a result of the plan's decarbonisation ambitions, including in areas such as: renewables, including offshore technologies, as the installed renewable power capacity goes from 3.5 GW to 17.5 GW; the building retrofit sector, where the 25,000 homes currently participating in energy retrofits represents an estimated €150 million contribution to the economy and where we intend to scale our ambition to achieve 500,000 retrofits by 2030; and new technologies, such as microgeneration, anaerobic digestion, biomass, heat recovery, carbon capture and biomethane, which will come to maturity bringing new business opportunities.

It is encouraging to see how Bord na Móna has been identifying opportunities in the midlands. In addition the recently launched midlands regional enterprise strategy has made opportunities in the decarbonisation economy a key pillar of its plan.

Just transition will also arise in the context of carbon pricing and retrofitting homes. The design of these programs will explicitly take into account the need to address fuel poverty.

To ensure that the theme of just transition is sustained on a consistent basis across the plan a just transition review group will be established within the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, as part of its working group structures. Through this group, NESC will review the ongoing transition and identify specific transition needs among cohorts of workers, enterprises, communities and specific groups of people. It will collaborate and engage with a wide range of stakeholders and will interact closely with my Department’s national dialogue on climate action and sustainable development goals stakeholder forum.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The climate action plan foresees that the NESC will publish a periodic review and strategic advice on the just transition. This will include an examination of the range of national and international funding opportunities, and how these could be used to underpin the work of this group and the priorities identified. The first periodic review and strategic advice will be published by the end of 2020, and is intended to be a key input to the formulation and adaptation of a five-year just transition strategy.

I thank the Minister of State for that reply. He outlined the challenges and it will undoubtedly be challenging. My party and I understand that and we want to take up those challenges. However, there are opportunities. We do not want the transition to create a bigger dependency, particularly for the midlands. We want to see the opportunities grasped quickly. We want to be ambitious and have a framework for just transition that creates jobs to ensure that workers and communities are not left behind in that transition to a green economy.

The Minister of State gave the example of Bord na Móna. However since January, 200 workers have left Bord na Móna and a further 240 will go in the remainder of this year. That is 440 workers gone in one year, mainly in Offaly. It is important that we try to move on this. Bord na Móna needs to be involved in biofuel, wind and solar energy generation, and biogas. It needs €50 million for the transition. When will the just transition review group be established?

I am acutely aware of the situation with Bord na Móna as is the Minister, Deputy Bruton. As I explained earlier, work is ongoing to ensure it has a just transition. I will speak more about that.

The climate action plan foresees that the NESC will publish a periodic review and strategic advice on the just transition. This will include an examination of the range of national and international funding opportunities, and how these could be used to underpin the work of this group and the priorities identified. The first periodic review and strategic advice will be published by the end of 2020, and is intended to be a key input to the formulation and adaptation of a five-year just transition strategy.

The Deputy spoke about the implications for Bord na Móna. It will be a significant milestone for the region that by 2028 Bord na Móna will end the harvesting of peat for power generation. The Government is committed to supporting the company in its transition to the development of new businesses in herbs, aquaculture, resource recovery and renewable energy. Existing initiatives and structures in this regard, include: the regional enterprise plans to 2020; the regional steering committees which oversee these plans as live agendas; the current regional mandates of the enterprise agencies and regional assemblies; and the regional spatial and economic strategies. These initiatives will be mobilised to maximise enterprise opportunities to deal with the challenge faced by Bord na Móna.

I asked the Minister of State when the review group will be set up. He might give me an answer to that question.

The Bord na Móna is the most acutely affected, but motor mechanics will also be affected. We also have the situation with Moneypoint. A number of workers will be displaced and will need to retrain. The scale of what needs to be done is enormous. Bord na Móna was a significant employer. It is possible to have that kind of scale again in terms of a green economy. It has potential to be involved and it is making moves in that direction. It needs to be encouraged to move into biomass, biogas and solar energy generation.

We need a national agency to train people for retrofitting because we do not have the construction workers to do it at the moment. We would prefer to have some sort of commission for a just transition; we do not have that. At least the Minister of State needs to tell us when the review group will be established. We need biomass supply chains. Bringing this stuff half way across the world defeats the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We need to be growing biomass in Edenderry and throughout west Offaly to supply these plants.

The ETBs and SOLAS are well equipped to train people for retrofitting and have been doing that through their apprenticeship programmes.

The implementation group will be set up in the Taoiseach's office this month. From that the timelines for everything else are set out in the climate action plan.

Bord na Móna is well equipped to face these challenges. It wants to get on with initiatives to diversify its business. It wants to remain as part of the communities in the midlands. It is committed to doing that and with support from the Government and the regional agencies, I have no doubt we will see Bord na Móna become the model for transitioning in a just way from a brown company to a green company.